Razer Sabertooth Controller Review
Razer's latest Xbox 360 accessory looks similar to its Onza controller, but the Sabertooth outperforms it in almost every way, at a cost.
Microsoft's standard Xbox 360 controller is held in high regard by most, but that hasn't stopped Razer and other third-party manufacturers from trying to improve upon its design. Though the Sabertooth bears a striking resemblance to Razer's other Xbox 360 controller, the Onza, it succeeds over its predecessor in numerous ways. However, the high cost ($79.99) is a bitter pill to swallow. It's not a death sentence, but unlike with the relatively affordable Onza, which retails at $50 with a similar feature set, convincing sticker-conscious consumers of the Sabertooth's value won't be an easy hill for Razer to climb.
Truthfully, the Sabertooth could have been branded the "Onza II," and it's doubtful that anyone would have batted an eye. Both models are finished in a rubberized coating and share an almost identical form factor. Their respective feature sets include mappable inputs; backlit action buttons (A, B, X, and Y); and configurable analog sticks. Despite their similarities, it would be unfair to write off the Sabertooth, since it improves on the Onza concepts in almost every way.
For starters, the Sabertooth has six remappable inputs. The two MFBs (multifunction buttons) atop the Sabertooth are half the size of the Onza's and have been moved closer to the center of the controller. These alterations eliminate the likelihood of accidental actuation of either bumpers or MFBs, a common issue with the Onza due to its inputs' similar shape and close proximity.
The four new mappable inputs are hidden from plain sight and are quite unusual in their design. As it turns out, this is to the Sabertooth's benefit. Razer decided to ditch the traditional button concept altogether, opting for two rocking, bidirectional MFTs (multifunction triggers) instead. Each trigger can tip up or down, and unlike standard controller triggers, they use tactile rather than linear switches. These serve a twofold purpose: tactile switches provide "clicky" feedback when pressed in either direction, and they have just enough resistance to prevent inadvertent actuation from overeager fingers.
Should you find the MFTs intrusive, the included Torx screwdriver allows you to remove them quite easily. However, it's recommended that you give them a chance: being able to keep your thumbs on the analog sticks while inputting A, B, X, or Y with your index or middle fingers is an invaluable boon that shouldn't be discounted hastily. Most first-person shooters, for example, rely on both analog sticks at any given moment to move your character and the camera, and Sabertooth allows you to avoid sacrificing control of either one to throw a grenade or jump over an obstacle. The new MFTs and the reconfigured MFBs are hands down the biggest argument for the Sabertooth over the Onza.
The bottom of the controller is where you'll find the controls for remapping buttons, as well as a small, yet vibrant, OLED screen that displays the configuration menu. Hitting the left button will switch between two profiles stored in the Sabertooth's onboard memory. The right button opens the internal configuration menu where you'll be able to program the MFBs, adjust and monitor the sensitivity of both analog sticks, and toggle both backlighting and rumble support.
The D-pad is used to scroll through the UI menu, and the A button serves as the default input, except when configuring MFBs or the analog sticks. To remap an MFB, hold down the input you wish to configure while the display shows the Program Mode menu item, and then press the button you would like to assign to the MFB or MFT. So long as you continue to hold down the input, the new assignment will be displayed. In the case of the analog sticks, press R3 or L3 to open their respective sensitivity scales, and then use the D-pad to adjust from -10 to 10 points, with 0 being the standard sensitivity.
The crisp OLED screen is a contributing factor to the Sabertooth's high price tag, but it does an excellent job of facilitating the configuration of various components by displaying relevant information in a concise and straightforward way.
While the Onza gives you the ability to alter stick tension via a physical dial on the stick, the display on the Sabertooth allows you to incrementally adjust the stick's sensitivity, eliminating the obtrusive dial in the process. Tension and sensitivity aren't exactly the same thing, however, and whether it's better to change one or the other comes down to your individual needs. Still, it's worth considering that the Onza received a lot of criticism for the extended stick length and its cumbersome dial, and if those are the trade-offs for adjustable tension, it might not be worth it in the end.
The D-pad on the Sabertooth also received a face-lift and now resembles the design used in Sony's PlayStation controllers. Unlike its apparent inspiration, the Sabertooth's directional buttons have a glossy finish and a more defined tactile response. Like on the Onza, the directional buttons are physically independent from one another, rather than combined into a single part under the hood, thus avoiding the folly of the standard Xbox 360 controller's accuracy issues. Playing fighting games with complex rotational motions works exactly as you'd hope, and at no point during our testing did we notice any issues regarding accuracy or inadvertent inputs. It's a step up from the standard D-pad, and it feels better in practice than the Onza's segmented disc pad.
Lastly, the backlit, Hyperesponse-based A, B, X, and Y buttons are back and essentially identical to the ones on the Onza, simply with a new font. They're shallow by design and provide crisp tactile and audible feedback to the user when pressed. They may seem fragile or cheap initially, but first impressions can be deceiving. They actually work very well in practice, and the aforementioned characteristics make rapid inputs easier to perform and confirm. The only notable concern is their proximity to the right analog stick. The "mound" surrounding the stick was widened for the Sabertooth, and it's not uncommon for your thumb to come into contact with the analog stick or its housing while going for the X or A buttons. That said, considering the controller was designed for button remapping, it's not a problem without a solution.
The Sabertooth is primarily an Xbox 360 controller, but it's also perfectly viable as a PC controller. It does come with a few caveats, however. Sadly, there's no way to remap keyboard keys directly to the MFBs or MFTs. In theory, this functionality could be added through a Windows application, but Razer's console controllers aren't compatible with their cloud-based configuration software, Synapse. At the moment, third-party software is the only way to directly map specific keyboard keys to the Sabertooth.
The controller comes with detachable stick grips, covers for the MFT ports, a Torx screwdriver, a 15-foot detachable braided cable, and a travel case for the controller and the aforementioned bits and pieces. The case is durable and compact, but roomy enough to carry everything with ease. It serves its purpose perfectly and presents no obvious defect or oversight in design or manufacturing.
Whether or not the Sabertooth is a good value at $80 largely depends on your needs, but it does exactly what Razer claims it will without any discernible flaws. The D-pad is an excellent step in the right direction and resolves one of the biggest complaints about Microsoft's standard controller, and the overall layout, though similar, is still much better than the Onza's. For these reasons, it's easy to recommend the Sabertooth to anyone looking for a highly customizable Xbox 360 controller. Though $80 is a lot of money, if the feature set sounds useful and you have a little extra cash to spend, you won't regret adding it to your collection.