Xbox One S Controller – Review/Hands-On – DigitMason

What’s happening? I’m DigitMason, and this my review and hands-on with the Xbox One S controller, using a Windows 7 PC. It’s also a follow-up to my previous video, my unboxing and first look, you can check that one out right over here. Before I begin, just a full disclosure – the controller I was using before this one was an Xbox 360 controller, so a lot of what I’ll have to say about the Xbox One S will also apply to the Xbox One controller, so sorry if I’m recapping some old news.

And just to reiterate I’m using this on PC because I don’t own an Xbox One. With all that out of the way, on to Part 1! My first experience went seamlessly. I purchased a 15-foot USB cord with Micro-USB on one end, so that I could stretch it all the way to sit on the couch. To get it set up, just like I had with my Xbox 360 controller, I just plugged it in. Windows recognized it instantly, and installed the necessary drivers within seconds. Then the light came on and it gave a nice little rumble, and I was good to go.

Of course, plugging it in isn’t the only way you can connect it to your PC, it’s also wireless! Like the controllers before it, you can purchase a Wireless Adapter to use that radio functionality just like on Xbox, but what really drew me to this controller was the Bluetooth functionality. Sadly, you need the Windows 10 Anniversary Edition in order to connect with Bluetooth, so Windows 7 and 8 users like me are out of luck. Another drawback is Microsoft recommends connecting only one controller at a time using Bluetooth, so if you want to play with friends and each have your own Xbox One S controller, buying the Wireless Adapter or getting a USB cord is probably your best bet. I still wanted to try out the Bluetooth though, so I took it to a friend’s place who happened to have Windows 10.

And honestly my experience was just as seamless as connecting with a USB cord. All I needed to do was insert the included AA batteries, press the Xbox button to turn the controller on, and press Connect. The PC found it almost instantly and I was ready to go. Playing over Bluetooth was just as smooth as using a USB cord, even using a complicated setup of Steam’s in-home streaming feature to send the game to another screen, I experienced no lag at all. I haven’t tested it out using the Wireless Adapter, but I imagine it would be just as easy to get connected and start playing. The only difference is that Bluetooth can give you a bit of a wider range, so in theory you should be able to sit further away from your computer without losing connection. Something Microsoft hasn’t mentioned upfront is that you can update the firmware of your controller, which I guess would be to fix any bugs or update the functionality. I found out that I didn’t actually need to do this because my controller shipped with the latest version of the firmware, but for future if you need to do this, you just need Windows 10 and the Xbox Accessories app, and on Xbox One it’s pretty easy to find in the Settings menu.

By now you’re probably wondering why don’t I just update to Windows 10 to be able to use some of these cool features? Well, honestly right now I’m using some older programs to be able to make these videos and Windows 7 doesn’t have any problems with them, so to avoid any headaches down the road I’ll just stick with it until I get another PC. Next, let’s go over what I thought of the controller’s design. Microsoft reportedly spent over $100 million refining the design of the Xbox One controller, after creating what many would consider the gold standard input device with the 360 controller. But was their massive investment worth it? Did they improve upon the design with their newer generation? As I said in my previous video, it was the look and feel that really got me hooked on this controller, but Bluetooth functionality aside, this is essentially a fresh coat of paint on a controller that has been out for just over three years now.

Because of that, a lot of what I’m going to say also applies to the Xbox One controller. The Xbox branding this time around has been simplified, and they’ve flattened the iconography on the View and Menu buttons here, which used to be called Select and Start, and they’ve literally flattened the Xbox button which used to be a bit of a spherical design on the 360 controller. You can see more instances of where they’ve ‘trimmed the fat’ all across the board here, like for instance the coloring in of only the letters on the A-B-X-Y buttons, the d-pad has been changed from an 8-way down to a 4-way, and there’s much less bulk along the hand grips as well as the battery pack in the back. It fits snuggly in my hand without requiring a firm grip, but it’s more than accommodating if I ever need to change my grasp.

