Feature

There was a time when 3rd party console controllers offered a single and specific benefit over 1st party hardware: they were cheaper. I clearly recall owning an orange PlayStation controller that cost me just £10 and was, quite frankly, awful. Well times have changed and while PC gamers have had ‘pro’ hardware offerings for some time there is still relatively little on offer for console gamers. One of the first pro console controllers was the the Razer Onza, while it was well received I had some issues with its design. The placement of additional programmable shoulder buttons was confusing, the D-pad was unwieldy and while the tension controls on the sticks was ingenious, it made clicking the ‘stick buttons’ unreliable at higher tensions.

With the Sabertooth, Razer have not just addressed these issues, they have improved just about every area of the design. For this review I used the Sabertooth both on my laptop, playing Game of the Year darling Far Cry 3 and the amazing Fairy Bloom Freesia, and on the Xbox 360 while playing DmC: Devil May Cry and Halo 4. If you just want to get going with the pad, there is nothing to do but remove it from its very swish carry case and plug it in, the braid covered USB cable is detachable and connects with a screw joint to the back of the pad, something I’d like to see on all arcade sticks, there is little doubt in my mind that braided cables are the future not least because my cats don’t chew them for some reason.

As you can see from the pictures below the D-pad is now a PlayStation style affair and is much better for it. Sticks no longer feature physical tension adjustments but the sensitivity is now programmable via the tiny and remarkably easy to use OLED screen at the bottom of the pad. While most games feature sensitivity settings at a software level it’s logical that controlling this via in the input hardware is both more precise and, with stored profiles, more consistent. The additional shoulder buttons have also been vastly improved, now smaller and moved closer to the centre of the pad, there is no longer any issue of confusion and again programming them to act as any other button is child’s play.

The addition of programmable buttons may seem a little excessive but it can be quite beneficial to gameplay. The obvious use is to remap commonly used face buttons reducing the need to remove your right thumb from the stick, especially useful in First Person Shooters. My preferred use however was for comfort, I’ve always had an issue with clicking in analogue sticks for reflex actions and reassigning them to the additional shoulder buttons felt both natural and much easier to use.

The programmable shoulder buttons are not all the Sabertooth has to offer though, probably the most innovative addition might at first seem like simple grip points on the underside of the pad. You’ll see them in the right hand photo below. In fact these are additional buttons, each grip point can be pushed up or down offering an additional four programmable inputs. The motion needed for these buttons is very slight indeed and would suit a multitude of uses, scrolling through menus or load-outs or even as hair triggers. They are also fully removable and can be replaced with rubber covers that sit flush to the back should you find you don’t need both or either of them.

  
All this customisation and programmability aside, my favourite thing about the Sabertooth ended up being the face buttons. Yes they are back lit and that alone make them superior to those on a standard pad but, without wanting to sound like some kind of super douchebag, they have a really nice ‘action’ to them. They seem to require only the slightest push to activate while never feeling like they could be triggered accidentally, they also give a very satisfying click when pressed. One addition that I had initially overlooked and that is not shown in the photos here is the analogue stick covers, Razer provide rubber covers that can be placed over the sticks to offer more grip. Once I dug these out of the packaging I found they improved my level of comfort considerably.

At an RRP of £69.99 the Sabertooth is not going to be suitable for everyone but then it’s not pitched as that, the very fact that it’s intentionally wired will appeal to those that don’t or can’t trust the use of a wireless pad during serious gameplay. It also makes it very suitable as a pad for use on a PC. It is a vast improvement over the Onza and my only real issue with it is that while the build quality is extremely solid, it does feel a little too light. If you’re looking for a serious alternative to the official Xbox pad the Sabertooth is well worth checking out and has now become my go-to pad when playing on my laptop. Highly recommended.

The Razer Sabertooth will be in stores shortly and will also be available direct from Razer. Onza users that are looking to upgrade should keep an eye on the Razer website as they will be offering a discount as part of their ‘Step-Up’ program.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anton.gourman Anton Gourman

    Thanks for this review. It was a good read, and made me go out and buy a Razer Sabretooth. I just thought I’d contribute my impressions of it, which are not as glowing as Dan’s.

    When it arrived (I ordered mine from Amazon), the controller was in the case, and that feels really premium. The cord is long enough and the screw cap at the controller end is a nice touch.

    However, when I took out the controller and started using it, the experience was much less premium. The materials of the controller didn’t feel as premium as the standard Xbox360 one. The parts may well be much better, but the buttons felt a little bit cheap, especially the triggers and shoulder bumpers. It is also worth noting that my right side bumper (R1) makes a satisfying click when I press it, whilst the left side bumper (L1) doesn’t. The buttons work fine, but for a £80 pound product on amazon

  • evanskeithinty

    I bought my saber tooth few weeks after launch, and I only just had to
    retire it a few days ago after I accidentally stepped on it in the dark. It’s really
    shameful for the razer companies that 1 mistaken of stepped of their controller
    have to broke fast. They should offer some kind of discount for those of us who
    had to send the saber tooth in for more than one repair.