Home Reviews Review: Nintendo Switch Wireless Pro Controller

Review: Nintendo Switch Wireless Pro Controller

by John de Meyer

Our Verdict: The Switch Pro Controller isn’t just an amazing companion to the Switch itself, but proof that Nintendo can still make world-class gaming hardware. It easily goes toe-to-toe, thumbstick-to-thumbstick with the very best modern gamepads and surpasses them in many respects, ultimately being a compelling option even for those who predominantly game on a PC.

What we liked: Immense battery life, unassuming design with a strong emphasis on functionality over fluff, perhaps the first-ever example of a premium gamepad gyro implementation, and a USB Type A to Type C cable that can double as a bungee cord.

What we didn’t like: Underwhelming d-pad, no fast charging support, Nintendo’s pricing being far from anything resembling value.

Score: 9 out of 10

Finding flaws with the Switch Pro Controller isn’t impossible, but it’s a rather thankless activity. Because the overall package is nothing short of stellar. To the point that not even the most avid anti-Nintendo people would end up disappointed if they picked up the Pro Controller on a sale, with or without the console itself.

Ok, that last one might be pushing it because good luck finding a sale of any Nintendo product that isn’t a 3DS wallpaper expiring in the summer of 2021. Either way, keep in mind that this review won’t be delving into in-depth comparisons between the Switch Pro Controller and its direct rivals (stay tuned for those). But just as a point of reference, let it be known that the Switch Pro controller was the first gamepad that genuinely impressed me since the Xbox One hit the market eight years ago. And it’s the first non-Microsoft gamepad I bothered connecting to a PC in over a decade.

Given the somewhat more casual demographic Nintendo’s semi-handheld (one-handed?) console is targeting, it is quite likely that many Switch owners who end up with the Pro Controller will find it to be by far the best gamepad they have ever had the pleasure of using. A cynic might say they didn’t know any better, but that would be entirely unfair to the Pro Controller. There simply aren’t that many outright better options across any system. There never were, either, because  making a controller that checks so many boxes is no mean feat.

The Pro Controller is by far the most impressive Nintendo gamepad I ever used. Coincidentally, it’s also the first non-edgy gamepad Nintendo released in forever. An avid Smash player might still swear by the GameCube controller, but that crime against ergonomics and eyesight doesn’t even register on my end. And not to take away from the Wii’s planetary success, but thank Miyamoto-san we finally got a boring controller out of Nintendo. Having a way to play games using something that doesn’t look like an AC remote, Etch A Sketch, or a discarded Space Invader design is a pretty nice change of pace.

For Whom Is the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller?

Don’t let the buzzwordy name fool you: looking at gaming gadgets, on the whole, the Pro Controller is as accessible as they come. The only “pro” requirement to buying it is being pro-not being poor, seeing how it’s far from the most affordable alternative on the market. But we’ll get to that later, the point here is that if you own a Switch and a TV or a monitor (i.e., play docked), the Pro Controller is a must-have.

The experience of gaming with the Pro Controller is superior to using Joy-Cons in pretty much every way. From battery life and ergonomics to input granularity and haptic feedback, the only downside to using it is that you won’t be able to return to that bizarre-looking flimsy squircle of a Joy-Con grip from the moment you pick it up.

In an ideal world, the Pro Controller would have been a fancier alternative to the Joy-Cons. In our world, the Joy-Cons have been inviting class-action lawsuits left and right since the Switch released, due to how faulty they are and continue to be. And while you can’t exactly avoid them in an officially sanctioned way while playing handheld, using the Switch docked should be synonymous with using the Pro Controller given how much better the overall experience is.

So, if you’re even considering the possibility that the Joy-Cons might not be enough for you, you’ve already passed that threshold and you can be sure that they aren’t, or they won’t be from the moment your Switch arrives.

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller Review: Design and Build Quality

The Switch Pro Controller is pleasantly unassuming in its design. Its gentle, symmetrical curves are as close as one can get to universal ergonomics, so that even long sessions are easy on the hands.

Its translucent outer shell is an interesting quirk which gives it a distinct look in spite of the complete absence of color. In retrospect, Nintendo anticipated design trends better better than anyone as both Sony and Microsoft followed its lead only recently by releasing premium single-color controllers of their own. Even compared to the newest rivals, the Pro Controller’s part-retro, part-modern aesthetic is unmistakable.

One final consideration concerning color is that an all-black device is much easier to maintain than a brightly-colored one. From a purely visual standpoint, naturally. Nintendo also opted for two different textures between the central part of the device and its grips. The latter do have more grip to their finish, but the difference is subtle; subtle enough for a Pro Controller session not to be synonymous with involuntary skin grating.

On the off chance you’ll want make the device even more grippy, there are countless low-cost accessories that help accomplish that goal, but but we’ll get back to them in a bit.

