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Even the most elite gamers can benefit from a better controller. But whether you’re a pro, beginner or getting back into video games after a few decades, having a reliable piece of gear like a USB controller that works with your system of choice is crucial. Here’s what you need to know before buying one.
USB Gaming Controller Buying Guide
The best handheld gaming controllers either connect to your console via Bluetooth or USB. For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on USB gaming controllers. Here’s what to look for when picking one out.
Comfort: A great game can easily make you lose track of time, but an uncomfortable controller really ruins the experience. Cushioning can help, as it creates a space for your palms to rest, as do textures and contours for your fingers in the grooved bumpers, even when you get sweaty. Sharp corners may look cool, but can dig in to your skin over long sessions.
Buttons: Controller brands tend to mimic the layouts of console’s controllers, so if you’ve already got one in mind that you’re comfortable with, it can make the choice a lot easier. A directional-pad that’s responsive all the way around might work better than a thumb-stick for some, and same goes for button placement. On lower-end controllers, the analog stick may have some “dead zones” that don’t respond to your movements, which can be seriously frustrating (or be too sensitive). Controllers can also have the option of customization, assigning buttons to what feels most natural for you.
USB vs. Bluetooth: Newer controllers have started utilizing a USB-C connection for a lightning-fast response and recharge, but wireless is still an option too on consoles that support it. There’s always going to be some risk of lag or latency with Bluetooth and wireless, but as technology advances, it’s gotten significantly better over the years. Going wireless also can mean a limited battery life, whether there’s a rechargeable one inside or it requires AA batteries. Lifespan of a controller can vary before the batteries run out, typically around 40 hours, and Bluetooth 5.0 means you can sit back as far as 30 feet.
Game Genre: One overlooked aspect when shopping for USB handheld controllers is the type of game you’ll be playing most often. Trigger buttons may be great for a first-person shooter, but a too-sensitive or too-stiff thumb-stick might mess up your game (or, conversely, be great for a different genre like racing). If you’re on a nostalgia trip and playing games from the past, too many buttons might get in the way when only a few are needed.
Extras: Some nice-to-have features include things like a share button to snap and send content to others, a 3.5mm headphone and mic jack, and a mute button. While that controller you’re eyeing might have some cool new features, keep in mind that many are designed to only work on certain consoles, especially the newer ones. If a PC is your primary platform, double-check it’s going to work with your system.
1. Gamesir T4
The T4 Pro controller connects both via USB-C and Bluetooth to pretty much everything in your gaming arsenal, as well as across platforms and operating systems and even mobile phones (along with an included phone adapter too).
The six axis gyroscope inside captures even small movements, and a Turbo mode lets you set rapid-fire on most buttons. Four dedicated M1-M4 triggers underneath let you find your ultimate customizable combinations and have them ready at all times.
Aesthetically it looks great in your overall setup too, with its colorful LED-lit buttons and comfortable contours.
2. Logitech F310 Wired Gamepad Controller
For casual players, this Logitech is simple and straightforward, with a familiar layout that’s fast to learn. Ten programmable buttons and an eight-way direction pad mean that it can hold up to new titles while still handling the classics.
On most Windows machines, no drivers are needed — just plug and play. However, software is often required for things like customizing the buttons and accessing DirectInput mode.
It’s lightweight, but still has a sturdy feel to it, and holds up with heavy daily use. There’s no Bluetooth capability here, but the wire gives a decent length of about six feet. It’s easily connectable with PCs and consoles.
3. Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2
Rear-mounted paddles with a physical toggle switch give this controller the edge over most of its competitors.
The interchangeable thumbsticks (six of them total) feature adjustable tension, making precise movements like aiming easier. The whole controller is fully customizable, with up to three saved settings, as well as the ability to switch between them during play. There’s also an extra directional pad that covers more area, and can easily be swapped out when you need it.
This connects through either USB-C or Bluetooth with your Xbox or Windows 10 devices, and comes with its own charging cable and dock. One full charge can get you about 40 hours of play time, making it a reliable choice for all-nighters.
4. 8BitDo SN30 Pro Plus
8BitDo’s controller might look a little familiar. The gadget recalls the Super Nintendo’s classic controller design, which makes it easy for anyone to jump back into classic gaming or take on modern titles, too.
Buttons and sticks are fully customizable, as is vibration and trigger sensitivity. This works with pretty much everything across the board, including Windows, Mac OS, Nintendo Switch, Steam, Android and even Raspberry Pi.