Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller Review: The Cadillac of Gamepads

Microsoft’s new controller for the Xbox One was a step backwards in terms of design. Sure the controller looks about the same as an Xbox 360 controller with a lot of the same functionality, but it got a few aspects wrong. First, the bumper buttons located at the top of the controller were a little too high and hard to reach. The bumpers also wouldn’t press in correctly if pressed from the sides, making the bumpers hard to use for games like Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin that uses these bumpers frequently. Also, the Xbox One gamepad’s analog sticks felt a bit more loose than the ones found on the Xbox 360 controller, making it a little less precise in my opinion. The lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack and the need to buy a dongle in order to use standard headsets was a bummer too, especially since the Playstation 4’s Dual Shock 4 included a 3.5mm jack and folks loved it. Seeing as I loved the Xbox 360 controller, I was severely disappointed with the Xbox One pad and quickly preferred Sony’s gamepad instead.

Knowing the controller was flawed, Microsoft set out to make a few changes, which seems to be a theme for them this generation. Microsoft revised the original gamepad earlier this year by adding in the missing 3.5mm headphone jack, adding rubber grips to the handles and fixing the bumpers a bit by making them click in much easier. Even though the revised controller is hard to find in retail stores still flooded with the old controller, all of Microsoft’s special edition controllers included the revisions but typically included a higher price.

Another way Microsoft wanted to bring their gamepad back to the forefront was by creating a special controller just for hardcore gamers; one that would not only allow gamers to customize the gamepad to their liking but also help boost their skill. This controller was unveiled at Microsoft’s E3 2015 presentation as the Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller. As soon as I saw this thing, I instantly wanted one and hoped it set out to correct the issues I had with the standard gamepad. The price point was revealed soon after the unveiling at $149, which quickly turned many gamers off. I knew that in order for me to plop down half of the cost of the console itself on a peripheral, the Elite controller would have to prove itself greatly. Well I’m here to tell you whether or not I believe this controller is worth that hefty asking price.

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Let’s start by discussing what sets the Elite controller apart from the standard $60 gamepad. First off, the controller includes all of the improvements that the revised controller has, including the improved bumpers, rubber grips and 3.5mm headphone jack. The build of the Elite controller feels much sturdier than the standard controller as well with a chrome plating at the top of the gamepad housing the Xbox guide button. The controller adds a bit of heft to the weight of the controller too, making it feel more like a piece of equipment rather than a plastic toy.

The first thing many will notice about the Elite controller are the paddles on the back of the gamepad. Four extra buttons reside on the back near the palm rests that fit nicely on your fingers when wrapping your hands around the controller. These paddles can be removed all together or the user can install one, two or just three of them if preferred. At first these paddles feel foreign and slightly uncomfortable due to how easy they are to press and how I tried my best to hold the controller in a fashion that would prevent accidental button presses. I found myself hovering my fingers over the buttons instead of resting them on the backside, which cramped my hands quickly.

Due to the uncomfortable nature, I contemplated removing the paddles altogether but stuck with them to see if I could adjust. Luckily, after playing a game for a few hours and mapping the paddles to my liking, I grew to like the paddles and re-learned how to hold the controller properly. Playing Call of Duty: Black Ops III, I found that mapping the jump, run and melee commands to the back paddles allowed me to freely traverse the maps without having to remove my thumb from the right analog stick in order to preform an action, which helped keep me mobile in-game and more aware. At this point, I became a big fan of the Elite’s paddle buttons.

Microsoft’s Elite controller also sports two hair trigger switches on the back of the gamepad. These switches raise the bottom zone, as I like to call it, in the triggers to prevent them from hitting the padded “thump” when they bottom out. Raising the bottom zone allows the triggers to be pressed in more quickly but kills the analog functionality for games that have vehicles for gas and breaking. In other words, flipping the switch to the bottom position allows gamers to pop off shots and aim faster in first person shooters, while keeping the switch in the standard up position makes pressure sensitive presses for racing games easier to handle. I like that I can now customize how I want the triggers to work, allowing me to tailor the triggers depending on the game I’m playing.

Possibly the biggest appeal of the Xbox One Elite controller is the ability to swap out parts to customize the controller to your play style. The Elite controller includes three sets of analog sticks, two different D-pads and the four removable paddle buttons, all attached with a magnetic mechanism. Each component can be easily removed with a tug and placed in it’s slot inside the controller’s fancy carrying case.

