We've all been there, you threw your controller against the wall after facing off against the Guardian Ape in Sekrio: Shadows Die Twice. Thanks to your heated gamer moment, you now have to scramble for a replacement. Or maybe you want to play split-screen coop in Gears 5 with a buddy who's over. Either way, you need a second a controller that feels good but doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
At $40, PowerA’s Spectra is a comfy budget wired alternative to an Xbox One controller. While the lack of Bluetooth or any wireless capability might turn off some folks, this controller is responsive, has a good weight to it, and, more importantly, feels nearly identical to the Xbox One controller.
The button layout is nearly identical to an Xbox One controller, even down to the same texturized rubber on the joysticks. This is not too surprising since the Spectra is an official Xbox license product. This means at a glance it actually kind of looks like an Xbox One controller with the edge lighting being the dead give away. I compared the Spectra and an official Xbox One controller while playing all the usual suspects like Call of Duty: Warzone and Mortal Kombat 11, and found that the joysticks are almost the same amount of tension and even the face buttons had similar feel when you pressed down on them. I can’t express how hard it’s been to find a third-party controller where the buttons feel anywhere close to that of the Xbox One controller. It was one of my major issues with Razer’s Wolverine Ultimate who’s face buttons felt far too shallow to the point where you didn’t think you pressed the button.
One of the touches I ended up liking more than I thought was the seven color LED edge lighting. At the touch of a button, you can cycle through the different colors; I ended up settling on purple to match the rest of the ridiculous RGB-lit hardware at my desk. The two extra programmable buttons in the back of the controller are well placed right around the grip and are reachable via your ring-fingers. This means if you need to use them, you don’t have to change your grip when playing.
The fact it isn't a wireless controller is a bit rough since the nearly 10ft snap-lock detachable micro-USB cable feels like overkill for someone who plays at the desk. The Spectra is more suited for gamers who need the length to play on the living room couch. To be fair, I know people who only play with wired controllers who’d rather not deal batteries or recharging a controller.
One feature I was surprised to see was the 3-way trigger locks, which were one of my favorite things about the Xbox Elite Series 2 controllers, a controller that costs more than four times the Spectra. It’s a nice feature, but the triggers didn’t feel all that different regardless of where you set the lock, unlike the Series 2. In Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Warzone I only saw a marginal difference in how quickly it affected my shooting.
The triggers were even less effective in games that require pressure-sensitive controls, such as accelerating in racing games like Forza or trying to control vehicles in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. The d-pad felt a little too stiff, so playing fighting games didn't feel great, especially if you play anything that requires quarter-circle movements like Street Fighter V.
If you play on an Xbox One, the Spectra had no issues when plugged into the console. The Xbox Guide button brought up my dashboard and I was able to plug in a gaming headset through its 3.5mm jack with no issues. PowerA's budget controller makes a decent second controller option if you get into some split-screen action on Halo.
All in all, PowerA Spectra works well as a wired budget PC and Xbox controller. Nearly identical to design and feel to a first-party Xbox One controller. It's a shame it isn't wireless, but that sweet edge lighting and extra programmable buttons might be a decent compromise for $40, especially if you'd rather not deal with batteries but need a controller to give your little brother.