The best Nintendo Switch controllers aren’t the ones that come with it. The removable Joy-Cons included with all Switch consoles (except for the Switch Lite) are convenient since they can be detached to use as wireless controllers for two people. But their tiny contourless design isn’t that comfortable for long gaming sessions or large hands. (And don’t get me started on the dreaded Joy-Con drift.)
Thankfully, you have plenty of alternatives, though only some of them are worth your money. In this buying guide, I focus on wireless controllers that are comfortable and reliable as well as a few with unique features that enhance your play, like input customization and long battery life. I’m not covering wired controllers that plug into the Switch’s dock, as they’re almost all the same. (PowerA and PDP make decent ones that I can personally vouch for, but unless you detest recharging your controllers, it makes more sense to go wireless.)
If you buy a third-party wireless controller (as in: not one made by Nintendo), there are certain things that it likely won’t be able to do unless otherwise noted:
- It won’t have HD rumble (this is what Nintendo calls its haptics, which are precise and akin to Sony’s DualSense in their subtlety), though some more limited rumble may be present.
- It may not have motion controls for gestures or gyroscopic aiming in games that support it or an NFC reader for Amiibo cards or figures that unlock special features in some games.
- It also won’t be able to turn on the Switch remotely. (You’ll have to manually press the console’s power button.)
- Also, while some Switch controllers have 3.5mm headphone jacks, getting audio out of them can only happen through a wired USB connection, not wirelessly. For most people, pairing Bluetooth headphones to your Switch is a sufficient (and very easy) workaround.
The best Nintendo Switch controllers
The best Switch controller for TV mode
Nintendo’s own Pro controller is still the best one out there. It launched alongside the Switch in 2017, and it’s my favorite on any console. Aside from the Joy-Cons, it’s the only wireless Switch controller that includes HD rumble, gyroscopic movement support, and an NFC reader for Amiibo cards or figurines. It’s also the only controller I’ve tested (again, aside from the Joy-Cons) that can power on the Switch without being plugged into it.
Beyond those qualities, the Pro controller has comfort and build quality rivaling the flagship console controllers of Microsoft and Sony. It’s built like a tank, and it has battery life so good that it sometimes seems like it’ll never run out. Nintendo says that it lasts around 40 hours per charge, so it’ll likely take casual gamers a long time to run down the battery.
The Switch Pro released alongside the Switch console in 2017, and it’s a tough controller to beat. It offers an unmatched set of features (HD rumble, motion controls, NFC), and it’s one of the most comfortable Switch controllers out there.
The buttons and triggers have a satisfying bounce, while its directional pad is responsive and clicky enough to satisfy retro gamers. Just like the Switch itself, the controller charges over USB-C. And it’s compatible with a slew of other devices you might game on, including PCs, Android devices, and Apple devices including Mac computers running macOS Ventura, iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and Apple TV.
Given the price, I wish that it had other features, like programmable buttons or a 3.5mm headphone jack for audio, though wireless audio transmission from the Switch to a controller doesn’t seem possible. But at least you can connect headphones via Bluetooth if you have no more than two controllers connected to your Switch at once.
The best Xbox-style controller for Switch
The GuliKit KingKong 2 Pro rivals the Switch Pro Controller in build quality, but it feels more like a modern Xbox controller, and its textured rear grips might give it the edge for some. Unlike most third-party controllers, it retains Amiibo support, though its rumble is not great-feeling. The KingKong 2 Pro can connect via Bluetooth to the Switch and to PC, macOS, iOS, Android, and other platforms. And because it uses GuliKit’s Hall effect sensors for its analog sticks, it’s immune to drift.
I recommend checking out this video at iFixit to see a thorough explanation of how it works, but in essence, Hall effect sensors use magnets to alter electrical current instead of physically rubbing on (and eventually wearing down) a sensor to produce an input. While I haven’t had a problem with analog stick drift on the Switch Pro (yet), controllers with Hall effect sensors will never encounter it. (The 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth Controller, below, also uses GuliKit’s sensors.)
If you’re looking for a Switch controller that’s also a great Bluetooth controller for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android, GuliKit’s KingKong 2 Pro is a worthwhile purchase. It has Hall effect sticks that ensure that its analog sticks won’t suffer from drift, Amiibo support, and it feels like an Xbox controller in the hand.
A Switch controller for Steam Deck and PC
8BitDo’s Ultimate Bluetooth Controller feels like a Switch Pro Controller, and it supports both Windows PCs and the Steam Deck. Its haptics are decent but not as good as Nintendo’s, and it’s missing Amiibo support, but it adds back paddles that can be customized with its companion software. It also comes with a charging dock, which stores the 2.4GHz dongle when not in use. The Ultimate controller comes in several variants, but I recommend the Bluetooth one over the 2.4GHz or wired options because the Bluetooth version includes 2.4GHz as well and because it has GuliKit Hall effect sticks, which the 2.4GHz-only version lacks.
