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Playing Around With The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller

Nearly two years after the launch of the Xbox One, the company announced at E3 that a new controller was on the way. The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller is targeted towards the more competitive or even professional players, mainly in part to its swappable buttons, extra paddles in the back, and the ability to change button assignments in the software. Four months after that announcement, the controller has finally arrived, but its price will be the biggest thing turning away potential customers.

The Layout

Inside the box is a small bag for the controller and its various components, and after you open it, you can immediately see the big changes from the original controller. The face buttons (Y, A, X, and B buttons) are now all in black instead of different colors for each letter. A new concave directional pad is in place, with nine distinct sections etched onto the pad. A small switch in the middle of the controller toggles between your two configurations. The area surrounding the Xbox button, the base of the joysticks, and the left and right bumper and trigger buttons have a metallic finish, and that's before you even hold the controller.

There's a notable difference in weight -- the new controller is slightly heavier. The black surface has more of a rubber matte finish compared to the original plastic gloss. The new grip comes in handy during long use when your hands get sweaty. The grips were also changed from the consistent black plastic to a lighter, textured gray material. On the back sits the four new paddles, and above those are the two green toggles for the left and right triggers to switch between full-motion or hair triggers, which have shorter travel.

As for the bag, it has a small section for the other replaceable parts. There are two other sets of joysticks, a slightly taller version of the default joysticks, and a domed version as opposed to the traditional concave design. If the new circular directional pad isn't to your liking, there's the original pad with a metallic finish.

There's also space for the four paddles if you don't want to use them, or you can easily deactivate paddle functionality by pressing the Bind button on top of the controller four times. The joysticks, directional pad, and paddles all use magnets for a secure attachment. Even though it's a wireless controller, Xbox also added a braided micro-USB cable for those who want to use the controller on the PC. As a final bonus, the bottom of the controller now also has a 3.5mm jack for headphones, something that's been on the DualShock 4 since the launch of the PlayStation 4.


After installing the Xbox Accessories app, I was finally able to spend some time with custom configurations. Aside from creating your own custom button assignments, there are already a few presets available for console-exclusive games, namely Halo 5: Guardians, Forza Motorsport 6, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, and Sunset Overdrive. However, you don't really see the full changes for each one until you inspect it in further detail in the app, where you have full access to button customization.

There are two ways to assign buttons: quick or advanced button mapping. Quick mapping instructs the player to press the button they would like to edit and then press the button they would like to be assigned. Advanced mapping means that you must select the original and its new assignment from a long list.

You can also change the sensitivity for the left and right joysticks to one of three settings other than default. A slow start setting means you will need to push the stick further to the edge for more movement in-game, while a fast start setting needs a small push on the stick to move. There's also an instant setting that requires very little movement on the stick for any action, making it a preferred choice for those playing competitive shooters.

Even with the green trigger switches on the back of the controller, you can still set the trigger sensitivity in the app so you can dictate the exact moment when the trigger is activated and deactivated when pressed. It somewhat defeats the purpose of the hair-trigger switches, but it's there for those who want to use it.

A surprising part of the app was the fact that you could change the intensity of the vibrations. By default, the left and right triggers, as well as the vibration mechanisms on the left and right handle, are set to 100 percent. However, in games like Forza, where the loss of traction or the engine revving vibrates on the triggers, some might turn it down because the feedback is too strong.

Finally, there's an option to switch the left and right thumbstick assignments, and even a setting for the overall brightness on the Xbox button. It's a safe bet that the button brightness, the use of the paddles, and the vibration settings all play a factor in overall battery life, as it still uses two AA batteries, so you might want to keep all or some of those settings off or as low as possible.

Play Time

I used the controller in three games: Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Forza Motorsport 6, and Gears of War Ultimate Edition. Halo and Gears of War seemed like the best way to test the hair-trigger switches with weapons, as well as the thumbstick sensitivity. For shooters, the switch to a hair-trigger setting made firing each shot slightly faster because the trigger buttons don't move down as much.

On the other hand, the thumbstick sensitivity took some time getting used to, especially between the short and instant settings. The distance to activate movement between the two choices is very slim. Combine that with the overall travel speed of the game's camera on the X and Y axes, and it might be moving too fast for even the most experienced players.

For Forza 6, button mapping was used to make the two lowest paddles act as paddle-shift gear changes during the races. Initially, the gear change buttons were the left and right bumpers, but with the new assignments sent to the paddles, my fingers didn't have to move far to change the gear. The vibrations on the trigger buttons were reduced to 50 percent as well, due to the strong feedback from braking too hard or immediately accelerating from a tight corner. However, it was still too strong at 50 percent, so that could be another change in the future.

The new directional pad feels odd under the thumb, but once you get used to its contours, it feels like the regular directional buttons but with a rounded edge. Both the DualShock 4 and the current Xbox One controllers have thumbsticks with a concave design so your thumb doesn't slip off. The domed surfaces are included in the bag for the new controller, but after using the new, dipped surface for so long, it's strange to use it again.

My fingers didn't exactly slip, but making tight turns in Forza 6 were a bit of a struggle as I pushed the stick to the extreme left or right of the base. As for the taller joysticks, there's no noticeable advantage to using them in any of the three games. If anything, the best time to use them would be during fighting games, as you could hold it firmly like an arcade stick.

Stick With What You Have

Considering what it offers, $149.99 seems to be a bit expensive for the controller. Even when using the new paddles or the hair-trigger switches, I was still more comfortable using the standard controller. Initially, the button remapping tool was only supposed to be on the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller (and that alone would be a great buying point), but the recent news that the software would be coming to all Xbox One controllers made buying the new device unnecessary. If you're a competitive gamer, this might be something to consider buying, but for the casual player it's probably not worth purchasing. You might as well save the money for a new game.


Rexly Peñaflorida II is a Contributor at Tom’s Hardware. He writes news on tech and hardware, but mostly focuses on gaming news. As a Chicagoan, he believes that deep dish pizza is real pizza and ketchup should never be on hot dogs. Ever. Also, Portillo’s is amazing.

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