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Opinion

Let’s Settle This: Which Console Controller Is Best?

Which pad brings the most joy?

It’s now more than four years after the launch of the generation, and that means it’s time to settle this argument once and for all. Which console controller is better: the DualShock 4 or the Xbox One Controller? And given the popularity of the Switch, let’s throw the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller into the mix as well.


DualShock 4

A lot of people didn’t get on with the DualShock 3 – “It’s too small! The analogue triggers suck! The sticks are too slippery!” they cried– but Sony hit it out of the park with the DualShock 4. Longer hand grips and a lightly textured underside helps it be more easily held in hand, analogue triggers that are longer and concave to let your fingers sit in them more easily, and while the first year of controllers had flaky rubber, the indented analogue sticks were much better for increasing the surface area that your thumb can grip to. Even if you got used to holding the DualShock 3 with a “claw grip” like I did, it was a great step forward in controller design.

What the controller retained is the familiar spongey feeling of the buttons. Whether it’s the D-pad, face buttons, touchpad or shoulder buttons, there’s a clear point where you know that you’ve pressed the button, but you can depress the button even further. It’s a little easier on your thumbs because of this, even if it no longer serves the purpose of allowing analogue input as on the DualShock 2.

The controller does have a few gimmicky features that vary in their value. The Share button has become synonymous with this generation of gaming, with the role of the old Select button now typically taken over by the touchpad. The touchpad is something that’s unsurprisingly underused these days; after a year or two of developers adding swipes and touch inputs to their games, it’s an all but forgotten curio and generally just used as a generic button the vast majority of the time. The same can be said of the little loudspeaker, which only ever seems to get used when someone’s trying to chat to you over a radio. That’s a neat idea and one that’s been cribbed from the Wii remote, but it’s also not the best quality speaker and practically useless for anyone gaming with headphones – speaking of which, Sony led the charge on featuring a standard 3.5mm jack for headphones and headsets.

And so we come to the light bar on the controller. It makes sense in retrospect, now that we have PlayStation VR and the need for PS Camera tracking of the controller in virtual reality, but its downward angle means it’s not ideally placed and easily obscured. Outside of VR, games often try to provide feedback through changing its colours, such as your character’s health or when some ability or attack is charged, but the light faces away from the player and even the controller revision with the strip of light that lets light through the touchpad is far too subtle and barely even registers in your peripheral vision.

Worst of all, it’s still a huge drain on the controller’s battery. While the controller features a built in battery and standard micro USB for charging, you’ll be reaching for that charge cable all too often if you game with any regularity.

Sony’s revisions have been minimal at best, though this does emphasise how much they got right with the controller from the off. A change to the thumbstick rubber compound here, a tweak to let light through the touchpad there, the controller you can buy now is practically the same as the one from 2013. This means it still has the same flaws, right down to the somewhat creaky plastic construction and the less than ideal battery life. While the controller features a built in battery and standard microUSB for almost idiot proof charging, you’ll be reaching for that charge cable all too often if you game with any regularity.

While the DualShock 4 is a great controller, it’s also full of gimmicks that range from great to innocuous and through to annoying. Is it the best controller of the generation? Let’s move on to the other challengers


Xbox One Controller

My first impressions of the Xbox One controller around the console’s launch were a bit mixed, but just as Microsoft have dramatically improved their console design, they’ve also overhauled the controller. It might look practically identical to the controller from 2013, but they’ve significantly refined it under the hood.

The fundamental design and shape is the same, with a form that might look somewhat bulky, but actually sits nicely in hand and feels absolutely solid and rigid. The asymmetrical thumb stick layout isn’t for everyone, but the sticks themselves are great and the indentation combined with the rough edge mean your thumb won’t slip. The buttons on the whole are still a lot more clicky than those on DualShock 4, and the jewel face buttons aren’t my favourite form, but there’s still a good degree of travel to them.

There’s also a feature that nobody ever really talks about, the one gimmick the controller design does allow for. Rumble motors are hidden in the big and comfortable analogue triggers to more sensitive feedback into your fingertips. It feels strange initially, but with so many more nerve ends in your fingertips, this is one of the better innovations in the controller’s design.

At release there were a number of clear drawbacks that Microsoft have addressed. Successive revisions have improved the shoulder buttons so they’re not as obscenely noisy and clicky and can be depressed more evenly across the button. The proprietary headphone port now sits alongside a standard 3.5mm jack so that you don’t need a headset adapter, and it now features Bluetooth alongside the Wi-Fi connection, making it much easier to sync and use with a PC. Those last two factors greatly reduce the cost of getting the most out of the controller.

