Stop saying the Xbox Series X controller hasn’t changed

Stop saying the Xbox Series X controller hasn’t changed
Stop saying the Xbox Series X controller hasn’t changed
The Xbox Series X controller is kind of a bargain. From tons of unboxing videos to general comments about the pad itself, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that Microsoft’s controller hasn’t changed at all.

But it was worth it, and the refinements made are worth celebrating, especially since they will basically empower more people than ever to play.

While it’s not as technically impressive as the PS5 DualSense controller, which can provide a transformative experience in games like Astros Playroom, Microsoft already had a great foundation to work with on creating its next controller.

And that alone creates a number of problems: How can you improve on what many consider to be one of the best controllers of all time? Do too much tinkering and there is bound to be a backlash. Don’t change it at all and people will complain about the lack of innovation.

Microsoft’s senior designer, Ryan Whitaker, eloquently sums up the challenge in a blog post on Medium: “Gamers are always looking for the fastest, most powerful console, but what they have in their hands? You better not change it for no reason, ”laughs Senior Designer Ryan Whitaker.

Then how did you change it? Well, apparently it all boils down to millimeters and a few degrees.

The Xbox Series X controller, or the Xbox wireless controller as it is now called, is deceptively smaller when compared to the Xbox One pad. It’s not that its dimensions differ in any drastic way – the pad itself weighs the same as previous generations – but there’s an instant familiarity in the hand, coupled with an acute feeling that things have changed.

Hold tight

(Image credit: Microsoft)

What impressed me the most about the new Xbox wireless controller is that the triggers are now smaller, more even, and covered in responsive tactile microbumps that provide extra grip. The same goes for the shoulder bumpers, which, as far as I can tell, are seemingly the same in terms of overall size but have a new matte finish that lets you buy a lot more than the shiny predecessors of the Xbox One controllers.

The controller’s handles are also covered in a coarser plastic material than you might expect and ultimately help keep the gamepad from slipping when things get hectic … and pretty sweaty. It’s a welcome change, especially for my damp palms, which are in the habit of sweating during long gaming sessions.

Click, click, boom

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The face buttons and analog sticks are thankfully unchanged as you might expect, but the next notable addition, and one that hat The brand new D-Pad was rightly highlighted.

Xbox doesn’t have the best track record of designing a functional control pad, but frankly this is the best yet. Of course, that still won’t stop it from splitting.

I often found my thumb on the new circular D-pad where it rests comfortably thanks to the new concave design. The inputs also feel reassuringly solid with each press – as opposed to the mushy, floating shame of a D-Pad on the Xbox 360 – but there’s an odd tradeoff.

The satisfactory tactility of each press is compensated for by an uncomfortably loud clicking noise. It immediately catches the eye and I am convinced that it is the loudest D-pad I have ever used. It’s by no means a deal breaker (the clicking of a mechanical keyboard has become a soothing background noise for me after so many years), but it was a shock nonetheless.

The latest addition to the Xbox Series X controller is of course the Share button. It’s not a thrill and an obviously anticipated change thanks to its success on PS4 and its takeover by Nintendo, but it’s an obvious surface change and, more than anything, a beautiful thing. No longer do you have to double-tap the guide button and press either ‘X’ or ‘Y’ to capture your best gaming moments. For some, this is reason enough to use the new pad over the old one.

Everything in my hands

Xbox Series X controller release button
(Image credit: Microsoft)

So is the Xbox Series X controller the same? Definitely not. In fact, the choices Microsoft has made make a dramatic difference in the number of people who will actually be able to do so play.

The previous generation of Xbox One controllers targeted the 5th through 95th percentiles of hand sizes, while the new Xbox Wireless Controller is now expanding to comfortably fit the 3rd percentile. This is undoubtedly an impressive accomplishment and represents tens of millions of people around the world. With Xbox Game Pass now for Android and Xbox controllers often the wireless pad of choice, it’s only going to have positive effects in the long run.

The end result of these meticulous design decisions is a controller fit for the Xbox One’s successful reputation, but whose changes go largely unnoticed. Maybe that’s what Microsoft wanted … but great design is always recognized, no matter how small it is.

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