The original Xbox Elite Wireless Controller was one of the best wireless gamepads we had seen up to 2015, with a solid build, interchangeable analog stick caps and direction pads, and removable, programmable paddles on the back. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to last very long, and the exterior soft-touch coating in particular became a magnet for grease after a few months of use. Microsoft seems to have learned from its mistakes, and while we can’t yet be certain about long-term wear, the new Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 sees some very nice upgrades over its predecessor. It’s a bit more expensive at $179.99, but its extensive programmability, multiple profiles, and improved rubber grip make it a better gamepad, comparable with the excellent Astro Gaming C40 TR. And, since it works with the Xbox One and PCs, it stands out as one of the best Microsoft-centric controllers out there, and an Editors’ Choice.
The Elite Controller Series 2 looks very similar to the first Elite Controller, but it feels much different. While the face is a similar soft-touch matte plastic, the grips are a sturdy, textured rubber that’s easier to hold securely in the hand. The new grip material should be an improvement for the controller’s long-term feel, since the original’s shell started to feel greasy after a few weeks of heavy use. While we can’t be sure of how this new grip material will fare with time just yet, it certainly feels nicer and will hopefully hold up much better.
The Series 2 uses the standard Xbox control layout: two analog sticks offset from each other, with a digital direction pad under and to the right of the left stick, and A/B/X/Y face buttons above and to the right of the right stick. Left and right bumpers, along with left and right analog triggers, sit on the top edge of the controller. A Guide button in the middle of the controller’s face lights up with the Xbox logo when the gamepad is on, with Menu and View buttons below it. A headphone jack and accessory connector sits on the bottom edge, between the grips.
Flip the controller over, and you see the most obvious enhancements from standard Xbox One gamepads. Four metal paddles curve against the inner grips, providing four additional, programmable inputs. With the Xbox Accessories app on the Xbox One and Windows 10, you can map the paddles to the face buttons, triggers, directions, or a variety of specialized system actions. If you don’t want to use some or all of the triggers, you can pull them off and use the controller normally. They hook into small recesses on the back of the gamepad with magnets and rest against small buttons your fingers probably won’t even notice and certainly won’t accidentally press without the paddles over them.
Above the paddles and below the analog triggers are two three-way switches. These set the trigger locks, which limit how far you can pull the triggers. If you want the full analog control for acceleration in racing games, you’ll probably want to keep the full range of motion for the triggers. If you want to play a shooter and fire a bit faster with a more shallow pull of the finger, you’ll want the most shallow setting. There’s also a third trigger lock that gives some analog pull, but not the full reach.
There are a few more subtle enhancements on the front of the controller. The analog sticks and direction pad all pull off of magnetic mounts, letting you switch between a few different caps for the sticks and between a plus-shaped and a circular pad for the digital directions.
Finally, a small Profile button sits between the Menu and View buttons. It lets you switch between three different custom profiles, indicated by the three LEDs between the direction pad and the right analog stick. You can set these profiles in the Xbox Accessories app, and once saved to the gamepad, they will apply no matter what Xbox or PC it’s paired with.
Xbox Accessories App
Whether you use the Xbox Accessories on Windows 10 or Xbox One, it provides access to a staggering selection of customization options, each of which can be saved as part of a profile. Control remapping extends to every control, not just the paddles; you can swap the face buttons around, switch the triggers, and even disable buttons you don’t want to accidentally press. You can also set custom or preset sensitivity curves for the analog sticks and triggers, and even individually adjust the vibration functions for each trigger and the left and right grips. It’s a suite of options matched only by the Astro Gaming C40 TR, which offers a similar selection of remapping and sensitivity options across two profiles accessible by mechanical switch.