One possible drawback is that it still runs on standard AA batteries, though this is both a positive and a negative. You can get a pricey Play & Charge kit from Microsoft that charges through the controller, or any number of cheap knockoffs that don’t, or you can use plain batteries. A set of good quality Eneloop batteries are easy to pop in and switch to get right back to wireless gaming, and any battery pack can have capacities that far exceed the lifespan of the DualShock 4.

In addition to this, Microsoft have brought a staggering array of custom controllers to the table, many of which look great. It started with the Elite Controller, and while that’s long overdue an update, some of its ideas have spread to other custom designs. The Tech controllers have better grips underneath the pad, and these feature in the Xbox Design Lab for creating your own custom designs, which can let you tweak the colours and even materials of the different parts of the controller.

The Xbox One controller does have a few tricks up its sleeves with the analogue trigger rumble, but here’s a controller that eschews the now fairly standard gyroscopic sensors found in all its rivals. This is really a no frills design that emphasises simplicity and build over flashy gimmicks.


Switch Pro Controller

As great as portable gaming is, a lot of people will want to dock their Switch for longer sessions. While the Joy-Con in the grip or held separately are still great for this, the need for portability means that they have smaller buttons, strip-like shoulder buttons, and more diminutive analogue sticks. They’re still good, but for more serious gaming sessions you might be drawn to Nintendo’s latest Pro Controller.

It’s something of a halfway house between Xbox One and DualShock 4, I feel, with the form and layout of the former and the style and function of the latter. You have the somewhat boxy look, the offset analogue sticks and joined up D-pad, but the buttons are fairly flat in design and a bit mushy in their travel – mushier than on the Joy-Con. Even the analogue sticks themselves are in the middle ground: they have the same outer ring as the other controllers, but combine an Xbox-like ribbed outer ring and smooth inner section with a convex bump in the middle from the DS4. You do have some quirks to the design, with grippy dimpled plastic on the grips and 90s style translucent plastic on the main body. It does make the glossy black plastic between the shoulder buttons feel rather odd.

As on the Joy-Con, the biggest control difference is that there’s no analogue triggers, just digital buttons that hinge in a trigger-like fashion, and this hampers the console when considering certain types of game, like racing games and GameCube backward compatibility. It makes up for it with sensitive and accurate gyroscopic motion sensors that crop up for things like motion aiming in a number of the console’s biggest games.

Most importantly, the Pro Controller has to keep all the features that you have on the Joy-Con and in handheld mode. That means there’s HD Rumble, which isn’t quite as effective as in the Joy-Con, but still a more nuanced rumble than found elsewhere. You also have the NFC patch behind the Switch logo for tapping in Amiibo, and this leads me to one of my criticism of the controller: this NFC sensor is not as well placed and not as reliable as the sensor in the right Joy-Con’s analogue stick. it’s also led to four central buttons – home, screenshot, plus and minus – that are flat to the controller’s body and not terribly easy to identify through touch.

Another missed opportunity is in the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack that could have been used for letting you play on TV and keep your gaming private. It’s all part of Nintendo’s rather flawed thinking on party chat for online gaming

Rounding out the controller, you have a built in battery that’s charged using the forward looking USB-C – don’t worry, you get a cable with the controller and it’s the same port as the Switch itself uses. Where the DualShock 4 fritters away energy on making light, the battery here lasts seemingly forever. I’ve never run down the battery through play, only through neglecting the controller for months at a time because of playing exclusively in handheld mode.

As much as Nintendo love to experiment with their controllers, they also have a habit of backing up their wackiest ideas with solid, all round controllers. It was true of the Wii – albeit with the need to plug the Classic Controller Pro into the Wii Remote – the great Wii U Pro Controller and now the Switch Pro Controller. The amusing thing to note is that Nintendo have yet to retain the same stick and button layout from one generation to the next.


Conclusion

So, who wins in this round up? You may find it surprising, but the Xbox One Controller has developed and matured to the point that I’d call it the best console controller of the generation. Since 2013, Microsoft have added features that improve its flexibility and probably should have been built in from the beginning, and really only had a single gameplay gimmick to its robust design. Speaking of design, they consistently knock it out of the park with limited edition controllers and the custom Xbox Design Labs.

