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Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire
Brand new D-pad design
Reduced latency when gaming
No massive changes from previous generation
Analog sticks unchanged
Rubber carbon switches unchanged
The Xbox Series X|S controller looks a lot like its predecessor, but that isn’t a bad thing. It’s everything you liked about the previous version with some welcome upgrades in just the right places, and it’s even backward compatible with Xbox One consoles.
Our reviewer purchased the Xbox Series X|S Controller so they could test it out to its full capabilities. Read on for their take.
The Xbox Series X|S controller, also known as the Xbox Wireless Controller, has a pretty clear pedigree. Set it next to an Xbox One controller, and you have to look closely to notice the differences. It includes one extra button, the D-pad looks a little different, and that’s about all. It does include a handful of welcome upgrades, but Microsoft clearly wasn’t looking to fix something that wasn’t broken.
Unlike previous generations of Xbox hardware, Microsoft chose to make Xbox Series X|S controllers and Xbox One controllers entirely interchangeable. That means you can hang on to your old Xbox One controllers to use with your Xbox Series X or S, and you can also use the brand new Xbox Series X|S controller with your old Xbox One. That creates a bit of a strange question surrounding this controller: is it really worth the upgrade?
I spent about a month with an Xbox Series X|S controller, gaming on both an Xbox Series S and PC, looking for the answer to that question. I paid special attention to the new features and upgrades, considered factors like build quality and durability, and you’ll find my conclusions laid out below.
When you look at an Xbox Series X|S controller, the first thing you’re likely to notice is that it looks almost exactly like the Xbox One S controller. They have nearly identical form factors, button layouts, and button spacing. If you liked the way the Xbox Series S controller felt in your hands, you’ll like this one just as much, if not more.
Departing from the Xbox One S design, the Xbox Series X|S controller shell has a more aggressive microdot texture on the grips. The same texture is present on both the triggers and bumpers, which also have a matte finish instead of the slippery, glossy finish those buttons had on the previous hardware. The combined effect is that the controller feels easier to grip and hold, especially during long play sessions, and your fingers are unlikely to slip from the triggers.
The other big departure here is that the D-pad has received a complete makeover from the previous generation. It’s still a one-piece plastic D-pad, but the faceted look has more in common with Elite controllers than the standard Xbox One S controller. The D-pad stands a bit further out from the face of the controller as well, because the physical D-pad button is thicker than it was last generation.
Internally, the D-pad still uses the same basic design of a plastic switch, metal spring steel retainer, and metallic buttons on the circuit board that flex in to activate. The D-pad feels extremely clicky, almost like it uses mechanical switches, but it’s just an improved version of the same system.
The last important change to the design of the Xbox Series X|S controller is the inclusion of a share button. This lozenge-shaped button is located between, and slightly below, the view and menu buttons. It’s configurable so that pressing it can open the sharing menu or automatically snap a screenshot or record video, depending on how you want it to work.
“In addition to being specifically designed for the Xbox Series X|S, and having backwards compatibility with the Xbox One, this controller also offers a pain-free plug and play experience with Windows 10.
The controller is still powered by AA batteries, with the option to use a rechargeable battery pack instead, although the dimensions of the battery compartment aren’t exactly the same as the previous generation. That means you won’t necessarily be able to use Xbox One controller battery packs with this controller.
Physical ports include a USB-C port on top for wired gameplay, a 3.5mm audio jack on the bottom for connecting headphones or a headset, and the same expansion port that’s found on Xbox One S controllers. Since the latter two ports are configured exactly the same as they were on the Xbox One S controller, most chatpad and audio accessories from the last generation will work with this controller.
Internally, the Xbox Series X|S controller is superficially a lot like the Xbox One S controller. They have identical rumble motors and weights, the same sandwiched circuit board design, and only moderately redesigned bumper button activators. What you don’t see is that the Xbox Series X|S controller packs in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) support, Dynamic Latency Input (DLI), and other hardware and firmware upgrades that help elevate this controller over its predecessor.
Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire
The Xbox One S controller was already a comfortable controller, and the Xbox Series X|S offers slight improvements in that area. The shape and button configuration are both exactly the same as the Xbox One S controller, with the Xbox Series X|S controller being just a tad thicker through the middle. The only real change in the feel of the controller is the inclusion of an aggressive texture on the grips, triggers, and bumpers, which help improve comfort during long gaming sessions.
