Saturday, September 23, 2023

Hands-on with Turtle Beach’s new React-R controller for Xbox and PC

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Shreya Christina
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The Turtle Beach React-R is the newest controller from the gaming accessories brand, new available in the US today for $39.99. It’s a wired Xbox and PC controller with a detachable USB-C cable, officially licensed by Microsoft, and it combines some of Turtle Beach’s audio chops from its headsets into an affordable gamepad.

The React-R is a bit like Turtle Beach stripping down its Recon controller and giving it a slightly worse name. For $20 less than the Recon, the React-R offers nice quality buttons, sticks, triggers and two programmable rear buttons. Some of those buttons, especially the shoulders, sound a little more hollow in their clicking sound – but that wasn’t something that felt particularly premium on its more expensive counterpart either.

The Turtle Beach React-R Xbox controller in white/purple.

The lights in the top buttons for Superhuman Hearing Mode and Mute only illuminate when a headset is connected.

The React-R has two buttons on the back, which, like the Recon, can be programmed on-the-fly without software.

There are textured bumps along the shoulder knobs of the React-R, although not as prominent as those on the Recon. The raised texture along the React-R’s handles is plenty grippy and comfortable, although they don’t feel quite as nice as the Recon’s soft-touch rubber grips. One big feature that has trickled down to the React-R, however, is Turtle Beach’s excellent audio tricks.

The React-R has Turtle Beach’s ill-named but actually good feature, Superhuman Hearing. Just like on the Recon, if you each wired headset plugged in, you can press the S icon button and the React-R balances the game audio mix to create sounds like character footsteps and gunfire. This was the decisive feature that convinced me to give the Turtle Beach Recon the nod to the best controller for shooters in our buying guide. It’s either the best gaming audio feature out there, or a great placebo effect that leads me to a better KDR, but either way, it’s cool to see it being offered in a cheaper pad.

The React-R branding on the white and purple model blends better than on the black version.

While the React-R inherits Superhuman Hearing from the Recon, other features didn’t make it. It doesn’t have the audio EQ presets, microphone self-monitoring, or Pro-Aim features. I admit those may be less important here, so I’m okay with losing them. In fact, with some of the Recon’s extras shaved off, the React-R becomes a much less complex controller to pick up and use. All those buttons sitting on the top of the Recon like little, glowing warts? Most of that is all gone now, and the controller looks a bit more streamlined – even if Turtle Beach had to decorate an ugly REACT-R label on the top.

Another thing the React-R hasn’t sacrificed is the quick control of game volume and audio/chat mix when using wired headphones. You now control it by holding down the top button above the Xbox guide button and pressing one of the labeled four D-pad directions. Unfortunately, the chat mix control remains an Xbox-only feature, as it is not compatible with Windows.

The Recon (right) is the more robust controller, but the new React-R (left) has much more streamlined controls.

The textured dots aren’t as prominent as the Recon’s, but thankfully the React-R also uses a detachable USB-C port – now with a plastic trim for a bit of protection against accidental pulls.

Still, the React-R offers quite a bit for just $39.99. I suspect Turtle Beach was on the hunt for PowerA and its Enhanced Wired Controller, which remains an excellent option – despite micro USB port – because it is so often goes on sale for under $30. While the React-R has an edge over PowerA with its audio features and USB-C connectivity, it could learn something in the color department. The black React-R controller is, well, fine. But the purple-and-white model launched next to it could have used a more lofty look beyond the 80s aesthetic, like monochromatic face buttons and a color-matched cable.

The Turtle Beach React-R holds some promise in the time I’ve spent with it so far, and it makes some of the right sacrifices in the right places to achieve a lower price point. If this $39.99 controller is discounted on a regular basis, it could become an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a budget option with nice extra features, especially for playing online shooters.

Photography by Antonio G. Di Benedetto / The Verge

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