The DualShock 4 was a great step forward over the last generation and it’s a great controller, but it’s stood still since 2013, so that it still has a creaky design, poor battery life and some generally wasted features. On the other side of the fence, the Switch Pro Controller, is a great all-rounder that matches the features of the Joy-Con, but it could have gone further with analogue triggers and a headphone jack.


Of course, that’s just my opinion. What do you think? Let us know your favourite or post your rebuttal in the comments below.

54 Comments
  1. Avenger
    Member
    Since: Oct 2012

    1. XB1
    2. Pro Con
    3. DS4

    That’s also the order I’d put them in when it comes to themed controllers too.

    The DS4 also has this weird ability to convince long term users that its analog sticks are in the right place. So silly. :p

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 14:30.
    • MrYd
      Member
      Since: Mar 2011

      The right place, as in where they’ve been for the past 20 years? Long before MS or Nintendo started doing it wrong.

      Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 14:43.
      • Avenger
        Member
        Since: Oct 2012

        You see that, evidence right there xD

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:25.
      • TerraRazor
        Member
        Since: Feb 2018

        Avenger is EXACTLY right. The DS4 isn’t even ergonomic in design. Makes far more sense to have the left stick where it is rather than a dpad that’s barely used.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 18:54.
      • MrYd
        Member
        Since: Mar 2011

        No, it makes more sense to put the d-pad you barely use out of the way, and the stick you use all the time somewhere sensible, like where your thumbs are.

        Otherwise, you have to hold it weirdly with your left hand further forward.

        Unless you’re all a bunch of freaks with strange hands. Which I guess is possible.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 19:24.
      • SamBeThyName
        Member
        Since: Sep 2013

        MrYd, don’t be a wazzock (not a word I use lightly). Designs can, and are improved. just because something was done first doesn’t mean its the definitive version. Otherwise why don’t we all just use iPad 1s or drive around in Model T Fords? I know you like the argy, but perhaps this time you shoudl entertain the possibility that you’re wrong.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 21:15.
      • MrYd
        Member
        Since: Mar 2011

        On the other hand, maybe sometimes things are done the right way first time, for whatever reasons?

        The stick position argument is never going to be settled. So it’s one of those arguments where you can safely claim the other point of view is wrong.

        And the “left stick above the d-pad” people are wrong, of course. So need to insult me for being right. Although you did use the word “wassock”, so I’ll let you off and assume you’re some sort of time traveller who’s come to the future to insult people.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 21:25.
      • 3shirts
        Member
        Since: Aug 2008

        I genuinely don’t believe MS put the sticks that way because it’s better. I think they did it because it’s just not worse and it makes for a very obvious difference to their rivals.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 23:11.
    • marco_lorenzo
      Member
      Since: May 2017

      No matter what your argument is, there is only one fact: everyone’s preferences are different. That’s it. If MrYd likes the positioning of the DualShock controllers then that’s fine (although he is wrong…just kidding! :P).

      But for me, when I put a controller in my hands, my left hand thumb naturally goes to where the D-Pad is (on the DS) and my right hand thumb naturally goes to where the face button are. This is naturally where my thumbs rest, roughly parallel to my other fingers, not protruding out perpendicularly. If MrYd’s hands are not like that then he is simply different (or a freak, in his own words).

      And let’s not forget, Sony only put those thumbsticks there as a response to the N64. The original PSX did not even have thumbsticks. So when they realised they needed them, what did they do? Did they redesign the entire controller? Or did they simply stick two sticks on the controller like an afterthought and called it a day? Yeah, nah, they didn’t get it right the first time I’m afraid.

      Comment posted on 26/02/2018 at 03:39.
  2. MrYd
    Member
    Since: Mar 2011

    You’re just trolling us now, aren’t you?

    3 controllers, only 1 with the sticks in the correct position? That’s MS and Nintendo off to a bad start there.

    Battery life on the DS4 is fine, really. If you remember to charge it. It’s not great after 4 years though. 5 or 6 hours before it demands to be plugged in. Probably half of what it was originally. Does the XBox controller really not have a rechargeable battery in it? That’s a pretty bad idea these days. (Not just for inconvenience, but possibly encouraging people to use disposable batteries full of nasty crap?)

    They’re all too big compared to the PS3 days. The DS4 is certainly not as comfortable after any length of time. And I’ve got quite big hands. Plus the sticks are a bit stiff. Doesn’t allow for small, controlled movements.

    And the DS4 may have problems with the R2 trigger. There’s a handy website somewhere that lets you plug a controller into your PC with a USB cable and displays the data from the controller as you press buttons and move sticks. All the triggers give a value of 1.0, apart from R2 on 1 of my controllers, which gives about 0.67. So it only registers as being pressed in 2/3 of the way.

