It is getting harder and harder to find good flight sims, but those that you do find deserve the very best joystick. With its separate joystick and throttle, and buttons galore, that joystick could easily be the Saitek X52.
- The most fully integrated PC Flight Control System
- Precision engineering, ergonomic design and a detailed fusion of features deliver maximum aeronautical authenticity
- Enhanced gameplay through intuitive Multi-Function display (MFD)
- Illuminated buttons and MFD – ideal for low light environments
- Rubber grips and ergonomic design for increased comfort and fatigue-free gaming
Bristling with buttons, knobs and switches these two controllers provide you with just about all the things you need to fly any flight sim you could want. There are a multitude of options that you can use to customize the joysticks. There is even the ability to write your own control profiles using Saitek’s Smart Technology (SST) software.
Both the Joystick and the throttle are designed very well. Not only do they look good, but the buttons are placed in a way that it is easy to reach them. The joystick and throttle are both comfortably shaped and they are covered in soft rubber grips that do a great job of absorbing sweat and keeping your hands from slipping. Unfortunately, because of the shape they are not ambidextrous. The joystick is generic enough that you could probably use it with either hand, but the throttle is specifically designed for use with the left hand. In addition, the joystick does not plug directly into your computer, it must be plugged into the throttle which then plugs into your computer. So even if you wanted to you could not use it by its self. This would be my first suggestion to Saitek, make the joystick connect to the computer and the throttle connect to the joystick.
On the Joystick there are 6 buttons (the trigger has two stages), 3 toggle switches (each with two states, up and down), 2 eight-way hat switches and a three-way mode switch. The throttle has 5 buttons, 1 hat switch, a slider, a scroll wheel and two rotary dials. To me that sounds like a lot, but that’s not all, one of the switches on the joystick is a shift button, making every button and switch act like two. The 3 way mode switch gives a further 3 functions per switch, so that it is possible to have SIX functions per button or switch. If you now throw in the hat switches which can be programmed as eight separate buttons each, the throttle and joystick give you access to over 300 different possible commands. The 3 toggle switches at the bottom of the joystick are far enough away that you will probably not be able to reach them without moving your hand away from the throttle or the joystick. I would be surprised if anyone actually uses these.
Saitek has been working for a while on getting all the bugs and kinks out of the joystick and they have done a good job. Some of the complaints about the X45 were solved in the X52. The X52’s joystick tension spring has been loosened. The rocker style rudder button on the throttle has been removed and a twist rudder has been added to the joystick. There is even a small lock on the bottom of the joystick that will lock the rudder so it doesn’t twist, actually it does twist just not as much. The grip has been made bigger to make room for bigger hands. Although, those of you with smaller hands don’t have to worry because the grip is adjustable and can be made smaller very easily. The safety cover over the missile launch button has also been improved. Saitek added a spring to the cover so that it will stay up when you lift it. The X45 cover did not have a spring so it would constantly fall down. This led several people to actually remove the cover.
In addition to those usability changes there were some changes that just make the joystick look better. Blue LED lighting was added to most of the buttons, making it much easier to see in the dark and use. The joystick has a nice brushed steel and black plastic look. This look makes it fit in even with your futuristic flight sims.
On the throttle the markers for 10% and 110% thrust have been improved. You can actually feel the spots when you move the throttle up and down. The throttle also includes a force knob that can tighten or loosen the tension. This either makes the throttle harder or easier to move.
Another addition to the throttle is the clutch button. The reason for the clutch makes a lot of sense, but you may find that you don’t use it that often. The clutch is used to find out what other buttons are used for. When you press and hold the clutch button all input to the game is cut off and when you press another button, that buttons function is displayed on the MDF (Multi Function Display), we talk about the MDF more below.
Another function of the clutch is switching game profiles. This prevents you from having to pause and Alt-tab out of a game to switch profiles. If you have the profiles set up in advance, you can press the clutch button and use the lower hat switch on the joystick to switch between program profiles (which are identified by their filename). This can be helpful for games that have you switch to different aircraft or even to tanks and boats. You can setup a different profile for each vehicle and switch them when they switch in the game.
Probably the most notable change to the throttle is the addition of the MDF. Previously the space under the throttle held three LEDs that indicated what mode you were in. Now it holds a large LED screen which can display a variety of information. In addition to displaying the function of each button, as described above, it also can tell you what mode you’re in, whether the shift button is pushed, if you have the clutch in, navigation information like what waypoint you are heading to, the current date and time, elapsed time, and a stop watch. A lot of you are probably asking why they would include something silly like a stop watch. Well in real life, planes are not always blessed to have a real time map that points them in the right direction. They have to use a compass and stop watch to know where they are going and how far they have gone. Adding the stop watch to the MDF gives some gamers the added reality that they want, and for those that don’t want it they can ignore it.
