What's the best video game controller? I'd wager that for most, it's a discussion reduced to just two viable candidates: the Xbox 360 gamepad and the DualShock 2 – each of which were masterworks of ergonomics. Perhaps the more incendiary among us might point to the GameCube's wireless WaveBird with a knowing grin, and those with deep pockets to the Xbox Series Elite 2. It's ultimately an argument with no obvious resolution, although I'd be willing to wager that the Xbox Series X controller design could put forward a compelling case for the crown.
At a surface level, the Xbox Series X controller design bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor. The general shape has a familiar curvature, the ABXY colouring returns, as does the basic placement of the buttons and sticks. Given that Microsoft is attempting to curtail the traditional generation divide, keeping the Xbox One intrinsically tied to the wider Xbox ecosystem, even as attention turns towards the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, perhaps it's no surprise that the manufacturer was eager to retain some familiarity in the design of its peripherals. Look a little deeper though, and you'll find a number of smart revisions that prioritise precision, comfort, and accessibility in the Xbox Series X controller's industrial design.
Don't mess with a good thing
As familiar as the Xbox Series X controller is, there is one change that's difficult to ignore – the D-pad has been overhauled. It's clear that Microsoft has taken everything it has learned from production of the Elite controller and applied them here, delivering a hybrid directional pad that incorporates elements of the faceted dish from the premium gamepad and the regular cross that Xbox One players will be comfortable with. There's a little well in the dish of the D-pad that allows your thumb to rest comfortably, and the axis is responsive enough that only minimal pressure needs to be applied to hear a satisfying click across all eight directions. Due to the nature of the Xbox Series X preview conditions, I'm not yet able to tell you how this translates to in-game control or responsiveness, but from a purely aesthetic standpoint it's an attractive update.
The Xbox Series X controller has been subtly redesigned to comfortably fit a larger percentile of the population. That isn't to say the entire unit has been shrunk or is any lighter – it's about the same size and weight as the Xbox One controller by my interpretation – but rather that individual elements have been subtly reduced in service of ergonomics. The grips have been re-sculpted and fitted with a gentle, tactile textured effect. As have the triggers and bumpers, each of which are smaller and re-angled from past Xbox controller iterations; the result is a controller that should hopefully stand the scrutiny of long play sessions and sweaty hands, a consideration also accounted for in the matte-black finish applied to the surface of the pad.
Speaking of the triggers, they are a little shorter, though they definitely appear deeper – with gradual depression requiring a little more force than before. Again, while I'm not able to put this functionality to the test just yet, it will be interesting to see whether reworked analogue triggers allow for more precision and intuitive control, should developers choose to utilise the feature. The same goes for the Impulse and Rumble motors inside of the triggers and grips of the chassis, respectively, with the technology returning from previous iterations of the Xbox One controller.
To be honest, I'm eager to get into what's going on beneath the chassis. The new elements of the controller from a technology standpoint, such as the implementation of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for easier pairing with PC, Android, and iOS devices, and the arrival of Dynamic Latency Input, which is supposed to reduce latency between controller and console to just 2ms. I want to test the battery life of two AAs, my old Xbox One accessories (which are supposed to work no dramas), and of course the functionality of the Share button, which has been positioned so that it is within reaching distance of the tips of both of your thumbs at all times. Alas, these are all tests for another day. For now, when it comes to the industrial design of the Xbox Series X controller, it's difficult to not be impressed.
The power is in your hands
Just because a change is subtle, doesn't mean it isn't noteworthy. As somebody that has spent the last generation with the Xbox One as my primary console, I'm happy to see that some smart revisions have been implemented in the controller that make a good foundation even stronger. It's a 'no thrills, no fuss' update that looks and feels premium. The Xbox Series X controller hasn't changed the game in a fundamental way, but who said things need to change between generations, anyway?
We spend an awful amount of time talking about tech specs and console design. Hell, you can read my Xbox Series X design impressions right here – I'm as responsible for continuing that trend as anybody else. But the truth is, once you get a console in your house none of it matters all that much. Developers will create the best experiences that they can with the time and budget they have allotted, for the technology that they have in front of them. What matters most is the controller. The console will fade into the background of your life, while the controller will sit in your hands for years to come. It's your link to virtual worlds, a connection to awesome experiences and new friendships. You want my first impressions of the Xbox Series X industrial design? I can't think of a better way to connect with the next-generation of gaming.
GamesRadar+ is exploring the Xbox Series X in detail. Our Xbox Series X Quick Resume impressions are already live, and you should continue to check back every day for more analysis and opinion of the console.