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Saitek X-52 Pro Review

You can certainly say the Saitek X-52, and the ‘Pro’ version in particular, is one of those very few legendary joysticks (or flight systems, if you prefer that term). Thousands of simmers have one, and that in itself is quite a reference. I’ve had one for over a year now, and it’s about time I tell you what I think about it.

Layout:

The X-52 Pro is a 2 part system, consisting of a separate stick and throttle. The stick connects with the throttle, and the throttle unit is plugged in to the computer with a USB-connection. So, despite having 2 parts, it only requires 1 USB-port, and no external power. The entire assembly comes in a sturdy box, and is well packed in plastic bags and cardboard molds to keep it from being damaged in transport. Along with the hardware itself, you’ll find a CD with drivers and software, and a short manual in the box.
In a major change from the ‘normal’ X-52, Saitek got rid of the light gray and blue colors, and replaced them with the more professional and authentic looking black and red. Not a bad choice in my opinion.
On the stick, you’ll find a 2-stage trigger, 4 push buttons, one of which has a safety cover. All of these buttons except for one are backlit with LED’s. Further on the stick itself, you have 2 8-way hat switches, a 3-position mode selector and a pinkie switch, which is like a trigger, but at the bottom of the grip instead of the top, and acts like the ‘shift’ key on your keyboard. One the base of the stick, there are 3 2-way toggle switches which are spring loaded to go back to their neutral position. The stick-grip also incorporates a twist-axis, used for rudder control in flightsim.
The throttle unit houses even more controls. Obviously there’s the throttle axis itself, which has detents (stops, which you feel as more resistance when moving the throttle) for idle and afterburner. On the throttle handle, you have 2 rotary controls, a linear slider, a ‘mini-mouse’ controller and mouse button, a scroll wheel (with click function), another 8-way hat switch, 2 push buttons and a ‘clutch’ button, which temporarily blocks all inputs from other controls if pressed.
On the base of the throttle unit, you have an MFD (Multi Functional Display), with 2 associated scroll wheels with built in push buttons, and another 2 dedicated push buttons.
Ok, very nice summary of the Saitek product page, don’t you think?  But what do I, from a reviewers point of view, think of it? Well, first of all, it looks pretty amazing. But it certainly isn’t a small piece of subtle hardware you can put in a small corner of your desk. It takes a lot of space, having the 2 separate units and 2 cables and all, but if you can spare the space, it really looks the part. The fact that just about everything is backlit with LED’s makes it very easy to use in the dark, although you might have to turn down the intensity a bit if you use it in a really dark room, to avoid blinding yourself. Luckily, tools to do just that are included.


Software:

There are 2 separate installers provided on the CD in the box, or for download via the website. First of all, there are the drivers required to make the system work on your PC. The second is a program called SST. SST stands for Saitek Smart Technology, and basically turns the X-52 Pro in a mouse and keyboard.
Installation of both is as usual, running the .exe’s and following the instructions given during installation. I encountered no problems here.
Once installation is complete, you can go ahead and start using all features. First of all, the drivers also install some calibration and settings tools. These can be accessed via the Windows Control Panel (and choosing the appropriate hardware options etc) or through an icon at the right-hand side of the Windows Taskbar. You can test and calibrate all axis and buttons here, as well as edit the deadzones for those axis. There are 2 other tabs with settings left: one for the LED’s and one for the MFD. For the LED’s, you can change the overall brightness (from very bright to OFF), and you can change the color of most LED’s individually. Choices here are green (standard), red, amber or you can choose to turn the LED off. The MFD tab you can adjust the settings for the clocks displayed on the MFD, you can change the brightness of the backlighting, and you can change how the clutch button works.

The SST software is something special. Some people will like it, some won’t. The simple fact is that the SST software intercepts your control inputs on the stick, and translates them into key presses, key combos or mouse clicks. For example, I can program an SST profile so that when I pull the trigger on the X-52 Pro, the software sends an CTRL+E command to my pc. These commands can be simple single key presses, but also combos, and even a sequence of key presses of combos. And it’s also here that the mode selector comes in, as well as the pinkie switch. The mode selector lets you choose between 3 pre-programmed profiles, and the pinkie switch acts like the shift-key on your keyboard, giving every button yet another possible function per mode. So, if programmed correctly, you can have up to 6 different functions handled by just one key on the stick or throttle. It’s up to the user to configure these inputs, or use a profile from somebody else downloaded from the internet. It’s a great program, with almost limitless possibility, but it takes a lot of getting used to, and a lot of thought can go in building a good profile that suits you. A downside is that the SST software can only send one signal to your pc at a time, so for example changing views while braking will cause the ‘brake’ signal to be interrupted. Another thing is that key presses on your joystick will still be recognized by FSX, whether you use SST or not. What I did to get around this, was just deleting all inputs in the FSX control panel. So, FSX doesn’t read any key presses from my X-52 Pro. I only rely on FSX for the axis, and 1 hat switch to do the view panning. It took me a lot of getting used to, but after a lot of trial and error, I created a good FSX profile that suits my flying… I’m not going to explain all my settings and choices here, that would take us to far of the point. If you’re put off by all this talk about profiles and complicated choices, remember the X-52 Pro also works perfectly like a normal  joystick, when you configure keys in the FSX controls menu. You’ll just loose 5 possible functions for every switch or knob you have. Not that there’s a shortage of those…

And then there’s that MFD. The Multi Functional Display on the base of the throttle unit is a great feature of the X-52 Pro. It simply is what it is, a display that can show you lots of different information. Standard, there’s a clock and a timer. But for FSX users, there’s a plug-in that shows your radio and autopilot functions on the MFD, and lets you set the frequencies, altitudes and headings all through the MFD, with the dedicated buttons just under it. There’s also an SDK provided, so if your into programming, you can program your own plug-ins for the MFD. There are several of those available on the Saitek forums for other games than FSX.