The 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth Controller comes with its own charging dock, features remappable controls, and is compatible with the Nintendo Switch, Steam Deck, and Windows PCs thanks to its Bluetooth and 2.4GHz connectivity. Unlike the 2.4GHz-only version, it features drift-free Hall effect sticks.
A well-rounded Switch controller that looks like a DualShock
The 8BitDo Pro 2 is another great option, especially if your hands are happiest with a PlayStation-style controller. The Pro 2 has a comfortable grip, a crisper D-pad than the Switch Pro Controller, and two easy-to-press paddle buttons on the underside. It has rumble support (though not HD rumble) and motion control for games like Breath of the Wild, Fortnite, and Splatoon 3 that allow gyroscopic aiming.
With 8BitDo’s Ultimate software on a mobile device or a Windows computer, you can customize the Pro 2’s button mapping and the sensitivity of its triggers and analog sticks. You can even save up to three control scheme profiles and cycle through them with a button located between the analog sticks. On its rear, there’s a switch that lets it toggle between Nintendo Switch, X-input for PC, DirectInput, and Mac modes, each with its own control customizations and Bluetooth profile. This controller offers a lot for $50 (or $59.99 if you want the incredibly cool translucent purple version).
PlayStation gamers may appreciate that the Pro 2’s left analog stick is toward the bottom, just like on Sony’s controllers, rather than above the D-pad as on the Switch Pro and Xbox controllers.
The 8BitDo Pro 2 offers many of the same features as the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller but at a lower price point and with a DualShock-style layout. It features extra triggers, hand grips, remappable buttons, and back paddles and can pair with Windows, macOS, Steam Deck, and mobile devices via Bluetooth.
Use your own controller
There aren’t many other devices in this category, but this one is the best value. Instead of spending $70 on multiple Switch Pro Controllers, use this $19.99 8BitDo USB Adapter 2 transmitter to turn a Bluetooth controller you already own into a wireless Switch controller. It plugs into your Switch dock and supports controllers from the latest Xbox and DualSense controllers all the way back to Wii and PS3 controllers. (Note: the first-gen model can’t connect to most Xbox Bluetooth controllers due to a Bluetooth incompatibility, so make sure you get the latest model.)
To my surprise, when I paired the adapter with a DualSense controller from my PS5, I didn’t just get a control experience that felt like the Switch Pro — I also experienced better than average rumble and responsive motion controls. What’s more, so long as you’re using one of the newer Xbox Series S or X controllers, an Xbox One Bluetooth controller, a DualSense, a DualShock 4, or the Switch Pro Controller, you can customize their button mapping, analog stick sensitivity, and more within 8BitDo’s computer and mobile app software.
8BitDo has an extensive support page listing the steps required to set up your specific controller as well as which features of those controllers it supports. If you plan to use a PlayStation or Xbox controller with this adapter, it’s best if you know the Switch’s button layout by heart, as the layout on your controller will not match the on-screen prompts in games.
If you already have controllers around and don’t mind jumping through a few small hoops to get them connected, this affordable adapter deserves a spot in your entertainment center. If you want to use more than one third-party controller at a time, you’ll need an adapter for each of them (plus a USB hub to give yourself enough ports), but if you have a lot of controllers sitting around, it might be worth it.
The best Switch controller for handheld mode
I’m sure there are some people who enjoy using Joy-Cons, but kids and small-handed folks aside, I haven’t met many who praise them for their comfort. I have met more than a few people who play in handheld mode and want controls that better fit larger hands and feel more like a regular console controller. The solution is the Hori Split Pad Pro, a $50 (or sometimes cheaper) pair of Joy-Con replacements.
The Split Pad Pro comes in a variety of colorways, and it both looks and feels like a Switch Pro Controller that’s split in half. One half slides into each side of the Switch console like Joy-Cons, but unlike Joy-Cons, it has big easy-to-reach buttons and generously sized triggers and analog sticks. It also provides a lot of grip, which is particularly useful for people who either need to really get a good handle on the console for fast gameplay or just to stay comfy for longer play sessions.
The Split Pad Pro doesn’t have batteries or sensors, so it’s completely useless when detached from the Switch. It’s only for handheld mode unless you purchase the Split Pad Pro Attachment that turns it into a wired controller. I don’t recommend most people go that route since the attachment alone costs more than a Switch Pro Controller.
The company also sells the Split Pad Compact, a smaller version of the Split Pad Pro that also costs around $50. If you want something as functional as the Split Pad Pro but closer in size to a Joy-Con, the Split Pad Compact might be worth waiting for.
Updated February 24th, 4:00PM ET: For 2023, we’ve tested new models like the GuliKit KingKong 2 Pro and 8BitDo’s Ultimate Bluetooth Controller.