You’d probably agree with me when I say:
A great controller is essential to a great gaming experience
The core functionality elements across brands don’t tend to defer a lot, but design & implementation does vary which makes choosing the right controller a bit tricky.
Which is why we’ve researched & rounded up the best PC controllers in the market & analyzed them for you so you can take your pick easily.
Console controllers still rule this space with their compatibility for PCs ever improving. There are some fresh models like the Steam controller of which we were excited to test.
Whether you are used to having a few mates over during the weekend for NBA2K or like to play the latest titles, or are even training to be an E-sports professional, we’ve got you covered with our list.
Best Overall PC Controller
Talk about a good upgrade the DS4 doesn’t just beat the DS3 it humiliates it. Featuring Bluetooth wireless, & wired capability along with a multitude of other features the DS4 is our pick for the best PC gaming controller.
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It’s an excellent option that is durable & highly functional. Sticky triggers & and analogs are always annoying, and you will not have these issues if you decide to go with the DS4. The design although in some ways similar to the Logitech F310, it’s vastly superior regarding performance & tactile feedback. The dissimilarities as such arise mainly concerning the size of the triggers the shorter flatter triggers are pretty easy to use. They even feel springier which is always a good thing.
We liked the D-pad as well, and it will be a smooth transition for you if you are upgrading from an F310 for instance with similar positioning. Users did report to like the X-box one controller’s d-pad design more as it’ offers a harder feel. We can relate to that as you register the press better as opposed to the silky smooth d-pad on the DS4. You can customize the LED lights to your liking, and the touchpad functionality was very smooth too.
Some users did mention having some issues with the sticky keys over time, however. Another thing worth pointing out is the positioning of the lesser important share & option buttons were too close to the d-pad & the main buttons which were more of an inconvenience rather than a con. Compatibility is an avenue where the Xbox (a Microsoft product) naturally one-ups the DS4. There were instances where we had to either restart our PC or disconnect and reconfigure the controller for it to work smoothly on some games. This was only in a few rare cases though. There is software out there like the DS4windows for those running 8.1 or win 7 still. It facilitates a smooth transition, and you don’t have to play around with a complicated emulator.
There’s pretty much 2 things that separate our winner & runner-up, and these are the proximity of the Analog buttons and their size. The DS4 has larger analogs and are not offset whereas the Xbox one controllers are the opposite. So in all personal honesty preference is what will ultimately separate these 2 for you. If you have average sized hands, the DS4 is super comfy. If you have larger hands the Xbox’s offset, analog triggers are the way to go. Although the DS4 was not officially compatible with windows, the arrival of Windows 10 has made it pretty easy to use.
The new Xbox one controller or S controller offers another dimension to PC gamers that is definitely worth the price. The design at first glance is fairly similar to previous Xbox one controllers, and not much has changed in terms of positioning.
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The triggers & buttons have the same feeling with the notable differences being about the feel of the D-pad & the horns. This controller has Bluetooth wireless capability which is a welcome change to the old cable or adapter variant that uses 2.4 GHz connectivity. The range is quite good as well and much better than previous variants.
The D-pad feel is harder, it’s always been stiffer than the DS4, but the added stiffness is most welcome in our opinion. PC compatibility is excellent with the proprietary wireless connection. Setting up your controller will be a piece of cake. The grips of the controllers are patterned which enables you to have a better experience especially if your hands get sweaty very often. It’s also compatible with tablets & phones too if you are into the habit of gaming on those.
Some users did report the rubberize heads of the analog triggers wearing out over time, but during our tests, the analogs remained pretty stiff which made them easy to use. Another downside is that the AA batteries as you expect drain pretty quickly. It’s definitely on ours & many other user’s wish lists for this controller to come with a rechargeable battery.
You can, of course, map your buttons through the Xbox accessories app. It’s quite light but has a very sturdy durable feel to it which you can tell as soon as you grip the controller for the 1st time. The response when gaming is fast and quite comparable to that of the DS4 we couldn’t separate the two on that front. It can also handle multiple falls so if you have a habit of tossing your controller about then the new Xbox One wireless controller would be a good pick.
