Game consoles have long since moved to wireless controllers as the standard, but there are still reasons to consider a wired version. For one, you don’t have to worry about connection issues or battery levels. More importantly, wired controllers like the PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller tend to be cheaper. That can be important when the first-party gamepads are reaching ever-higher price points.
The PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller has all the features of the official version for just half the cost—it can be yours for under $30 most days. It even adds some useful extras like programmable buttons and a volume toggle. The cable is the biggest drawback, but the feel and build quality also take a step down compared to Microsoft’s Series X/S controller. If nothing else, the PowerA Controller is a great “little brother controller.”
- Much lighter than official controller
- Physical volume toggle
- Only costs about $30
- Programmable buttons
- Uses old microUSB port instead of USB-C
- Mushy d-pad
- No wireless connectivity
The PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller might be a budget option, but it’s no slouch. It comes with tons of functionality both for use with the Xbox and those who need a controller for PC gaming as well. Ultimately, it performs almost as well as the official controller but costs only half as much.
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PowerA Enhanced controller: Design and build quality
At first glance, you might not realize that the PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller is a third-party accessory. It has the typical Xbox shape, a glowing Xbox button in the middle, and all the buttons in the right places. However, it’s a bit chunkier, giving it a hand-feel closer to the previous-gen Xbox One controller. There’s a diamond texture etched into the grips, but it’s far less grippy than the tiny dots on the official controller that ships with the Series X and S.
Even though the chassis is larger, the PowerA controller is surprisingly light at just 208g (7.33 ounces). The stock Series X controller with AA batteries installed is a whopping 300g. Thankfully, the cable is removable, but the port (between the triggers) is an old-fashioned microUSB. Current-gen controllers from Microsoft and Sony use the newer USB-C standard. These cables are reversible and more durable, but microUSB works fine, and the controller comes with a long 10-foot cable.
The bottom edge hosts a 3.5mm headphone jack, and just above that on the face of the controller is the volume toggle. This is the most obvious departure from the stock controller, which doesn’t have any dedicated hardware buttons for volume control. Flip it over, and you’ll see the other hardware tweak—a pair of programmable buttons on the grips and a button in the middle to configure them. The controller also has eight exposed screw holes on the underside, making the PowerA controller look much cheaper than the official controller, which fits together with no visible screws.
You might also notice that the d-pad is of the traditional plus-shaped variety, whereas the official Series X/S controller has moved to a more precise dish-shaped pad. The PowerA ABXY cluster has more travel (they protrude a bit more from the body) with less tactility than Microsoft’s controller. The other buttons look about the same—PowerA even has the share button introduced with the Series X and S (although, it’s round instead of pill-shaped, and it’s a bit wobbly)
PowerA Enhance controller: Features and hands-on experience
As we pointed out in the Xbox Wireless Controller review, Microsoft’s latest gamepad is louder than the last one. The PowerA makes that one seem whisper-quiet by comparison. Elements like the triggers and thumbsticks have very hard, loud landings when pressed. The thumbsticks are also stiffer and rougher than the official controller, but the difference is negligible enough that you won’t notice unless you have both of them side-by-side for comparison.
The programmable buttons are placed conveniently on the inside of the grips—perhaps a little too conveniently. It doesn’t take much force to depress them, so they’re easy to hit accidentally if you squeeze the controller too tightly. That said, they can be handy if you don’t like the location of one of the other buttons. Simply long-press the program button in the middle of the rear panel and press the control you want to replicate.
The old-style d-pad might be the biggest physical downgrade compared to the first-party Xbox X/S gamepad. It has the classic plus-shaped design, along with the classic mushiness. Fighting games and others that make heavy use of the d-pad won’t be as enjoyable with this controller. The addition of the volume-control toggle is nice, though. If you play online games with a wired headset, the switch lets you raise and lower the volume without digging around in settings. You can also press the switch to mute the microphone.
While the lack of wireless connectivity is a bummer, you’d have to expect that buying a wired controller. The lower controller weight is an appealing consolation, though. As long as you can run the 10-foot cable to your PC or console, the PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller is comfortable to use for long periods of time.
PowerA Enhanced controller: Compatibility
The PowerA controller should work with your Xbox just as well as an official controller. All you need is a free USB port on your console, and the same goes for a Windows PC. The only hardware feature you’ll completely lose is the option to attach accessories, like a keyboard or headset, that use the expansion port, which does not exist on the PowerA controller. Another drawback: This controller cannot turn on the Xbox Series X/S console.
This controller also works with smartphones but not as easily as the stock controller. Since the official gamepad uses USB-C, you just need a C-to-C cable to connect to an Android phone, and it also supports wireless Bluetooth connectivity. With the PowerA, you need to use the cable (or another micro USB cable) and an adapter that can turn the rectangular USB-A into USB-C. We’ve tested this with Google’s Pixel USB adapter, and everything works despite being clunky.
The official Xbox Series X/S controller is undoubtedly a better device—it’s wireless, looks nicer, and has better build quality. It’s also expensive at $60. The PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller has 90 percent of the functionality at just half the cost. We also appreciate that PowerA offers the controller in so many colors.
The lack of a battery makes the PowerA controller much lighter than wireless ones, and most of the buttons feel almost as responsive and tactile as the official controller. There are a few extra buttons, too, allowing you to replicate any of the standard controls on the programmable grip paddles. We don’t love the old plus-shaped d-pad, which is mushier than the one on the latest Microsoft controllers, and the programmable buttons are a bit too easy to press by accident.
The Xbox comes with one controller, and that’s enough for some people. If you need extra controllers for your console and don’t fancy spending $60 on each of them, the PowerA is a good purchase. For PC gamers, the PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller is a reasonable way to get all the Windows Xbox integrations on the cheap. However, anyone looking for a mobile controller should move along. The lack of wireless connectivity or a USB-C port means you’ll have to deal with cables and adapters just to get the PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller linked to your phone.