Official “pro” controllers for Sony’s PlayStation 4 are in a perplexing category. While Microsoft’s Xbox Elite, and its second-generation version released last year, have offered all of the benefits of a high-end gamepad in a best-in-class package, Sony has stubbornly refused to do the same for its console, leaving the market up to a smattering of third-party companies with varying degrees of quality.
None are really all that great. Even the best one, Astro’s C40 TR, costs $200 and may occasionally require you purchase replacement thumbstick modules for $20 apiece because of how dysfunctional those components can become over time.
Now, Sony has a compromise of sorts: a $30 controller attachment for its existing DualShock 4. The idea is that you get all of the same benefits of a pro gamepad, most prominently the remappable back paddles, without sacrificing the design, comfort, or general reliability of Sony’s tried-and-true PS4 controller. After using the attachment for numerous multihour play sessions this past weekend, I can say it really is the best option for the vast majority of PS4 owners out there who are even casually curious about the world of pro gamepads.
Sony’s approach isn’t a novel one. A number of companies have made these types of accessories for years, but they tend to be cheap and plastic and don’t exactly play nicely with proprietary Sony software; often, it’s not very long until they simply stop working altogether. Sony’s model is a step above in many regards.
It feels high-quality and comes with an OLED screen that displays information like your current button assignments and the customizable profile you’re running. It slips onto the DualShock 4 with a snug fit by plugging into the 3.5mm audio jack at the bottom, but the attachment itself retains a 3.5mm port in the event you want to plug in a wired headset.
The key advantage here for Sony’s attachment is that it does not use paddles. Instead, it uses clickable buttons that sit flush with the two rear grip areas of the DualShock 4. That’s crucial to the longevity of this product. While I can’t say Sony’s Back Button Attachment (that is, unfortunately, the official product name) will last longer than the competition, because I haven’t used it for that long, it certainly inspires confidence to know that I can’t accidentally snap the back button in half, as I have done multiple times with the paddles on Scuf controllers.
A number of pro controllers, like Astro’s, and a new crop of pricey pro PS4 gamepads from competitors, like Razer and Nacon, have also switched to this button approach over the paddle one in recent years. But again, all of those devices are more than $150.
As for the software and remapping process, it’s relatively straightforward, and it helps quite a bit that the attachment has a display. With other pro controllers, including even Microsoft’s excellent Elite, you’re either programming these back buttons or paddles and just hoping you’ve done it right by testing it live in-game. Or you’re using software on a Mac or PC (or on the Xbox itself in the case of the Elite) that requires you to plug in the device and tinker with its settings. Neither are really ideal. With Sony’s attachment, however, you get information about your settings right on the device itself.
You can program up to three profiles, but the attachment works out of the box with ones Sony has pre-programmed, including the very common “X” and “O” setup that most people use for first-person shooters. (Replicating those two buttons with back buttons or paddles means you can jump and also crouch or reload without removing your right thumb off the stick, giving you a slight edge in competitive scenarios.)
Programming the various profiles is simple and easy to perform by using the two back buttons to cycle through available button commands. To enter programming mode and cycle through profiles, you just hold and then double tap the center OLED screen. It took me all of five minutes to figure out how to do this after perusing the instruction manual. It also appears that the attachment remembers what profile you’re on, so you don’t have to cycle through them every time to get to one you want.
There are some downsides. Most notably, you only get two back buttons instead of four. Some of the pricey options from Razer and Nacon do have two added buttons that let you go even deeper into customization, and it’s unlikely Sony could ever come up with a design that would accommodate more than just two rear buttons without reengineering the back of the controller itself.
It’s also not clear what kind of a drain the attachment might present to the DualShock 4’s already abysmal battery life. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary in my usage, but I often have to plug my controller in following every session because my DualShock 4 ends up on its last legs after even just three hours or so of play. So that might be a consideration for anyone who sits far away from their television while playing and doesn’t easily have a way to plug in and play at the same time.
Still, for $30, Sony’s Back Button Attachment, which launches on January 23rd in North America, is a remarkably well-made accessory that should present a good enough alternative to many of the expensive, unreliable, and cumbersome third-party PS4 controller options on the market. If you’re just looking to see what all the fuss is about and whether you’ll actually see yourself improving using something like this, it’s a solid buy. Even for those that might be considering a Scuf controller or even something as pricey as the Astro C40 TR, I would certainly recommend you try this first.
At the very least, you’ll discover if you do want something a little more premium. But you also may just find that the Back Button Attachment does everything you need it do for one-fifth the price.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.