Xbox Series X Controller Review

Call the Xbox Wireless Controller ol’ reliable. In keeping with Microsoft’s push for cross-generational continuity, the new Xbox Wireless Controller launching with the Xbox Series X and Series S isn’t so much a “next-gen” controller as it is an incremental update on the one we already know. It’s flush with small tweaks that improve specific elements of the Xbox experience, like recording gameplay, using the D-pad, and grip. However, there are no big “next-gen” swings – no features designed to change the way we play and interact with games – just a slightly better controller than the one that came before it. If you’re eager for that next-gen moment where the hardware gives you a vision of what could be, this may take the wind out of your sails a bit. Personally, I’m fine letting Microsoft to continue riffing on its highly comfortable and familiar controller design.

Xbox Wireless Controller (2020) – Design and Features

The black model, which is what you’ll get with the launch-day version of the Xbox Series X, looks very, very similar to the Bluetooth-enabled model that came out with the Xbox One S and X: its black matte plastic shell, multi-colored, face buttons, and analog sticks all look and feel identical to their predecessors. If you know your way around an Xbox One controller you’ll have no problem finding the pairing button on top, the plate in the back that covers two AA batteries, and two ports on the bottom – the proprietary port for connecting the Xbox chatpad, and a 3.5mm audio jack for wired headsets.

Xbox Wireless Controller (2020)

There are a few little cosmetic flourishes, like an all-black Xbox button, and matte bumper and trigger buttons, that generally make the controller look a little more subtle and distinguishable from its predecessors, but only in the slightest way. I’d expect Xbox die-hards to notice these tweaks after spending seven years using an Xbox One controller, but more casual players probably wouldn’t know the difference.

The body of the controller has barely changed.The body of the controller has barely changed. Measuring 6 x 4 x 2.47 inches (WDH), versus the Xbox One controller’s 6 x 4 x 2.56, it’s effectively identical. And, weighing in at 287 grams, versus the Xbox One model’s 279 grams, it’s just a hair heavier. (Both weights were measured with two AA batteries inside). Despite a miniscule shift in weight and size, the new controller has a certain heft to it. Like the Xbox Elite Series 2, that weightiness is well balanced so the controller fits well in your hands.

That said, there are three changes from the last Xbox controller to the new model that may impact how you use it. The first and most obvious is the new share button in the center of the controller, near the Menu and View buttons. The share button makes it easier to quickly take screenshots or start recording video clips with a single button press. By default, pressing the button takes a screenshot and holding it for a second starts recording a video clip. (You can swap these functions, or change either to record recent footage, using the Xbox Accessories app on any Xbox One or Xbox Series console).

I’m much more likely to snap something on a whim.The share button makes it much easier to use Xbox’s native sharing tools on the fly. With the old controller there was a moment of lag after pressing the Xbox button before you could access the recording options, which made recording feel like a bit of a hassle and made it difficult to record screenshots accurately without a photo mode. I still wouldn’t call using the share button the best way to record screenshots, but this feels more responsive and it’s completely painless. I’m much more likely to snap something on a whim, knowing that I can do it with a single press.

Surprisingly, the biggest change is in the D-pad's louder, more responsive click.The controller also has a new, clickier “hybrid”-style directional pad that falls halfway between the cross-shaped D-pad of the previous model and the abstract, concave D-pad design of the Xbox Elite Series 2. The new version is a slightly concave circular pad with raised cardinal directions (right, left, up, and down). The directions look and feel more pronounced than on the Elite Series 2, making it easier to tell the difference between hitting a cardinal versus a diagonal. Surprisingly, the biggest change is in its louder, more responsive click. A full press on one of the cardinal directions elicits strong feedback you can hear and feel. Depending on your opinions on “clicky” buttons, this may be a huge upgrade or a nuisance, but as someone who frequently fudges directional presses during intense play, I found it to be helpful.

The last and arguably least exciting of the gameplay-focused changes is the addition of textured grips along the controller’s side handles and triggers. The mild but highly textured grip more effectively keeps the controller from moving in your hands, even when they get sweaty. The trigger grips are more cosmetic than useful, though. They could keep your fingers from sliding, but how often do your fingers really slide on their own?

