On the surface, the Xbox Series X and S are the most straightforward modern consoles on the market. Aesthetically, they are nothing more than 3D rectangles, and their controllers are almost identical to Xbox One controllers (save for textured grips and an extra button on the face). Even under the hood, the Xbox Series S functions similarly to the Xbox One. Without the extra computational horsepower, few gamers could probably tell the difference between the consoles. Look closely at the two consoles, though, and you’ll find an array of hidden features that make each pretty special.
Like the PlayStation 5 and the Nintendo Switch, the Xbox Series X and S are more than just game consoles. Sure, most owners will probably use these platforms to play Fortnite with friends, but the manufacturers added a few more bells and whistles. Many of these features are godsends for players who want a bit more accessibility or customization options, but these additions are mostly hidden behind a series of menus. Here are some of the best.
Reverse Sync Controllers
Video game controllers have come a long way. These days, Bluetooth functionality is built into many input devices, which lets gamers use devices with non-native platforms like gaming PCs. While PS5 and Switch controllers can only remember one platform at a time, Xbox Series X controllers have slightly better memories.
Virtually everyone knows how to pair an Xbox Series X controller with its native console. Just press the sync button above the front USB port on the console and then hold down the controller’s sync button (which is near its USB port). The lights on the controller and console will flash, and when they stop, the console and controller are connected. To link the controller to a PC, hold down the controller’s sync button while a computer’s Bluetooth is searching and add it like any other Bluetooth device. These steps have been drilled into most gamers’ heads thanks to Xbox One controllers, but what happens when someone wants their console and PC to share the same controller?
According to Microsoft employee Timo Wolf, double-tapping the Xbox Series X/S controller’s sync button lets users cycle through linked devices. If a controller is connected to a PC, pressing the button twice reverts the controller to Xbox Series X/S. Although, Wolf’s instructions are slightly incorrect since he claims you have to hold the sync button to reconnect to a mobile or PC device. In truth, double-tapping the controller when it’s connected to an Xbox will make it switch to a previous mobile/PC device. I tested it.
Regardless, Wolf’s information is a boon to gamers since official documentation only says the Xbox Series X/S controller can “switch between devices,” but doesn’t let you know how to do just that. No longer will Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers need to jump through hoops to keep their one controller synced to the appropriate device.
Everyone needs a helping hand now and then, especially if they are struggling with controls. It’s almost a right of passage for gamers to hand their controller to a friend or older sibling to complete a challenge they can’t, but the Xbox Series X/S has a different solution.
Hidden in the settings menu is the “Copilot” option. This feature works by linking two controllers. Simply enter the settings menu and scroll down to “Accessibility.” Pick “Controller,” select “Copilot settings,” turn it on, and choose your secondary controller. While Copilot is active, each controller provides equal control over the game.
As you might have gathered, Copilot is an accessibility option. This feature can let, say, younger players control a character’s jumps and attacks while their older sibling focuses on movement (or vice versa), but that is only one possible use. Players with mobility or coordination issues can team up with a friend who doesn’t via Copilot. Or maybe gamers who can’t bring their arms together can use Copilot to hold one controller in each hand and use them as one.
While not all gamers will find a use for Copilot, it is still an excellent option for those who do. Better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Expanded Phone Connectivity
Smartphones are a part of our daily lives. Thanks to advances in technology, these devices help us find stores, keep track of our appointments, and even play games. One app even lets our smartphones play multiple roles in the Xbox experience.
Most of the Xbox phone app’s uses are front and center. Gamers can use the app to check out news for their favorite games, chat with friends, and share their latest screengrabs and recordings. But the program’s true strength lies in its ability to serve as a universal remote for the Xbox.
For instance, players can manage their Xbox Series X/S storage without ever turning it on, thanks to the Xbox app. Starting and uninstalling games is as easy as a few swipes on the smartphone screen, but the app can also install games onto the console. Players aren’t even limited to the games they own; the app’s search function can install any game someone wants on the console. What good does this do? Why, it gives players a headstart on downloading games so that they can install them at work, buy it at home, and play without any extra wait.
Players can also use the Xbox app as a literal remote. On its home screen near the top is a button that opens a menu with the option “Open remote control.” This feature opens a new tab that turns the phone into a makeshift Xbox controller. It’s nowhere near as robust as an actual controller, but it works when someone wants to watch a movie on their Xbox Series X/S and not waste controller batteries. Alternatively, the app doubles as a remote screen. Simply tap the same button that brought up the aforementioned menu and select “Remote play on this device.” The Xbox will then start streaming to the smartphone, albeit with a tiny amount of lag. It’s not the best way to play a game, but it works in a pinch when the console’s television is otherwise preoccupied with entertaining other people.
Bragging rights only get you so far if you can’t back them up. As they say on the internet, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” Achievements act as proof of gamers’ digital exploits, but they’re not always easy to track. Unless you’re using the Xbox Series X/S, that is.
One of the Xbox’s better quality of life improvements is its Achievement Tracker. This feature’s name sums up its function succinctly: it tracks achievements. The console places an overlay on the screen that displays several achievements you have yet to earn and how long you have to go for each one. Simple but effective.
In order to turn on the Achievement Tracker, simply press the Xbox button on the controller, scroll over to the “Game activity” section of the tab, and select “Achievements.” The next popup lets you flip the tracker on or off, and the gear button next to it lets you customize where the tracker is located on the screen, how many achievements it displays, and how much they get in the way of the action.
Change Controller Layout
Controller customization, while generally unused, comes standard with modern consoles. Players can rebind buttons however they see fit on most controllers, but like syncing, they can only remember one alternate setup at a time. Once again we must reiterate how and why Xbox Series X/S controllers are the smartest on the market.
If you visit the settings menu, scroll down to “Devices & connections” and select “accessories.” You can see all the controllers currently registered with the console. You can also configure them by adding new controller profiles. Each one lets you remap buttons, turn off rumble functions, and swap triggers. All standard stuff, at least fdor now.
Unlike other consoles, the Xbox Series X/S lets users assign numerous profiles to the same controller. Say a player prefers FPS titles with an inverted y-axis aiming and racing games where they hold down the right trigger to accelerate. This not-so-hypothetical gamer can create a profile for each of those situations and swap to them whenever they please, all while reserving the default control scheme for RPGs and adventure titles.