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Lifewire / Zach Sweat
Improved range, Bluetooth and added 3.5mm jack
Can be highly customized
Grips on thumbsticks still wear quickly
Plastic feels a bit cheap/fragile
Battery life slightly worse
The Xbox One S controller is the best wireless option if you don’t want to shell out for the costly Elite.
If you’re like us, you’ve probably burned through a controller or two during the Xbox One’s long-lasting lifetime. Whether it be stick drift, worn out joysticks, broken bumpers or a combination of those common issues (or maybe you threw one across the room in a ragequit), most gamers will need to purchase a fresh controller at some point during their ownership. Improving on the original Xbox One controller, Microsoft put out the new Xbox One S controller—named after the S console it debuted alongside—a few noteworthy improvements over its predecessor. See what we thought about the update below.
While still mostly the same design as the original controller, the S controller has a few visual changes to note. Instead of using multiple pieces of plastic to form the face of the controller, the faceplate is one solid piece—creating a sleek, clean design that’s a welcome facelift. Some have pointed out that this is reminiscent of the Xbox 360 controllers that were among the most beloved controllers ever, so that’s good company to keep.
Improving on the original Xbox One controller, Microsoft put out the new Xbox One S controller—named after the S console it debuted alongside—a few noteworthy improvements over its predecessor.
Also near this change, you’ll notice that the Xbox button has ditched the shiny chrome color and opted for a more subtle black button. It still functions the same but meshes better with the color scheme. While the rest of the controller looks the same, at the bottom near the data port, Microsoft has also added a 3.5mm jack for headsets, meaning you no longer need a stereo adapter.
The original Xbox One controller, despite having a few shortcomings, is pretty universally liked for its ergonomics and comfort. This latest version remains pretty much the same with one minor difference in this area. On the original controller, the same smooth plastic was used for the entirety of the grip’s construction. This time around, Microsoft has added enhanced comfort and feel with a textured plastic material on the back. While very subtle, it does make a noticeable difference—though it’s not nearly as big of an improvement as the Xbox One Elite controller’s grips. You can get custom versions of this controller online that add better grips and rubberized finishes for additional comfort, but those also cost a bit more than this base model.
Setting up the new controller is quick and simple. Open it up, pop in a fresh set of batteries (or a battery pack if you’re using rechargeables) and you’re ready to pair it with the console. To do this, just turn on the controller and your console, hold down the pairing button on the top of the controller until the Xbox symbol flashes, and then do the same thing on your console’s pairing button. Both will begin to rapidly flash, indicating they are searching. Once paired, the flashing will slow and then stop to show they have successfully paired. We did not experience any issues or hiccups with this process.
For PC use, the setup is even easier than previous Xbox One controllers. Perhaps the most appealing upgrade for PC users is the newly added Bluetooth functionality. This means you no longer need the annoyingly large adapter to pair it with your PC (also saving you an additional $25). To connect, ensure your PC is running the Windows 10 Anniversary Update and your controller is updated. Then, turn on the controller. On the computer, select Start, then Settings > Devices > Bluetooth & other devices then turn Bluetooth on so it can discover the controller. You should see “Xbox Wireless Controller” pop up, so just click pair from there and you’re good to go.
The new and improved Xbox One S controller is the optimal choice for Xbox One and PC owners looking to upgrade.
A quick note here is that you can only connect one Bluetooth controller to your PC at a time. You also cannot use any attachments such as headsets, chatpads or the stereo adapter. We did manage to pair the controller with a couple other devices that weren’t officially supported, but this isn’t always possible. Do your research if you’re planning on using the controller with other devices.
Much like the original, these newer controllers perform flawlessly no matter if you’re on an original Xbox One, a One S, or One X. It also works perfectly with Windows 10 devices thanks to its new Bluetooth capabilities. Overall, the performance is the same, though the S controller seems a bit quieter for buttons and a bit lighter. The battery life seems a bit worse than the original controller, but not by too much. This is likely due to the increased range (twice the old) on the newer One S model, which claims you can be about 40 feet away and still play, though we’re not sure why that would ever be the case.
Much like the original, these newer controllers perform flawlessly no matter if you’re on an original Xbox One, a One S, or One X.
For durability, Microsoft didn’t seem to improve much here. It’s not terrible, but the same old problems seem to persist. Inevitably over time, the rubber joystick pads will wear down and become smooth. They feel excellent and grippy at first, but they won’t stay that way for long if you’re a heavy user. Unlike the Elite controller, you cannot swap these out when they wear down. Though we didn’t personally experience the analog drift and broken bumpers (the two major issues that have plagued all Xbox One controllers, even the Elite), there is nothing to suggest that they won’t pop up later on down the line. If you search through user reviews and experiences online, they still seem to be a problem.
As for those who worry about how a white controller will hold up over time without looking filthy, there shouldn’t be any real issues on this front. Simply cleaning it off now and then should keep it sparkling white—just keep any Cheeto-dusted fingers away from it.
Compared to other options on the market, the newer S controller is competitively priced and very affordable. Typically you can expect to pay around $40-50 for the base model (like the one we reviewed here), but there’s a plethora of various versions and colors you can choose if you want to pay a bit more. For the same controller in official Xbox variations and special editions for games, the price jumps to $65-70. For the user-customized versions, the ones where you can create thousands of different color combos, you’ll pay $70 unless you want the NFL stuff, which is a whopping $85.
Given the cheap price of this first-party controller, we really don’t know why anyone would bother with a third-party device, so let’s compare this model to the Elite. While the S is definitely a step up from the original controller, the S doesn’t hold a candle to its more expensive cousin.
With the Elite, you get: a carrying case, removable paddles for the back of the controller to add functions, swappable joystick variations, a USB cable for wired play or charging, customizable settings and custom button mapping, hair triggers, and the much-improved rubber grips. The one thing the S does have over the Elite is Bluetooth connectivity, meaning you no longer need the adapter to use it with a PC. With all the nice upgrades on the Elite, it’s not a big surprise it’s better.
Despite this, the S controller is less than a third the cost of the Elite, making it the ideal choice for those who want something cheaper, or simply don’t care about the customizations. It’s also worth noting that the Elite only comes in black and white, so it pales in comparison to the S’s many ways to add custom colors.
Browse through our list of The 9 Best Xbox One Accessories of 2019 to see even more awesome accessories to enhance your gaming experience.
Simply the best budget choice.
The new and improved Xbox One S controller is the optimal choice for Xbox One and PC owners looking to upgrade their old worn out controllers or those that want built-in Bluetooth. If you don’t want to pay $150 for an Elite controller, this is the one you want.