Hands-on: Logitech G Saitek X-56 Rhino HOTAS

Last Updated January 16th, 2022

The Class 5 thrusters eased down as the landing gear extended from the Asp Explorer’s 280-ton hull, and the Lakon Spaceways-designed ship landed with ease at one of the myriad space stations in Elite: Dangerous.

At that moment—and it could have been with any ship, really—the X-56’s space simulator-focused design crystalized for me beyond Saitek’s marketing copy and advertising.

The space, flight, and farm simulator peripherals creator—which Logitech purchased from Mad Catz on September 15—designed the X-56 Rhino hands-on throttle and stick specifically for space sims because VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have resurrected the once-popular genre, according to the company.

Saitek built the X-56 on the same platform as the previous-generation X-55 but with three new features: two mini joysticks, RBG lighting, and a revamped color scheme. The rest of the features and assorted knobs, dials, and switches remained the same.

Customer feedback

That’s a Samsung 391 series curved monitor, if you’re interested. 

Despite the upgrades, the X-56 caught the ire of several users.

“If you already own an X-55, a lot of the same issues are still present in this unit,” said Stephen K., a verified X-56 owner. “The build quality was improved from the X-55 for the x and y controls, but the z axis is still very inaccurate and prone to drift by about 5%  to 10% to the right resulting in huge deadzones to be set just to hide the effect.”

However, the z axis—which controls side-to-side rudder movement—isn’t the only feature that’s shown problems.

“Buttons activate when your (sic) not touching them,” an anonymous, unverified X-56 reviewer said. “The analog sticks or other functions randomly activate while using throttle which suggests faulty wiring issues which was the same problem the X55 had.”

Our testing corroborated Stephen K.’s and Anonymous’ review; however, there’s more to the story than that. The X-56 had its quirks, but it offered a lot of upside, too.

We tested the X-56 for more than 400 hours with Elite: Dangerous in side-by-side 3D on a 1080p TV and, for good measure, around six hours with Eve: Valkyrie in VR with the Rift. This article will explain the X-56 in the context of Elite: Dangerous, though the information should translate to other space and flight sims.

Overview

Before the X-56 hit my product review queue, I’d used a combination of Logitech’s Extreme Pro 3D joystick and whatever gaming keyboard I was in the process of reviewing as my regular Elite: Dangerous control setup. I thought I had it good—after all, the venerable Extreme Pro 3D and Cherry MX key switches are nothing to sneeze at.

But I had no idea what I was missing.

The transition from joystick and QWERTY to a mini stick-equipped HOTAS took a few hours of Elite: Dangerous training missions, but once I acclimated the difference was night and day.

I went from periodically looking at my keyboard for keys mapped to controls such as deploy landing gear and enable frame shift drive to doing everything—and I mean everything—by feel with the joystick and thruster. This meant enhanced immersion and quicker reaction. Additionally, as I played through the training missions I bound, unbound, and re-bound controls with ease until I found a layout that felt comfortable and had every necessary control.

The flight training and control binding took around three hours, and I’d recommend new X-56 users—especially those new to HOTAS setups in general—to do the same. Saitek packed the X-56 with three memory slots that could be swapped on the fly, though I didn’t need that feature because of the numerous buttons, switches, and other controls.

Other than the throttle and mini sticks, the most useful features I didn’t have in my previous joystick and keyboard setup were the multiple triggers. The X-56 featured three compared to the Extreme 3D Pro’s one.

But I also found the throttle’s thumb slider, dials, and switches, and the joystick’s multiple hats indispensable. For example, I set the thumb slider to swap between forward and reverse thrust, which worked great—when it worked— because the throttle lacked a center detent. However, sometimes the slider lost track of its position and took two back-and-forth movements for it to change the throttle’s direction.

On the other hand, the dials operated consistently. I set the pinky dial to radar zoom and the two thumb dials to manipulate the various axes in the galaxy and system maps, which worked a treat along with the mini sticks controlling map rotation. Additionally, the thumb dials center detents helped made resetting zoom levels back to zero easy.

Like the dials, the two rotary knobs on the throttle’s base could have been mapped to anything. However, I couldn’t find a use for them in my layout. I tried mapping them to vertical and horizontal thruster landing gear override, but they wouldn’t control the thrusters smoothly. It was either zero or full blast with no in between, so they were a no go for me.

As for hats, the X-56 featured five: three full hats on the joystick and two mini hats on the thruster. The silver concave hat on the joystick worked great for mouse look, while the d-pad style hat worked great for menu selection. The placement of those two hats made them easy to reach, but the conical hat above the d-pad style hat was a stretch for my thumb, so I didn’t use it much even though I mapped it to the various target selectors.

I also would have preferred the thumb trigger—which sat next to the hard-to-reach conical hat—lower on the joystick, which would also have made it easier to reach.

On the bright side, I liked the F.E.E.L. spring system a lot, which I thought looked like a gimmick when I opened the box. I found the four interchangeable springs each gave the joystick a totally different feel, which was perfect for different-sized ships. For example, I liked the lower-tension springs on smaller ships such as the the Viper and Cobra, while I liked the higher-tension springs on larger ships such as the Asp Explorer and Type 7 Transporter. The lighter and heavier tension made the ships feel more like they respond in-game; faster for lighter ships slower for heavier ships.

