The Best Gaming Controller of 2021: Improve Your Gameplay
Whether you are an avid console gamer or prefer PC games, you have to admit that having the best gaming controller has changed the way we experience games. And the change has been in the right direction. For instance, being able to play your favorite game without being restricted to your gaming station is pure bliss.
That being said, since controllers have been such a big hit in the gaming industry, manufacturers have not shied away from joining the party. Therefore, there’s an abundance of gaming controller options to choose from which begs the question “What makes a good gaming controller?” We have found that the best gaming controllers can make you better at your favorite game at best and at the very least provide maximum comfort during your playtime.
The main features that we think are essential for a good gaming controller are responsiveness, comfort, and customizability. Having a responsive controller can do wonders for your gaming experience. You have peace of mind being able to trust your controller to act instantly after giving it an input command once.
Remember that you will be holding your controller for a long period, so at the very least go for a controller that is easy on your hand. Controllers with longer handles are much more comfortable on the hand as we have seen with the Sony DualSense controller. Also, textured handles provide a good grip even for gamers with sweaty palms.
Being able to customize your controller by remapping buttons to the paddles at the back is a feature that has proved to be essential in recent times. The paddles make your life easier and can make you a better gamer. Customizability can go as far as styling the LED lighting on your controller or changing the whole controller’s physical button layout.
What should you expect when it comes to the price of a good gaming controller? A premium gaming controller can cost you up to $369. However, for half that price you can still find great high-end controllers. We also have great budget picks in our list too for as low as $40.
We have some great options below. So, let’s dive in and find you your next favorite gaming controller.
Best Next-gen Gaming Controller
The Best Next-gen Gaming Controller
Sony DualSense Wireless Controller
Weight 15.5 Ounces
Dimensions 7.75 x 7.5 x 2.75 inches
Battery 1 Lithium ion battery required
Sony’s newest controller entry that came along with its new PS5 console puts it high at the pecking order in defining what should entail a next-gen controller. It doesn’t overdo it in the extra physical features but focuses on what most controllers have been missing, feedback.
Sony completely redesigned its new controller by implementing some subtle changes and some that are not so subtle. The handles for one are longer which makes this controller feel more comfortable in your hand. The curves are smoother and the grip texture has improved.
Not much has changed with the button layout. But upon pressing the input buttons you will notice that they are less squishy hence giving you a better sense of feedback. The triggers on the other hand are where all the magic happens. Although haptic feedback is present throughout the controller, the triggers take the most advantage of this next-gen feature. It works hand in hand with the adaptive trigger feature that creates tension on the triggers. Sony DualSense controller truly excels in creating a channel through which your favorite game can communicate with you.
There are additional changes such as the new type c port that replaces the old charging port. The battery life is average and will give you about 11-12 hours of use after a full charge. Below the PlayStation button features a new inbuilt microphone. The microphone is decent and will pick up your voice without having to change your gaming stance. However, it’s not too good to replace your favorite gaming headset.
Like the Sony DualShock that came before it, the DualSense will work on your PC. Though, you may not be able to enjoy this controller’s full potential. However, steam has received some updates and a couple of games are able to capitalize on the next-gen features of this controller.
The Sony DualSense controller has that next-gen pizzazz that makes it stand out from the rest.
Best Wired Gaming Controller for PC
Best Wired Gaming Controller
Razer Wolverine Ultimate
Weight 13.59 Ounces
Dimensions 4.16 x 6.1 x 2.59 inches
Razer Wolverine Ultimate resembles Xbox Elite series controllers in design. Razer was not shy at all placing extra buttons that they thought gamers would need. We appreciate the fact that even with its abundance in the extra number of buttons it still feels considerably lighter when compared to Xbox Elite controllers.
Its Matte black plastic design does not only give this controller a solid feel but is also visually pleasing. Speaking about aesthetics, it comes with an RGB lighting strip just below the Xbox button because why not? It is Razer after all. The RGB lighting can be customized from the Razer Synapse app. This is great news if you like to match the RGB lighting on all your gaming peripherals.
Razer Wolverine comes with two additional thumbsticks, a taller concave, and a convex thumbstick. These thumbsticks are magnetized so swapping them out is a breeze, just pop them in and out. Another appreciated aspect in the design of Razer Wolverine Ultimate is that the A, B, X, Y buttons feel more clicky. It is almost as clicky as the mouse buttons. This makes the buttons faster and more satisfying to press.
