Xbox Elite Controller review: $150 isn’t cheap, but you’ll really, really want one

Xbox Elite Controller review: $150 isn’t cheap, but you’ll really, really want one

The Xbox One Elite Controller review

You probably don’t need a $150 controller.

That’s the first thing you need to remind yourself when considering the Xbox One Elite controller (which also works for PCs). For the average gamer, chances are spending $150 on a controller – no matter how nice it is – is not the most reasonable choice.

Spend a few minutes with it, however, and you’ll sure as heck want one. And if you’re a professional or just someone who takes his performance seriously enough that the price tag doesn’t already turn you away, there’s simply no better option out there.

Xbox Elite Controller-2

If you’re not familiar, the Xbox Elite controller brings a plethora of customization features over the standard Xbox One pad. It’s aimed squarely at the most serious of gamers – so much so that it doesn’t even bother color coding its face buttons for newbs.

Of course, third-party manufacturers have been trying to one-up official controllers with extra features for decades – including some current alternatives – but it’s pretty much universally accepted that official controllers are just better.

That’s what makes the Xbox Elite controller special: this possibly the first time in gaming history that a console manufacturer hasn’t just upgraded or replaced an official controller with new features meant for new games, but rather flat-out constructed an unquestionably better controller. This is a luxury item through and through.

But luxury isn’t to say the upgrades aren’t useful if you’re a serious gamer. In fact, every single one is useful and well thought out.

Interchangeable parts Xbox One Elite controller
The interchangeable parts on the Xbox Elite controller, missing the two short analog sticks attached to the controller.

Perhaps most notably, the analog sticks and D-Pad are interchangeable and removable. The box comes with three pairs of sticks, the idea being they provide varying degrees of accuracy, grip, and responsiveness.

  • Short concave (essentially the same as those on the standard controller)
  • Medium convex: similar to PlayStation thumbsticks, these provide a smoother grip.
  • Long convex: A longer version of the original thumbsticks.

The longer thumbsticks provide greater control for making small, precise movements, while the shorter lengths are better for quick responsive movements. You might also prefer the larger thumbsticks if you have smaller hands.

You can mix and match too, and it’s easy to do on the fly; the thumbsticks are attached magnetically, and you simply pull them off. Despite how easy they are to remove, I never felt they might fly off during intense gaming sessions, although you may want to watch out around pets and children.

Mix match thumbsticks Xbox One Elite controller
You can mix and match thumbsticks.

Generally, I gravitated towards the medium length with the smooth tops, but in shooting games, I found myself liking the shorter analog sticks for moving my characters, and using the long one for aiming. I’ll always vouch for mouse-and-keyboard’s superiority in FPS titles, but the long analog stick definitely helps here.

Likewise, the d-pad can be switched between a traditional cross shape and a faceted jewel-looking pad. I preferred the latter but it feels a little looser than the alternative if you press it too hard.

Then there are the totally new inputs, comprised four detachable paddles around the grip. These can be assigned to the variety of inputs, and allow you to perform actions without taking your hands off of the thumbsticks. Unfortunately, they can’t be assigned to macros (input combinations), which seems like a major missed opportunity. Hopefully that functionality comes via a software update.

Paddle controls Xbox Elite controller
The paddle controls allow you to perform button inputs without removing your fingers from the analog sticks.

Finally, a pair of locks reduce the range of motion on the triggers to about half their usual distance; that makes them more responsive for quick repetitive actions.

In fact, this was one of the most useful adjustments for me; the standard trigger setting was preferable for racing games where you want additional control, but the short triggers definitely came in handy for shooters like ‘Gears of War’ and platformers like ‘Mirror’s Edge’ (a 360 title now playable on the Xbox One thanks to recently-added backwards compatibility), where you’re more concerned with quick actions than finesse.

It’s not all hardware though; he new Xbox Accessories app allows you remap pretty much every button on the controller to every other button, and even set presets for specific games.

Plenty of games allow you to remap buttons, so the analog stick response settings might prove more useful for competitive players. Rather than just providing a sensitivity value – which you’ll still have to adjust in-game – Microsoft actually allows you to change the sensitivity curve, including 5 different options you can test right in app.

For example a ‘Delay’ setting provides more precise, slower movement in the central portion of the analog stick over the default setting, forcing you to move all the way to the outer rim to move quickly. Meanwhile, an ‘Instant’ setting has an opposite effect, nearly maxing out your character’s speed with just a light tap.

Accessories app Xbox Elite controller

Other custom settings include adjusting the dead zones on the trigger

That said, customization is only temporarily exclusive to the Xbox Elite controller; Microsoft says the Xbox Accessories app will soon be compatible with standard controllers, although it’s not clear to what extent. The Elite model also has the advantage of a configuration switch right on the controller, allowing you to change profiles on the fly.

Do all these features improve your gameplay? Well, yes, anecdotally speaking. I found myself frequently switching analog sticks on the fly – sometimes within the same game – and playing around with the different sensitivity profiles. I personally didn’t find much use for the paddles, but it’s not hard to see how they’ll come in handy for more advanced gamers.

My singular serious qualm is that rechargeable batteries aren’t included in box. That’s not to say I don’t think AA batteries were the right choice; it’s much easier for someone in a tournament to simply swap out a pair of batteries than having to completely recharge a controller. But it wouldn’t been nice for these to be of the rechargeable variety for everyday use at home.

Xbox One Elite Controller-2
So stealthy.

So the question remains: should you buy it?

That depends on how you game. Do you go to tournaments and spend hours on Twitch?  Do you have a lot of cash to burn? Then it’s a worthwhile investment, particularly given it feels built to last. And if you’re buying a new console, shelling out for the $499 Elite Bundle is worth the premium for the combination of the new controller and 1TB of storage.

For everyone else, it’s not suddenly going make you a l33t h4x0r esports champion. The TL;DR amounts to this: the Xbox Elite Controller is probably the best traditional console controller ever made, but it’s also the gaming equivalent of buying nice sports gear: it won’t give you a significant edge if you’re not already really good, but it’ll make you feel like you have one.

And sometimes that enough.

Xbox One Elite Controller

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