Additionally, I changed the springs on-the-fly, with the game running, without problems.

Analogue mini sticks

The X-56’s most important new feature was its pair of analogue mini sticks, of which one lives on the joystick and the other on the throttle.

In Elite: Dangerous, I mapped the throttle’s mini stick to vertical and horizontal thrust and the joystick’s mini stick to landing-override forward and reverse thrust, which controlled the main thrusters with the landing gear deployed only. I also mapped the joystick’s mini stick to control the turret in the surface recon vehicle, a single-seat moon buggy deployable planets and moons, and the system and galaxy maps. However, the sticks could be mapped in either Mad Catz’ configuration software or in-game to any control such as mouse look or secondary weapons fire. Additionally, both mini sticks acted as a button when pushed, though I didn’t map those to anything.

Horizontal and vertical thrust control felt natural with the mini stick. While those thrusters could have been controlled with a hat or QWERTY keys, the mini stick lent accuracy and touch that the other controls schemes couldn’t match. On the other hand, mouse look with the mini sticks felt better than with a hat but not as good as with a mouse because it wasn’t as precise and had a bit of lag.

Overall, the mini sticks worked great as thruster, turret, and mouse-look controls but with one caveat—they drifted.

For example, when unlocking from a landing pad one or both mini sticks stuck in a random direction at a value of either one or two, which caused the ship to drift slowly even with the throttle and joystick zeroed. Wiggling the mini sticks fixed the problem, but the sticks didn’t have a dead zone control, which would have been an ideal solution.

RGB Lighting

Everything from keyboards to motherboards—even some memory has shipped RGB lighting recently. But just because they could add RGB lighting to the X-56 didn’t mean they should have done it, to paraphrase Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcom.

The RGB lighting looked pretty but didn’t serve a practical purpose—especially when piloting a ship in VR with a headset blocking out the real world—because I manipulated all of the controls by feel, not sight.

To be fair, the throttle’s switches and knobs required the hand to move off the throttle in most cases, so looking at them helped somewhat. But I never found the backlighting a crucial part of flipping a switch or turning a knob.

But even though RGB lighting might not have been the most practical feature, it was the HOTAS’ most aesthetically pleasing feature—when it worked properly.

For example, I set the backlighting to match the blue of the SteelSeries Apex M500 gaming keyboard, which made for a beautiful setup.

However, the X-56 RGB lighting reproduced the entire color spectrum neither accurately nor consistently. For example, the backlighting failed to reproduce white anywhere except under the throttle’s bottom-most switches. Everything else shined a pale blue instead.

So much for the TRON look.

Additionally, the lighting’s yellow and orange looked green in most areas, so Elite: Dangerous pilots who want to emulate the game’s yellow-orange interface on the X-56 will be out of luck.

On the other hand, the backlighting reproduced red, blue, and green accurately and consistently across the throttle and the joystick.

Build Quality and Performance

The X-56 looked and felt solid out of the box, and it didn’t break—our review unit remained functional throughout 400-plus hours of testing. However, neither the throttle nor the joystick performed perfectly.

For example, the joystick and throttle drifted, so I set separate dead zones for both units—20 for the joystick and one for the throttle. The mini sticks also drifted, as noted previously. However, the mini sticks didn’t have a dead zone setting in the software, so that annoyance remained.

Additionally, the joystick we used squeaked loudly enough to be heard over a home theater surround system. A set of closed-back headphones rendered the squeaking inaudible, so the joystick’s noises might impact gamers with varying audio systems differently.

The molding of the parts was also hit and miss. For example, our review unit had a sharp seamline on the top of the right throttle that irritated my palm when I fully enclosed the control with my hand. But most of the time I used the throttle with a fingertip grip, so the seam was a minor issue.

On the other hand, the buttons, triggers, knobs, and switches—despite being mostly plastic—felt solid, responded consistently, and continued to work as they did on day one after hundreds of hours use.

But even the controls weren’t perfect. For example, the HOTAS would go wonky randomly during gameplay and trigger various controls such as opening the galaxy map and engaging the frame shift drive. Sometimes it happened directly after a cold boot, and sometimes it happened after a few hours of gameplay.

An internet search pulled up threads about the unit’s high power draw, which could have been the issue even though I connected the throttle and joystick to an aftermarket USB 3.0 PCIe card. Whatever the cause, unplugging and re-plugging the throttle and joystick’s USB cables fixed the issue every time—until it happened again.

Final thoughts

The X-56 changed my Elite: Dangerous setup for the better, despite its flaws. It offered more precise control of the game, and I could do everything—including navigate the in-game and settings menus—without touching the keyboard or mouse, which is invaluable for VR.

However, the X-56 has its quirks, such as its drifting rudder, throttle, and mini sticks. But those annoyances haven’t prevented me from wanting to hang onto the set for good. It will be difficult to return to the Extreme Pro 3D and keyboard setup, but I don’t think I’d forgive the X-56’s issues so easily if I were a paying customer.

Hopefully, Logitech will take Saitek controllers to the next level with better build quality moving forward. Until it does, concerned commanders might want to check out Thrustmaster’s T1600M FCS HOTAS, which released November 2.