Review of the Month; original Xbox Controller

The original Xbox controller is infamous for being on the large side. It was originally named the Fatty or Fatso, it later got nicknamed more favourably as The Duke. I had my chance to test it when Xbox originally came out, but never after that. The Xbox Controller S, nicknamed as Akebono, was designed for the Japanese iteration of the console and later was adopted worldwide as the new standard, for few damn good reasons. That said, this review is written from standard sized hand perspective.

Well shit, there goes the center symbol

The Fatty as a controller is rather massive. Much like Dreamcast’s and Saturn’s 3D controller from the front, it looks massive and doesn’t seem like something you’d comfortably grab. Unlike with the two aforementioned ones, this controller does not have thinner handles to grasp at the back, but offers larger than standard protrusion to grasp. They’re not exactly handles, but they try to be. With standard sized hands, your thumbs tend to comfortably rest on the four main action buttons, and the left stick. The angle’s not bad and tends to keep your wrists straight. The buttons themselves feel rather nice, though it always take a small moment to get used to how high their curve is raised. It’s not the best design choice, but far from the worst. Still, between slightly convex and domed like these, slightly convex wins over every time due to them being less aggressive on the thumb.

However, the first problems comes with those action buttons. While your thumb rests in the middle of the diamond shape they make, pressing Y can be a problem if you prefer moving your thumb on top of each individual button rather than just rocking it back and forth. This is because the thumb may require to extend itself further, forcing it and the wrist in slightly bad position. The white and black buttons on the other hand can’t be pressed without loosing the grip a bit and moving upwards.

This is where the controller’s design comes apparent; it is for larger hands that can cover the necessary distances. Much like the mini controllers, the Fatty was designed larger hands in mind and it is no joke to suggest that it was made for American hands. The controller’s core design, after all, is a combination of Dreamcast’s and Microsoft’s own Sidewinder models. The D-Pad itself, which is surprisingly competent and probably the best one Microsoft has produced, seems to be taken almost directly from one of the models from mid-90’s.

The sticks, despite this being an old, used controller I picked up from a flea market, are solid and still function. There’s some looseness to them, but that I’ll put to its age rather than build. However, due to how the button distances are set up, you can’t comfortably access all six face buttons if your right thumb is on the stick. The hand requires a lot of climbing back and forth. The distance to Back and Start is also rather large, and I’ve noticed that I favour my left thumb in using them. This is because the right stick actually comes into my way and requires extra motion to avoid it, further making my hand expand and loosen the grip.

However, the front is nice to look at. The cut angles and spheres are spiffy, and the only downside is the logo in the middle. If it was anything but a cut-n-paste Xbox logo, e.g. etched to the surface with a separate plastic layer pushing up to from just the X, it would look much better. The middle tends to gather loads of dust and dirty, so cleaning it for hygienic reasons is highly recommended.

A whole lot nothing

I don’t think a controller’s back needs to be anything special, it really doesn’t. However, the labels Microsoft used here do seem a bit low-quality in the sense that they make it look like a third-party controller. On the plus side, something that really works in visual terms, is the cuts at the top of the controller, contouring towards the back and keeping their shape. The one downward loop to house the protrusion for the cable is a nice touch. The cable itself is normal, with a breakaway bit of someone tripped on it. You can replace the breakaway end with a USB one if you wish, as these controllers are really standard USB controllers.

Speaking the top, it houses two slots for memory cards. I don’t think anyone really used these memory cards due to Xbox’s internal memory, but as they are now, they’re just collecting dust and are essentially a waste of space. One of those things that was directly lifted from the Dreamcast controller. They also have direct access to the inside of the controller via holes, meaning that the Xbox controller is easier to destroy when your friend splashes soda on it than most others.

There’s also something sickly with the inside curves of the handles. These are supposedly meant to comfort to your little and ring finger, but at this size it doesn’t really do the trick at all. Rather, because it loses some of its mass, it feels more like you’re loosing your grasp towards the tips. Standard philips head screws are another plus.

You can shove something in there

The triggers were nothing new at this point, but I guess it could be argued that Xbox’s controller made them mainstream and popular to the point of Sony implementing their own later down the line. The triggers still are springy and offer surprising amount of resistance, but as you can see from the photo above, they kinda left the design halfway through. You can trap some of your finger’s skin between the trigger and the controller’s housing, which tends to be uncomfortable at best. Well, less than having your palm’s skin being slammed between two 2000 x 1000 x 8 mm sheets of steel, but still pisses you off. You can also see that the trigger doesn’t cover the hole all the way, but leaves an opening at the top when its fully pressed down.

I don’t see any reason to open up the controller itself to check the PCB and how it’s housed. Mostly because I’ve lost all the good light, partly because the Fatty’s PCB is largely available on the ‘net already.

So, what’s the verdict? If you have big hands, this is the controller for you. The controller would fit smaller hands just fine if the face buttons were laid out better and wouldn’t have such a high dome. The Akebono remedied most of these problems, but for whatever reason Microsoft put the Start, Back, white and black buttons at the very sides rather than in the middle of the controller, making it necessary to climb your hands back and forth again. The core concept is sound, but the final product is something that doesn’t meet up with the expected standards.

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