Xbox Wireless Controller review – it’s got the X factor

The Xbox Wireless Controller is the standard controlled used by a lot of PC gamers, and I'm here to put it under the microscope and see how it fares.

Xbox Wireless Controller review image showing an orange controller laid on a dark surface.

Our Verdict

The Xbox wireless controller offers a seamless setup on a PC, providing instant functionality and ease of connection. Its ergonomic design with textured grips feels great in your hands, and a variety of colors are available. The reliance on batteries or a battery pack feels outdated for modern gaming, but despite this, the wireless controller is still a very reliable and quality choice.

Reasons to buy
  • Very easy to setup on a PC
  • Feels great in your hands
  • Available in many different colors and designed
Reasons to avoid
  • No Hall Effect sticks
  • Rumble is inferior to the PS5 controller
  • Requires batteries or a battery pack

In November 2020, the gaming community was introduced to the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Wireless controller. This controller guided us through the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic as we embarked on adventures in Star Wars Fallen Order and Halo MCC. Many of us, seeking the optimal gaming experience, turned to the PC, wielding the Xbox controller. Why, you might wonder? Well, because it’s one of the best PC controllers around. Join me as I dissect the merits and shortcomings of the Xbox wireless controller.

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Xbox Wireless Controller review image showing the front profile of the controller against a white background.

Specs

Xbox Wireless Controller specs:

Connection Bluetooth / USB / 2.4GHz
Power 2 x AA batteries or battery pack
Buttons 18
Button layout Xbox

Xbox Wireless Controller review image showing the back profile of the controller.

Features

As someone who wants their tech to work instantly, the Xbox wireless controller does not disappoint. The moment you connect it to your device, it springs to life without a hitch. Extending its versatility to other platforms, particularly the PC, is a breeze. The only drawback is that you need a wireless dongle if your PC does not have built-in Bluetooth. (Sadly, mine does not have these capabilities, but it costs less than $20 and is available the next day with Amazon Prime, so I’m not complaining.)

To connect the controller to the PC, you simply:

  • Go to settings
  • Go to Bluetooth and devices
  • Add device
  • Hold the sync button on the controller until the Xbox icon flashes
  • Click the Xbox wireless controller on the PC

With that, your device is ready to go. It’s especially handy that as a Microsoft product, it’s already primed to work well with the majority of PC games. The wireless counterpart to plug-and-play.

Another cool feature is that you can effortlessly switch between Xbox and PC. A double-tap of the sync button returns you to Xbox mode, while holding the sync button shifts you back to PC mode. This nifty feature means you can watch telly on your Xbox and play a PC game at the same time flawlessly!

The Xbox controller boasts an array of features, including rumble motors in the triggers and handgrips. These can rumble independently providing an experience tailored to specific games. Take, for example, Forza Motorsport, where the triggers simulate ABS vibrations as you navigate gravel. Admittedly, when it comes to motion rumble, the PS5 controller takes the crown with its impressive haptic feedback. However, it’s a bit of a trade-off, as the grip on top of the Xbox stick feels more comfortable than the PS5 controller. So, you win some, you lose some, right?

Yet, there’s a drawback with powering the controller. Should you invest in a battery pack the controller is convenient to charge. Hot-swappable battery packs are a perk. But, without a battery back, you are bound to batteries. The reliance on batteries seems outdated, especially considering the strides made in Xbox controller technology.

Xbox Wireless Controller review image showing another design of the controller with darker colours than the one seen earlier in the article.

Design

The Xbox controller is as stylish as it is functional. What’s more, is that Xbox has released plenty of colors and special editions. You can go for a classic carbon black, a sizzling pulse red, or even a gold shadow special edition. You can even create your very own customized controller through the Xbox Design Lab – though that’ll cost you.

The controller is lightweight with textured triggers and tactile grips on the back to help prevent slippage. It has a hybrid D-pad allowing seamless in-game rotational movement. Other controllers on the market, like the PS5 do not have this. Arguably, I think this is one of the biggest perks of the Xbox Wireless Controller as I do enjoy the best fighting games. Looking at you, Tekken 8!

As someone with small hands, I can attest that the Xbox Wireless Controller is not one of these controllers that seems to require a 30cm handspan. It feels very natural to hold and I can comfortably reach all the buttons. Although, I can imagine this would be difficult for a child. Likewise, someone with larger hands might find the controller cramped.

Xbox Wireless Controller review image showing two human hands holding the controller above a keyboard.

Performance and Functionality

The Xbox Wireless Controller has excellent ergonomics. Not to mention it’s excellent for cross-platform games. It does what a controller is meant to do and it does it well. Although it is a shame that the Xbox controller hasn’t embraced Hall Effect joysticks. Implementation of these joysticks would elevate the experience and ensure a smoother performance by eliminating concerns about potential stick drift. We’ve got a guide to explain Hall Effect in more detail.

It’s important to note that the button layout differs compared to other controllers. Transitioning from playing a Switch game, (I played The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom) posed a brief challenge to my muscle memory, as the Switch Pro controller has the A button on the right, whereas the Xbox places it at the bottom. This might take some getting used to, but it doesn’t diminish the overall gaming experience. It’s also fine if you typically stick to one platform/controller.

In my adventures in Stardew Valley, guiding my character, Marco of Polo Farm, was a seamless experience with the Xbox Wireless Controller. He moved when I wanted him to, deftly striking rocks as intended. I indulged in hours of gameplay comfortably, encountering no significant issues with the controller. The only hiccup was the occasional slipping of my thumb off the thumb grip, a minor inconvenience. Oh, and the fishing game was difficult, but that’s hard regardless of the controller. It’s not a miracle worker.

Xbox Wireless Controller review image showing a zoomed in view of the darker controller seen earlier in the piece.

Should you buy an Xbox Wireless Controller?

• Yes: If you want a controller that works well on a PC
• Yes: If you want a controller that feels good in your hand
• No: If you don’t want to rely on batteries/ battery packs

If the Xbox Wireless Controller isn’t for you

Read our Xbox Elite Series 2 review to find out more about the Xbox Wireless Controller’s bigger, more expensive sibling.