Moving on on the mechanical front, the ZL/ZR triggers on the Pro Controller aren’t of the analog variety. Which is a shame, but not something that matters too much given how rarely this tech was utilized to its full potential in the past. Both the triggers and front-facing buttons are pleasantly clicky. But not in the sliding-Joy-Cons-into-position kind of way; it’s just that pushing them feels super satisfying. Doubly so for pressing the analog triggers.

On that note, the only time I missed brighter colors while using the Pro Controller was in the first few weeks with Switch way back when. If you’re used to a different controller configuration, especially the Xbox layout, instinctively knowing where the X,Y,B, and A buttons are located is going to take some getting used to.

As of a couple of years ago, delving into the Switch system settings will let you turn on a blue-tinted LED ring encircling the Pro Controller’s Home button. This subtle notification light is clearly inspired by the original Wii Remote – aka Wiimote – which offered a similar feature, as did that other console that came after it. Either way, while it’s functionally limited to your own alarms and update notifications, the LED ring is a nice touch that adds to the retro-futuristic look of the Pro Controller. If only we hadn’t didn’t have to wait two and a half years for Nintendo to even enable the thingy.

As far as the build quality is concerned, the only definitive shortcoming of the Pro Controller is its D-pad. Of all gaming hardware manufacturers on the market, Nintendo’s probably the last company I’d expect to mess up binary input but here we are. The directional arrows offer way too much resistance to be used as a comfortable control method in games that support such configurations. They don’t exactly excel on shortcut duty, either. In fact, that’s precisely when you’re most likely to get annoyed with the Pro Controller’s D-pad. Dying in reflex-based games like Shovel Knight and Celeste because you haven’t rammed your thumb in the pointy edge of the Up arrow hard enough gets old pretty fast.

On a brighter and even more unexpected note, the USB Type A to type C cable that ships with the Switch Pro Controller might just very well be the most impressive cord ever to grace consumer electronics. At ten feet in length and given its thick insulation, it might as well be used for bungee jumping in between charging sessions. The one that came with the Pro Controller I bought alongside the Switch on release day still looks as good as new. Moreover, it is the only cable I don’t think twice about packing wherever I go, with or without any other Nintendo gear.

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller Review: Features and Connectivity

The connectivity side of the Switch Pro equation is multifaceted. The bulk of it rests on its Bluetooth capabilities which are more than acceptable in virtually every respect. I tried measuring its relatively unobstructed range but ran out of apartment block space after about 25 to 30 feet. For comparison, this highly scientific technology assessment technique caused both Joy-Cons to disconnect at about 20 feet. Both of the main Wii U gamepads were excellent in this regard as well, so it seems Nintendo’s mastery of the Bluetooth protocol continues.

Speaking of which, you might be surprised to learn that the Switch Pro Controller actually uses the Bluetooth 3.0 specification. Four years can really seem like a long time in the technology industry but Nintendo’s implementation was definitely good enough for that age not to show in the slightest. The main improvements with newer Bluetooth generations are largely focused on energy efficiency, anyway. And as you’ll learn in a few paragraphs, the Pro Controller doesn’t need any help in that regard, anyway.

In terms of connection stability, I had zero issues with the device. And it’s been operating surrounded by wireless interference, from headphones and other controllers to TVs, smartphones, laptops, and even radio-controlled speedlites operating right on top of it. In all fairness, that certainly speaks to the strengths of the Bluetooth standard about as much as it’s meant to be praise for Nintendo’s implementation of the tech.

Apart from its standard wireless mode, you can even use the Pro Controller wired while it’s recharging. Granted, it’s going to take a while until you reach that point, but we’ll get to that in a second. Frankly, there’s not much that can be said on the subject of the Pro Controller’s wired connectivity, it’s a remarkably unremarkable feature surrounded by all that greatness.

You might even experience some lag using this wired mode, which is pretty much unheard of during wireless operation. Based on a bit of testing, this appears to have something to do with the fact NFC transmissions don’t stop once the Pro Controller is plugged in. You can turn them off from an obscure systems menu but doing so might affect your wireless experience if you forget to flip the switch back on again. Not because the Pro Controller relies on Near-Field Communications to talk with the Switch, but due to the fact that this protocol is the lifeline of its Amiibo support. And yet you won’t get any specific warnings about it being turned off while you’re trying to do a reading. That’s not exactly a huge design oversight, just something to keep in mind on the rare occasion you have to play via a wired connection.

On a final note concerning connectivity, the Switch Pro controller feels like a premium PC accessory, as well. You can use it to play virtually any Windows game with some kind of controller support, but a word of warning for those not of the tinkering spirit: outside of Steam, getting the Switch Pro controller to work with your particular game can be a rather finicky experience.

