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Steam Controller versus the Xbox One gamepad

The Steam Controller is a more advanced gamepad than that offered by Microsoft and PlayStation, but the input solution is still in its infancy stage. I've also come to the conclusion that while it's neat in some PC games and can absolutely be used in others where a typical gamepad would be deployed, there are also some things Microsoft's Xbox One controller is simply better at.

Here's a quick look at what specifications are featured by both controllers in question:

CategoryXbox OneSteam Controller
WirelessBluetoothSupplied dongle
WiredYesYes
GyroscopeNoYes
AccelerometerNoYes
TriggersTwo2x dual-stage
FeedbackRumbleTrackpad Haptic
Analog sticksTwoOne
D-padYesEmulated
TrackpadsNoneTwo
Number of buttons1618
Rear inputNone2x back paddles

They're different beats. The Xbox One controller (especially the Elite variant) is considered by many to be the absolute best when it comes to console gaming and using a gamepad on a PC. Valve certainly brings some interesting features to the table, including a gyroscope, accelerometer, dual-stage triggers and two trackpads. Not to mention the number of buttons that can be re-mapped using Steam software.

Microsoft has come a long way with its console controllers. From the famous Duke to the current generation of gamepad, those with an Xbox have enjoyed a solid experience with launched titles. For PC, it's mainly been keyboard and mouse, which is what Valve wanted to replace with the Steam Controller, most notably for the living room and Big Picture Mode.

Steam Controller

The Steam Controller takes some time getting used to. When setting up the gamepad with your PC, you'll need to spend some time getting used to how everything works. Instead of relying on two analog sticks, the Steam Controller only has one, with a trackpad for secondary input. It's incredibly off-putting at first, but almost feels natural after some time.

When is the Xbox One controller better? Well, if you don't like the Steam controller then Microsoft's own offering is a must-use. It's particular handy in first-person shooter titles and anything running on the Xbox console. As a slight downside, there's little in terms of customization, re-mapping and more complex controls can feel overwhelming on the small gamepad unless you go for the Elite variant.

Xbox Elite Controller

Xbox Elite Controller

This is where the Steam Controller shines though. Take Star Citizen (or Elite Dangerous) as an example. A space simulation title as complex as this requires numerous buttons for various functions. This is possible with the Steam Controller and a maintained configuration file (or you can go it alone and do everything yourself). Should you be comfortable with both controllers, Steam's solution really shines in more advanced games like this.

One also has to include the price when looking at Xbox One controllers and the Steam pad. If you want to match Valve's offering in Microsoft's camp, you'll need to fork out around $140 for the Xbox One Elite controller, which introduces more buttons and customization. The Steam Controller costs just $49.99. It's a substantial difference that should be considered by those looking for a new means of input for their PC.

But that's just me, what say you? Do you prefer the Steam Controller or Xbox One gamepad? Sound off in the comments!

