Xbox Series X rechargeable battery is a huge step back

xbox series x review
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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.

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.

xbox series x

(Image credit: Future)

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 series x

(Image credit: Future)

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.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi. 

  • TheKLF99
    I actually find the fact that the Xbox controllers use AA batteries and a replaceable battery pack more of an advantage than a disadvantage. I hate the PS4 controllers that have internal batteries as they are such a pain in the backside. I know you mention that AA batteries aren't exactly environmentally friendly as you use them then throw them - but have you heard of rechargeable AA batteries. In fact using AA batteries over internal batteries is far more environmentally friendly.

    Think about this - years ago some motorola phones used to have an option to either run off AA batteries or it's own lithium ion cell. When the lithium ion cell died - what did you do? You just went down the local high street, bought a pack of AA rechargeable batteries, plugged them in and off you go - phone fixed. Now with modern phones (and most other electronic devices) with internal batteries - battery fails and stops accepting charging, what do you do? You could go to some guy in the market and see if they'll swap the battery over for you, although as I discovered with one of my phones the NFC antenna is stuck to the battery - so replacing the battery kills the NFC in the phone if the guy changing the battery does it wrong, or you go buy another phone and chuck the entire phone (and in some cases the entire phone is superglued together in a way that changing the battery means the phone will never be the same again.

    This example obviously is about phones - but this is one annoyance of many people with phones now, since Apple decided it was a good idea to seal the battery into the device and prevent replacing the battery when the battery does refuse to accept charge that leaves you with an entirely useless device. Batteries have a lifetime that is far shorter than the lifetime of the actual electronic device and will need replacing at some point. Having AA batteries in a games controller is a far more better idea than having internal batteries that are sealed in the controller as when the AA batteries fail if they are rechargeable you just stick them in the charger - we have a rapid 1,000mAh charger so in about 2.5 hours a 2,500mA battery is ready to go again (and if you can't wait that long most rechargeable AAs come in packs of 4 and the controller only takes two so you can just rotate them). When the battery finally reaches its end of rechargeable life then you just replace the batteries rather than the entire controller. I know you mention that the rechargeable batteries in your other Xbox controllers have lasted long enough, but not all batteries last that long, plus the Xbox rechargeable batteries tend to be NiMH because they're based on AA batteries, and NiMH can have a lot longer charge time than LiOn batteries (like the ones that are used in PS4 controllers). For a controller there is absolutely no need to use a LiOn battery as they don't really pull enough power to warrant it.

    The other advantage that using AAs has is it allows many alternative options for charging. You could go for the standard Microsoft charging set, but as it's just using AA batteries it does give many other manufacturers the change to produce their own versions. I have bought a charging kit for my Series X controller, it's not the official Microsoft version but it's a really good charging kit. It has two small metal contacts on the back and a docking station so when I'm done with the controller I can just drop it on the docking station and leave it charging. The docking station itself has a red light on it which changes to green when it's charge and even has a pass through USB port on the back - it has to be one of the best charging stations I've ever found - it was a Venom Twin Charging Dock for Series X - they do a single version but I got the double version for when I invest in an extra controller. On the PS4 I've got a similar docking station for the PS4 controller, but the annoying thing is because the PS4 controller has to be charged by it's stupid USB port and the battery is internal to make it dockable I had to add this tiny plastic connector to the USB port which now sticks out of the top of the controller, because the batteries on the Xbox controller are replaceable it's replaced the entire back of the controller and the controller is still flat with no extra bits sticking out of USB ports (plus the USB port on the controller can still be used without having to remove the adapter.

    There are far more advantages for having removable batteries and I much prefer that Microsoft went down this route and not the Sony route of making them internal.
  • Johan1978
    Suggesting a built in battery is short sighted period. I bought 4 Duracell Rechargeable batteries for $10 in my country, don't know what they cost in yours. With that I have one pair charged and ready and the other in use. And my last set lasted 5 years! How is that wasteful, and why would I want either a $25 product to replace it, or a built in (and then disposable!!) $100 controller, which is around what they cost in my country)?

