The best controllers for your Nintendo Switch aren’t the ones that come with each system. 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 and a few with unique features that enhance your play time, 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 Switch controllers in 2022
The best controller to use in TV mode
I doubt another Switch controller will ever top Nintendo’s own Pro controller. 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 Microsoft and Sony’s flagship console controllers. 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.
Use the controller you already have
Spending $70 on a Switch Pro controller for you, player one, isn’t so bad, but it adds up if you want to play with others. Rather than relegating your friends and family to bargain-bin controllers, you can 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 of the USB Adapter 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 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; 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.
In October 2022, the company will release the Split Pad Compact, a smaller version of the Split Pad Pro that will also cost $50. If you want something as functional as the Split Pad Pro but closer in size to a Joy-Con, the Compact might be worth waiting for.
The Hori Split Pad Pro is here to help alleviate hand cramping while playing on your Switch. While these controllers are quite a bit larger than your standard Joy-Cons, they’re far more ergonomic. One note: they lack wireless support and rumble and don’t have NFC for Amiibo.
A well-rounded Switch controller that looks like a DualShock
8BitDo makes some stellar controllers, both in terms of performance and aesthetics. The $49.99 Pro 2 is one of its best, most feature-packed models, and it works on more platforms and devices than just the Switch.
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, Direct Input, 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. (If you prefer a controller that looks more like a Switch Pro or Xbox controller, 8BitDo’s new Ultimate controller coming in October might appeal to you. We’ll be testing that model soon.)
I’ve spent a lot of time with the Pro 2’s predecessor, the SN30 Pro Plus, which it’s nearly identical to in terms of look and feel. However, I like the Pro 2 even more because it offers more features, like the new paddle buttons, at the same price.
This controller boasts a 20-hour battery life, and it has a USB-C port for recharging (it can also work as a wired controller). You’ll need to charge it more often than the Switch Pro controller, but I still found it difficult to drain this model with a week’s worth of gaming. My former colleague Sam Byford did the full review on the 8BitDo Pro 2, and he thought that the directional pad was better than the Switch Pro. I don’t disagree, though I’m not the pickiest person when it comes to D-pads.
A compact yet feature-packed controller for small hands
If you want a small controller, and you (or your gaming companion) are all right with giving up the cozy contours of a full-sized model, 8BitDo’s Lite 2 is well worth its $34.99 price. This controller has all of the necessary buttons, triggers, and dual analog sticks built into a small rectangular controller that should slip easily into most bags.
While the Lite 2’s rounded-rectangle shape has similar ergonomics to Joy-Cons, this option stands out with its low cost. It’s a decent Joy-Con substitute for Switch Lite owners who can’t detach their controls since its low-profile design matches that of the console. Similar to the 8BitDo Pro 2, it has multiple wireless modes accessible through a toggle switch. It can connect wirelessly to the Switch or to Android and Raspberry Pi devices.
It’s worth mentioning that the Lite 2 has motion support plus rumble (lower your expectations in terms of their immersive quality; it feels like a bargain-bin phone haptic motor). Unlike a Joy-Con, it recharges via USB-C.
Personally, I wouldn’t use the Lite 2 as my main for when I’m relaxing at home, trying to out-splat the competition in Splatoon 3. Instead, it’s great for playing strategy games, like Into the Breach and Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and for other games that don’t require a ton of split-second concentration or enduring comfort. This is the controller that I’d bring in my carry-on for a flight.
(Note: 8BitDo also makes the $34.99 Lite SE for gamers with limited mobility. Instead of having triggers and clickable sticks, all of the buttons are laid out on the face of the controller.)
If you want something that’s more ergonomic, the PDP Little Wireless Controller comes close to matching the low-profile design of the Lite 2, though it feels more like a traditional gamepad. Some downsides prevented the PDP model from getting its own spot in this buying guide. It lacks rumble, and I was annoyed by how loud its buttons and analog sticks sound when pressed or moved. It’s also $15 more.
Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge