I started playing games on consoles, so its natural that i still consider a gamepad the way to go for certain genres of games.
I’m always curious to see what’s out there and constantly like to try new models, this time around i had the opportunity to try these 3 controllers at the same time.
The experience will be focused on Windows 11, since its my current OS of choice for games, i also often play games sitting on my couch from some 3 meters away from the computer, therefore i’ll also be focusing on how these controllers work via bluetooth, connected to my Intel AX200 network card.
The goal here is not to say which one of these is the definitive answer for everyone, but rather to showcase in which departments each excels, to perhaps help you find which one is the best option for you.
Gamepads and comparison with older siblings:
Microsoft Xbox Series X/S Controller:
What is considered the de facto standard controller for Windows, the Xbox Controller, this time around in the Series X/S trim.
Comparing this to my friend’s old Xbox One controller, its noticeable Microsoft decided to play safe, stick to their already solid design and only tweak a few areas, such as the dpad and the textures of the controller itself.
On the hand it feels almost the same as the old Xbox One controller, albeit slightly smaller.
Once again Microsoft decided to design the controller to be powered mainly by AA batteries, selling an optional rechargeable battery pack for those who want it, which I’m not particularly against.
This controller, on the other hand, is not meant to work with Windows, but with minor tinkering, it works almost flawlessly.
I had my old rev. 2 Dualshock 4 to compare it to this, they’re completely different beasts on the design department, the Dualsense is a larger controller, more solidly put together, it doesn’t squeak or rattle (yet) like the DS4 did when it came out of the box.
I think Sony listened to some feedback from people with larger hands, the button sizes and shapes were tweaked, mainly on the triggers and bumpers, making it more comfortable in general.
Sony decided to maintain the tradition of shipping the controller with an internal rechargeable battery, which I’ll later tell why I’m not a fan of this approach.
It also had a strong chemical smell out of the box that took a few days to vanish, not sure what’s the deal with that.
8Bitdo Pro 2:
This, being a revision of the well regarded SN30 Pro+, also received some quality of life improvements over its older brother.
While i no longer own my old Pro+, i used it as my main gamepad for a year and i remember it feeling almost exactly the same as the Pro 2, the only fundamental differences between them being the additional programmable buttons near the battery compartment, a mode switch (modes were selected by button combos on the Pro+) and a profile button.
This is by far the most versatile gamepad of the bunch, being compatible with the PC on Xinput and Dinput modes, macOS, Nintendo Switch and Android, it also comes packaged with a rechargeable battery that can be exchanged for a pair of AAs on the fly, best of both worlds here.
Topics of comparison:
Winner: Xbox Controller
Since I mainly play racing games, good triggers are of utmost importance to me, the Xbox controller came ahead in this category due to them having the smoothest feel and what i to be the most correct weight of the bunch, it also has tiny rumble motors on both triggers, which gave out a nice extra bit of immersion as well.
The Dualsense came close to it, while on its original hardware it has the super interesting feature of being able to adapt to games, changing the weight or even adding actual “trigger points”, this feature is still in its infancy on PC, with softwares such as Dualsense X being able to adjust and set the triggers to different states, but not yet able to completely replicate the same experience as you’d have on the PS5.
Ignoring these points, the triggers on their passive state also have correct weighting, but don’t feel quite as smooth as the ones on the Xbox controller.
The Pro 2 is by far the worst here, its triggers are too light and flimsy, which result in a poor experience in games that utilize them, they also have no additional features like the other controllers have.
Winner: Sony Dualsense
Arguably the most important aspect of any controller, the ergonomics can make or break the entire experience of playing games, i have medium-to-large hands, and to my grip, the Dualsense feels the best, when i pick it up my fingers just fit correctly where the buttons are.
While the Xbox excels on the trigger feel, the Dualsense has the best trigger and bumper shape, they fit between the first joint of my index fingers, while the Xbox design seems to want to entertain the middle joint a bit more, which isn’t a problem while using the triggers, but its slightly uncomfortable to press the bumper buttons in a hurry.
