(Pocket-lint) - Our first choice is the Microsoft Xbox Elite Series 2. Other good options are offered by the Xbox Wireless Controller, PowerA Fusion Pro 2 Wired controller, the Razer Wolverine Tournament Edition and the SCUF Prestige.
The Xbox controller has a pretty impressive lineage already - after the somewhat odd shape adopted by the original console's chunky gamepad, the Xbox 360 introduced a new form that's stood the test of time.
It's only been slightly revised since the Xbox One years, and has remained pretty similar for the Xbox Series X and Series S, as well. That's a testament to a great bit of design, but there are still some limitations to it. Whether it's not quite the right shape for you, or because you want some extra buttons and functionality, picking up a different controller could be a game-changer.
There are myriad controllers to choose from out there; some will offer more options, others different sizes and textures, and we've tested a huge range of them. We put them through their paces in a variety of games and genres to see how they hold up to the competition, testing for latency, comfort and features to come up with a comprehensive final ranking.
Whether they're wired or wireless, how much they cost, what extras come bundled in - all of these count in our estimation alongside the basics of the controllers' build quality and craftsmanship, so read on to find out which are the very best on the market right now.
Best Xbox controller: Our Top Pick
Microsoft Xbox Elite Series 2
- Excellent customisation
- Extra buttons
- Has been known to have hardware problems
Microsoft spied that people were getting into custom controllers a few years ago and decided to take the market itself, and the second version of its controller is formidable.
Like many pro controllers, this thing is pricey, but it's got the bonus of official status, and a huge range of customisation options to let you tune it perfectly.
Whether that's rear paddles in whatever arrangement you like or thumbsticks that resist you the right amount, this is the best controller for most people right now - if they're willing to pay!
Xbox controllers we also recommend
Here are some other Xbox controllers that we also advise checking out:
Xbox Wireless Controller
- Comfortable and great to use
- No extra buttons
- No rechargeable battery by default
The next generation of Xbox consoles, the Xbox Series X and Series S, has brought with it a new controller.
If you don't want all the fancy customisation and are just seeking easy wireless play, the official controller is the best bet for you.
It's got some nice improvements over the Xbox One version, including a dedicated button for screenshotting and capturing video clips, with improvements to its grip and texture, too.
PowerA Fusion Pro 2 Wired controller
- Impressive build quality
- Swappable front plates and customisable back-paddles
- Not the cheapest option
If you want a controller that offers some seriously pro-level options, including swappable faceplates, extra paddle controls and different sticks, this is a great way to get them.
PowerA's sequel to its own great controller manages to keep the cost moderately controlled, primarily by sticking to a wired connection.
If you can live with that, it feels amazing to use and offers extreme responsiveness.
Razer Wolverine Tournament Edition
- Loads of custom options including trigger stops
- Cheaper than in-house Xbox options
- Still fairly expensive
- Wired option
Razer makes a whole range of peripherals that are great for Xbox gamers, including some excellent headsets, and its Wolverine Tournament Edition is a similarly impressive controller.
This is very much modelled on the official size and shape, but adds a similar bevy of options to the Xbox Elite controller. Those include trigger stops (hugely useful in shooters) and programmable buttons to set up your own shortcuts easily - you can even trigger higher or lower stick sensitivity on the fly, a real boon.
It's a superb pad that also impressively undercuts the price of Microsoft's own pro controller, although it is also wired (which most serious gamers will tell you is better for latency anyway).
- Make it however you want
- Superb build-quality and official design
- Can get ferociously expensive
- Better value alternatives
If true customisation is your priority, look no further than a SCUF controller. These modded versions of official Xbox pads bring an almost boggling range of options.
You can choose colours and finishes for almost every bit of the controller, as well as features like extra buttons and paddles, different grips and thumbsticks and much more.
The more you add, the more your price adds up, but if we had an unlimited budget we might well go for a fully kitted-out SCUF controller.
Other products we considered
The Pocket-lint editorial team spends hours testing and researching hundreds of products before recommending our best picks for you. We consider a range of factors when it comes to putting together our best guides including physically testing the products ourselves, consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. Many of the devices we consider don’t make our final best guides.
These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5:
- Xbox One Wireless Controller
- Turtle Beach Recon Controller
- Thrustmaster eSwapX Pro Controller
- Nacon Pro Compact Controller
- Xbox Adaptive Controller
How to choose an Xbox controller
There are absolutely hundreds of options out there when it comes to new Xbox controllers, so we've laid out some of the areas you might want to think about before you make your choice.
Why should you buy a new Xbox controller?
This one might sound obvious, but there are plenty of reasons why you might need a new controller - you could be looking to play couch co-op with someone at home, or you could equally have worn out your existing controller already. Many of the options we've looked at, though, will also be attractive if you're simply looking for a controller that'll help you to upgrade your gaming with extra buttons or options, which can be really useful for competitive games.
What will you use the controller for?
This is key - further to the above, before buying your controller you should work out what you want it for. Is it for a child or younger person to beat up without costing too much? Or is it to help you learn some better movement and control options using extra paddles and switches? There's not much point in buying a pro controller if you don't really need it, after all.
What shape do you want for your controller?
Another good starting point to think about is whether you like the default shape of the controller that came with your Xbox. If so, most of the third-party options out there copy it, but if not there are still some alternatives that sit differently in the hand.
Do you need extra buttons?
This is a big one - many of the nicer controllers out there add extra buttons to the mix, which you can program yourself for custom controls. These are sometimes back-paddles or buttons, and are great for competitive games like Call of Duty where you'll benefit from more control without taking your fingers off the analog sticks. If you're looking to get better at a tough game, we think they're a great option.
Should you go wired or wireless?
Another major decision comes in the form of wirelessness - outside of the official Xbox options, this will typically add some money on to a controller's price. So, if you know that you want extra buttons and features and don't mind having a wired tether, that's fine, but if being free from cables is key then you'll have to take that into account.
More about this story
There's only one way to really test controllers, and that's to use them - every product on this list has been hand-tested by our team to verify that it meets not only the standards set out by its manufacturer, but our own exacting expectations, too.
We've played with them across multiple genres to get a sense of how they perform, tried out their customisation options to get our own perfect fit and seen how they cope under stress. Build quality matters to us, as does how solid and comfortable they feel to hold.
On top of that, we've experimented to check their wireless connectivity and range, battery life and stability - these aren't stats that we'll always surface in our mini-reviews, but they play a key part in forming our overall judgement.
We've been testing controllers for years, and have often tried not just the versions that you see on the list above, but also their predecessors, so you can be confident that we're not plucking our ideas out of thin air.
Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Conor Allison. Originally published on 21 July 2020.