Microsoft Xbox Elite Controller review: Luxury gaming and customization, at a price
Its $150 price tag certainly puts it in an exclusive class, but the Elite controller is one of the most customizable, comfortable and luxurious controllers we've ever used.
The Elite Wireless Controller for Xbox One and PC is one of the most comfortable controllers I've ever held. It's head and shoulders ahead of other controllers for Microsoft's console and other platforms. The only problem is its eyebrow-raising price: $150, £120 or AU$200.
Odds are you probably don't need to spend that kind of money -- two and a half times more than a regular wireless pad -- on an Xbox One controller. But for the privileged few, the Elite is an indulgence that delivers in ways no other controller can.
It's immediately noticeable how much heavier the Elite is than the original Xbox One controller. It feels substantial and luxurious. Every button on the controller operates with flawless tactile feedback and satisfying smoothness. A matte rubberized coating wraps most of the controller, with the grips getting an extra textured detailing. It feels like you're holding a really high-end gadget. The included molded carrying case demands it not be left on a coffee table or couch.
Impressive build quality aside, the Elite controller's main selling point is the massive amount of customization possible with the analog sticks, triggers, D-pad and more. It comes with three sets of magnetic, stainless steel analog sticks that can be easily swapped in and out. Two sets of concave-topped sticks, one of normal height and another twice the height, and one set of domed sticks can be mixed and matched to your specific taste.
The analog ball joints feel really solid too and they have a certain buttery springiness that the original controller just doesn't offer. I enjoyed using the taller concave right stick for first-person shooters -- it makes precision aiming much easier.
There are two D-pads included with the Elite, a traditional "plus" design and a circular, almost octagonal shape that makes hitting diagonal directions a bit easier. Both easy swap out with magnetic fittings.
Even the controller's back triggers can be altered. A lever underneath each trigger can activate hair-trigger mode, which prevents a trigger from needing to be fully pulled. The idea is that you don't need to wait the extra half second or so it takes for the trigger to spring back to its resting spot and instead it can be fired rapidly. It definitely appears to make shooting that much quicker, but only if you're firing in bursts or single-round shots from a weapon that will fire as quickly as you can pull the trigger.
Finally, the controller lets you remap buttons to a set of four detachable paddles, which can be programmed through a free Xbox app specifically designed for the controller. Some players find the option to bind a command to the back of a controller beneficial, be it the gas on a race car or a quick grenade toss. I found some success making a back paddle the button for switching weapons in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, as I didn't have to remove my thumbs from the sticks.
I'm not used to having paddles on the back of the controller, however, so I found myself accidentally hitting them more often than not. It's probably something I could get used to with practice, but for someone who's been playing a certain way for decades it might be tough unlearning that.
The free Elite app not only lets you program the back paddles, but it can also let you remap any of the 14 digital inputs from the controller. Two control scheme profiles can be stored on the controller itself, which can be accessed via a switch below the Xbox Guide button. Microsoft says that developer-created alternate control schemes for specific titles will be offered through the app down the road as well.
A $150 controller needs some added value, doesn't it? So it's good to know the Elite plays nicely with Windows 10, as does the free app. It's ready to use on your PC right out of the box with an included USB wire. You can even use it wirelessly with your PC too, you'll just need the Xbox Wireless Adapter -- another $25, £25 or AU$30. But at $150, I wish there was a rechargeable battery inside the Elite. Unfortunately, it only takes AAs.
It's tough to justify spending $150, £120 or AU$200 on a video game controller, especially one that won't necessarily make you "better" at games. The Elite provides plenty of functionality improvements over a standard Xbox One controller, but a lot of these benefits are luxuries. If money isn't an issue, yes, the Elite controller is the best one for your Xbox One and PC gaming needs. But if you're not a pro gamer, that $150 could likely be spent on more exciting items, like a regular controller and a game -- not to mention you'd still have $30 left over.
If owning the Elite is a must, but you just can't come to terms with spending $150, you may want to look at the Elite Xbox One bundle. Of course this only applies if you don't already own an Xbox One. The bundle goes for $500, £400 or AU$600, which knocks about $50, £20 or AU$100 off the price of an Elite controller, making it a much easier pill to swallow. Plus, the console also comes with a 1TB solid-state hybrid drive, which presumably increases loading speed, but we'll still need to check that out to know for sure.