One set of analog sticks are the standard sticks found on the normal gamepad, one set has rounded, dome-like tops similar to Sony’s Dual Shock 3 controller, and the third set has taller sticks for those who like a more joystick-like feel. I’m personally more of a fan of the standard analog sticks myself but some gamers may not prefer the indent where your thumb rests on the stick and may want the dome top option instead. I found that the analog sticks, no matter which option you choose, feel tighter with the Elite controller and click nicer when you hit the edges of their round boarders.

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Xbox controllers have always caught a bad rap for including bad d-pads that are terrible for fighting games like Super Street Fighter IV or anything game that requires precise d-pad control like Super Meat Boy. Thankfully, the Xbox One d-pad is a small improvement but still not ideal. The Elite controller includes the standard d-pad as an option, but it also includes a rounded d-pad that I like to call the “satellite dish”. The satellite d-pad is rounded and includes all eight directional inputs in one rounded piece, which makes rotating around the d-pad much easier. I tested the satellite d-pad with Killer Instinct and found that I was able to pull off special moves and combos much easier than before. I quickly become accustomed to this new d-pad and decided to keep it attached to the controller and never looked back.

The last notable feature of the Xbox One Elite controller is the button mapping functionality. Using the Xbox Accessories app, gamers can create their own custom controller mappings to use in-game. Even the standard gamepad can use this app, but the Elite controller includes a switch in the middle of the gamepad that allows the Xbox Accessories app to store two custom mappings in the controller that can be switched on-the-fly at any time. I found this feature handy when playing Grand Theft Auto V so I could swap configurations while on-foot and in vehicles, making it a welcome addition.

As great as the Elite controller sounds, it comes with a few issues as well. The biggest issue being the paddle buttons on the back of the controller. I did find the controller uncomfortable to use due to the paddles being a bother at first, but I adjusted to them after a few hours of play. Gamers will need to become accustomed to how they hold the controller while keeping the paddles attached. Also, if your hand slips on the controller and you catch the underside of the paddles with your finger, you can pop them right out of their sockets. As I adjusted to using the controller, I found this to be less of an issue, but it still can happen in rare situations.

Strangely, I ran into the sync issues with the Elite controller too. The controller syncs to the Xbox One the same as the standard controller and I had no issues at first. However, the second time I tried to power on my Xbox One with the guide button, it didn’t work. I spent 10 minutes struggling to re-sync the controller and it would not sync until I plugged it in via USB. After the second stressful attempt at syncing, I was fine.

My biggest complaint with the controller is the price tag compared to what you actually get with the controller. Sure the swap-able parts, better build quality and extra inputs are great and require an added cost, but at $150 I still feel like the controller is a bit overpriced. The Elite controller still uses AA batteries too. Why couldn’t Microsoft throw in a play and charge kit too at that high of a price? The wireless dongle for PC gaming would have been a nice addition as well. I would have liked at least one more d-pad option too, like an eight-way directional pad split into quadrants like the d-pads found on the Sega Saturn and Sega Genesis controllers. I feel the controller’s price would have been much easier to swallow at a $100 price point. Do extra buttons really warrant an extra $90?

I would love to see Microsoft release some extra accessories for this controller, including extra optional analog sticks, d-pads and paddles. We have seen custom game themed buttons at trade shows but none of them have been available for sale yet. Since the theme of the Elite controller is customization, I feel like Microsoft will miss a great opportunity if they leave the controller in its current state and fail to support it with new button options.

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The Xbox One Elite controller is a fantastic gamepad that really does fix a lot of the issues I have with the standard Xbox One controller. I love the added weight and sturdy build quality and the customization is fantastic. While the gamepad takes some time to adjust to thanks to the paddles and it lacks a few components that I feel Microsoft cheated owners out of (notably the play and charge kit), the Elite controller is the best gamepad you can buy for your Xbox One and it truly feels like the Cadillac of video game controllers. I honestly believe the controller does help me perform better in-game too thanks to being able to customize the controller to my preferences and giving gamers the ability to play FPS titles without removing their thumb from the right stick thanks to the paddles. At $150 though, I would recommend a sale before purchasing, but hardcore gamers and Xbox One fans will definitely want one.

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Josh Faulkner

Josh is a native Ohio-an who grew up in a small town that had very little for kids to do. As a result, Josh picked up video games at a very young age. Video games played a huge part in his childhood and continued to do so in his adult life. Starting out on an Atari 2600 when he was 3 years old, gaming has sort of grown up alongside with Josh and continues to be his biggest hobby. As an IT technician by day, Josh is an aspiring gaming writer by night who founded a few websites including 16 Bit Heroes and Too Busy Gaming, while also dabbling in retro gaming YouTube videos and live streaming events.