From the maker of the Xbox 360 controller, the Astro C40 TR is the better, more expensive DualShock 4
Earlier this week, I sat down with Thadous Cooper, head of community and influencer marketing at Astro Gaming, to discuss the peripheral brand’s latest PC and PS4 controllers. Before letting me touch the gamepad itself, Cooper took a moment to remind me of the company’s rich history as an industrial design house (Astro Studios) turned into a gaming hardware maker (Astro Gaming). Most importantly, he emphasized its pedigree in the controller space.
Astro Gaming is not, and never has been, just another manufacturer of inferior third-party accessories for the Player 2. In fact, early in its concept, Microsoft worked with Astro to design what would eventually become the Xbox 360 controller, arguably the best PC controller of its time. Of course, Astro also helped design the console’s chassis, but who wouldn’t have toned down their hands in the infamous Red Ring of Death?
kiss a cousin
After the successful launch of the Xbox 360 in 2005, Astro continued to manufacture professional-grade gaming headsets such as the world-famous A40 lineage. However, as Cooper says, the desire to make top-of-the-line controllers like the Xbox 360 gamepad never quite died down. Once the company had the bandwidth back to its roots, the Astro C40 TR was born out of a desire for creativity, not business. Supporting wired and wireless modes, toggled by a red chrome switch to the left of the R1 and R2 buttons, it’s a great DualShock 4 alternative for the emerging esports crowd.
In wired mode, it uses a 6-foot rubber microUSB cable with a protruding bezel on the connector end and a port deep into the seat to prevent accidental damage. It’s not a braided cable, but it will do. On the other hand, wireless enthusiasts will have to settle for 2.4GHz dongles. Sorry, bluetooth fans, you were canceled.
Sturdy yet lightweight, the controller weighs just 0.68 pounds and was inspired by one of Microsoft’s most recent offerings, the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller. It has 14 buttons (15 if you count the touchpad) and uses the standard DualShock 4 layout. In classic gamer fashion, it’s black with red accents. The left handle has the initials “AG SF CA” printed as if to say “Designed by Astro Gaming in San Francisco, CA”. If you’re wondering what TR stands for, on the right is the official C40 logo with the words “Tournament Ready” on it.
One thing Cooper was keen to point out during our 45-minute discussion was Astro’s dissatisfaction with the battery compartment protruding from the back of the Xbox 360 controller. Looking at the C40 TR, you can tell this is a contentious area. The battery compartment on the Xbox 360 controller is now a blank canvas on the new controller.
Below it, near the grips on the controller, are a pair of round diamond-shaped buttons that you can assign to any individual control you choose. Astro refers to these buttons as the “lower left” and “lower right” buttons, or UL and UR for short. Note that I say these are buttons, not the paddles we see on the Xbox Elite. Unlike almost everything else on the C40 TR, the buttons are not interchangeable. Between them is a small round button. Pressing it lets you remap the controls manually without launching the included Astro C40 TR configuration software, which I’ll get to later.
Above the UL and UR buttons are several trigger stops. Sliding them up reduces the total travel of the R2 and L2 buttons in half. Especially in shooters like The Division 2 and Borderlands 2, they’re a nice little perk. Of course, in a racing game like Forza Horizon 4, you’ll want to slide them back lest you face the harsh realities of luxury driving without gradual acceleration.
Either way, the triggers on the C40 TR feel very functional. A marked improvement over the Xbox 360 controllers, they’re more reminiscent of the wider Scuf Impact controllers I sometimes use at home, and the curved slopes of the Xbox One controllers’ LT and RT. Meanwhile, the left and right bumpers are short and wide, almost identical to those on the Xbox 360 controller. If it’s not broken…
Because it comes with a 23 x 2.5mm hex key, changing parts on the Astro C40 TR is a quick and painless process, but not completely tool-less. While this may disappoint fans of the serviceable magnetic attachment on the Xbox Elite controller, to me it’s a reminder that not everyone needs the same level of customization from their controller. First of all, this is for pro gamers, I definitely am not. As Cooper explains, just as avid runners have to buy new shoes every three to four months due to wear and tear, loyal esports players have to do the same with their controllers.
Fortunately, opening the Astro C40 TR’s panel isn’t too difficult no matter where you’re standing. Just loosen four screws to the left and it pops right out. From there, you can remove and replace six parts: the two thumbsticks, the D-pad, and all three of their stick modules. In my own testing, I found that the entire operation takes no more than a few seconds. With the panel removed, you can even place the D-pad in place of the left stick and vice versa for a great asymmetrical analog configuration.
I’d say it’s odd that you can’t, or at least you shouldn’t take out the face buttons. Our good friends Triangle, Circle, Cross, and Square are here to stay, and unless you’re more savvy than me when it comes to hardware mods, you’ll have to buy brand new controllers in case they stop working.As for your component were able Once swapped out, Astro plans to sell replacement rods and mods, as well as upgraded rods with longer rods, by the end of the month. Out of the box, the C40 TR includes two short concave sticks, two male sticks of the same length, one long concave stick, and one long convex stick.
The first time you plug the Astro C40 TR into your computer, you must install the Astro C40 TR configuration software. Internally, you can update the firmware on the controller and included 2.4GHz wireless USB dongle. You can also remap buttons, create mapping profiles, edit existing profiles, modify joystick and trigger sensitivities, and set up your own equalizer for audio streaming via the onboard 3.5mm headphone jack. You know, standard controller fare. Opposite the wired/wireless switch is a profile toggle that features one dot on the left and two on the other. Although you can create any number of button mapping profiles, hardcoded assignments are limited to two.
In the lower left corner of the display, an effects panel lets you adjust the rumble intensity as well as the brightness of the single red LED light on the C40 TR’s touchpad. The downside is that, while the brightness can be controlled, it can only be reduced to 20%. Obviously, Astro knows that controller LEDs have their critics. So why aren’t we allowed to turn it off completely? I smell conspiracy.
As much as I love using the Astro C40 TR on my PC and my Shield TV at home, if I’m not a professional hardware journalist, it’s hard for me to ignore the hefty $200 price I’d have to pay. That’s not a terrible value for pro gamers looking to avoid buying a new controller every fiscal quarter, especially since Cooper told me a replacement module is only $25. That said, for the average gamer like me, the barrier to entry is three times the cost of the DualShock 4 and $50 more than the Xbox Elite.
I personally can’t justify spending that much on a controller whose biggest value proposition doesn’t affect me. However, now that I’ve tried it, I don’t want to go back.
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