The front further features four extra buttons just below the right thumbstick and the D-pad. The first button is used for manual remapping in case you do not have access to the Razer Synapse app. The second is used to select your profile while the third mutes your mic and lastly the fourth button is for audio control.
At the back, Razer Wolverine features two extra triggers, a trigger stopper, and four paddles. The M5 and M6 paddles especially come in handy in customizing your thumbstick movement. The M5 paddle adjusts the focus control for much precise thumbstick movement while M6 adjusts agility for faster thumbstick movements. Time to nail those sniper shots you’ve been missing.
This controller is available for PC and Xbox. However, you should keep in mind that this controller is not wireless. This is not a deal-breaker for us because its cool features make it easy to overlook this downside.
Best Mobile Gaming Controller
Best Mobile Gaming Controller
System Requirements iPhone with iOS 13 or later
Weight 4.87 ounces
Recording Up to 1080p at 30fps
With the rise of mobile gaming, the importance of being able to play properly on your phone has become paramount. There is no better way to game on the go than with the Backbone One controller. At first, you may be excused for thinking that adding a controller to your phone is unnecessary, but once you start playing with a Backbone, you will see the difference.
The controller itself fits perfectly in your hands. We immediately had visions of the Nintendo Switch when we got it set up. One thing we quickly learned is that the Backbone One actually surpasses the Switch in some regards, specifically, in the tactile feel of the thumbsticks. All and all, it just feels organically good to game with. The Backbone One is not a gimmicky hunk of plastic that some other “mobile gaming controllers” are, but a legit gaming controller.
What truly separates the Backbone One apart from others is the software it comes with. The software feels like it truly transforms your mobile device from a phone to a console. Easily and visibly laying out the games in your library you can use with the Backbone. Additionally, you can access your clips (because you can record clips right from the Backbone) and create parties with your friends through the software.
The Backbone One is currently compatible with iOS gaming platforms, Xbox Game Pass, PS Remote Play, Stadia and more. Unfortunately for Andriod users, there is not a model for you at this time. Despite this, you are not going to find a better controller for mobile gaming than the Backbone One. The marriage of both hardware and software is absolutely unparalleled.
Best High End Gaming Controller
Best High-end Gaming Controller
Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2
Weight 345 grams
Dimension 1 x 2 x 2 inches
Battery 1 Lithium ion battery required
Whether you prefer your Xbox wireless or wired, Microsoft Xbox is constantly raising the bar when it comes to gaming controllers. The Elite 1, Elite 2’s predecessor was already impressive enough. And since Elite 2 made sure to improve on most aspects of Elite 1 it has quickly become most gamers’ favorite.
From the get-go, the Elite 2 controller screams luxury. Upon unboxing this bad-boy you will be greeted with a sleek-looking case that acts as your charging dock. The improvements in the design such as the extended texturing on the handle and the sides make this controller much easier to grip. These features are subtle yet so effective. The triggers have also been textured making it more satisfying to press.
The sheer amount of adjustments that can be done on this controller gives it an edge over its competitors. First, we have the adjustable thumbstick tension feature which is mind-blowing. Basically, you can adjust the tension to either high, medium, or low. Higher tension will give you more of an Xbox 360 feel thumbstick movement while a much lower tension will give you more of an Xbox one thumbstick movement feel.
Both the thumbstick and the D-pad are removable and swappable. It’s a hassle-free process made possible by the magnetic design.
The middle part of this masterpiece features the OG Xbox button. One press on this button and you will instantly notice that the button feels clickier than it usually is in Xbox controllers. Just below the X-box button is three LED lights that represent the three fully customizable profiles.
On the software side of things, we like the addition of the shift function which adds much more functionality to this Xbox controller. This means that you can add quick functions such as capturing screenshots and recording your gameplays.
Some good news for fps lovers, you can make your firing even faster with the shorter hair trigger locks. This combined with the adjustable thumbstick for aiming makes you unstoppable on the battlefield.
Best Customizable PC Controller for Gaming
Best Gaming Controller for Customizability
Astro C40 TR
Weight 10.88 Ounces
Dimensions 0.63 x 6.69 x 5.28 inches
Battery 1 Lithium Polymer battery
Astro C40 TR is not your standard high-end controller. Since Sony has not yet offered a high-end controller to rival its competitors such as the Xbox Elite 2, we feel that Astro has filled that gap for PlayStation gamers quite well. And it brings its unique features to the table.
Astro’s controller comes with a carry case which comes in handy when you are on the go. When you lift this controller for the first time you will notice that it’s quite heavy. Though after a few hours of use, your hands will adjust to its weight.
