Update, 07/07/2023: We’ve reviewed our recommendations and are confident these are still the best gaming controllers you can buy.
Picking the Right Gaming Controller in 2023
Video game controllers have settled into the familiar design many gamers know and love. Sony laid the foundations for the current basic layout with the release of the Dual Analog (and later DualShock) controller for the original PlayStation in 1997. It was the first to incorporate dual analog sticks, a directional pad, triggers, bumpers, and four face buttons in a single design.
Many improvements have been made since then, but the general layout has remained the same. This ensures broad cross-compatibility between console families, which is ideal for games that rely on dual analog sticks.
Modern controllers now incorporate wireless play, motion controls, vibration or haptic feedback, rechargeable batteries, decent build quality, and improved ergonomics. More specialized controllers feature adjustable analog sticks, replaceable components, programmable buttons, additional inputs, and the ability to switch profiles depending on what you’re playing.
Matching your choice of controller to your chosen platform is the most important consideration, especially if you’re buying from a third party. We’ve not yet reached the point of interoperability between platforms, but PC and mobile gamers have many more options in this regard.
Though it’s often the case that the “best” available controller isn’t necessarily the one that came bundled with your console, first-party controllers are still good options and shouldn’t be discounted. They cost more than budget controllers from off-brand manufacturers, but the build quality and ergonomics are generally of a much higher standard.
If you’re shopping for a primary controller you intend to use daily, it’s worth spending a bit more. A quality controller will look and feel better, last longer, and should mean that you’re not missing out on features like adaptive triggers or haptic feedback. If you’re buying a spare for occasional use with friends, a cheap controller isn’t a bad idea since it probably won’t get used that much.
- ✓ Ridiculously comfortable
- ✓ Textured plastic feels great in the hand
- ✓ Features a Share button
- ✓ Works with Xbox, Windows, macOS, iPhone and iPad, Android, and Linux
- ✗ Doesn’t work with PlayStation or Nintendo Switch
- ✗ Clicky directional pad may not be to everyone’s liking
- ✗ No haptics
Microsoft barely made any changes to the Xbox Core Wireless Controller when launching the Xbox Series consoles in 2020, and for good reason. The controller that comes with every new Series X and Series S console might just be the most comfortable controller you’ve ever laid your hands on, and it’s compatible with a wide range of systems.
The latest iteration features a share button, USB-C connection, 3.5mm audio jack, and space for AA batteries or an optional rechargeable battery pack. It’s made from a hard-wearing, textured plastic that feels great in the hand, with a “clicky” directional pad that works surprisingly well (though it is a little noisy). Microsoft’s controller of choice still has some of the best battery life in the game, delivering up to 40 hours of play.
The controller is perfect for Xbox Series and One consoles, Windows, macOS, iPhone and iPad, Android, and even Linux gaming. Buttons can even be remapped on Microsoft platforms using the Xbox Accessories app.
It’s incredibly comfortable to use even over long play sessions, and if you run out of juice, you can connect and power it using a standard USB-C cable. For the best possible experience, grab an Xbox Play and Charge Kit too.
Xbox Core Wireless Controller
Xbox Core Wireless Controller – Carbon Black
Probably the most comfortable controller on the planet, the Xbox Core Wireless Controller is compatible with Xbox, PC, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux (with the right software). It takes AA batteries or an optional rechargeable battery pack and connects using Bluetooth or USB-C cable.
- ✓ Excellent build quality, feel, and functionality
- ✓ Adjustable thumbsticks and remappable buttons
- ✓ Replaceable components you can swap out
- ✓ Works with Xbox, Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux
- ✗ Expensive
- ✗ Due for an update (released in 2019)
- ✗ Lacks a dedicated Share button
If you’ve got an Xbox One or Xbox Series console and you want the absolute best controller money can buy, take a look at the Elite Series 2 Controller from Microsoft. The Elite Series 2 was first released in 2019 during the Xbox One era but works perfectly well on the new Xbox Series console (though it lacks a dedicated Share button).
Standout features include adjustable thumbstick tension, customizable buttons, programmable paddles on the rear, hair-trigger locks for a competitive edge, and a swanky carrying case. The controller can be charged wirelessly in its case or using the included USB-C cable (though you’ll need to supply a rechargeable battery).
You can swap components to match your play style or replace them as they wear out. In the box, you’ll get the controller, a set of six thumbsticks, four paddles, and two different directional pads. You can use your Elite Series 2 controller anywhere an Xbox controller can be used, including on Windows, macOS, and mobile devices.
If you’re looking for something customizable but want to spend a lot less, consider the 8BitDo Ultimate Wired Controller for Xbox. It features two extra back buttons, adjustable stick sensitivity, custom button mapping, and three profiles. Unlike the Core and Elite controllers, there’s no wireless functionality.
Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller
The ultimate Xbox controller features adjustable tension thumbsticks, additional rear paddles, customizable button mapping, replaceable components, and 40 hours of (rechargeable) battery life.
Best PlayStation 5 Controller: SCUF Reflex Pro
- ✓ A high-quality DualSense alternative
- ✓ Swappable thumbsticks and removable rear paddles
- ✓ Saves up to three profiles
- ✓ Works with PlayStation 5, Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android
- ✗ Expensive
- ✗ No adjustable thumbstick tension
- ✗ Availability can be an issue
The SCUF Reflex Pro is a high-quality, third-party PlayStation 5 controller that includes everything you love about Sony’s first-party offering. That means it has the same adaptive triggers and haptics found in the DualSense while offering a few more “Pro” features for the discerning PS5 owner.
