What we bought: The last gamepad I’ll need to buy for Switch and PC

If you regularly play video games, there’s a good chance you’ve dealt with stick drift. You may be lining up a shot in Apex Legends or surveying the land in Tears of the Kingdom, and suddenly, you notice your cursor slowly dragging to one side on its own. This, to put it nicely, sucks. It takes you out of the game, and you quickly realize that your state-of-the-art $70 controller is now a degraded hunk of plastic.

The Switch’s Joy-Cons are infamous for developing drift, but PlayStation and Xbox controllers aren’t immune to it either. Over the past year or so, however, there’s been a mini-resurgence in controllers that use magnets and “Hall effect” sensors in their joysticks instead of traditional potentiometers, making them less susceptible to wear over time. A few months back, I grabbed 8BitDo’s Ultimate Bluetooth Controller, which costs $70, works with Switch and PC and has these Hall effect sticks.

Let’s take a step back. Most game controllers use analog joysticks with potentiometers, little electromechanical components that measure the stick’s position by sliding a contact arm (or “wiper”) against a sensor to read its resistance. This is generally precise, but because the wiper has to make repeated physical contact with the resistor, the mechanism will eventually wear down, increasing the likelihood of unreliable readings. Hall effect setups, meanwhile, use magnets and an electrical conductor that don’t physically touch. As the former moves in relation to the latter, the resulting change in voltage generated by the magnetic field is converted to positional data for the joystick.

This tech isn’t new, and Hall effect sticks still aren’t totally immune to drift. Everything breaks down eventually, and it’s always possible to get a defective unit. If made right, though, Hall effect joysticks should last for several years. They also won’t be as vulnerable to dust and grime.

How does all of this feel in practice with 8BitDo’s controller? Well…normal. There’s little immediate difference between the sticks on the Ultimate Bluetooth Controller and those on a DualSense or Switch Pro Controller, which is a good thing. You can customize the controller’s dead zone — something many controllers use to mask eventual drift issues — through 8BitDo’s Ultimate Software app, but by default, the joysticks feel smooth and responsive. The real benefit here is their long-term durability. It’s hard to predict the future, but I’ve waited six months to make this recommendation, and so far, so good.

There are other Hall effect controllers from brands like NYXI and GuliKit (the company that makes the joysticks used here), but 8BitDo has built several quality accessories over the years, many of which we’ve recommended. (It sells a couple of cheaper variants of this controller as well, but those lack the higher-quality joysticks.) I had already used the company’s SN30 Pro gamepad and GBros. Adapter for a few years prior to picking up the Ultimate Controller and have had no troubles with reliability.

The Hall effect sticks are the Ultimate Bluetooth Controller’s major selling point, but most of its other aspects are commendable as well. I’ve always found asymmetrical joysticks more natural than a side-by-side layout, so I appreciate that the general design is shaped like an Xbox controller. The whole thing is a little smaller than a Series X/S controller, but not to the point of discomfort for my relatively large hands. The face buttons are crisp and well-spaced (albeit not quite as large as the Switch Pro Controller), the bumpers are ample-sized and the analog triggers have a pleasing amount of travel.

On the back are two paddles that sit almost flush against the grips, right where my fingers naturally rest. As a racing game aficionado, I appreciate having back buttons when I’m too lazy to hook up my wheel: in F1 23, for instance, being able to manually shift gears without taking my thumb off the steering input gives me better control over the car. The d-pad, while on the stiffer side, has been consistently accurate for rapidly moving pieces during my semi-regular Tetris (or TETR.IO) binges, too.

I also appreciate that the controller is so customizable. 8BitDo’s Ultimate Software app lets me remap just about any button, assign macros, and create up to three settings profiles, which save to the pad itself. It’s also possible to adjust the sensitivity of the vibration, joysticks and triggers. Do I constantly use all of these tweaks? No, because the default experience is pretty good. But if something ever does feel off, I can more easily address it. I have a profile for shooters like Overwatch 2, for example, that raises the sensitivity of the triggers so my shots register faster.

The Ultimate Bluetooth Controller costs $70, the same as a Switch Pro Controller or a DualSense. Here, though, you also get a slick-looking charging dock, which powers up via USB-C and stores the included USB wireless dongle. On the whole, the pad can connect over the dongle, Bluetooth or a USB-C cable. A switch on the back swaps between Bluetooth or WiFi, but confusingly, the former only works on Switch. I almost always use a 2.4GHz connection anyway since Bluetooth can add latency, but if I lost the dongle, I’d have to use a wire on PC. Pairing is simple, though; you just have to turn on the Switch’s “Pro Controller Wired Communication” setting before using the dongle with that system’s dock.

There are other minor issues. The 20-ish hours of battery life isn’t bad, but it’s well short of the 40+ hours of the Switch Pro Controller. The Switch-style face button layout is inverted on PC, so B is usually “A.” Like most third-party Switch controllers, the 8BitDo pad doesn’t work with the console’s “HD Rumble” feature, nor does it have an NFC reader for scanning Amiibos (if you’re into that). It is one of the few non-Nintendo pads that can wake the Switch from sleep mode — but you have to awkwardly shake the controller to do so, and the feature only works over Bluetooth. And while the gyro controls work fine most of the time, they can be thrown off when the controller vibrates.

Those aren’t dealbreakers, though. I immediately turn off most forms of motion control anyway and I’m not starting an Amiibo collection anytime soon. So far, the Ultimate Bluetooth Controller has proven to be a comfortable and versatile pro-style pad that should stay alive over the long haul. After many hours of play, I think I can safely call it my endgame controller for both Switch and PC.

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