At a glance
Elite (+) Awesome new d-pad; easy-to-use software; premium design; plenty of sticks to choose from; included audio jack.
Destitute (-) Expensive; paddle sticks would occasionally fall out; no dual-trigger design; accidentally launches SBP upon shutoff.
Best in class (Updated with video review)
The PC is no stranger to high-end gaming peripherals. We’ve got super fancy RGB mechanical keyboards that sport a wide array of switch types, and we also have extremely luminescent gaming mice with crazy DPI options. There are also a multitude of high-end gaming controllers, including Valve’s recently released Steam Controller, which offers a ton of customization options in its own ways. Not to be outdone, Microsoft has unleashed its own beast: the Xbox Elite controller.
What makes the controller “elite”? Well, first off, at $150, perhaps only the elite will be able to afford it! That said, it really does look and feel super premium, and offers a ton of customization options. In fact, it's one of our top picks for a PC game controller.
The first thing you’ll notice about the controller is its looks, which are damned sexy. Its bold black-and-silver design is a thing of beauty. When you pick it up and hold it in your hands, you’ll notice how premium it feels. Microsoft uses some high-end rubber materials and expensive steel components here, and the end result feels comfortable and built to last. You’ll also notice that the Elite has four paddles on the back, which mirror the controller’s ABXY face buttons by default, though you can change that using the Xbox app on Windows. While you can customize these buttons to be whatever you want, we actually preferred gaming without them in most cases, as we sometimes found ourselves accidentally clicking them. Luckily, these back buttons are just held on by magnets and you can take them off easily.
The controller can be used wirelessly with Microsoft's new $25 USB adapter.
Other bold changes to the controller include different d-pad and thumbstick mounts. In addition to your traditional d-pad configuration, Microsoft also included a satellite-looking d-pad that you can swap in. We really liked using this satellite style d-pad; it made shooting fireballs in fighting games much easier than the controller’s more traditional d-pad. As a matter of fact, despite its unusual look, we’ll go out on a limb and say it is arguably the best fighting-game d-pad out there.
The two joy sticks also get a lot of attention—Microsoft has included three pairs of swappable sticks. So you get the traditional concave sticks, but Microsoft has also included a pair of taller concave sticks, and a PlayStation-style dome setup. The tall sticks are a little too tall for our liking and the dome-style sticks didn’t offer as much grip as the regular sticks, so we ended up sticking (no pun intended) with the original pair. It is worth mentioning that you can mix and match these sticks as you please, and that all these sticks and d-pad mounts are held on magnetically, so are easily swapped out. Microsoft also includes a nice carrying case for storing all these accessories.
The shoulder buttons received some attention, as well. One gripe we have with the regular Xbox One controller is that its shoulder buttons required a little too much actuation force for our liking, but the Elite controller eases up the tension required to actuate and it feels much more satisfying and clicky as a result. There are also two switches on the back of the controller that adjust the “throw,” or travel, of the L2 and R2 buttons.
The controller has a bunch of customization options.
Not only can you mess around with the hardware, but the Xbox app on Windows allows you to remap all the buttons on the controller. Which means you could remap every button to “X” if you wanted to. You can also adjust the control stick dead zones, configure shoulder button travel distance even further, and there are also five different sensitivity presets to choose from. While you can create as many controller profiles as you want, you can save two local presets to the controller and switch between them on the fly in-game. This means you could have one preset for walking around and another for sniping, which is pretty cool. You can also adjust rumble and even how bright the white Xbox button glows. While the customization options aren’t crazy deep like Valve’s Steam Controller, the software is pretty easy to use.
The Xbox Elite has a lot going for it, but it isn’t perfect. The magnetic paddle sticks on the back would occasionally come loose; another small gripe is that when you hold down the Xbox button to turn off the controller, Steam Big Picture Mode inadvertently launches. We would have also liked it if the controller offered dual-stage triggers, like the Steam Controller, so you could lightly press on a shoulder button to aim and then press all the way down to fire. All in all, however, if the Steam Controller isn’t for you and you prefer traditional setups, this is the best controller in that class that we’ve tried out so far. It is expensive, but it’s meant for professional gamers, and given the fact that high-end keyboard and mice are also super expensive, we don’t think it’s too crazy to give the Elite Controller our Kick-Ass seal of approval.