A lot of attention to detail was put into the ergonomics here, starting of course with what sticks out most, the joysticks. There’s greater definition in the grip, which allows tighter action and fluid control when your thumbs sit on them. I hardly need to apply any pressure to them, one touch and they feel locked in. The d-pad has less distance to travel now, so feeling that responsive ‘click’ is easier to do than I remember on the 360. The shoulder buttons are likewise adjusted with just the right amount of ‘click’ on them, and less travel than before, which really shines in fast-paced action games where the time it takes to press and release never slows me down.

I never thought I’d say this, but for me the highlight of this controller is honestly the triggers. They feel effortlessly soft, owing to digital hardware replacing the analog triggers on last gen’s model. Their pull-action motion and plush stop surprised me from the get-go, but so did the controller’s fit in my hands. Maybe it was just the fact that I wasn’t using batteries, but it honestly felt lighter than my 360 controller. I’ve always enjoyed when a controller provides good feedback, and the vibration on this version is the best I’ve ever experienced – subtle when it needs to be, and varying levels of strength to simulate those earth-shattering explosions and recoiling firearms. They’ve even added something new called Impulse Triggers, so you get a small blip with each shot that you take, thanks to independent motors driving vibration under each end of the controller. I’m really enjoying the small, definitive changes that Microsoft has made to an already fabulous controller. You might be thinking though, “Digit, aren’t there other options for input on PC? This isn’t console gaming after all, why should I buy a separate controller?” As a kid I really enjoyed playing computer games, and usually this meant playing on keyboard or mouse.

Although there were a few games that worked with a joystick or gamepad depending on what you had. The kinds of controllers that I would use on PC were generally pretty terrible. The joysticks didn’t work very well, the button layouts hardly made any sense, and it always was a hardship to try and configure the controller to work with the game that you were playing. My family never owned any console, but when I was able to go over to a friend’s place, all of those issues with controllers was wiped away. The directional pads made sense. So did the buttons! And they didn’t have to try and accommodate keyboard and mouse because they didn’t have that option.

Recently, however, I was introduced to Steam, proper gaming on PC and ridiculously cheap sales. At that point it made perfect sense to get this guy, the Xbox 360 controller. Many games that I wanted to play already supported it, it was highly praised in the PC community for its usability, and thanks to friends who owned an Xbox, I already knew this controller really well. Microsoft natively supported the controller with built-in drivers, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me, and I consider it an investment in my experience. Let’s be honest, though, there are certainly games out there like Age of Empires 2, or older games that really have hit-or-miss support when it comes to controllers. Still, there’s a multitude of games out there, both old and new, that are really enjoyable to play and work just as well on a controller. I just want to enjoy some of my favorite games, and a controller that plugs in by USB makes that even easier. But enough backstory on the controller and using it on PC, what’s my final verdict? Well, for my money, the Xbox One S controller is a solid addition to my line-up.

It does everything that I need it to, it feels great in my hands, and it solves any minor quips that I might’ve had with its predecessor. It comes off as a ‘tuned’ upgrade to the Xbox 360 controller, subtly improving upon the ergonomics. The joysticks have stronger grip, the d-pad makes more sense, and somehow I’m completely in love with the new triggers and shoulder buttons! It’s fun to use, and it doesn’t get in the way of a great gaming experience. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the button layout, and really there was never any reason to change it anyway.

And of course, the lovely color palette that I couldn’t resist looks just as good in person as it did in the ads. There’s enough options to connect it to your PC that you should somehow be able to make it work, whether with the Wireless Adapter, Bluetooth on Windows 10, or any old Micro-USB to USB cable from my experience. One recommendation I’d make if you’re going without a cord, is to get some rechargeable batteries.

I haven’t tested the battery life of the included AA’s, but if you invest in something like the highly-rated Panasonic Eneloop brand, you’ll save yourself some money in the long run as well as any frustrations from having to replace the batteries over and over. Because of my own stubbornness I went with the wired option, and in my experience you can get a 15-foot or longer USB cord fairly inexpensively. There you have it, thanks for watching my review and hands-on of the Xbox One S Controller. If you enjoyed the video, be sure to give it a like, and subscribe to my channel for more gaming videos each and every Wednesday.

Let me know in the comments if I missed anything and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Catch you in the next one!

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