The customizability of this controller is second to none as it goes as far as letting you change the controller’s physical layout. You will have to use the mini hex screwdriver that is included in the box. It may seem like a daunting process but it’s not. Anyone can do it in less than a minute. Upon unscrewing, the faceplate lifts up and the d-pad and thumbstick modules easily pop out. You can then configure your controller to any layout that you prefer.
Its superior customizability gives it an upper hand in terms of ergonomics. Astro still goes further with its rubberized textured grip that feels comfortable and steady in your hand. The backside features a trigger hair lock to customize how far your trigger goes when pressed.
Astro additionally has a UL and a UR button that can be remapped to any button on your controller. At the top, it features a switch to choose between wireless or wired mode. And beside it a profile switcher.
The Astro app is robust and it gives you a wide range of control. We especially like that you can adjust your thumbsticks sensitivity to best fit your preference or the particular game that you are playing.
Astro C40 TR is a controller we recommend you give a shot if you like the idea of being able to customize your controller’s layout.
Best Budget PC Gaming Controller
Best Budget Gaming Controller
Weight 15.84 Ounces
Dimensions 7.76 x 7.76 x 11.14 inches
A good controller does not always have to cost an arm and a leg. Whether you broke your favorite controller due to anger when Ishinn brought a gun to a sword fight in Sekiro Shadows die twice, or you are on a budget and just need a controller that gets the job done, PowerA Spectra might be a good option for you.
Fancy extra features come at a premium in budget controllers but PowerA Spectra does the basics really well that it will give you a great gaming experience. Upon unboxing, you will be greeted with a sleek-looking controller along with a 3 meter USB cable. The cable has an inline plug close to the USB end to protect your console in case you trip on it.
PowerA Spectra has a matte-looking finish at the top which makes it look sharp. Its layout looks identical to the Xbox one’s controller. This controller does not slack off at all when it comes to aesthetics. This is all thanks to the LED lighting that is fitted around the perimeter, input buttons, and thumbsticks.
PowerA Spectra gives you a variety of colors to choose from. Cycling through your color options is done through the LED lighting button at the back of the controller.
This budget controller comes with a 3 setting hair-trigger stop feature and 2 paddles that can be remapped to any button. Honestly, we were surprised to see these features present considering the controller’s price tag.
PowerA Spectra is a good low-end controller option. It comes with great build quality and it has extra features to make your gaming experience better.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why a controller over a mouse and keyboard?
We understand that many PC users would not even consider thinking of switching to using a controller. But there are some genuine reasons why you should consider doing that. Here are some of them:
You have to admit that controllers give you the freedom to make yourself extra comfortable as you can easily move around with them. The thought of enjoying your favorite game on your plush couch is just refreshing. A mouse and keyboard on the other hand restrict you to sitting at your gaming station for maximum comfort.
Speaking of a gaming station, a controller doesn’t require you to have a dedicated gaming station. This means that it is ultimately cheaper as you won’t need to invest in a table and gaming chair if you don’t want to.
The feeling of a controller rumbling in your hand due to an occurrence in-game is truly irreplaceable. Most keyboards and mouse manufacturers are not so keen in implementing this feature in their products. While the likes of Sony have taken feedback to the next level with their new controller, you will definitely be missing out if you do not give their controllers a chance.
How do I choose the right controller?
Gaming controllers nowadays come with an abundance of features but below are the main things you should consider when picking a good gaming controller.
- Connection type
This is all down to preference. Do you hate being restricted with cables? Or do you hate dealing with constantly recharging your controller’s battery? We would recommend going for a controller that is both wired and wireless but it ultimately comes down to what you prefer.
- Number of buttons
All the controllers have the usual buttons at the front and triggers at the top. Though, newer entries have extra buttons at the back. We recommend going for controllers in which the extra buttons can be remapped to other buttons of your controller. This will definitely make your gaming experience better.
Extra buttons can make processes such as recording your screen or your voice easy.
The two layouts that have been dominating are the PlayStation and Xbox layout. The PlayStation layout has two analog sticks at the center while the D-pad is placed on the far left side. On the other hand, for the Xbox controller, the left analog stick and the D-pad positions are swapped.
There’s no way to tell which one is better or more comfortable. But it’s certainly nice to see companies such as Astro making their controller’s layout fully customizable so that you can experiment and choose what best works for you.
- Feedback Response
This is one of our favorite features of a controller. It provides a way in which a game can ‘communicate’ back to you. This gives you a more immersive experience. Other features such as the adaptive triggers will take your game experience to the next level.