I would have preferred that Microsoft to finally make the jump to an internal battery.There are also two small changes around the wireless technology of the controller. As with the last version, it supports the Xbox wireless pairing protocol used by the Xbox One and Bluetooth for easy pairing with other devices, such as phones and tablets. The Bluetooth has been upgraded to Bluetooth Low-Energy, which should lead to longer battery life in that mode. Sadly, the Xbox controller continues to demand AAs instead of an internal rechargeable battery.

On the plus side, the new controller features a USB-C port rather than microUSB. It’s somewhat bittersweet: I would have preferred that Microsoft to finally make the jump to an internal battery. Still, using USB-C could lead to faster charging if you use an Xbox rechargeable battery kit. (I haven’t tested one, so I don’t know for sure). At the very least, the reversible USB-C connector is a lot easier to plug in.

Xbox Wireless Controller (2020) – Software

Both the Xbox One- and Series X-generation consoles allow you to remap many, but not all, of the buttons on the new Xbox Wireless Controller using the Xbox Accessories app. As on the Xbox One, the app gives you a simple, clear interface for moving inputs around on the controller. You can highlight one of the customizable inputs from a menu, or simply hold the button down to highlight it for a change.

Like some configuration apps for mice and keyboards on the PC, there are limitations on what you can change. Even on the new controller, you cannot reconfigure the triggers, the Xbox button, or the Menu and View buttons. The new share button can only be assigned a recording-related feature – taking a screenshot, recording gameplay that just occurred, or starting and stopping a new recording. Perhaps most importantly, there are no new alternative features you can map to your buttons, like opening an app. While it’s neat that all Xbox controllers have this feature, it’s much less helpful on the standard Xbox Wireless Controller than it is on the Elite, where you have more inputs and more options due to the back buttons.

Xbox Wireless Controller (2020) – Gaming

On the Series X and Series S, specifically, the new controller takes advantage of an upgraded Xbox proprietary wireless connection. According to Microsoft, a new feature called “Dynamic Latency Input” pings the controller for inputs more frequently than before. In theory, this should lead to less latency and fewer mispresses. In standard gameplay testing, I can’t say that I noticed the controller was more responsive on the Series X, though it does feel quite snappy. Playing the Xbox One version of Ori and The Will of The Wisps, I was able to make precise jumps quickly and didn’t lose any inputs, but that’s true of the previous controllers as well, of course.

Best 4K Gaming TV For PS5 and Xbox Series X

Using the recording features with the share buttons are where you see the most noticeable change. In any game, from Watch Dogs: Legion on the Series X to Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2 (2020) on the One X, I generally felt much more confident that I could grab a screenshot of the right moment, now that I can take them at the push of a button. It’s less empowering with video, I think, but I’m personally more likely to actually create clips of my gameplay using the console now that there’s a quick way to record.

The new controller shines in games where you rely heavily on the D-Pad.Though the new Xbox Wireless Controller will launch alongside the Xbox Series X and Series S on November 10 and comes packed in with those consoles, the controller is backward compatible and works with Xbox One consoles as well. The new controller shines in games where you rely heavily on the D-Pad. In MK11, for instance, the clicky D-pad provides useful feedback when focusing on directional moves. Yes, you have to be careful not to hit the diagonal, but you’ll feel the mistake if you make it, which makes it easier to sense and correct mispresses.

Purchasing Guide

The new Xbox Wireless Controller will be available for $59.99 from the Microsoft Store, Amazon, and other retailers starting November 10. The controller comes included with Xbox Series X and Series S consoles, which also launch November 10.


The new iteration of the stalwart Xbox Wireless Controller doesn’t quite feel like a “next-gen” controller in the same way that Sony’s DualSense does because of its lack of flashy new features. However, subtle changes to the D-pad and the new share button have improved it in minor ways that will resonate with every game you play, regardless of which generation of Xbox you’re using it with, and an excellent choice for gaming on PCs, phones, and tablets.

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