Nintendo, naturally, isn’t offering anything in the way of official support. But there’s a handful of independently developed drivers that do the job quite nicely. Only Steam can compare to the native experience in terms of wireless consistency, though. Hacky drivers and the like have a tendency to drop the connection at the worst possible moment. And yet I’d take them any day of the week over the iOS experience. Despite linking with the iPad Pro near-instantaneously, the Pro Controller would constantly load in completely different configurations, none of which ever had both analog thumbsticks working properly. A shame, really, because it would otherwise be the ideal Apple Arcade accessory – it’s way lighter than the Xbox One | X/S controller, has a monster battery, and even charges via USB Type C, which basically makes it a unicorn in the world of physical interfaces. So much for the chances of these two “pros” working together.

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller Review: Battery Life

Battery life is arguably the strongest suit of the Nintendo Switch Pro controller. The thing is basically impossible to kill in a single week, even if you’re actively trying to do so. While writing this long-term review, I’ve attempted to do so twice. Both undertakings ended after four or five days with me unwittingly plugging it back to recharge after a getting pinged for an item exchange in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Nintendo claims the Pro Controller can consistently offer 40 hours of standalone operation on a single charge, and amazingly, it might actually be underselling the device. Then again, the cited figure probably has an arbitrary testing scenario in mind. Everyone’s mileage will obviously vary, most of all by how far away from the Switch they actually are while gaming.

Individual choice of games shouldn’t have a massive impact on the number of usage hours one manages to squeeze out of a single battery charge. And while that claim is purely anecdotal, keep in mind that this is coming from someone who played a much wider variety of games than most Switch owners even have any interest in. Not that I did, to be completely honest. But that’s precisely the point: if I could have added “wastes more battery than BOTW” to my list of grudges against 1-2-Switch, believe me, I would.

Due to the ingenuity of (people who standardized) Bluetooth, the Switch Pro Controller will give you circa 40 hours of usage no matter whether you spend them furiously mashing buttons or leaving it to idle indefinitely. It has to be constantly connected to the console, anyway, and those few extra bytes of difference between a no-input and input signal aren’t too stressful on the battery – this isn’t Wi-Fi and Google Stadia we’re talking about, praise the sun.

Now, if saving battery life is your one and only concern, by far the most effective way to do so is to play without HD Rumble. But assuming you’re not doing so for health-related reasons, you’re robbing yourself of one of the controller’s best and most novel features. I mean, you’re missing out on just as much even if it’s due to health concerns, but that’s understandable. I love HD Rumble, but I think I love not having aggravated arthritis even more. Bonus points if that means my Pro Controller lasts even longer between top-ups.

Here’s a fun and highly contextual fact: as unbelievable as this might sound, the Pro Controller still doesn’t come close to the Wii U Pro Controller on the battery life front. Its predecessor featured the same battery the 3DS did and had no trouble offering 70-75+ hours of autonomy. Its single charge basically outlasted the entire Wii U generation. Dozens of witnesses can attest to this, guaranteed.

Back here in the present, the Pro Controller doesn’t have to worry about any such Pyrrhic victories. And neither do its owners need to be concerned about battery levels. Oh, and that 3DS battery? It actually ended up in the pipeline for a third console generation in a row and is the 1,300mAh cell powering the Switch Pro Controller.

Now, the main downside to having a 10-year-old battery technology powering the show is that quick charging support isn’t part of the package. There’s simply no room for implementation, and so, the Switch Pro Controller will take around five and a half hours to fully recover from a shutdown. The exact figure will mostly depend on the overall battery health, i.e., age, and real-world environmental variables such as temperature.

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller Review: Customizability via Third-Party Accessories

From shells, sleeves, bags, and grips, to full-fledged protective cases, memory card holsters, and even stuff like thumbstick extenders and smartphone clips, the selection of third-party accessories for the Pro Controller is vast and . Which is par for the course – with a fanbase numbering over 80 million people as of right now, it’s no wonder there’s so much competition in the Switch accessory space.

The Pro Controller is arguably the second-largest benefactor of this state of affairs, right after the console itself. It is, after all, arguably its most popular accessory. As you’re hopefully starting to realize by now, that’s not without merit. And you can add a high degree of cheap customizations to the list of the Switch Pro Controller’s selling points. Whether to fine-tune your grip, protect the gamepad from the elements (no need IMO), or simply make it a bit more “yours” with a cool skin or some personality-building stickers, the choices are near-limitless.

If you’d like a more in-depth overview of the subject matter, that’s precisely what our Nintendo Switch Pro Controller guide is for, among other things, such as detailing every special edition of the gamepad Nintendo released to date.

