The Feel

I have been using the new Microsoft Xbox Elite 2 wireless controller for a little over two weeks. I also have the original Xbox Elite controller from 2015, and I have found several key differences. In short, the Elite 2 has successfully replaced the original, but don’t bother upgrading unless the original one dies or something.

The first thing I noticed is that the whole controller was rebalanced, which makes the Elite 2 feel significantly lighter than its predecessor. Based on a simple kitchen scale:

  • Xbox Elite Controller: 0.756 lbs.
  • Xbox Elite Controller 2: 0.752 lbs.

The difference is that the original controller’s center of balance feels somewhere around the Xbox button, while most of the Xbox Elite 2’s weight feels like it’s in its handles. This places it close to your wrist, which reduces the torque that your hand feels. That said, I’ve used the original Elite controller since 2015, and the weight has never bothered me, and the difference is not too significant.

Another difference is the handles themselves. This time, the rubbery grip goes all the way around. I’ve heard other reviews discuss how this is great for people with sweaty palms. In my case, I noticed that it makes the controller feel unpleasantly warm. It is not a deal-breaker for me, but my first impression is that the original Elite controller feels better in that regard.

This is about the only way that the Xbox Elite 2 feels worse (for me) than the original.

The Elite 2 wireless controller also has a built-in battery. It has a huge lifespan, but it cannot be replaced. Someday, like all rechargeable batteries, it will stop accepting a charge. This might be decades away, but the user might also be horribly unlucky.

In those cases, Microsoft still only overs a 90-day parts and labor warranty on the Xbox Elite 2 controller. I was hoping that they would finally up it to a year, but they still see their Elite controllers as normal accessories. You should be able to use the controller in a wired configuration at that point, although I have seen some devices (mostly car DVD players) that cannot even be used with a direct power source once the battery dies. I highly doubt that the Elite 2 controller is one of those devices, though.

The Inputs

Moving on to the shoulder buttons. When the original Elite controller launched, I saw a handful of complaints online about the RB and LB buttons breaking off. Combined with the 90-day warranty, this was very concerning. There was always the thought in the back of my mind that, someday, a 16-bit game was going to ruin my day.

I did not see it featured in the Elite 2 marketing, but the shoulder buttons have changed. The original shoulder buttons (RB and LB) felt mushy with quite a bit of travel, but the new ones have more of a click to them. I am hoping, if the original shoulder buttons had specific issues, that Microsoft took them into account when they designed the new ones. I did not open them both up so I cannot elaborate on the mechanics.

On to the triggers: the original Elite controller had a switch that reduced the range of motion. This allows the user to have the full range of motion for a car accelerator, but quicker taps for shooter games with a semi-automatic weapon.

There are two switches, so the left trigger and the right trigger could be configured independently… if, for example, you want more control over acceleration than braking.

The new Elite 2 controller adds a third level to the switches, which reduces the associated trigger’s range such that it is a button. In fact, I looked at the values coming out of the controller and, when it is on the shortest setting, the values switched immediately between -1 and 1. This should allow shooting weapons to fire a little bit faster. The other two settings ramped up from -1 to 1 in a somewhat smooth fashion.

If I was looking for a concern about the three-way trigger switch, then I would point out that the three-way switch is harder to flick with your finger mid-game. I don’t know if anyone does that but, if you do, then it’ll be harder to get each switch into the middle position.

The D-Pad still has a choice between the cross and the bow. I have always used the cross configuration. It feels about equivalent to the original Elite. Reliable D-Pads is my main reason for switching from the Xbox 360 controller to the Xbox One Elite line, although I should have given the normal Xbox One controllers (and their improved D-Pads) a chance.

The OS Support

One of the major changes with the Xbox Elite 2 controller is that it now supports Bluetooth, as well as USB and Microsoft’s proprietary Xbox One wireless protocol. I have not tested Bluetooth, but sites are reporting that it might be able to work with iOS and Android devices. (The box only states that the controller works wireless with Windows 10, as well as wired with Windows 7, Windows 8.1, or, of course, Windows 10.)

I did test the controller via USB on Linux, specifically Xubuntu 19.10, however. The controller immediately responded by lighting up. As soon as I turned on Firefox and pointed it to a Gamepad API-testing website, the controller was registered and sending inputs. Simply plug it in and start the application. I am guessing that it will connect over Bluetooth as well, but I did not test that configuration… just wired over USB.

Speaking of USB: the controller now attaches via Type-C. It comes with a USB-A to USB-C cable, although I have also used my Pixel 3 XL’s USB-C to USB-C cable to attach it to my PC’s USB-C front-panel port. As you would expect, all configurations worked like USB is expected to… although you don’t need to flip USB-C twice (once upside-down, and again the first orientation you tried) to get it to plug in.

Should you buy the Xbox Elite 2 Controller?

I would not recommend anyone with a (fully functioning) first-generation Elite controller to replace it for an Elite 2. However, it is a step up from the original in almost every way. The disadvantages of the Xbox Elite 2 compared to the original Elite are: it feels a bit warmer, it is more expensive, and the battery is not designed to be replaced if it eventually stops responding to a charger. The 90-day warranty is kind-of awful when you consider the price of these things, although that is no worse than the original Elite controllers.

The Xbox Elite 2 wireless controller is currently available on Amazon for $179.99.