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Best Steam Deck controller: top overall, emulation, premium choices

What's the best Steam Deck controller for you?
Last Updated on February 6, 2024
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Finding the best Steam Deck controller can be a game-changer for your portable gaming experience. In this article, we delve into the top controllers that enhance gameplay on Valve’s versatile gaming device. Whether you’re an avid gamer or a casual player, the right controller can significantly elevate your gaming sessions on the Steam Deck.

Products at a Glance

Steam Deck, Valve’s powerful handheld gaming device, has redefined portable gaming. While its built-in controls are adequate for most games, certain titles and play styles benefit immensely from an external controller. These controllers range from traditional gamepads to more specialized devices, each offering unique features and ergonomics.

How we picked the best Steam Deck controller

Our selection process for the best Steam Deck controllers involves comprehensive research and analysis. At the top of our list were public and expert reviews, user feedback, and hands-on testing reports to understand the performance and reliability of each controller. Naturally, we also drew on our new review and own hands-on playtime of the Steam Deck LCD. We prioritized controllers with an ergonomic grip and comfortable button layout.

We don’t conduct our own benchmarks but rely on widely available data to assess each controller’s responsiveness, latency, and precision. The aim is to offer a well-rounded view, focusing on controllers that deliver in terms of both functionality and value for money.

We’ve also got a great guide to the best Steam Deck dock, and the best Steam Deck case in addition to the best microSD card for the console.

Our Recommended

Best Steam Deck controller: top overall, emulation, premium choices

1
PROS
  • Ergonomic and comfortable design.
  • Wide compatibility with Bluetooth.
  • Customizable button mapping.
CONS
  • Requires AA batteries.
  • No built-in rechargeable battery.
  • May feel bulky for smaller hands.

The Xbox Wireless Controller is renowned for its ergonomic design and versatile compatibility. It features textured grips, a hybrid D-pad, and wireless connectivity with Bluetooth support. The controller is equipped with a 3.5mm stereo headset jack and customizable button mapping through the Xbox Accessories app.

Gamers will find the Xbox Wireless Controller’s comfortable design suitable for extended gaming sessions. Its intuitive button layout and responsive triggers provide a seamless gaming experience, whether on a console, PC, or Steam Deck. The Bluetooth functionality allows for easy pairing with multiple devices, making it a convenient choice for gamers who switch between different platforms.

This controller is ideal for users who value comfort and versatility. It’s perfect for those who play a variety of games across different devices, including the Steam Deck, and prefer a familiar, reliable control scheme. The Xbox Wireless Controller is a great choice for both casual and hardcore gamers who seek a balance of performance and ease of use.

2
PROS
  • Excellent battery life.
  • Built-in motion controls and HD rumble.
  • Comfortable for extended use.
CONS
  • Primarily designed for Nintendo Switch.
  • Limited customization options.
  • Pricier compared to others.

The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is designed with traditional controls and includes motion controls, HD rumble, and built-in amiibo functionality. It offers a USB-C connection for charging and direct connectivity, along with a long-lasting rechargeable battery.

For emulation enthusiasts, the Switch Pro Controller provides a familiar feel with the added benefit of modern features like HD rumble and motion controls. Its comfortable design is suitable for prolonged gaming sessions, and the controller’s precision and responsiveness enhance gameplay on various emulators and games.

This controller is perfect for those who extensively use emulators or play Switch games on their Steam Deck. It’s also a great choice for gamers who appreciate Nintendo’s design aesthetics and seek a high-quality controller with robust features. Its durability and long battery life make it suitable for both casual and dedicated gamers.

3
PROS
  • Highly customizable controls.
  • Exceptional build quality.
  • Integrated rechargeable battery.
CONS
  • Heavier than standard controllers.
  • Expensive.
  • Can be complex for casual users.

The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 elevates the standard Xbox controller with high-quality construction, interchangeable components (including thumbsticks and paddle shapes), and hair-trigger locks. It features Bluetooth connectivity, a built-in rechargeable battery, and extensive customization through the Xbox Accessories app.

The Elite Series 2 is a boon for gamers seeking a highly customizable and precise control experience. Its adjustable tension thumbsticks, shorter hair trigger locks, and wrap-around rubberized grip make for a highly responsive and comfortable gaming session. The ability to configure button mappings and sensitivity settings allows users to tailor the controller to their specific playstyle, enhancing performance in competitive gaming.

This controller is ideal for serious gamers and professionals who demand the highest level of control and customization. It’s particularly well-suited for competitive play where every millisecond counts. The Elite Series 2 is also a great choice for gamers with specific ergonomic needs, as its interchangeable components offer a personalized fit.

4
PROS
  • Retro design with modern features.
  • Highly portable and lightweight.
CONS
  • Limited vibration feedback.
  • Smaller sizes may not suit all hands.
  • Not as ergonomic as modern controllers.

The 8Bitdo Pro 2 blends retro design with modern functionality. It offers wireless Bluetooth connectivity, a smartphone app for custom configurations, a 20-hour rechargeable battery, and a classic layout reminiscent of classic game controllers. It also includes motion controls and is compatible with a wide range of devices.

The 8Bitdo Pro 2 is perfect for gamers who cherish a nostalgic design but want the benefits of contemporary technology. Its classic button layout is intuitive for those familiar with older consoles, yet it performs admirably with modern games. The ability to remap buttons and adjust stick and trigger sensitivity via the smartphone app allows for a tailored gaming experience.

This controller is designed for retro gaming enthusiasts and those who enjoy classic gaming feel with modern capabilities. It’s also a great fit for gamers who play across multiple platforms, including the Steam Deck, and value the lightweight, portable design. The 8Bitdo Pro 2 is a versatile choice for both casual play and more intense gaming sessions.

Features and considerations

When selecting the best controller for the Steam Deck, several key features demand attention. Firstly, ergonomics plays a crucial role; the controller should feel comfortable in your hands, even during lengthy gaming marathons. Button layout, stick tension, and trigger responsiveness also contribute to the overall gaming experience. Some controllers have haptic feedback, such as the PlayStation Dualshock controller. Then you will want to choose between a wired controller or a wireless controller.

Battery life is another vital factor. A controller with long-lasting battery life ensures uninterrupted gaming, especially important for those who frequently travel or don’t have easy access to charging points. Finally, compatibility with the Steam Deck’s wide range of games is essential.

Top tip

Remember, if you’re playing the Steam Deck with others, ask them what they think is important from a controller too.

Can you use 3rd party controllers on Steam Deck?

Absolutely! The Steam Deck is designed to be highly versatile and supports a wide range of third-party controllers. Whether you prefer a classic, retro feel or a more modern, high-tech design, the Steam Deck’s compatibility with numerous controllers ensures that you can choose the best fit for your gaming style.

Our Verdict

Leading the pack is the Xbox Wireless Controller, our editor’s choice, revered for its ergonomic design, wide compatibility, and customizable features, making it a versatile and reliable choice for a broad spectrum of gamers.

The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller stands out as the best for emulation, offering a familiar feel with modern enhancements. The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 takes the crown as the best premium option, catering to the high-end user with its unparalleled customization and precision. Lastly, the 8Bitdo Pro 2 is our top pick for best retro controller, blending nostalgic design with contemporary technology, perfect for retro gaming aficionados.