Saitek has even improved their programming software. Given the sheer number of options that you have available, it is nice to know that it is possible to program them all with out a lot of difficulty. It may take you a while to program all 300 different options, but how often do you find a game that actually has 300 different commands?
When you first open up the software you will see the screen split in two main sections. On the left of the programming screen is a 3D representation of the stick and throttle. If you want you can move the picture of the stick around by cliking on it and draging the mouse around. When you want to pogram a button you can either click one of the buttons on the screen, or to make it even easier, just push the button on the joystick, either way, the software then jumps you to the appropriate slot in the table on the right. All you do then is click in the empty space and enter the keypress you want that button to correspond to.
Another really nice thing about the software is that you can map not only functions to each button, but you can also map any keypress to each button. In addition, you can also map combinations of keypresses to a button. This means that you can press one button and have the flaps move down, the throttle slow down, and the gear drop. This can be really useful if you find yourself doing the same thing over and over in the same order. Just map it once to a button and only press the button once.
Unfortunately, for those that are upgrading from the X45 you will need to be prepared to reprogram the joystick for all your games. The X52 is not compatible with the profiles from the X45.
To test this game I downloaded the demo of Microsoft Flight simulator X and an old war plane demo. As I played through both of these games I not only enjoyed the games but I found out a few more things about the joystick. As I played Microsoft Flight simulator X I could not detect any problems and I actually enjoyed using the joystick. Flight Simulator X is a very leisurely game that does not require a lot of fast movement or even a lot of accuracy. On the other hand the old war simulation does. You need to be able to get right on target and hit them every time. I realized that locking on to and hitting another airplane with machine guns is really difficult. Not only because machine guns are not really accurate and holding an airplane still is hard, but the joystick did not always respond to my movements the way I wanted. It is really difficult to make small corrections; therefore when I wanted a quick, but small correction I would instead over correct and miss my target. Part of this is probably because I am not really good at these kinds of games, but also I came to realize that the X52 is not the most accurate joystick. It is often difficult to get an exact lock on a target. A lot of these precision problems can be fixed by tweaking the deadzones and sensitivity in the software.
Another thing I noticed about the joystick is how light it is. When I play a fast action game my hands move around a lot to try and keep up with the action. I found that the joystick does not saty in one place and I constantly have to move it back into place. Not only is this distracting, but it makes you loose your target and concentration. To solve this problem, Saitek included a set of suction cups with the joystick to help hold it down. This is nice for when you are playing on a hard surface like a desk, but if you are playing while sitting in a recliner or on the couch the suction cups will not help much. In fact, unless you have a stand or a portable lap board or something there is really nothing you can do. A weighted base may help a little, but I doubt it would solve all the issues.
For those games where you don’t want to use the rudder, the joystick has a locking mechanism that prevents the joystick from twisting. I found during my tests that instead of preventing the joystick from twisting it just reduced the distance that it would twist. I think a better solution would be to set the games profile so that the axis was disabled. You can disable the axis by increasing the deadzone to a point where it does not accept anything. If part of your game needs the rudder and part does not then you can setup two profiles and use the clutch button to switch between them.
The only thing that this joystick is missing is force feedback. I have a Cyborg evo Force and I really like the extra seanse of realism that force feedback provides. If Saitek could add this and then give the option to turn it off, for those that don’t want it, then I think they would have a great joystick. To make up for this they added a force knob to the throttle. This does not add force feedback; instead it tightens or loosens the tension on the throttle. This in essence just makes it harder or easier to move the throttle.
Warranty and Support
As with all of Saitek’s products there is a two year warranty on the X52. This is decent, but I keep hoping that more companies will offer lifetime warranties.
So can I recommend this joystick? Absolutely, as long as you are patient. The first time you use this joystick you need to spend a lot of time getting used to all the functions, program all the buttons, adjust the sensitivity and dead zones. If you have a lot of games this could take a long time. Short of adding force feedback and making the joystick so it can be used by it self it is hard to imagine Saitek being able to top this. The retail price of $129.95 is a bit steep, but only if you don’t look around. You should compare prices to make sure you are getting the best price.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|