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

31 Comments
  • I didn't knew steam had a controller
  • are you from this planet? :D
  • Or are you a regular regular reader of this site?
  • Me too
  • The only thing i liked in steam controller is accelerometer
  • The trackpad is really handy for those of us who has had practice gaming on laptops...
  • Its so ugly......... Looks like something that would be in an alien spaceship. Except I wouldn't want that to be future tech coz It's UGLY
  • I have to agree it is very strange looking. I am not sure how the functioning would feel either.
  • Who cares? How much time do you spend looking at video game controllers?
  • I like the Steam controller but couldn't get used to it and don't like how you have to use Steam big picture mode to use all of its features.
  • That's in the past. I haven't started big picture in months but use the controller daily. It's smoother overall though, I don't navigate the desktop with the controller..
  • As an Xbox One owner I don't see the point of using another controller. Although if you have a PS4, go for it.
  • wow a Steam Controller - is it for Gas, Coal or Oil fired?
  • I see what you did there. XD
  • The strength of the Steam controller (customization) is also its biggest hurdle. For me I just don't have the time to mess with the configuration for each game and the default is often a complete mess. No man's sky's layout is barely functional for example.
  • Use the community ones. Most I've found are pretty perfect. I just pick the top one each time.
  • If I was choosing between these two controllers, I'd choose Xbox, but if I could choose anything it would be a GameCube controller plugged into a USB adapter which is what I use. I'd use it for more stuff if it had more buttons, but for N64/GCN emulation it's perfect.
  • That was a good controller. But my issue is the c stick sucks. They should have just used a 2nd analog stick.
  • Couple things. PS3 original controller had accelorometer and gyroscope. Sony removed them. That says what the majority thought about those things. I've seen pro players try the steam controller. Only to get wasted online against One S controllers. They don't recommend the track pad for competitive online. But if your gonna spend out extra for a steam controller you may as well go Elite One controller. Which is simply the best ever made for any device.
  • "It's particular handy in first-person shooter titles" LOL, you did not just say that; no controller is 'handy' in FPS games, if you want to play FPS you need a mouse and keyboard, otherwise you are just messing around and not really playing competitively. Sure some people can train themselves to be pretty decent with a controller, but there is a reason why anyone who enjoys FPS titles has always wanted a kb/m on the xbox and why various dogles exist just to achieve this end. And why the xbox fps players always thow a fit of rage just at the mention that an FPS game might have a joint PC/console multiplayer pool.  
  • Tell that to the mouse and keyboard pc team 6 years ago that lost on halo Ce against the top Xbox team who was playing with 360 controllers. I did laugh at the meltdown that ensued from the PC community claiming it was rigged. Lol.
  • Oh you mean when the aim assisted guys beat the full manual input guys.
  • I think it's very difficult to get used to the Steam Controller. That muscle memory is hard to get rid off when you're used to playing with Xbox/Playstation controllers. It's a pretty well built controller and very comfortable imo so I'd definitelly like to master it someday. Personally I feel it'd be great for pinpoint accuracy games like shooters and ones that require a lot of mouse navigation. But for a game like FIFA, I'd still prefer the Xbox One controller albeit with a few more buttons or a DS4 for Fighting and Platformers.
  • Any game that the Steam controller would be "better" is almost universally better suited for keyboard and mouse.
  • intresitng i dont realy use any controller on my pc. i mostly use mouse and keybord.
  • When I got the Steam controller, at first it was really awkward getting use to it, but I eventually did. I love it now. Best part is the customization and the trackpad. Plus there are loads of configs that were made by other users that works really well. You can download and modify them to your suit. And that's coming from a guy that loves his keyboard and mouse.
  • I would love to see Microsoft create an Xbox branded controller with the trackpad features of the steam controller. It'd really shine in strategy games on Xbox or PC; or even older PC games that lack proper controller support.
  • I use the Steam Controller for most FPSs that don't require too much twitchy gameplay, like Doom 2016 or COD. Also great for RPGs and other gametypes. Haven't successfully used it for Quake Live, though.
  • I have one and i love it!! A lot of options to customize it, you can play FPS or even strategy games with it(altough it does take a lot of time to get used to)
  • The Xbox One controller is better at playing game on the Xbox One than the Steam Controller. That's some solid, in-depth journalism.
  • As others have said, the true value of the Steam Controller is for individuals who enjoy using a controller but have games with no native controller support.  Things like RPGs or Strategy games are where I generally use mine.  For this it has been great, though it does take some getting used to and sometimes needing to tweak configs.  Being able to download, use and modify configs made by other players does make it much easier. For example, I have a friend who is not a PC gamer and so the idea of using a mouse and keyboard is foreign to him.  With the steam controller I can get him setup in a RPG using controls that he finds more accessible and we have a great time playing whereas it was a struggle getting him used to mouse/keyboard. With that said... for games that do fully support a controller, I still prefer the xbox one controller or even x360 controller.