    This leads to terrible acceleration in various driving games, and problems shooting some weapons in other games. (Sniping in BF1 for instance)

    So overall, the DS4 is the best of a bad bunch. Flawed, but at least it manages to get the most important thing right and put the sticks where they should be.

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 14:40.
    • Stefan L
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      The battery life on a DS4 is terrible in comparison to the competition. At its best it’s maybe 7 or 8 hours, which is less than half of what an Xbox One can get with a decent pair of rechargeable AA batteries, and the Switch Pro Controller lasts FORTY hours of game time between charges, despite only having a 1200mAh battery to the DS4′ 1000mAh.

      Having easily user replaceable batteries is neither here nor there, in my opinion. Easier to swap out if old batteries stop lasting, though you do lose a degree of convenience if you’re not using a plug & charge pack.

      Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:09.
      • MrYd
        Member
        Since: Mar 2011

        7 or 8 hours after 2 or 3 years maybe. A lot longer to start with.

        And in most cases, it’s probably fine to charge it while playing. Obviously not advisable with VR games. Unless you really like the surprise factor of taking the headset off and finding what damage you’ve done.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:16.
      • Stefan L
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        Console reviews at launch generally agreed that it’s 7-8 hours of play time, and there is lots and lots and lots and lots of anecdotal evidence to back this up. Some say higher, when turning off rumble or dimming the light bar, but with a bit of battery wear it’s much lower.

        Charging as you play is fine, but that kind of defeats the whole “wireless controller” thing.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:52.
      • Steelhead
        Member
        Since: Oct 2013

        Would choose an internal battery anyday. I charge mine with my old kindle charger while gaming if I need to. Not an issue and way better than scrambling round for fresh batteries.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:53.
      • Kaden101
        Member
        Since: Jan 2012

        I have a launch day DS4 that does around 6 hours. The new controller I have with my PS4 Pro lasts for about 3-4 days, probably 4 hours a day. As I have 2 controllers, it’s not like I’m every going to have a controller with a flat battery. I’m also of the school that likes symmetrical analogues as the fingers on my left hand aren’t any longer than the ones on my right.

        Personal preference I suppose. The crappy rubber analogues on the original DS4 on the other hand were rubbish, not for feel, but longevity.

        Comment posted on 22/02/2018 at 18:10.
    • marco_lorenzo
      Member
      Since: May 2017

      If you think even the DS4 is uncomfortable after a period of time then I’m sorry to tell you but you do not have “quite big hands”.

      Comment posted on 26/02/2018 at 04:42.
  3. Dominic Leighton
    Member
    Since: Mar 2012

    I’d agree, love the X1 pad, and the Switch Pro one, but have left the DS4 behind in favour of a Nacon Pro – analog sticks should be offset!

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 14:42.
    • MrYd
      Member
      Since: Mar 2011

      I’m going to reply to every single post getting this wrong until you all realise that the sticks should be where Sony put them 20 years ago!

      (Don’t worry, I won’t keep it up long. I’ll get distracted by something shiny and

      Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 14:45.
      • Dominic Leighton
        Member
        Since: Mar 2012

        Except they were wrong in the first place – the Dreamcast’s left stick above the D-pad was spot on. Microsoft just perfected it with the giant Xbox “Duke” and the right analog ;)

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 17:19.
      • Stefan L
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        Analogue stick on a weird third middle prong is the real correct way.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 17:41.
      • TerraRazor
        Member
        Since: Feb 2018

        Wrong wrong wrong.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 18:55.
  4. Crazy_Del
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Joystick…. COME AT ME!!!
    I wish the DS4 has like 60% or maybe 80% if I am pushing my luck to have the sound support on the DS4 as I loved it but now not so much due to barely any support :( SONY might aswell make DS4 periphal without the sound hardware and reduce the price!
    Xbox is okay on certain games I would say…. like Gears it works perfect for me.
    And as for switch pro only played one 2 games 10mins each (Zelda and Mario) I really can’t comment much about as I need to spend more time playing the Switch.

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 14:47.
  5. B_Cambo
    Member
    Since: Oct 2012

    Can’t speak for the Switch controller as I haven’t been a Nintendo gamer since I left the age of 6. But for both Mircosoft and Sony’s controllers I have used religiously throughout the last few years. Both comfortable for me and very easy for me to adjust to whichever one.

