Xbox Series S | X Wireless Controller Review

The new Xbox controller is more different than I expected!

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Photo taken by the author.

Alongside the launch of the new Xbox Series X and S consoles this past week, Microsoft also released an updated controller. While the new pad doesn’t have the touch-based bells and whistles of Sony’s DualSense controller, it’s still enough of an upgrade to feel like a truly new device.

In a refreshing change from the planned obsolescence norm of the video game industry, Xbox One accessories are inter-compatible with the new Xbox Series consoles. Thanks to this decision, this new controller will also work with the older Xbox One consoles. That’s awesome, and it means that if you’re planning to hold on to your current console for a little bit longer, you can still upgrade to the new controller right now.

The Xbox Wireless Controller, as it’s still called in this new iteration, retails for $59.99 (official site here), and it’s currently available in black, white, and blue. The older models are slowly being phased out in favor of this one, so I’d imagine we’ll see more colors as time goes on, and that this model will also be available through the Xbox Design Lab very soon.

There are three immediately obvious updates with the new controller: the d-pad, the new share button, and redesigned ergonomics for the top half of the controller and the triggers.

The “hybrid” d-pad is very similar to the bowl-shaped d-pad option included with the Elite Controller Series 2, and it’s both my current personal favorite d-pad, and one of the best d-pads I’ve ever used. It won me over within a few minutes of use, and I continue to love it whether using it for menus or 2D games. Its prominent, textured bowl shape makes finding the eight main directions very easy, and the curved profile is more comfy against my thumb. When pressed, it has a surprisingly clicky and satisfying response and a high degree of control accuracy. It reminds me of Sega’s legendary Saturn d-pads in a very good way.

In the center of the controller you’ll find the new share button, right in the same place as the profile switch button on the Elite Controller. Short pressing this button saves a screenshot, and holding it saves a video. You can also customize this functionality in the Xbox Accessories app if you’d like to swap or tweak these controls. I usually map one of my Elite Controller’s paddles to capture screenshots, and this new share button is nearly as convenient now that I’ve muscle-memorized its location over a week of use. It’s easy to quickly hit during a cool moment, but out of the way enough not to be accidentally pressed.

The ergonomic redesign of the top portion of the controller sounds like the smallest change on paper, but in practice this is my favorite new thing about the pad. The top of the controller is slightly more angled in, and the plastic around the triggers is shaved down a bit to allow for easier access to the bumpers. The bumper and trigger buttons have been re-scultped, with smaller profiles, more rounded corners, and micro-tactile bumps for added grip.

All of these small changes add up to a controller that’s immediately more comfortable to hold, and more comfy to use over long sessions as well. The previous Xbox One controller wasn’t uncomfortable at all, but over long sessions my hands would slowly stray from the default neutral position. Here, the new sleeker design keeps my hands firmly gripped in the right places, and the bumpers and triggers are easier to actuate.

The back of the controller is textured just like the more recent Xbox One pads, but the micro bumps are a little more bumpy. This might feel jarring and prickly on first use, but once you get used to it it’s a nice ergonomic touch. The battery compartment still uses standard AA batteries, which is awesome because it means I can use my own rechargeable AA’s, and I’ll never have to replace the whole controller because of a dead battery.

If you’d like to wire the controller to your Xbox or a PC, there’s now a USB-C port on the top just like on the Elite Controller Series 2. It has a headphone jack with ample output power, and optional Bluetooth connectivity for PCs or mobile devices. It also still features strong rumble and Microsoft’s “impulse triggers,” a feature that I’m hoping will see more use this generation now that Sony has their own trigger gimmick.

At a quick glance, the new Xbox controller looks just like an Xbox One controller with a new d-pad and one extra button. Once I actually held it, I realized how significant its many small ergonomic improvements were. The smart redesign of the top portion of the controller made it much more comfortable in my personal hands, and I immediately understood why Microsoft is phasing in this new model as the default. If you’re looking at an older option versus this new controller, there’s no real reason to choose the older one unless you’re getting a dramatic discount.

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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