Xbox One Elite Controller: Perfection Comes at a Price

Xbox One Elite Controller: Perfection Comes at a Price

Chances are, you’re not a good enough gamer to justify the cost of the Xbox One Elite Controller. But like an M-series BMW, this high-end wonder has the hardware chops to justify its expense. And it will attract exactly the same kinds of wannabes.

Including me, of course. Like many of you, I spent a frustrating couple of months in late 2015 waiting for the Elite controller to be in stock, And then I quickly threw $150 at the Microsoft Store like it was burning a hole in my pocket. Which it wasn’t.


So, yes, the Xbox One Elite Controller is ultimately just part of one of those “if you gotta ask” conversations. You may be able to afford one, but unless you’re a professional gamer, you do not need one.

But then no one really needs that BMW M-series either. And while those cars are literally tuned for a closed track, they’re really just used on the street, alongside more pedestrian forms of transportation.

In other words, the Elite controller, like the BMW M, isn’t really about need. It’s aboutwant. It’s about enthusiasm. It’s about the love of the game.


And on that note, it really does deliver. It arrives in quality carrying case so you can slowly unveil it in front of your friends, presumably after you’ve put on your driving gloves and scarf. (The notion of anyone “traveling” with this controller is somewhat ludicrous, but the carrying case is still appreciated.)


Inside that case, of course, is the controller itself, but also the assortment of replacement sticks and d-pad, with room for the four removable paddles that are unique to the Elite controller. Providing a home for the widgets you’re not currently using is perhaps the real point of the case.


The controller itself, as described in Brad’s more timely review, is almost completely premium. Where the standard Xbox One controller—a “normal” BMW, to beat this analogy to death—is nice but all plastic, the Elite controller is made of higher-quality materials across the board.

These materials give the Elite controller a heavy weight, but it’s a good heavy, like the steering feel in a BMW, actually—OK, sorry–and not unwieldy. The thing is, it’s mostly still plastic on the exterior, but it’s a better-quality plastic, and you can really see and feel the difference.

Normal Xbox One controller (left) and Elite controller (right).
Normal Xbox One controller (left) and Elite controller (right).

One issue I’ve had with Xbox controllers, dating back to the original (non-S) Xbox 360 controller is durability: I game a lot, and I beat the living hell out of these things. And as a result, I have to replace my controllers pretty regularly because some part wears out. (Which part varies according to the game I’m playing at the time.) I’d already moved to my second Xbox One controller, so I’m curious to see if the Elite stands the test of time. But I do think it will perform better, and that the improvements Microsoft made, quality-wise, to the interior of the controller will pay off.

Aside from the premium nature of the controller, the big selling point of the Elite is that its two sticks and d-pad are interchangeable, and it’s four paddles are optional and removable. After using the controller for a few months, I can say that this functionality hasn’t had much impact on me beyond some early experimentation. That is, I’ve stuck with the shortest sticks, since a short “throw” makes the most sense for the shooter games I frequent. And I’ve stuck with the unique disc-shaped d-pad instead of the normal cross-shaped version.

A removable stick, removed.
A removable stick, removed.

The paddles have disappointed, but that, too, is due to the games I play: I think these additional controls would be useful in other situations, but I find they just get in the way. So I simply removed them and stopped trying.


Less promoted is the Elite controller’s software-based customization capabilities, which I wrote about last month in Xbox One Tip: Completely Configure the Controller. This is, I think, an even bigger deal than the replaceable sticks: You can, among other things, store two primary game configurations, each with custom button mappings and settings. And you can control vibration, stick and trigger behavior, doing such things as minimize the “throw” on the triggers, ideal for shooters. I love that.

There is one curious dud in the whole Elite controller equation, kind of like when you discover that your new BMW doesn’t include a spare tire: Microsoft doesn’t provide a rechargeable battery for some reason, but instead includes two standard AA batteries. So while you can plug the controller into your console using a gorgeous, high-quality USB cable, that won’t charge those two AA batteries. You actually have to buy a rechargeable battery/kit separately. For a controller than already costs $150. That is inexcusable. (I swapped out the rechargeable battery from my standard Xbox One controller.)

Look, the Xbox One Elite Controller is awesome. Chances are you need it as much as I do. And want it as much as I do too.


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