Despite primarily being a console player for my entire gaming life, I’ve always thought controller grips and add-on thumb grips or sticks were for those pretending to be ‘pro gamers.’ Or, to put it crudely, just for fools. There, I said it.
However, I couldn't have been more wrong, and have had that proved to me recently. This year more than any other I’ve been more focused on PlayStation 5 gaming hardware and accessories from an accessibility point of view - and all this time grips and sticks were sleeper hits for exactly that. They can make playing games easier and more comfortable, and, as a result, more enjoyable.
Grips and thumbsticks are not brand new to the world, of course. Personally, I’ve been very aware of their existence as an accessory since the last generation onward (PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), but I’m sure they were coming through during the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 days. The difference they make, though, even to the quality first-party pads we’ve come to know and love, is one of the most tangible (literally) you can make.
For example, while its symmetrical design is brilliant for my ‘different’ hands, even the excellent official PS5 DualSense wireless controller can become a bit slippy despite the very stylish minute symbols that give it some texture.
The grips and sticks I recieved from KontrolFreek to test and play with have turned out to be revolutionary for me and my weird hands; I now can’t stop putting them on all my main controllers. Well, my plain colored ones; it would be a shame to cover up any part of my limited edition Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and God of War Ragnarok PS5 controllers. However, my Cosmic Red pad, and my default white DualSense, as well as my PlayStation Portal, have now all been augmented with thumbsticks and grips.
The main reason I’m now a total convert is not because I’ve suddenly noticed I’m crushing everybody in online shooters or have been signed up by an esports team, but mainly from subtle differences and improvements the grips make to how I can hold a controller and activate inputs on pads.
The extra grip that the controller wraps offer when it comes to just holding the controllers is exceptional. For those of us who don’t have as much hand on a controller, or for those whose controllers sit in the hands more than they are held, the extra security is so satisfying. Never before has a controller felt as at home, tightly snug and secure, as it does now. The thicker grips do increase the bulk a bit, but the payoff is huge; while the thinner grips (currently on my Portal) that KontrolFreeks make are just as useful, providing excellent traction.
Don't sleep on grip
Thumb grips in their simplest form can be popped over the top of the controller’s own default sticks. I’ve applied the smaller Nintendo Switch Joy-Con-style ones to my Portal and the effect is terrific, with my thumbs more in control of the sticks on the device.
The attachable sticks are a little more advanced so to speak, and they come in three different heights, with clear game genres being targeted by each. For example, first-person shooter-focused (FPS) ones have the right stick higher to assist aiming, while sports and adventure game-focused sticks are of the same height and offer grippy patterns focusing on comfort and traction. If your primary aim is, like me, to increase overall grip and use, then any will be worthwhile depending on your hand size and thumb position. Each that I’ve tested and used has boosted my efficiency with the thumbsticks, enabling me to push them from slightly comfier positions and with less force.
Thanks to these improvements, I’ve found myself going down a bit of an accessibility rabbit hole. I’ve begun thinking about each thumb separately and which height, shape, and grip it needs to help me more. I’ve noticed that with the extra height, I push more from the side of the stick, so I need something with a grip on the outer edge, for example.
I’ve then taken this further by combining different models with others to make the perfect pairing depending on the type of game I’m playing (for example, I'm now combining an Apex Legends FPS thumbstick with a more standard model to get a mix of grips for my thumbs). It’s opened doors to a multi-layered approach to improving accessibility and use of controllers without having to remake the wheel or make compromises based on your physical needs.
Testing and combining multiple units to achieve this will take more than one set to achieve, but, luckily, the grips and sticks are some of the most affordable PS5 accessories, Switch accessories, or Xbox Series X accessories on the market (and make for perfect gifts). What’s more, the detachable thumb sticks are, well, detachable. Even the wrap-around grips can just be peeled off and reapplied where needed due to the adhesive used (it won’t leave behind any residue or stickiness when removed). Throw in the fact that these excellent grips and sticks from KontrolFreek can be applied to Xbox controllers, PC controllers, Nintendo Switch controllers, and even older PS4 controllers, and the amount of practical application possible is huge.
I have no idea why I’ve let my initial prejudices cause me to overlook them up until now. These accessories might be aimed and marketed at gaining an edge in competitive play or those looking to emulate pro or esports-level performance, but, in reality, these thumbsticks and grips are just some of the best accessibility sleeper-hit accessories you can add to your setup.
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Rob is Deputy Editor of TechRadar Gaming, a video games journalist, critic, editor, and writer, and has years of experience gained from multiple publications. Prior to being TechRadar Gaming's Deputy Editor, he was a longstanding member of GamesRadar+, being the Commissioning Editor for Hardware there for years, while also squeezing in a short stint as Gaming Editor at WePC before joining TechRadar Gaming. He is also a freelance writer on tech, gaming hardware, video games, gardens, and landscapes and is crowdfunding a book on video game landscapes that you can back and pre-order now too.