Comfort and ease of use:

First things first: this system consists of a right-handed stick, and a left-handed throttle unit. Just like it is in modern fighter aircraft, or for the co-pilot on aircraft with a sidestick (Airbus, Cirrus,…). As I’m both right-handed, and learned to fly with my right hand (and right hand only) in real life gliders, I absolutely have no problem with this.
As for comfort, the people at Saitek really did great. First of all because the shape of both throttle and stick is just right, and perfectly formed to fit a human hand. Second, you can change the size of the stick. Or, in fact, you adjust the height of the support your hand rests on. This makes the stick equally usable for people with both large or small hands. You can also lock the stick twist, in the case you have rudder pedals for example. And finally, you can adjust the resistance it takes to move the throttle lever. It’s not a small stick, and it sits quite high on top of its base, so the fact you can adjust it is really more necessity than luxury when you have smaller hands. Still, the fact that it sits so high takes some getting used to if the stick is placed on your desktop. The throttle unit is not adjustable in size or anything, but you can just place your hand a little different to reach the buttons there if needed.
A thing that I’ve seen criticized on forums often is the fact that the stick is quite loose. What I mean, is that the centering springs (yes, there are 2, for extra accuracy the advertizing says) aren’t very strong. Whether you prefer this or not, is very personal. I even find it differing between aircraft. When I fly helicopters or gliders in FSX, I want it loose (so X-52 is perfect) while I prefer it heavier than the X-52 offers for fighter aircraft, for example. However, the added functionality really makes up for those weak springs in all conditions, in my eyes. And it’s not like they’re so weak the stick doesn’t center itself. It certainly does.
As for ease of use, a large part of this is the programming and SST software and setup and all that stuff. Once you get that right, I find it very easy to use. The cable between throttle and stick might be a hindrance, but I just place it behind my laptop, while the stick is to the right and the throttle to the left. Problem solved.

Build-quality:

When I first got my Saitek X-52 Pro, I was horrified by the build quality. The connection between throttle and stick lost power often, some buttons stuck or registered double key presses, and I had persistent problems with excessive inputs when pushing the stick forwards. After a while, I decided to contact Saitek support through their forum. The simple response I got was that it probably was a faulty unit, and I had to send it back for replacement. Not very simple, since I bought it over the Atlantic via the internet. I live in Belgium, but even with the high shipping charges, it was cheaper (at that time) to buy it in the USA. However, despite this problem, the people at the company that does the local support for Saitek here, were very helpful, and not even 2 weeks after I sent them my faulty system, I had a brand new X-52 Pro in my hands. And guess what, I never had any of those problems again. The stick I have now, is very decently build. It’s strong and sturdy. The buttons work like they should, the connection between throttle and stick is perfect, and all axis inputs works without errors. Errors in production happen on every line, and even with decent quality assurance, some faulty gear leaves the gates. I just drew the short straw with my first system, I guess. I tell you all this, instead of just saying it’s all good, so that you think (and ask help) first before starting to blame Saitek or start trying to fix things yourself while you shouldn’t. Obviously I wasn’t pleased at first, but now I’m very pleased with the quality of this system.

Conclusion:

I’ve told you about a very negative experience I had with this particular piece Saitek hardware in this review. But truth be told, I absolutely love this piece of hardware. Since I got hold of a good (read: normal, without manufacturing problems) example, with big thanks to the folks who helped me with that, I just don’t want to use anything else. It’s large size takes some getting used to (me being used to a relatively small Logitech stick before), and getting it set up right for you, while using all the possibilities takes time, and trial and error. But once you’ve got it right, it makes you’re flying experience so much better. My personal favorite features are the separate throttle, the extra rotary axis (which I use for mixture and prop pitch in FSX), and the awesomely cool safeguarded ‘fire’ button. I started this review, in the introduction, with saying that thousands of simmers have one. Now you know why: it really is worth it’s price.

Like:

  • Lots of features and functions, and many ways to customize your setup
  • Adjustable, but the handle size, the LED and MFD brightness, and the throttle resistance.

Don’t like:

  • It’s quite expensive
  • Ever since I’ve traded in my flawed system for a good one, there isn’t anything I really dislike about the system itself. If I really have to name anything, it will be the fact that it has quite some amount of cable, and the fact that getting the profile and settings just right for you might take some time. Although, to be honest, once you got it right, you’ll love it.

Links:

simMarket Product Page

Saitek Product Page

 

About Lars

Virtual pilot and Simflight.com reviewer. Hobby photographer and occasional aircraft spotter. Student of aviation technology, and all-round aviation lover with some limited experience in real life gliders.

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