If that isn’t enough, you can also manually set the tension of each analog stick. Pulling the cap off of a stick reveals a small plus-shaped recess. An included tool fits into the recess and lets you twist it left to make the stick feel looser and right to make it feel tighter. It tweaks the physical feel of the stick, while the Xbox Accessories app lets you adjust the input sensitivity separately. The C40 doesn’t let you manually adjust stick tension, but it does have a customization option the Elite Controller Series 2 lacks: removable analog and digital direction modules that let you swap the layout between Xbox and PlayStation (parallel analog stick arrangement) styles.
The gamepad fits in the included, cleverly designed hard-shell zip-up case along with all of its accessories. A foam block has cutouts for all four paddles, the adjustment tool, either direction pad that isn’t currently in use, and four of the six analog stick caps (two wide and smooth concave caps, two textured concave caps on short stems, a textured concave cap on a long stem, and a convex cap on a short stem are included). The case also has room for the included nine-foot charging cable.
The Series 2 features an internal, rechargeable battery that Microsoft claims can last up to 40 hours between charges. You can charge the controller directly through the USB-C port on the top, but that probably won’t be your primary method thanks to a charging cradle that sits inside the case. The controller rests on top of the charger, which has a USB-C port facing a small hole in the back of the case covered by a rubber door. This lets you charge the gamepad even when it’s secure in its case. The cradle can also be taken out of the case (it stays in place thanks to a magnetic base and a metal plate in the bottom of the case) and set on a desk, providing another option for charging the controller without plugging it in.
I used the Series 2 to play Final Fantasy XIV on PC and Destiny 2 on Xbox One, along with a handful of other games on both platforms. To do this, I set up three basic profiles I could switch between, that set the paddles respectively to the direction pad inputs, the face buttons, and the triggers/bumpers. After setting up my profiles, they carried across both multiple PCs and an Xbox One. I also set the trigger locks to the shortest pull for most games; I find the long, analog trigger pull only really useful when playing racing games like Forza Horizon 4 (for those games, the long pull is vital for precise acceleration).
Final Fantasy XIV is much easier to play with the Series 2, thanks to the paddles. Setting them to the direction inputs let me trigger every skill on my controller-based hotbar (which assigns skills to the two triggers combined with direction inputs and face buttons) while moving around, a feat I couldn’t comfortably do with a standard controller or my PC go-to, the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro+. As an MMORPG, FFXIV doesn’t require incredibly accurate analog inputs, but being able to move during fights to avoid powerful attacks in highlighted zones on the battlefield is vital, and the paddles allowed me to do that while still using all of my abilities.
Destiny 2 shows off just how good the Series 2 can feel with a shooter. I tightened the right analog stick slightly to give me more precise aim, and I could feel the difference in the game. I could further tweak my aim in the Xbox Accessories app by adjusting the sensitivity curve of the stick, but I found it a bit too granular for my casual play style. If you’re a serious shooter fan, though, the ability to tune both the stick’s tension and sensitivity is a major boon.
A Great Gamepad, Hopefully for the Long Run
According to Microsoft spokespeople I spoke to at E3 2019, the company was very aware of the original Elite controller’s long-term issues when designing the Series 2. The textured rubber grip feels better than the smooth soft-touch grip of the original, and even when playing FFXIV in between bites of a quesadilla, I didn’t notice any grease, and the grips seem to wipe clean. We can’t be certain the controller will hold up after months of use, but the new coating seems to be off to a very good start.
The Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 is even more impressive than the first one, with the additions of three programmable profiles, adjustable-tension analog sticks, and more choices for tweaking analog inputs. The most important change, however, is the new textured grips, which will hopefully make this updated gamepad avoid the biggest issue of its predecessor. It doesn’t have the interchangeable control modules of the Astro C40 TR, so your only option is to play using the Xbox configuration, but since the C40 TR is PC and PS4 only, you can’t use it with an Xbox One anyway. And, with twice as many paddles for $20 less, the Elite Controller Series 2 easily stands alongside the Astro as an Editors’ Choice for PC users, and primary recommendation for Xbox One users.