    AA for the world please!
    (I also replaced my Sony alpha nex camera with a Canon, why? The Sony battery is expensive and thus, a financial waste - pardon the pun)
  • HildyJ
    I agree with TheKLF99.

    I have a pack of Eneloop rechargeable batteries. When my batteries die, the Xbox complains, I pull the batteries, put them in the charger, take some charged batteries, put them in the controller, and I'm back gaming in about a minute.

    I consider this an advantage of the Xbox controller over the PSx controllers.
  • Shagswell76
    There is a very easy solution to this. Buy usb micro to usbc adapter. I paid about $4 for three of them. Then you can use your old xbox one charger cable with the light on it.
  • d0x360
    I love that they use AA's. I have 2 different batteries I use, both rechargable.

    I have regular rechargeable AA's that can charge to 90% in 30 min and 100% in an hour. They last for like 30 hours in the controller. Any NIMH battery will work.

    Then about 3 weeks ago I bought some rechargable lithium batteries. Still testing to see how long they last but one thing I like better is vibration is always strong because lithium batteries always provide full voltage until they are dead. Charge time for them is an hour. They fast charge for 45min and trickle for 15 for the last 10%.

    I absolutely hate not being able to change batteries. When my playstation controller dies after a massive 3 hours it drives me nutts.

    So just get a good charger and some amazon brand rechargeable batteries and you're good to go. If you don't mind sacrificing some charge cycles I also recommend getting a 15 or 30 min charger. They remove about 10% from the total number of times you can recharge the batteries but it's kinda worth it.
  • kmbear
    You wrote an entire article... about not having a light to tell you your controller is fully charged. Wow. Also, alkaline AA batteries are actually very efficient, they are just wasteful. I also have to say, I have grown very tired if the sensationalist taglines used to entice people to your articles on this site. It's always "This is BAD!" or something like that, when the issue is usually minor
  • SirStephenH
    The ability to use AAs or the rechargable battery pack of your choice is actually one of the controller's best features. The planned obsolescence of other controllers having built-in rechargable batteries means many people just throw away their controller when the battery completely dies. In the meantime they have to deal with an ever shortening battery life and being tethered to a charger or their console. The Xbox controller on the other hand can use AA alkalines (NOT less efficient, they're still and likely always will be more efficient than rechargeables, but are more wasteful), AA rechargeables (something the author apparently doesn't know exists), or any compatible rechargable battery pack of your choice (you don't have to go through Microsoft, you can find whatever works for you) and when you get a low battery warning you can swap them out in seconds instead of stopping to charge or tethering yourself to the wall or console.
  • AuraBlaize
    I also agree that the fact that the controllers use AAs is a GOOD thing.

    A good example would be last gen when my DS4 needed a replacement battery. Now, to fix this, I have to open up the controller and swap the battery pack after ordering one. It's technically not really meant to be user serviceable despite how easy it is.

    The Xbox gives you a good bit of warning before your batteries completely die and just about everyone who owns an Xbox either has rechargable AA batteries, a ton of regular AA batteries, or battery packs on hand. When my controller died, all I needed to do was swap out the rechargeable AA batteries that I've had forever. I've since swapped to a rechargeable battery pack that has a charging station.

    Which brings me to my next point. You have a bunch of battery packs already and the old packs work on the new controllers, so why not use one of those? This whole article seemed less like a review and more like a reason to tout "AA BATTERIES BAD"
  • bradbodily
    I'm using the same Eneloops in my Series X controller today as I did 15 years ago in my Xbox 360 controllers, and then again in my Xbox One controllers. Using replaceable batteries is hardly wasteful, it's much less wasteful.

    And that's besides the fact that I can pick up an Xbox controller that hasn't been used in years and it'll be usable in however long it takes me to take AAs out of my Series X controller and move them to the other one (or, just use another pair of AAs, if I want). If I grab an old PS controller, I have to tether to the machine or wait for them to charge. I much prefer replaceable batteries to fixed-batteries.

    And I'd much rather not have a battery ecosystem that's limited to one particular controller when I can have an ecosystem that can be used across many, many devices.
  • Lee Gillie
    Check out this MENEEA dual charging dock WITH LED indicator lights for a mere $21. I've been using it a while, and a charge seems to last forever.