If you ever notice your palms getting a bit sweaty or clammy after playing for a long time, you’ll appreciate the improved grips on the Xbox Series X|S controller. It feels great the moment you pick it up, and even better after you’ve been playing for a few hours.
Button positioning is exactly the same on the Xbox Series X|S controller as the Xbox One S controller. If you were comfortable with it before, you’ll still be comfortable here. I find the positioning of the analog sticks and D-pad to be pretty close to ideal, with the D-pad easily tapped by either thumb during frenetic gameplay. The triggers and bumpers also feel great, with zero finger repositioning required to activate the bumpers while resting on the triggers.
“The combined effect is that the controller feels easier to grip and hold, especially during long play sessions, and your fingers are unlikely to slip from the triggers.
This is the official pack-in controller for the Xbox Series X and S, so there is no setup process or extra software to mess around with. If you’re using it with your console, it’s literally just a matter of plug and play. The most you’ll have to do is assign your profile to the controller, which is no different than any other controller.
In addition to being specifically designed for the Xbox Series X|S, and having backwards compatibility with the Xbox One, this controller also offers a pain-free plug-and-play experience with Windows 10. Plug the controller in via USB, or pair it via Bluetooth, and Windows sets it up automatically.
The correct Windows 10 drivers weren’t available on launch day, but I waited a bit and tried again. Second time was the charm, as Microsoft had updated Windows 10 with the necessary drivers, and I was able to jump right into a game of Genshin Impact with nothing special to download or configure. It just works. If it doesn’t work that way for you, just make sure you’ve fully updated Windows 10 and that should do the trick.
The Xbox Series X|S controller offers solid performance, with accurate analog inputs, responsive triggers, and no noticeable button mushiness during the first month of use. The D-pad is the best I’ve seen outside of Elite controllers. It feels like a significant upgrade, although only time will tell on that front.
While the D-pad feels extremely clicky, almost like it’s backed up by mechanical switches, it isn’t. A teardown reveals that the D-pad uses the same underlying design as the one found in Xbox One controllers, with metal buttons on the circuit board that pop in and out when depressed and released.
The face buttons also use the same old tech, pushing carbon-backed rubber buttons against the circuit board. That means they’re probably subject to the same sort of failures we’ve seen in a lot of controllers, although time will tell there as well. Judging from a superficial look at the internals, it’s likely that Xbox Series X|S controllers will be just as durable as Xbox One controllers, if not a bit more so.
"The D-pad is the best I’ve seen outside of Elite controllers.
With an MSRP of $60, the Xbox Series X|S controller is in a pretty good place in terms of price. It’s priced a bit lower than the PlayStation 5 DualSense controller and significantly less than a pair of Joy-Cons for the Nintendo Switch. The DualSense has a bunch of tech you won’t find in the Xbox Series X|S controller though, so it only makes sense for Sony’s flagship controller to have a higher MSRP.
Microsoft has created a bit of a strange situation, where the biggest competitor for the Xbox Series X|S controller is the Xbox One controller. They’re extremely similar devices, with the Xbox Series X|S controller offering a handful of features and upgrades and a slightly higher price.
The Xbox One controller has an MSRP of $65, which is actually five dollars higher than the Xbox Series X|S controller MSRP. In practice, the street price for an Xbox One controller is typically in the neighborhood of $45, while the Xbox Series X|S controller is more commonly priced at MSRP.
While the Xbox Series X|S controller is undeniably the superior piece of hardware, even when considering the difference in street prices, the Xbox One controller is no slouch. If you have an Xbox One controller, and you’re trying to decide whether or not to set it aside and upgrade to an Xbox Series X|S controller, holding on to your old controller is an entirely valid choice. You can use Xbox One controllers with the Xbox Series X and S, so there’s very little reason to replace all of your old controllers just because you got a new console.
If you’re looking to buy a new controller, the equation changes. The Xbox Series X|S controller is a fantastic update, and the pricing isn’t out of line, so it just makes sense to go that direction if trying to choose between it and an Xbox One controller.
Improved in all the right ways.
The Xbox Series X|S controller is more of an iterative improvement over the last generation than a massive sea change, but that’s actually a good thing. This controller takes everything that was good about its predecessor and makes it just a little bit better, making this a fantastic choice whether you’re looking for a controller for your Xbox Series X or S, Xbox One, or even Windows PC.
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