I've generally had very complimentary things to say about the Xbox Series X controller, which I actually prefer to the PS5's DualSense. It may be a very conservative upgrade, but it's a very conservative upgrade of one of the best controllers ever made.
The Xbox Series X controller is comfortable, intuitive and versatile. The only negative issue is that it uses wasteful, expensive AA batteries — and Microsoft's official rechargeable battery pack, sold separately for $25, doesn't address this problem nearly as well as it should.
- Read our full Xbox Series X review
- Here's the best time to buy the Xbox Series X
- Plus: PS5 Target restock tipped for this week — here are the dates
Like the Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers, the Xbox Series X/S controller uses disposable AA batteries by default rather than internal, rechargeable battery packs, such as those found in the PS3, PS4 and PS5 controllers.
Without belaboring the issue, AA batteries are both wasteful and inefficient, and I'm generally not thrilled that Microsoft has passed what is essentially an additional cost onto the consumer rather than just building it into the price of the controller.
The light of my battery life
The one consolation is that Microsoft's rechargeable battery packs have generally been pretty good in the past. My Xbox 360 battery pack lasted for about seven years before it started losing significant amounts of charge; my Xbox One battery pack is still going strong. Both of those battery packs also included a charging cable with an indicator light.
Unlike most gaming peripherals, Xbox controllers do not have a light that indicates charge. (The illuminated power button would work just fine for this application, but I digress.) The only way to check how much power you have left is to boot up your Xbox and check the top of the home screen — or install a dedicated app on your PC.
Older Xbox battery-pack charging cables partly alleviated this problem. The LEDs on the cables would glow orange while the controller was charging, and either green or white once the charge was complete.
While Xbox One battery packs are compatible with Xbox Series X controllers, the charging cables are not, since newer controllers use USB-C rather than microUSB plugs. However, the Xbox Rechargeable Battery + USB-C Cable for Xbox Series X (rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?) is a huge step backward for one simple reason: There's no indicator light.
This may not seem like a big deal. After all, you get a battery pack and charging cable, and they work well; what more could you want? But a charging light is an invaluable thing, especially if you have only one controller.
It lets you know when you can detach your controller and jump back into a game; it could also save you some money on electricity, since Xbox consoles will provide a small trickle of power to charging gear even when the system is turned off.
More than anything else, though, a charging indicator saves you frustration. Is the light orange? Your controller is charging. Is the light white? Your controller is charged.
With this new charging cable, you have to turn on your TV and your Xbox (again — this wastes both time and power), and examine a tiny icon at the top of the screen. If your controller is charging, you'll see a battery with a plug icon and a slowly moving white bar. If your controller is charged, you'll see a nearly identical battery with a plug icon, but this time, the bar is static.
If Microsoft couldn't give us an LED on the cable itself, the very least it could have done is make the "charged" symbol on the Xbox home screen a little more distinctive.
Considering that the rechargeable battery is more or less a necessary expense, the least Microsoft could have done was provide a cable equally as good as its last-gen model. Instead, we got a much less useful product for the exact same price.
Xbox play and charge kit alternatives
Had I known that I was essentially just paying for a very long USB-C cable, I probably would have avoided buying Microsoft's rechargeable battery kit. (Again: Xbox One rechargeable battery packs still work fine, and I have two of them. Your mileage may vary on this, of course.) After the fact, though, I discovered that Microsoft fans are not without options when it comes to charging solutions with indicators.
First, there's something like the Numskull Xbox Series X LED USB-C Charge Cable (another product name that leaves nothing to the imagination). Very simply, it's a USB-C charging cable that lights up as a controller charges.
This is exactly what Microsoft should have included with its rechargeable battery pack. On the other hand, a five-foot-long cable is not useful for playing games while a controller charges, and it doesn't come with a battery pack.
Then there's something like the HyperX ChargePlay Duo, just announced at CES 2021, which uses proprietary battery packs and a physical dock to charge controllers. It's a little cumbersome, and at $40, it's more expensive than buying a single battery pack from Microsoft. (You get two batteries, so the math makes sense if you own two controllers.) It's not quite as simple as just plugging in a cable, but at least you know when your batteries are done charging.
The best solution, though, would be for Microsoft to simply include an LED charging light on the next batch of Xbox Series X rechargeable battery cables. It's an extremely inconvenient oversight, but also one that seems relatively easy to fix.
The company could also start manufacturing controllers with built-in rechargeable batteries, but that seems like a bigger ask.