Besides the bumpers, i have no complaints about the overall shape of the Xbox controller, over the years i’ve heard equal amounts of people complain or praise the switched position of the left analog stick, ever since i first held an Xbox 360 controller, the high mounted trigger felt right, it always fit the design of the Xbox controller very well.
I do wish, however, that the Xbox controller were about 5 to 7% larger in all sides, because at this current size, i feel my hands are a bit too close together.
I also don’t have many complaints about the 8BitDo design, in fact i think its way more comfortable to use than it seems if you just look at it, considering this is an extensive modification of an SNES controller shape, i think 8BitDo did really well, triggers and bumpers are easy to use and the programmable buttons on the wings feel natural to activate with my middle fingers, the only real complaint is that the farther face buttons (X and Y) are a bit of a reach due to the flat “face” of controller, which often left my thumb feeling sore at the joints when required to press these buttons continuously (common occurrence in Yakuza games, for example).
Winner: Sony Dualsense
Hard to pick here, and honestly i don’t dislike the button feel of neither controller, but in my opinion, the Dualsense feels slightly better than the other two, the depth of the membranes and the feedback feels right to my hand.
On the dpad department, again i like the Dualsense better than the other two, on fighting games it was easier for me to connect moves, i also have no complaints about any other usage it might have.
The 8BitDo has a SNES style dpad and while many people enjoy it, i’m honestly not a fan, besides the fact the added stiffness in comparison with the Dualsense doesn’t help me in fighting games.
The Xbox has the most uncommon dpad, its a wheel with clicky metal contacts underneath, instead of membranes like the other two have, it feels reassuringly stiffer, which is good for navigating through menus, but i saw myself reaching for the analog stick more often when playing fighting games.
Winner: Xbox Series X/S
The Xbox controller feels substantial, even without batteries, it feels denser than the other two by a considerable margin, the plastics are noticeably hard wearing, the mate finish of this Pulse Red unit also leaves no room for easy scratches.
I haven’t yet heard of any QC issues with these units, and if the older model from the Xbox One era is anything to go by, its going to last a long time and only require new thumbsticks a few years from now.
Triggers notwithstanding, the 8BitDo could’ve tied with the Xbox controller on build quality, however, i’ve had some QC issues with this unit, namely loose fitting AA battery contacts and a dodgy USB C connector, which often caused the controller to disconnect in the middle of gameplay and often refuse to charge the included battery, adjusting the contacts to use AA batteries solved the connection issue, but i still contacted 8BitDo about the USB C connector, and after some messages back and forth, they sent me a new unit free of charge, its being held in customs now, and for sure i will test this new unit extensively to make sure its up to snuff and post the results here.
The Dualsense is a paradox, it feels alright, certainly better than any Dualshock 4 i’ve held, but the materials here feel inferior to the other controllers, the plastics feel ever so slightly thinner than the ones on the Xbox and 8BitDo, it seems like it would scratch easier due to satin finish of the black bezel at the bottom and the randomly scattered glossy touches, there’s also the subject of QC here as well, seeing as the early white Dualsenses were prone to analog stick drift, i can only hope that this model, being one of the new Cosmic Red units, also has had some tweaks inside to prevent this from happening, unfortunately only time will tell.
P.S.: Aaaand as time told, my Cosmic Red unit had a defective battery or charging circuit, which my current Midnight Black unit doesn’t have, second time’s the charm…
Tie: Xbox Series X/S and 8BitDo Pro 2
These two controllers are really good with battery life, they averaged roughly the same battery life using the same pair of high quality Panasonic Eneloop batteries, a full week of gameplay and then some, if you’re using the internal battery on the 8BitDo (assuming its working as intended, and fully charged) its a bit less than a full week, but still very good.