The Reflex Pro includes up to four removable and programmable paddles on the back of the controller, replaceable thumbsticks of differing heights, a non-slip performance grip, and the ability to remember three different profiles. Just like the DualSense, it features a built-in rechargeable battery and includes a USB-C cable for charging in the box.
You can use it with PlayStation 5, Windows, macOS, iPhone and iPad, and Android devices. You can even customize your Reflex Pro using SCUF’s design tool, which lets you change the controller, trim, thumbstick, bumpers, triggers, directional pad, face buttons, and rear panel to your liking.
- ✓ Great build quality and ergonomics
- ✓ USB-C charging and 40 hours of battery life
- ✓ Supports HD rumble, gyroscopic aiming, and Amiibo functionality
- ✓ Works with Nintendo Switch, Windows, and macOS devices
- ✗ Lacks programmable buttons and fancy features
- ✗ No iOS support (yet)
Nintendo’s hybrid console can be played in handheld mode or while docked. If you’re thinking of hooking your console up to a TV for high-resolution play (perhaps using a portable dock), you can’t beat the official Nintendo Switch Pro Controller.
Not only is it one of the most comfortable controllers on the market, but it also includes Switch features like gyroscopic aiming, HD rumble, and support for Nintendo’s Amiibo collectibles. Full-sized analog sticks provide a greater range of movement than those on the Joy-Con, plus you get a proper directional pad, Home and Capture buttons, and larger triggers, bumpers, and face buttons.
The controller charges over USB-C and features up to 40 hours of playtime on a single charge. There’s even a USB-A to USB-C cable included in the box, perfect for plugging into the external USB-A port on the Switch dock. There are no fancy features here which means no adjustable sticks, programmable buttons, or paddles on the back, but it is a comfortable and capable controller.
Looking for something to replace your Joy-Con controllers in handheld mode? Try the Hori Split Pad Pro. These larger Switch controllers are suitable for those with larger hands, for longer play sessions, or for anyone who finds Nintendo’s official controllers a bit too cramped. They lack features like rumble and gyro controls, but the larger analog sticks and programmable rear buttons make them a better choice for many games.
- ✓ Compatible with Switch, PC, Mac, Android, and Linux
- ✓ Adjustable triggers, customizable mapping, rear paddles, and switchable profiles
- ✓ Modern grips and analog sticks for comfort
- ✓ Premium feel at a more affordable price point
- ✗ Not the cheapest controller
- ✗ Wired
A good budget controller can be hard to come by, and what you pick depends entirely on which system you will use it with. We chose the 8BitDo Pro 2 Wired controller as it’s fairly system-agnostic. It’s a good pick for gamers looking for a wired controller for use on their PC, Mac, Android smartphone, Raspberry Pi, or Linux setups.
The Pro 2 Wired takes its cues from Nintendo’s SNES controller, except with the benefit of ergonomic grips that make the controller more comfortable. Switch owners will be delighted to see a real directional pad and dedicated buttons for their platform (including Home and Capture). The pad also has two good-sized analog sticks in the “PlayStation” position.
While cheaper controllers are available, the Pro 2 Wired is around half the price of an official first-party offering like the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. It features a premium feel and sought-after features like rear paddle buttons, adjustable triggers, custom mapping, a turbo function, and switchable profiles. Xbox owners might be interested in the Pro 2 Wired Controller for Xbox Series X instead.
8BitDo Pro 2 Wired Controller
- ✓ Accessible
- ✓ Excellent build quality
- ✓ Built-in rechargeable battery
- ✗ Requires additional switches, triggers, and joysticks to be useful
- ✗ Only works with Xbox and Windows devices
Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller is a one-of-a-kind solution for gamers who find using a traditional controller difficult. The unit is a hub for external devices like switches, buttons, mounts, and joysticks to make playing games more accessible on the Windows and Xbox platforms.
The controller includes a built-in lithium-ion battery that charges over USB-C, nineteen 3.5mm and two USB 2.0 ports for various inputs, a stereo jack for audio, and wireless connectivity over Bluetooth (with the option of a USB-C connection).
The unit is compatible with an extensive range of accessories like the Quadstick hands-free controller and the Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit, which provides various buttons and triggers for creating a custom gaming experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
Use a damp cloth with mild soap, or an alcohol wipe to clean your controller of fingerprints or grease. If you think something got stuck under a button, you can attempt to use canned air to attempt to get it out. You can also take the controller apart to clean it, but this is not needed in most circumstances and can void replacement warranties.
Technically, wired controllers are better for gaming as they won’t run into any connectivity issues that wireless controllers would have, and you will not need to charge it. However, wireless controllers have a lot of convenience just by not being wired, and connectivity issues are not as common as they used to be. It’s best to pick based on your personal preference as opposed to which is better.
Some headsets can plug into some controllers, but it’s not a given that all headsets can plug into all controllers. For example, Xbox Core Controllers can have headsets with an AUX cable be plugged into them. However, you cannot use a headset that connects via USB with the controller. Double-check what headsets a controller you have in mind can take (if any) before purchasing if this is important to you.
It depends on the controller. For many controllers, like the Xbox Core Controller or Switch Pro Controller, it can be as easy as plugging it in via a USB cable, or connecting it via Bluetooth. Other controllers may require some firmware or software to be installed first, but most controllers will work on PC with minimal fuss. Still, always make sure the controller of your choice can connect to the PC before buying it, if this is important to you.