Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 : How the Hardware Team is Improving Upon the Original

During E3 we had an up close and personal look at the new Elite Controller Series 2 from the Xbox Hardware Team. There are many new features in the controller and it’s important that we don’t simply get lost in its similar look. Instead, let’s take a deeper look at what’s been done to improve the controller from the original.

The Original Elite Controller

The original Xbox Elite controller was based off of the original launch Xbox One controller. It was received very well and is still considered among the best controllers this generation even despite the $150 price tag (which was initially thought to be too high). However, the Xbox One controllers at launch were plagued with durability concerns and thus the design has evolved a number of times since then. So while the Elite did receive some of the best features from the evolved launch controller, such as the 3.5mm headphone jack, it did have a number of common fail points that impacted a significant percentage of players. A simple Google search would caution the biggest Elite fan from purchasing another one outside of warranty.

The fail points that players have experienced are wide ranging. One of the most frequent was an odd joystick issue that would separate the joystick itself from its module. Many found the joysticks to drift, requiring tuning in most games or a complete replacement. The bumpers were connected to a very thin piece of plastic so with basic wear and tear it would break, rendering the controller unusable. Sadly what was one of the the best features of the controller was also its achilles’ heel in the rubberized grips. They were stuck to the frame with what many consider to be defective adhesive. I have personally had two Elite controllers fail in this regard. The issue became so prominent that third party companies created kits for more durable rails as sometimes the grips would come apart at the frame and a new frame was the only way to truly fix it.

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Microsoft released a White Special Edition of the original Elite controller in October of 2018. Oddly enough, no design features were updated and it was still based off of the controllers from 2016. It’s rumored that the adhesive was changed on the grips, but I have never seen that confirmed.

What’s New with the Series 2

A lot of chatter has hit social media questioning the increase in cost from $150 to $180. With that in mind, what’s actually new and is it worth it? The highlights are as follows.

  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Internal battery (up to 40 hours on a single charge)
  • New joysticks options : Standard (2), Classic (2), Tall (1), Wide Dome (1)
  • Tune-able joysticks with 3 different settings for tension
  • Fully wrapped grips (front and rear)
  • 9′ USB-C charging cable
  • Charging puck that can charge internally or externally from case
  • New paddles : Medium (2), Mini (2)

Tuning tension on your joysticks is not something readily available on just any controller and will certainly be a differentiator. On the Series 2, you are able to adjust the tension to three different settings. We were specifically advised of a “classic” tension setting and new, bigger joysticks. These apparently hearken back to the Xbox 360 controller which many people love to this day.

IMG_1082 (2)
Elite Series 2 and all accessories

In speaking to the Xbox Hardware Team responsible for the Elite Series 2, it was apparent that they’ve taken the time to improve on the shortcomings of the original and listen to feedback from the community. We were told that they even went so far as to traveling to people’s houses to test the varying heat and sweat signatures from players’ hands to avoid the grip issue from the original.

Improvements have been made in other key areas as well. The bumpers have been taken from the new Xbox One Controller S design and strengthened to avoid failure. The new joystick tension setting feature also resulted in a complete redesign of the joystick module itself, thus preventing failure that resulted in stick drift. The new, wrap around grips bring something new to the Elite Series 2 as well. While a number of third party companies have sold accessories that give the wrap around comfort many enjoy, adding this as the standard for the Elite Series 2 improves the feel even more.

I have a history of modifying and repairing controllers for Seasoned Gaming so while I wasn’t able to compare side by side with the current Elite, the buttons did feel more responsive. When we shared our history of videos for the Elite they shared with us that everything has been tested for durability and comfort. In an odd way, I can’t wait to test it for myself as I’ve repaired so many.

The internal battery argument has existed since the start of this generation. As an avid gamer I have found myself somewhere in the middle due to the competition. Nintendo claims that their Switch Pro controller can last up to 40 hours with 6 hours of charge. Sony claims that their Dualshock 4 controller lasts up to 8 hours, but in reality it’s closer to 5-6 hours. The Xbox One’s controller has always used external batteries and choosing the best one can be a challenge (we’ve tested various options). The Elite Series 2 answers this shortcoming by offering a lithium internal battery that can last up to 40 hours on a single charge. We’ll be sure to put that longevity claim to the test.

Is it Worth the Upgrade?

Of course, the biggest question is whether or not you should you buy the new controller? I think the answer really is in the eye of the beholder. Are you the type that loves new peripherals and will you get something new out of the Elite Series 2? My short answer is yes. It’s a great controller and from the conversations we’ve had with the development team, it appears to have been a passion project for the past few years. We were able to demo a few matches of Gears 5 with the new controller. As expected it felt great with its near perfect weight and button feel. We weren’t able to test the joystick tension change in live gameplay, but we were able to make adjustments at the booth with the hardware team and confirm it’s very noticeable.

Another question players seem to be asking is “what if I’m happy with my current Elite and have never had any issues with it?” It’s a great point and one to ponder if you’re looking for a massive jump in tech. There’s a lot of new features compared to the Series 1 and it’s important to remember that the Series 1 controller is based off the original launch controller. You’re playing with something designed almost five years ago and the line of controllers has evolved quite a bit.

Would buying a new Xbox One Elite Series 2 controller this late in the generation be a waste?  It’s obviously too early to know if there will be a massive redesign in the layout and features of controllers for the next generation. However, Microsoft has confirmed that all official Xbox One controllers and accessories will work with the next-generation Xbox, and with added Bluetooth connectivity as well, you’re likely future proofed with the purchase. Hopefully we’ll know more details prior to or shortly after the release of the Series 2.

Closing Thoughts

The controller space in general has become very competitive this generation with well known companies like SCUF, Nacon, Hori, Bionik, Hyperkin and even Astro bringing premium controllers to the market. Some have been pretty decent, but in my opinion nothing beats first party, premium products. The cost will make people think twice prior to an easy and quick purchase, but you’re getting a lot of tech, updates, and value in this controller that third parties cannot match.

The classic accessories that are included with the purchase feel right at home and it’s clear they’ve learned from the feedback and criticism given on the original. If you can afford the price tag and are looking for a premium controller, this is the one to pick up. It will be available on November 4th for $179.99 USD.

For an extra look at the Elite Series 2 that we filmed at E3, see below!


By Bert Saenz (TREBM3)

Gaming since the Atari 2600 and owning about every console stateside since. AKA Mr. Amiibo and resident Nintendo fanboy.


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