Hardware Review: Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller

Written by James T. George

I feel that in an age where everyone is in debt, costs of goods are constantly on the rise, and wages are stagnated, it’s very hard to justify telling anyone how to spend their money. It may sound very two-faced, considering I am reviewing games and hardware here, but at the end of the day I will always be one who urges thought and consideration before taking the plunge and spending your hard-earned money on entertainment.

Which is why my review of the Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller is a tricky one. Not because of quality (it’s good, but we’ll get to that in a second), but instead price. It’s such an important part of the product because it is undoubtedly steep, but I also want to discuss justification. Do you need a $150 controller? Does anyone? Is it something pro players will jump onto regardless of the price? Are there better (and cheaper) alternatives?

While the price of this controller is not clear, the answers to my other questions are crystal.

No, you probably do not need this controller, but yes, some people do.

Yes, Pro players will get this without so much as batting an eyelash, and no, there are simply no better alternatives.

Premium from start to finish. Metal parts really make it great.

Premium from start to finish. Metal parts really make it great.

The controller itself is a sports car. In a world where plastic and rubber make up our input devices, Microsoft went with metal. Much like that cell phone in your pocket, the plastic ones are not as premium as the all-metal cousins on the high-end. This controller feels sturdy, comfortable, and I have a hard time seeing myself going back to the plastic models. The weight that the device has thanks to its components is surprisingly well-balanced. I was expecting it to be very heavy, but I actually love the weight balance. The rubber grips on the bottom feel great and don’t seem to care when my hands start to sweat. It never budged.

But better materials are not all you get with this controller. You now have the option of swapping parts of the controller, from joysticks to d-pads. Want a taller aim stick? Go for it. Want a fighting pad instead of a directional pad? Microsoft’s new dish accessory is for you. They even provided some Dualshock-esque dome topped joysticks if you prefer that to the concave ones you are probably using now. Additionally, 4 paddles are included that can be used on the back of the controller, which add additional controls for players looking for more. You can use any combination of them, or none at all, and they come in two sizes that you can move around to your liking.

The paddles come in two sizes, so if you prefer a better reach, you can swap them.

The paddles come in two sizes, so if you prefer a better reach, you can swap them.

Every one of these interchangeable parts is metal as well, and for good reason. Microsoft is holding them in place with magnets, and they are surprisingly strong. They easily pop off for swapping when you pull on them, but do not move at all when playing a game. I would bet most people unaware of their remove-ability wouldn’t ever know unless you clue them in. The sturdiness of the magnets is quite impressive. The paddles do have a little give to them though, and I’ve found that they can pop off if you hit them accidentally. It’s not a major flaw, as they are designed to quickly unseat. I’m not sure there is a good way to prevent accidental nudges, but it is worth noting.

Paddles, Hair Triggers, and rubber back-grips.

Paddles, Hair Trigger locks, and rubber back-grips.

The controller also features two mechanical hair-trigger locks, allowing you to restrict one or both triggers to a half press. I immediately found this useful while playing through Halo 5: Guardians when using semi-automatic rifles. I pulled the trigger faster and got shots off quicker since the controller stopped me from wasting time on a full squeeze. This may sound silly for some, but it is hard not to realize how nice it is when you try it. Pro players will love this feature.

On top of all the hardware enhancements, there’s some great software parts to this controller too. Players may already be aware that you can remap the buttons on every Xbox One controller, but the Elite controller has numerous additions to the accessories app. You can still remap just about everything, with the addition of mapping things to the four paddles for added control. You are also given the option to change the sensitivity curves of the joysticks. For those unfamiliar, this gives you the ability to set up one joystick to slow down movement on a slight push, accelerate it, or a combination of the two. For example, I changed my right joystick to a slower curve on a slight push of the stick. When sniping in a shooter, this allows my gun’s sight to move slightly slower, giving me more precision and aiding in lining up the perfect head shot. when fully tilting the stick, it behaves like normal.