    The pick a better controller, for me, is hard they both have pretty good layouts but one massive plus point in the DS4 is all the extra bits like speaker and touch pad that adds to the game. But these features are very rarely used unfortunately.

    Dispite what I have read above the DS4 is dire when it comes to battery life and it certainly doesnt last any longer than 3-4 hours of gaming without needing to be charged. Although I’m not sure if that’s just my controller as it’s the original one I got with the PS4.
    Xbox Controller has massive battery life and I’ve seen myself play Gears of War for 6-7 hours straight without the need to charge, sometimes even longer.

    Personally I can’t choose between them they are both comfortable for gaming and both have pros and cons.

    If The game devs would used the features that the DS4 has more then it would be no question for me.

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 14:59.
    • MrYd
      Member
      Since: Mar 2011

      3 or 4 hours is definitely way below what it’s capable of. Which does suggest it’s a bit old and losing capacity.

      10 to 15 hours is quite reasonable with a new controller (depending on the game and which features it uses)

      It’d be nice if you could easily replace the battery, maybe with a new one that isn’t using 5 year old technology. But I guess that’s the downside to having the convenience of it being built in and easily chargeable.

      Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:22.
      • JR.
        Member
        Since: Apr 2013

        I’ve owned four PS4’s since launch (two standard and two Pro) + four additonal DS4’s and I’ve never had anywhere close to 15 hours battery life with a DS4, even when new. 9-10 max but I’m leaning more towards 8. Although to be fair, I’ve never actually timed it.

        Still better than either of the other pads though, for sure.

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 21:12.
      • Kaden101
        Member
        Since: Jan 2012

        It’s not actually that difficult to replace the battery, & you can pick them up on Amazon & Ebay, although I couldn’t attest to the quality of replacements. I replaced the analogue sticks on one of my DS4’s, & the battery is the 1st thing you see when you open it up. It just plugs into a connector.

        Comment posted on 22/02/2018 at 18:15.
  6. camdaz
    Member
    Since: May 2009

    I’m very happy with the DS4 and that’s all that matters to me. I haven’t used an XB controller since the 360 one but didn’t like the layout o the two analogue sticks. And never used the Switch one so cannot comment on that.
    As I play mostly racing games what’s more important to me is a decent wheel.

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:06.
    • ron_mcphatty
      Member
      Since: Sep 2008

      I feel much the same about the XBox sticks, it’s 100% personal preference though, both controllers feel great. I did have a 360 controller and wireless adapter, it was great and I was all ready to get the new XBox One X Bluetooth controller but then along game the Dualshcok adapter! I’ve gotta say that there’s now no need for me to consider anything else! It’s a wonderful driverless, fast pairing, high quality but of kit that Sony should be bundling with their extra controllers for PC, Raspberry Pi, tablet and fancy car head unit gaming fun.

      Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:32.
  7. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    I choose DS4 because i’ve had a hell of a time trying to get the others to sync to my PS4 ;)
    Haven’t really tried the others tbh, never liked the stick layout with the 360 so unlikely that’s changed for me. Battery life in DS4 is disappointing though, especially after a few years when it halves again from the initial capacity.

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:30.
  8. Starman
    Member
    Since: Jul 2011

    Xbox overall but I actually use a third party pad by PDP that is great quality & has extra buttons underneath. Also was hugely cheaper than the elite pad. Says a lot that Nintendo used the same shape as the Xbox controller.

    PlayStation always had the best d pad, Xbox finally copied it & made it a little better.

    Xbox got the offset sticks RIGHT because on the PlayStation your thumbs can touch if you’re pushing the sticks towards each other. I get a bit of cramp using the DS4 & hate the light, touch pad & lack of start select buttons.

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:33.
  9. JustTaylorNow
    Member
    Since: Oct 2011

    The best controller is the one you are comfortable to play with. That’s the winner

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:56.
  10. Steelhead
    Member
    Since: Oct 2013

    All are decent, DS4 is best. Has the analogue sticks in the only sensible place. The wonky sticks is one of the few things I dislike about Switch.

    Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 15:57.
    • Tony Cawley
      Pint! Pint!
      Since: Feb 2009

      Yep, my thumbs are fairly well aligned on a vertical plane, I don’t have a left thumb up there and a right thumb down there do I?

      Also, which other £50 consumer electronic goods need replaceable AA batteries? What a load of rip off nonsense.

      DS4 wins. End of.

      Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 16:19.
      • Steelhead
        Member
        Since: Oct 2013

        Agreed 100%

        Comment posted on 21/02/2018 at 16:24.

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