Pros: Dual track-pads; concave design & handle contours; light weight; developer & community custom profiles
Cons: Slightly cheap plastic feel; non-intuitive profile loading process
"One day, after tens of thousands of hours of console gaming, little Wolfsbora's ability to use a dual-analog stick controller came to an end after a freak accident that left him with only partial use of his right hand and arm. Devastated, Wolfsbora gave up a life of hard crime and ivory smuggling console gaming and returned to the warm embrace of custom PC building, water cooling, and PC gaming. Finding a Mad Catz R.A.T. 7 to be highly useful in the way it can be customized to fit his precious but disabled hand, gaming was a possibility again! Eventually landing with the Razer Ouroboros, PC gaming had filled the gap left by console gaming for the ruggedly-handsome Wolfsbora. The only thing missing in Wolfsbora's tender, loving heart was the ability to sit back on his uncomfortable pleather couch and game until sunrise. . . that is until the Steam Controller (and Steam Link) came along. . ."
Ok, random admiring biographer, I'll take it from here. The Steam Controller, as many people have pointed out, is unlike any other controller on the market. Let's start with the controversial exclusion of a right-hand analog stick. In its place, you find a smooth circular track-pad that adds haptic feedback and also acts as a large button. This track-pad is what made it possible for me to sit back on my uncomfortable pleather couch and game again. An unfortunate result of the freak accident (as mentioned in the brief biography provided by the stalking biographer), my right thumb no longer has the muscle and dexterity to control an analog stick. The haptic feedback allows my irregularly sensitive thumbs to react properly to the changes in direction, also ensuring that my thumb does not slide off of the circular track-pad. Thus, making the haptic feedback enabled track-pad's laptop-like touch response a game changer for someone in a unique situation, such as myself.
Now, you may be asking, "how does this help me?! My thumbs are fine! And, I love using my analog sticks. I've grown quite accustomed to them over the years!" My response to you is simple, I was a console gamer for years, I know the love for dual-analog controllers as well. With that said, trust my experience to inform you that the track-pad allows an extra level of fine-tuning to your control that you've never experienced, especially with the correct game profile loaded (I'll get more into that later).
As far as the over all shape of the Steam Controller, you'll probably notice that it has somewhat of a concave shape to it. Traditionally, starting with the earliest rectangle controllers, they were either on a flat surface with no handles, or, to the most modern XBox One and PS4 controllers, the handles are pushing the controls outward, toward you. This is where Valve has again decided to be different. And guess what, it works! In fact, it works wonderfully. One of my biggest concerns with getting back into the controller style of gaming was fatigue. I have yet to find that with this controller. The Steam Controller is almost an extension of your body in this way. . . take it from a guy that can't even hold a glass of water with his right hand.
Valve decided to go with the XBox button approach using the Y, B, A, X button labeling. I personally found the 4 button positioning to be perfect for my (sometimes) unpredictable thumb.
As mentioned earlier, the controller is quite light. Now, I cannot tell if this is a result of the lack of a rechargeable battery (it uses 2 - AA batteries good for a suggested 80 hours, I've gotten over 120), or lack of rumble motor. Maybe it is different plastic that they use. All I know is that it definitely feels lighter than an XBox controller, even though the size of the Steam Controller would suggest otherwise. The flip-side of the lighter weight is that it could be (mis)interpreted as having a cheap plastic feel to it. I'm on the fence, I did add it to the list of 'Cons', simply because I cannot concretely say that it doesn't feel fragile.
On the left side of the controller is a second, haptic feedback-capable track-pad that also doubles as a D-pad. A simple cross pattern is embossed in the circle of the track pad to indicate the directions. This track-pad allows multiple button controls, however, I haven't found much use for them other than to navigate some menus in Fallout 4. Also on the left side, you'll find the solo analog stick. It has a nice feel to it, no crunch on the edges upon pressing it. It is a very solid analog stick with a nice grippy rubber texture to it.
Featured on the back of the controller are 2 paddles, great for paddle shifting in racing games and also useful for extra buttons or macros in other genres. I do find the actuation of the button press behind the paddles to require a bit of extra force than what I would prefer, but otherwise they work just fine. Just behind those paddle shifting buttons is the battery compartment, this is accessible by a single switch. It is where you'll find 2 trigger-style buttons to remove the 2 - AA batteries. They are very stiff and strong so I don't know that you need to be too gentle with them in order to remove the batteries.
The last physical feature of this controller that I'd like to mention are the 2 arrow buttons on either side of the Steam button. The left and right arrow buttons work very similarly to your Select and Start buttons of which we've grown accustomed. Though, just like any other button on the Steam Controller (with the exclusion of the Steam button), they can be assigned to any control or macro available. As far as that sexy little Steam button, that is where you can access the Steam Community during gameplay, much like pressing Shift+Tab on your PC, or you can hold it down for a few seconds and it will bring up a menu to return to Steam's Big Picture Mode.
That covers the physical aspects of the Steam Controller, now let's discuss the software side. I'm not going to get too in-depth here, as there could be thousands of words written about the millions of capabilities of assigning commands and controls to each and every button. I'll start with some new features that were just added with a recent update. The Steam button's brightness can now be adjusted as it was originally only set to the brightest possible setting. New sounds/jingles can be assigned to both powering on the controller and powering off the controller.
Now for the best, but also cumbersome feature of the Steam Controller (that is both a Pro and a Con), the custom profiles. Valve has made it possible for the game developers to create suggested profile button mapping for the Steam Controller per game. This allows them to give you the experience as they see fit, much like you would experience with a console game. However, the biggest difference here is that not only can you create your own profiles, you can actually download profiles that have been created by your fellow Steam Community members! That's right, those folks out there that create those funny, snarky reviews (eg. "Lost in woods, pooped on log, eaten by feral rabbit - 10/10") can provide you with an even better experience than the developer. All you have to do is figure out how to upload it onto your controller. Now, I'm not a n00b in the PC/Linux/UNIX/Mac world, I'm a programmer by trade, and a custom PC builder by hobby, shouldn't I be able to jump right in and figure out how to load a profile on to my Steam Controller, run back to my uncomfortable pleather couch and jump back into my game? You'd think so! But no! It's not that intuitive! Dear Valve, please make it a bit easier, maybe a confirmation splash screen or something of that nature? Hook a gamer up! Ok. . . enough with the griping. It's actually not that bad, especially if you're gaming right on your rig and not using a Steam Link. The Steam Link only adds a few extra steps, literally, since you have to actually plug the controller into the PC via USB and load the profile. If you're right at your rig, boom, you're done. If it didn't work the first time, boom, you do it again. Case closed.
So yes, loading a profile is my only real complaint about the Steam Controller. My love affair with it will continue. Its contours forever inviting me back to the uncomfortable pleather couch and warm glow of my 55" 1080p LED that is already, and frustratingly, outdated. I love you, Steam Controller. *Hugz*