The software allows you to change digital ranges for triggers and sticks

The software allows you to change digital ranges for triggers and sticks

A similar feature is in place for both triggers. You can change the dead zones to simulate full presses quickly, or prevent a short press by adjusting dead zone sensitivity. I used this in conjunction with the hair triggers. Even though I am only depressing the trigger about half way, the system still registers a full press. It’s as close to a turbo button as you’re going to find.

All of these software tweaks are saved in the system as profiles, and you can have thousands of them. Want one specifically for Call of Duty? Done. Want to swap it out for when you play Destiny? done. All your profiles are saved to your gamertag, and the controller itself can store two profiles locally. It has a toggle in the middle for quick switching, and will keep those two configurations ready to go even if you move from one Xbox to another. Throw in a really nice braided micro USB cable, a wonderful carrying case, and storage for your accessories, and you end up having quite the package. It would have been nice if a rechargeable battery came with it. Sadly, just a couple of AA batteries are in the box.

You get quite a bit in the package, but no battery. Bummer. Great braided cable though.

You get quite a bit in the package, but no battery. Bummer. Great braided cable though.

Now I have to determine if I can recommend this controller to the average gamer. Pro players will clearly use this to its highest potential, and for the $150 price, it’s right in line with third-party alternatives. I’ve used a few of them, like the Scuf brand, and while they all have their own good qualities, none come close to this. Microsoft shipped the best controller for the Xbox, hands down. The build quality alone may make it the best controller on the market, regardless of your console of choice (Here’s looking at you, Steam Box!). Now that I have one, I refuse to give it up. It just feels so good to hold and is sturdy enough to convince me it will have a long life free of deterioration.

While I’m not a pro gamer, I’ve found uses for all the hardware and software tweaks offered to me. I love having the hair triggers and paddles, specifically. I’ve added button maps that allow me to keep my thumbs on the joysticks and still have access to features normally on the face buttons. The ability to change the height of the sticks is a plus too. On top of all of that, I’m very excited to see what other kinds of accessories come out for this thing. Scuf has partnered with Microsoft to release additional components for the controller, so expect to see more exotic paddles, joysticks, and d-pads very soon.

So yeah, I can see average players grabbing this and not wanting to let go. When you game for more than a few hours a day, the controller can be a pain or a pleasure. This one is a pleasure to use.

Expect these to come in other sizes, shapes, and colors from Scuf and Microsoft as additional purchases. I want gold ones!

Expect these to come in other sizes, shapes, and colors from Scuf and Microsoft as additional purchases. I want gold ones!

Is it worth $150?

Well… that’s up to you. I already have spoken to many who question the price tag, and justifiably so. With the standard controller being able to be found for around $50, this one is almost three times the price. I can’t tell you that the components, packaging, and materials are part of that price tag, but It is a considerable step up in quality to the other ones out there. If you subscribe to the “you get what you pay for” mentality, the $150 price may not bother you.

Once again, I will not tell anyone how to spend their own money. It’s your call on buying this thing, and I understand completely the reservation to the price. I think Microsoft would do well to figure out a way to bring this down to around $120, making it roughly twice the price of a standard controller, but that’s probably not happening anytime soon. I do think that a metal version of the standard controller is also something Microsoft should consider, and target the $75 range. Strip out the swappable parts and on-board memory, and just build the standard controller with better materials. It would be a great additional option, I think.

All that being said, I must urge you not do outright dismiss this one simply on price. I’ve already gotten incredible value out of it, and if it lasts as long as its build quality would suggest, I’ll have it for the long haul. I’ll get $150 out of the lifetime of this controller, and will enjoy using it much more than the creaky, damage prone plastic cousins.

If you know someone who has one, ask to try it out. If you can find it on display somewhere, take some time to play with it. Your best bet would be a Microsoft Store, if you live near one.

This is without a doubt the best controller Microsoft has ever made, and right now, the best anyone has made. I expect other companies to see this and emulate it, and hopefully find a way to surpass it. I highly recommend it for any serious gamer, pro or not. You may balk at the price, but you will not find yourself with buyer’s remorse if you take the plunge.

About the author

James T. George

Jim, a proud native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, enjoys a variety of things other than games, movies, music, sports, and technology, but usually falls prey to character limits when filling out

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