Tom's Guide Verdict
The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 improves on an excellent premium gamepad, with better grips, more customization options and USB-C charging.
Premium, satisfying design
Tons of customization options
Support for three onboard profiles
USB-C support and charging case
Front grips can be slippery
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 proves that a great thing can always get better. Microsoft's latest premium game pad improves on what was already the best high-end Xbox and PC controller, with better grips, a rechargeable battery and even more customization options. The controller's shorter trigger locks and the improved paddles help give you a competitive edge. Support for more onboard profiles mean you can dominate in multiple titles on the go.
The Elite Series 2 is easily the best PC gaming controller and Xbox controller for serious gamers, though its steep, $179 price makes it a tough sell for casual players or existing Elite owners looking to upgrade.
Ever since I first picked up the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2, I've had a hard time keeping it out of my hands. Microsoft's latest high-end controller just feels like a premium piece of machinery, with a satisfying 12-ounce heft and a delightful soft-touch finish that permeates the entire design. The metal analog sticks glide along their surrounding rings like butter, and every button feels snappy.
If you've used the original Elite, you'll notice some significant changes right off the bat. The controller now has textured grips in both the front and rear (instead of just the rear), which are designed to give you a better hold on things. Ironically, I find the soft-touch material on the front grips to be almost too soft, as I felt the controller slipping around a bit when I didn't grip it tightly.
The four removable rear paddles are smaller and more flush with the back of the controller, meaning they don't stick out like a sore thumb like they did on the original Elite. The rear triggers are now textured (though I didn't notice much of a difference while using them in game), and the trigger stops now provide an additional, lower travel setting so that you can fire even faster in shooting games.
New to the Series 2 are adjustable-tension thumb sticks, which can be tweaked to three levels of tension via an included tool. The different tension settings are subtle but noticeable and could benefit competitive players who want their sticks to feel just a bit tighter or looser. The Elite 2's Xbox home button has a much shorter travel than that of the standard Xbox controller, and while this doesn't affect things in game, I found it a bit jarring during my first few presses.
Like the original Elite, the Series 2 includes tons of swappable components. You've got six total thumb-stick options: two classic concave Xbox sticks with textured edges, two concave sticks with smooth edges, a ridiculously tall thumbstick and a convex stick with ridges on top. After trying a few different combinations, I eventually settled on a classic Xbox stick on the left and a convex gripped stick on the right, particularly for the extra grip the latter provides for aiming.
You've also got two choices of D-pads: a metal version of the classic Xbox One D-pad and a satellite-style circular pad that, despite its strange appearance, actually worked quite well for me in fighting games.
The Elite 2 has a rechargeable battery that juices up via USB-C, and both that battery and the USB-C method are long overdue firsts for an Xbox controller. Better yet, the included carrying case is now a charging case, so you can charge the case up in order to keep the Elite juiced on the go. Unlike the original Elite, the new controller features Bluetooth support, making it easier to connect wirelessly to your gaming PC or gaming laptop (or even your iPhone or iPad for Apple Arcade games).
The Elite Series 2 offers plenty of physical customization, but the real magic is in the software. With the Xbox Accessories app for Xbox One and PC, you can fully remap every button on the controller, adjust the sensitivity of the sticks and triggers to an incredibly fine degree, tweak the intensity of vibrations on each part of the pad, and even adjust the brightness of the Xbox button.
One of the coolest new additions to the Xbox Accessories app is the ability to assign a shift key, which can open up a whole new set of commands per button when held down. With the shift key held down, you can have the face buttons perform completely different actions or even have the sticks behave differently.
Another one of my favorite upgrades to the Elite 2 is the ability to store up to three onboard profiles (up from two on the original Elite). Even neater, the controller also lets you revert back to a Default profile, in case you forget what settings you have loaded up or you just want to play with stock controls.
You can create as many profiles you like in the Xbox Accessories app, and the profiles you have stored on your controller will stay with you wherever you play. When I switched from my Xbox One to my PC, I was delighted to see the app still recognize the profiles I made for Gears 5, Rocket League and Apex Legends on my console.
The Elite 2 felt great with just about every game I tried with it, but the controller's extra features were especially handy for competitive shooters. After setting up a custom profile for Gears 5, I was able to take cover, run, dodge and change weapons all with the rear paddles, keeping my thumbs free to stay on the sticks at all times. I also took advantage of the shift key to lower my aiming sensitivity when going for headshots.
I had a similarly great time using the Elite for Apex Legends, in which I was able to run, jump, slide and reload without having to touch the face buttons. The shorter hair-trigger locks were especially handy for getting quick bursts of fire out in both Gears and Apex. The controller did not, however, cure my knack for dying immediately in both games.
Despite how strange it felt to me at first, the Elite 2's circular D-pad attachment allowed me to perform my usual combos in Injustice 2, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite and Street Fighter V with no hassle. The more-standard D-pad worked fine but felt a bit small and stiff in comparison. The Elite 2's textured triggers and detailed rumble felt great for driving titles such as Forza Horizon 4 and Rocket League, and the rear paddles were handy for doing things like drifting in the former and boosting and shooting in the latter.
A variety of subtle improvements add up to make the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 the best premium PC and Xbox game pad out there. It feels better than its predecessor, has more customization options than that version, packs Bluetooth and — finally — has a rechargeable battery that charges via USB-C (and in the case!). If you've been eyeing a premium pad for upping your game in titles like Fortnite, Apex Legends and Gears 5, the Elite 2 a no brainer.
However, at $179, the Elite 2 is an even more hefty investment than the $149 Elite 1. And while its improvements are notable, I'm not sure those who already own an Elite should plunk down nearly $200 for a new version. There's also the $199 Astro C40 TR to consider, which works with PS4 and PC. While the Astro has fewer total buttons than Microsoft's pad, it has the unique ability to let you switch between a PS4-style and Xbox-style analog stick layout on the fly.
Still, if you're looking for the best overall gamepad for serious play on Xbox One and PC, the Elite Series 2 is it.
Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.