Something I’ve learned from reviewing several controllers over the last few years is just how much better third-party options have gotten. It seemed like when I was a kid, the off-brand controller was the one you let your friend use when they came over for couch co-op, always second fiddle to your first-party controller. But that’s no longer always the case.
One of the best examples of the huge strides third-party controllers have taken is the new PowerA Spectra Infinity Xbox controller. It stands out right away for its vibrant display of lights, but the notable features are more than cosmetic.
Offering some Elite-level upgrades, plus those awesome colors, for a fraction of the price of controllers with similar specs, the Spectra Infinity has become my go-to gamepad on my favorite platform.
PowerA Spectra Infinity Controller Review
Out of the box, the first thing I noticed about the Spectra Infinity was not its light show — I hadn’t turned those on yet — but its form factor. The Spectra Infinity looks and feels exactly like the Xbox first-party controller.
It has the new social button, an improved, though not identical D-Pad, and the subtly smaller frame of the new Xbox controller. It’s virtually identical in both dimensions and top-of-the-pad button layout, with only the somewhat lesser D-Pad and a more bubble-like menu button akin to the 360 days.
But while it’s virtually the same if you measured it, layers are added to make it better than the basic Xbox controller. That starts with the textured grip around where your palms go. By now, I find the textured grip to be a necessary starting point of any controller vying to be exceptional, and it feels great with the Spectra Infinity. That’s one box checked.
Then there are the onboard mute and volume controls, framed around a reliable and chunky single button where a left tilt turns it down, a right tilt turns it up, and pushing it in mutes your mic and emits a handy but unintrusive red glow denoting that you’re muted.
It’s simple and yet so many competitors get this wrong. It’s nice to see a veteran company like PowerA intuit how this function should behave at its best and apply it. That’s another box checked.
What I didn’t expect were some of the Elite-level features. While the Spectra Infinity doesn’t offer back paddles, it does have two additional buttons built into the back, which can be easily programmed to copy any button. Playing The Ascent, a rapid-fire action-RPG, I moved my cooldown powers to these back buttons so as not to have to take my fingers off the triggers ever.
The time saved is purely milliseconds to seconds at best, but in this hectic game and especially in more competitive arenas like battle royale games —almost all of which I adore — that difference is key. I didn’t notice a huge disadvantage to having these be buttons versus paddles.
They come with a noticeable click akin to the shoulder buttons — LR/RB — and they’re easy to avoid when you don’t want to use them. If you really want to ignore them entirely, you simply don’t have to program them to anything, and thus their clicks will do nothing at all.
The Spectra Infinity also includes customizable trigger locks with three distinct settings. At first, I wasn’t enjoying the feel of the triggers, until I realized they just weren’t set to match my preference. Setting them to the middle option, I found the goldilocks zone for my shooters like Fortnite and PUBG.
Like the timing of using back buttons versus shoulder buttons, the differences are subtle, but less so when you’re in a tough game or a multiplayer battle.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by the Spectra Infinity. It packs more competitive features into its familiar frame than I expected. On top of those, the colors, while just cosmetic, are fitting of a gaming era defined by customization and looking unique. With three regions to assign one of 20 colors each, the possibilities are vast and the results always look great on the matte black frame.
I had fun matching the controller to the game tile of whatever I was playing, as you can see here. It’s vibrant but never distracting, neon but not kitschy. It did take me a minute to understand how changing and locking in the colors works even with the manual that explains it, but after I did it once, it made sense. It’s just not quite as intuitive as programming the back buttons.
The only glaring flaw I’ve come across with the controller is its braided cord. As I understand it, only Microsoft is permitted to make wireless Xbox controllers, which is why third parties always have theirs use a cord. A sturdy, braided, 10-foot cord has become the industry standard, it seems, and that’s usually enough, but for some reason, the Spectra Infinity’s cord tangles more often than similar controller cords I’ve been testing this year.
I haven’t any clue why this is. In my hands, the cord feels like any competitor’s, but this one, in particular, has required me to unplug it several times so I could untangle the cord like headphones from one’s pocket.
As there’s no wireless option, this could really hurt the usefulness of the Spectra Infinity, but after nearly two weeks with the controller, I’d say it’s more of a recurring nuisance than a dealbreaker. It’s easy enough to fix. It just feels like it shouldn’t happen in the first place.
PowerA Spectra Infinity Review — The Bottom Line
- Vibrant, customizable lights with many options
- Some Elite-level features like back buttons and trigger locks
- On-board volume control is well-designed and very handy
- Mimics the first-party form factor precisely
- D-Pad isn’t as satisfying as the Microsoft version
- Braided cord gets tangled easily
The PowerA Spectra Infinity for Xbox is a controller that looks flashy but earns it with a familiar yet mostly improved form factor. I love the onboard volume control and wish it would become a new standard. The colors are merely for show, but they look awesome and make the controller a fun gift for another Xbox or PC player in your life — I’ll be getting another for my son.
The Spectra Infinity feels like a tricked-out first-party controller, with smart and stylish add-ons like a live-service player who spent lots of in-game currency. The whole package being just $45, much cheaper than most standard Xbox controllers while offering non-standard features, ranks this controller among the best and most affordable third-party options you can find.
[Note: PowerA provided the Spectra Infinity controller used for this review.]
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