The Dualsense on the other hand is honestly awful with battery life, i only averaged around an afternoon and a half of gameplay with it, lowering the brightness of the leds via software doesn’t seem to help much with battery life, at this rate it will only take a few years before this battery is cooked and you’ll have to open the entire controller to replace it, adding insult to injury, it takes around 3 hours to charge completely IF you’re not using it, i haven’t even bothered to try using it while charging
Doing my due diligence, i’ve bought another unit and retested the Dualsense’s battery life, my second unit wasn’t defective and provided a much, much better battery life.
I was on vacation and used it extensively, i was able to play for almost two full 8 hour sessions with the controller 100% charged.
I also revised my charging solution, i found an old Motorola power brick at home that was able to provide the perfect 5v 1500mA the controller requires to charge, from 0 to 100%, it took three and a half hours.
Also, enjoy this picture from it feeding itself directly from the wall:
Winner: Xbox Series X/S
In an Apple-esque way, i turned on the Xbox controller and clicked the sync button at the top, i didn’t even have to open the bluetooth menu on my Windows 11 system, it give me up a pop up notification saying the controller was ready to sync with my system, i clicked the ok box and i was ready to enjoy, it also notified me of a new firmware available for the controller, which meant i had to eventually connect it once with a cable to upgrade.
The 8BitDo is equally easy to get working on Windows, flick the switch at the bottom to Xinput mode, turn it on, hold the sync button for a few seconds, open the bluetooth devices list and sync it.
The Dualsense requires two extras steps, which are to install Dualsense X (and its required libraries, to use with games outside of Steam) and to activate Playstation controller support on Steam’s Big Picture mode, pretty common stuff if you already tried using a Playstation controller on Windows before.
As for bluetooth range, all 3 controllers had a really decent radio reach to my AX200 card, the 8BitDo is the weakest, the Xbox the strongest, and the Dualsense is between the two, but all far exceed the distance between my couch and computer, therefore i can play with all of them without issue.
Software and personalization:
Winner: 8BitDo Pro 2
Here’s where the Pro 2 shines, 8BitDo offers the Ultimate Software for the Pro 2, which apart from updating the firmware on the controller, it can change the functions of all buttons, dead zones and activity range of triggers and analog sticks, you can create macros and tie them to specific profiles, and you can even do it all through your phone, since it also has an Android version.
For the Xbox controller, Microsoft offers the Xbox Accessories app on Windows, it allowed me to update the firmware on the controller, remap the face buttons, swap sides of triggers and sticks, deactivate vibration and set the controller for “copilot mode”, which allows two Xbox controllers to function as player 1 controllers.
The Sony, rather obviously, has no official software, but it has Dualsense X, which allows the user to emulate an Xbox 360 input with the Dualsense, as well as set up the active triggers to a fixed or custom state, pretty neat stuff, and I’m sure its going to keep growing since the community has a genuine interest in it.
Cost to benefit
Winner: 8BitDo Pro 2
There’s no question that the 8BitDo is the better cost to benefit, it costs around US$47 on Aliexpress (US$62 if you add the mobile phone clip), comes with its own battery and works on a multitude of systems without any software adjustments needed.
The Pulse Red Xbox controller costs US$65 directly from Microsoft, and the Cosmic Red Dualsense costs US$75 directly from Sony, although I’m sure you can sometimes find better deals on these controllers on different retailers, but still, a harder sale than the 8BitDo.
After using these gamepads and enjoying each in their own respective ways, I came to the conclusion that I’m going to keep the Xbox Series controller as my main PC gamepad, largely due to its highly satisfying triggers, battery life and integration with the system, meanwhile I’m gonna keep the 8BitDo Pro 2 around for lighter duty, such as a player 2 controller and an emulation controller for Android.
The new Dualsense i’m also going to keep, if anything because i recently sold my Dualshock 4 and acquired a Brook Wingman XE converter, which allows me to use the Dualsense’s motion sensor on my PS3.