Best Budget Controller
As far as budget controllers go our clear favorite is the Logitech F310. This is the wired variant. The wireless is the F710 which is pretty much the same. If you are into gaming every weekend with your mates on a regular basis but do not need too much customization, then this Logitech gamepad is certainly one for you. You can play anything from good old Mario to Fifa 18 & much more with ease.
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Let’s face it. A budget option simply has to be plug & play. Coming to the core functionality and feel, this is where the F310 outshines every other controller in the price segment.
You get performance that’s not too far away from the Xbox 360 controller. The materials used are quite sound which gives the D-pad, and the analog sticks a good feel. After prolonged use for a few months the X, Y, A, B keys do tend to get a bit noisy but work fine nonetheless. Despite the analogs not being offset, it’s incredibly comfortable, and my thumbs never seem to get in the way of each other. The triggers are positioned a bit higher than most other controllers out there who might require you to make a slight adjustment if you are used to other controllers. Still definitely not a con.
The F310 is the one I’ve owned the longest (almost 2.5 years now), and it performs remarkably well. It can come apart if you happen to handle it roughly. After dropping it a few times, the R1 key doesn’t spring back like it used to. Other than this it’s quite well built. Another thing that’s noticeable, especially if you play games where you need good tactile feedback and analog responsiveness, the F310 can let you down a bit. This was reported by other users too. When you are playing titles like Fifa that require more elaborate analog movements, this is not noticeable. All in all, if you need a controller to play some of the latest titles, like Fallout, Hitman, FIFA & you & your friends are not into the habit of subjecting controllers to rough treatment then the F310 is a super choice for the price that will last you quite a while.
Best High-end Gaming Controller
The Xbox Elite controller is pretty much in a league of its own and offers amazing customizability to users. While its customizability does have its strong points, it can divide opinion too, and we will explain why as you read on.
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First up, the major difference between an ordinary Xbox one controller and the Elite is that the analogs triggers can be adjusted and locked in with a switch at the back. These give the triggers a snapper feel & halves the activation distance. If you want the default feel then just leave em unlocked. The trigger feels pretty similar to any Xbox one controller.
The Elite comes with 2 D-pads, 3 sets of analog sticks and 4 metal paddles too. You can swap the D-pads out by simply pulling them out 7 magnets keep them together. You don’t need a tool or anything to remove the analog triggers, and they can be swapped without too much hassle which can’t be said about most of the other E-sports controllers in the market. The different analog sticks offer different textures & height, and you can use whichever ones you find convenient. The trade-off with the analog sticks is essentially grip for comfort or vice versa.
The paddle buttons are pretty easy to use at the back & much better positioned when compared to other high-end controllers in the market. Setup on Windows is pretty much plug and play, and you can remap the buttons if needed. The rough textured grip is perfect for those whose hands tend to get sweaty quickly.
If you are wondering why this isn’t our overall pick, well, first up its quite pricey. Secondly as reported by other users, the various customizations come at the cost of durability with the analog triggers losing their sharpness over time. It also comes with just a 90-day warranty, and many users including us felt this was too short a period for such an expensive controller. Despite all these as far as luxury controllers go the Elite is a force to be reckoned with. The wired variant comes with a braided cable, and the wireless performs well with no lag as such.
One to Watch
It was a case of finding a gap that not many people saw for the Steam controller. The steam controller is the perfect option for games that are tailor made for a mouse & keyboard.
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Instead of the D-pads & right analog, it employs two touchpads that provide haptic feedback. The haptic feedback is quite sharp which was to our liking. This worked well when we tried it out on games like Dying light, 7 days to die, etc. You can easily customize these to function like a normal D-pad too.
So why isn’t it higher up on your list? Well, the positioning of the X, Y, A, B keys are hard to get to plus they feel a bit cluttered. If you have marginally larger hands, it can be a pain to use this controller. The buttons & the touchpads sound more clicky than even the Logitech F310 which is our budget pick. So overall while it does have its place it still feels like it’s a prototype or the first variant and like many other users, we are keen on seeing what valve can come up with on the next iteration.
We subjected all our controllers to some rough treatment. During gaming, it’s natural that emotions run high and a controller that can withstand or understand our behavior better is something that’s highly desirable. We dropped them down from about 3 feet at different angles (nope we didn’t toss 1 at the TV!) to see if there was any significant damage to the analogs sticks & if there was any disruption in how the keys feel.
