There are many reasons why I prefer the Xbox eco-system over other formats. You could say that it’s the ease and accessibility to online gaming through the Xbox network, or you could point to the huge range of indie titles that have made the Xbox world their own. You could even chat about Xbox Game Pass causing disruption to the norm, Gamerscore and achievements being an absolute addiction or that with the Microsoft Rewards scheme there is the opportunity to get something back for your time and effort. But if I’m honest, the main reason why I’m an Xbox gamer is because of the controller.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some more recent input devices found across other gaming formats that have hogged the limelight in recent months, but honestly, the evolution of the Xbox controller over the years has meant that familiarity and feel has become a huge part of my gaming life. But for as good as the current iteration of the Xbox controller is, there will be some who think they can better it. Or if not better it, at least make some kind of alternative that warrants a look. NACON for instance – with their Pro Compact Controller for Xbox.
Designed for Xbox, the NACON Pro Compact Controller looks to work as a kind of halfway house between the standard Xbox Wireless controller, the highly customisable Xbox Elite controller, and those retro affairs of yesteryear that weren’t able to utilise the magic of wireless capabilities. It’s a decent effort by the NACON team too – especially when you consider the price – and whilst it won’t be something that sees me tossing the official Xbox Wireless controller to one side, there are some good ideas rolling around inside it.
We’ll have to start with the obvious and whether or not you get on with what NACON has created here will be totally dictated by whether or not you can handle a wired unit. I’ve spoken many times over the years about how cutting the cable isn’t absolutely essential when it comes to headsets, with just a short cable connecting things from controller to head never being an issue. But it’s different with the controller itself and thanks to the magic of wireless connections, there will be many who have a hard time in finding themselves permanently attached to their console.
It’s nice that a whole three metres worth of braided cable has been included here, yet with permanent mounting, the constriction that it brings can be a hard sell. Of course, play at a desk either through Xbox or PC and you probably won’t find any issue – and the need to not worry about battery issues is obviously a plus – but personally a real regret is that this NACON unit ties you down.
Another slight problem is the size of the controller. Ever so slightly smaller than a standard Xbox Wireless offering (15% smaller if you listen to the official NACON blurb), as someone with reasonably sized man hands, I’ve found the Pro Compact Controller to bring strain during lengthy gameplay sessions, so much so that constant pausing for a stretch has been very apparent. But then, after giving the controller to those with slightly smaller hands, the same issue doesn’t arise as much. Like the attached cable, this is going to be something that is highly personal.
Aside from those two negatives, and the slight cheap feel it brings (although this is a pretty cheap controller), NACON have produced a decent little option for those who are looking for something away from the norm.
The Pro Compact Controller could possibly pass to the untrained eye as standard fare. The now standard textured back is in place, and both the thumbsticks and d-pad are in similar positions to Xbox’s official sellers; these feel good to use. There’s a nicely concaved top to the thumbsticks too, ensuring that your thumb can grip and not slip, and the ‘Pro’ moniker is shown off well in the coppery-gold rings that surround the sticks – they look pretty classy. The usual face buttons are there as well, and even though these are ever so slightly larger than those on a standard controller, and come with a more matte finish, they are not quite as tactical to use. Yes they do the job asked of them, but, I mean, face buttons are face buttons – there’s very little you can stuff up there.
This NACON effort also has the usual bumpers and triggers, yet the latter are very much more aligned with those found on a Nintendo Switch Pro controller; more horizontal in shape and feel. Honestly though, I prefer that style and have enjoyed pulling these triggers throughout my time with the controller. The bumpers work well too, but much like those face buttons, as long as they work when hit, you can’t ask for much more.
What is slightly different here though are the placings of the Xbox home button, the menu and start buttons, and that for the new dedicated screenshot – or, if you’re fancy, the View, Menu, Nexus and Share buttons. The latter is fine, tucked away at the bottom of the controller, keeping out of harm’s way, but I’m at a loss to understand why NACON have placed the menu and start buttons so far apart – except in order to fit in their incognito logo. It’s the start one that has caused most issues, with it being right next to the face buttons on the unit – it’s all too easy to slip and hit it accidentally, especially if you’re playing some intense button masher. Whilst it’s not such a problem for the menu button, that’s still a little too close to the left thumbstick for my liking.
It’s a bit of a weird old layout in fact; a hodgepodge of ideas that make it look like NACON are trying to stick their own stamp on things. I’d much prefer them to get closer to the everyday Xbox Wireless controller design. Yet when you consider that they’ve thrown in a 3.5mm jack for audio goodness (and you get a Dolby Atmos App download included here should you wish to have some decent audio power dropped in) and for a cheaper option in the controller market, it’s capable of holding its own.
Where things get better though is in the customisation that the controller allows – at least if you’re looking for that kind of thing. You see, should you wish to mix up your gaming sessions, then the Xbox Elite controller is the one for you; letting you amend button types, presses, trigger sensitivity and more. The NACON Pro Compact Controller lets you do similar, utilising the power of the Pro Compact App from the Xbox Store. Downloading this on your Xbox console will let you not just update the controller with the latest firmware, but amend all manner of settings, switching buttons around, dictating the trigger pull and working with some preset options that NACON have implemented for different game genres.
There are a host of amendments possible, with you pretty much being able to change every single little bit of the controller as you see fit. And further to that, a small switch on the back of the Pro Compact Controller lets you work two settings, so depending on how you are set going forward you can easily switch between the two without having to go in and out of the App. It all works well too – the App is easy to use, makes utter sense and allows a great amount of customisation.
At least it does if you are looking for it.
Again though, and perhaps it’s my age, laid back attitude or because muscle memory is a huge part of what powers my gaming sessions, but there’s a reason I’ve been more than happy to stick to the standard Xbox Wireless Controller, even failing to be excited about using the Xbox Elite on a daily basis. And that’s because I like to know where my buttons are, and I like to know that the feel my triggers will deliver are going to be consistent across the board. Much like messing around in game settings, ticking up boxes to play some games at 120fps, others at 60fps, others in performance mode, and others in graphics mode, I just want to pick up a controller, settle down for the evening and have some fun – if it looks half good, and plays half good, that’s absolutely fine for me. If I want to spend hours in settings menus, I would buy a gaming PC and be done with it.
And that is why I’m neither here nor there with the NACON Pro Compact Controller for Xbox. I just don’t see the need to customise for the sake of customising.
Don’t get me wrong. If you’re bothered by stuff like ray-tracing, Xbox velocity architecture, or any of the other bits of technical jargon that we could easily live our lives without knowing about, and if you are fully concerned with the minutest of trigger actions and the push and pull of your thumbsticks, by all means fill one of your boots with this cheaper alternative to the Xbox Elite Controller. And then, if you’ve got small feet, fill both the boots as this will cover the bases you need.
But if, like me, you just want to grab a controller and know exactly what it is going to do on the regular, just stick with the official Xbox Wireless Controller that Microsoft have lovingly evolved over the years. There’s a reason it’s as good as it is. And that’s the real issue that the NACON Pro Compact Controller for Xbox has.
Huge thanks go out to NACON for providing us with their NACON Pro Compact Controller for Xbox for unboxing and review. If you wish to pick one up for yourself, head over to NACON direct.
NACON Pro Compact Controller for Xbox | UNBOXING AND FIRST LOOK