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller Review: Longevity and Reparability

The closest things that the Switch Pro Controller has to axial screws are a couple of bolts positioned just out of sight but readily within reach. They’re sitting at the pointiest ends of the gamepad’s handles and getting by them requires nothing beyond an ordinary Philips #00 screwdriver.

The rest of the controller’s construction will reveal itself once the handles lose their outer shells. But to cut the teardown instructions short, the takeaway is that the gamepad is semi-repairable. Meaning you’ll be able to do a battery replacement with nothing beyond a screwdriver and willpower to spend five minutes on YouTube: 4:30 to learn what your instructor did over the weekend and 0:30 to learn what you need to do.

With that said, don’t expect you’ll be doing a battery replacement anytime soon – or ever. Barring defects, the cells powering the Switch Pro Controller are a tried and tested series, as explained above. And one of their tried and tested traits is their remarkable ability to iterate on a typical charge-discharge-recharge cycle with minimal degradation.

This battery longevity is also the silver lining to the gamepad’s lack of fast charging support. As even the latest, cutting-edge tech is still pretty detrimental to modern batteries. It’s better not to imagine what it would do to the Switch and, by extent, the Pro Controller’s battery in terms of long-term performance. Slow and steady wins the race, especially since the gamepad is already running in a (40-hour) league of its own.

Not to mention that new battery tech comes with new profit expectations from the manufacturers who funded the R&D that made them happen in the first place. On the other hand, the 3DS/Wii U/Switch Pro Controller battery stock has been plentiful since, like, 2012 at the latest. Looking at Amazon right now, you can get a brand-new one for $10.95. It even comes with a screwdriver for disassembling the gamepad itself.

The analog sticks are technically user-replaceable, as well. The process itself might be a bit too much for first-time tinkerers, unless they really do their homework. Which includes confirming that random $5 thumbstick extenders can’t solve their issue with much less fuss.

The ABXY buttons and the Pro Controller’s directional pad can also be replaced using conventional means and a bit of patience. Ditto for the four triggers on the outward-facing side of the gamepad. A complete outer shell replacement and a dozen spare buttons will run you up to $25, or half that if you’re boring and order the original all-black casing. That’s not accounting for potential shipping costs, but if you’re in the U.S., plenty of such offerings ship stateside for free via every relevant e-commerce platform.

Does the Nintendo Pro Controller Suffer From Any Bugs?

Given the tragic quality control employed for the Joy-Cons, being anxious over the possibility of buying a defective Switch Pro Controller is an understandable concern to have. But the two aren’t comparable, based on countless user reports and personal experience from the last four years. That isn’t to say not a single Switch Pro Controller owner ever reported their device drifting, i.e., registering (often erratic) ghost movement. Phantom inputs have been a thing since the dawn of joysticks. The appearance of analogue sticks on gamepads made the issue more widespread, but the Joy-Cons truly elevated it to another level, being as faulty as they are.

Fortunately, the Switch Pro Controller is nowhere near as sensitive to whatever’s causing the Joy-Cons to drift so consistently; “whatever” most likely being a combination of poor dust protection and mechanical grease clogs.

My four years with the device were virtually spotless during regular use; not accounting for the frustrating iPad Pro pairing attempt described above and the occasional Bluetooth hiccup during PC gaming sessions.

About the Price

$70 is a lot for a gamepad, I won’t contest that. And I wasn’t any happier with that price tag back in 2017 than I am today. But partially thanks to how great the Switch Pro Controller turned out to be, and in part due to how unreliable the Joy-Cons remained throughout the years, I choose to view that $70 as the cost of Switch ownership. I genuinely feel sorry for anyone who bought the console but won’t invest in the Pro Controller, which is both a technical upgrade in almost every respect and much more intuitive to use in the vast majority of games available for the system.

To summarize: if you own a Switch and mean to dock it, get the Pro Controller. It doesn’t matter if you mostly play handheld, it doesn’t matter if you only have an old 720p monitor to connect to or are yet to buy a TV, and it doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a complete casual.

So long as you’re enjoying your time with the Switch and money isn’t an immediate concern, the Pro Controller should be at the very top of your tech priority list. It will enable you to game more, ennoble what you have already been playing, and bolster your mobile gadget collection with the toughest, meanest USB Type-C cable you ever saw. Coupled with unofficial PC connectivity and best-in-class… no, *the* best battery life on the market,  the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller can definitely take on on every other mainstream alternative that money can currently buy.

Doubly so after both Sony and Microsoft raised their gamepad prices for this latest console generation. These days, they are more or less matching Nintendo’s asking fee but without clearly outmatching the incumbent flagship gamepad. And unlike these pricey newcomers, the Switch Pro Controller already demonstrated its longevity. Meaning it still represents the safest $70 one will be able to spend on a controller for the foreseeable future.