Don’t try this at home.
Prolonged & intense gaming sessions
A good controller is one that is durable over an extended period as well as being comfortable on the hands. Especially if you are in the habit of finishing an entire campaign and like to play for 5+ hours at a stretch, the controller should be comfortable in the hands. We found the controllers with the offset analogs performed better in general during prolonged gaming sessions.
When playing games like NBA 2K, FIFA 18 combos are pretty standard, and we tested the controllers to see if there were any dead patches or if violent movements affected the overall performance over time. The DS4 was our favorite by far during the tests offering good tactile feedback & comfort.
We made sure to utilize the D-pad to the fullest extent whenever possible. The D-pad styling varied across brands, but we’d like to point out that we found none to be too uncomfortable as such. We tested these controllers on a variety of games like Gears of War, Overwatch, Dying light, Crysis 3 etc. it was important to survey the strengths of different designs across different genres of games.
During our gaming sessions, we passed the controller around to different members to see which controllers felt comfortable on different palm sizes. Most manufacturers tend to adopt offset analog stick design when developing their controllers the offset helps negate hand size issues. The Xbox one was undoubtedly comfy across the board during our tests with the steam controller being the most uncomfortable to use especially if you have small hands.
As you know when dealing with anything in the gaming space wired is always better, be it routers or controllers. Wireless controllers do have a marginal lag that doesn’t entirely affect the average gamer. We were keen to test the distances at which the wireless functionality held up. Despite a controller having a specified range, we wanted to see the level of lag at different distances. It’s not at all uncommon to see someone having a gaming laptop plugged into a TV or someone just wanting to sit a few feet away when gaming on their desktop.
Razer wildcat esports Xbox one controller
Razer’s Xbox one variant is aesthetically stunning as is the case with any Razer product. The 4 extra programmable buttons are well placed, and the controller is pretty light overall. This helps especially if you like to game for a prolonged period. The wear on your hands is a lot less when compared to the heftier Elite controller we touched on earlier. Mapping and programming the different buttons are straightforward. The D-pad isn’t the best in the world and can be a pain to use when executing combos for instance. The analog triggers were the opposite and pretty comfortable and easy to use. The buttons felt smooth, and a clicky sound did not develop over time.
Its performance during FPS tests was quite good though. Another aspect where the Elite has one over the wildcat with respect to the paddles which we thought were better placed on the former. The build quality concerning the grips we felt could have been better for the price. Another criticism is that the optional grips were difficult to apply and you need a tool to swap out the analog triggers when you decide to change. It isn’t as smooth as the Xbox one Elite. There is also no wireless functionality but considering it is mainly an E-sports variant wired is still good. The optional palm grips make the whole experience a lot better though. Overall, if you are seeking the middle ground between a DS4 and an elite, for instance, the Razer Wildcat isn’t one to be ignored.
Xbox 360 controller
Even now it’s hard to ignore the good old Xbox 360 controller. It’s an option for those on a budget. The D-pad might not be the greatest, but the ease of use transcends most other cons. It is still definitely compatible with most games and its plug and plays functionality makes it a practical, simple solution for the average gamer just looking to have a good time. So why isn’t this listed as our budget pick? The Xbox 360 controller is still more than double the price of the F310 at the time of writing and the F710 the wireless variant from Logitech is also cheaper if you decide to go that route.
Performance is the 360 controller’s main selling point. The response is instantaneous, and the feedback is quite high too. The 9 feet cord comes with is pretty thin and doesn’t give you the feel of chunky wires being around. Where it lacks in comparison to the others is concerning motion sensing features that came with the PS3’s controller. The number of Xbox one games that are backward compatible are limited so when the usage focus shifts towards PC games. The 360 controller is still definitely one of the best out there for PC gaming.
It’s not often people game on a Mac, but if you happen to be one of them, then the SteelSeries nimbus is a surprisingly solid option. It’s similar in a lot of ways to the Xbox 360 controllers, and it works well on all Apple devices. The battery life is pretty impressive, and the controller itself is extremely light. You can very easily play games on steam too. The Bluetooth wireless is good, but its range doesn’t come close to the mainstream controllers. It has a pretty ordinary feel and finishes design-wise too.