Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Controller
Microsoft's first venture into the console business with the Xbox was a learning experience for the company, and there's no greater evidence than the evolution of the system's controller. The original Xbox controller was an oversize mess, with oddly shaped and placed buttons. Roughly halfway through the console's run, the original controller was replaced with the Controller S, the smaller alternative created for the Japanese launch. Heralded as one of the best controllers ever created, Xbox fans wondered how Microsoft could improve upon its design as it set out to create the official wireless controller for the Xbox 360. Here's the answer.
The Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless controller retails for $50--that is, $10 more than the wired controller. It's currently available in only one color, and it accepts two AA batteries or a more environmentally friendly Xbox 360 Rechargeable Battery Pack. The controller should last from 15 to 20 hours between recharging or replacing the battery.
The Xbox 360 Wireless Controller borrows many design elements from the Controller S. The left and right analog sticks and triggers, the control pad, and the face buttons are all in the same spots, constructed rather similarly. The start and Back buttons have been moved to the center, flanking the new guide button, which can turn on the system remotely and allows access to your gamer card at any time. Removed from the older controller are the black and white buttons, which were awkwardly placed below the face buttons. Taking their place are the left and right bumpers, which make their home on the top of the controller in front of the triggers. Atop the controller is a small white sync button that, for the first time, allows your controller to communicate with a Xbox 360 console. The slight changes have resulted in a nearly perfect design; not only is the controller great for Xbox 360 games, but you may just prefer the new layout for the backward-compatible Xbox1 titles, as the bumpers are better located than the black and white buttons.
A variety of inputs are unobtrusively located on the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller. On the top is the input for the Xbox 360 Play and Charge Kit, which allows you to recharge the battery pack via a cabled USB connection to the console--though we found the Quick Charge Kit to be a far better solution. On the bottom is a headset input. You can plug in any headset with a 2.5mm minijack (standard for cell phone headsets), but the input is form-fitted to accept the Xbox 360 Headset, which has built-in volume and mute buttons. Compared to the wired controller, this model is slightly heavier and bulkier, due to the presence of the battery pack at the back of the controller.
As for performance, it's phenomenal, besting even Logitech and Nintendo's wireless wares. Response time is even with that of any wireless controller released before. The controller is as responsive as its wired counterpart, with the exception of the guide button, which takes a few seconds longer to sync wirelessly. The force feedback is strong but not quite as strong as the wired controller's. That said, where the 360 Wireless Controller separates itself from the rest of the pack is its ability to connect multiple controllers at once. While other controllers require multiple dongles and manually chosen frequencies, each of these wireless controllers will sync with the Xbox 360 console once the guide button is pressed. Once connected, the quadrant of the guide button corresponding to the player's number lights up.
In the final analysis, the Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Controller may be one of the best wireless controllers ever in terms of design and performance. If you're looking for faults, you might argue the controller lacks any startling new features--especially in comparison to the motion-based controllers for the upcoming Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3--which may hinder true game design innovations. And you might also be disappointed that it doesn't come with a rechargeable battery at this price point. But those quibbles aside, the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller is at the top of the pack.