The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller and the 8BitDo Ultimate are your best options if you're after a new pad for the handheld hybrid console. On one end is Nintendo's official option, while the other is a very high quality controller from a manufacturer with a stellar reputation.
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller will be most players' default choice given it's the official option. But, the Nintendo’s Switch’s premium pad has competition in the 8BitDo Ultimate. This third-party offering boasts features absent on the Pro Controller, arguably fitting the bill of a 'Pro' controller more effectively than Nintendo's pad.
We’re comparing two of the best Nintendo Switch accessories to help you figure out which to buy. Whether you’re after Nintendo’s penchant for quality, or looking for something new from 8BitDo, you should seriously consider these gamepads.
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller will be the first port of call for many looking for an upgrade over the Joy-Con controllers.
- Incredible battery life
- Comfy grips
- High quality sticks
- NFC functionality included
- Shallow triggers
- Relatively pricey
The 8BitDo Ultimate is the best third party Nintendo Switch controller, with incredible build quality and fantastic buttons.
- Excellent look and feel
- Charging dock included
- Affordable for its feature set
- Central buttons crowded
- No NFC
Price and availability
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is the more expensive of the two options, coming in at $69.99 / £59.99 / (around AU$103). It’s available to buy from Nintendo’s online store, Amazon and other online retailers.
The 8BitDo Ultimate matches the Pro Controller’s price, but it offers better value for money thanks to its extra features. You can check it out over at 8BitDo's official store page.
In terms of design, the controllers look noticeably different; the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller sports a semi-translucent black finish, while the 8BitDo Ultimate is available in solid white or black colorways.
Both pads feature textured grips, though the effect is a lot subtler on the Pro Controller due to its concave grooves. The 8BitDo Ultimate’s grips feel more textured, featuring convex bumps. They offer a subtle roughness that provides grip without irritating your hands. Both methods come down to preference, and each pad feels great to hold in their own way.
Button placement on both controllers is largely identical. But the face buttons themselves offer a stark contrast. The Pro Controller’s face buttons have a slightly wider surface area and a softer – almost mushy – press. We feel the 8BitDo Ultimate has the edge here; its face buttons feel clicky and more responsive, and have a pleasing glossy finish to boot.
The 8BitDo Ultimate’s D-pad really shines, too, thanks to a concave design and textured grooves. You can really rock this thing around your thumb, making it fantastic for games that primarily feature digital movement input, like Nintendo Switch Online’s libraries of retro games. In comparison, the Pro Controller’s D-pad has a less exciting, basic design with no texturing.
There’s no clear winner when it comes to the analog sticks and triggers. The pads’ sticks offer a largely identical design and feel. Triggers, meanwhile, will come down to preference. The Pro Controller has rather wide triggers and shoulder buttons with a very short travel time, feel quite clicky and responsive as a result. The 8BitDo Ultimate’s triggers are thinner, but have a travel time not dissimilar to the DualSense or DualShock 4, requiring you to squeeze to fully depress them.
Where the Pro Controller has a definite advantage is at the center of the pad. Its four central buttons (Plus, Minus, Home and Sharing) are nicely spaced out on either side, making them easy to press with both thumbs. On the 8BitDo Ultimate, these buttons are squashed closer together, making it all too easy to hit multiple buttons at once.
It may be called the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, but that’s honestly a bit of a misnomer, as it lacks many of the features that make other ‘Pro’ controllers worth buying. But that’s not to say it’s without bespoke features of its own, as it boasts Nintendo’s excellent gyro aiming and NFC (near-field communication) connectivity, allowing you to scan amiibo figures and cards for in-game bonuses.
The 8BitDo Ultimate lacks NFC, but does at least feature gyro aiming, making it perfect for games that heavily use the control method like Splatoon 3. On top of that, the Ultimate takes things up a notch with the 8BitDo Ultimate Software app, available on iOS and Android devices.
Pairing the controller to the app allows you to completely remap buttons to your liking, as well as assign the two back paddle buttons that aren’t found on the Pro Controller. You can even set profiles if, say, you’re hopping between the best Nintendo Switch games and prefer a specific control scheme for each one. The app also lets you tweak stick and trigger sensitivity, which is a lovely bonus.
The Nintendo Switch’s controller settings does at least let you remap button layout for the Pro Controller, so it’s not entirely without that kind of support. However, in terms of ‘Pro’ adjacent features, the 8BitDo Ultimate certainly has it beat.
When it comes to how long you can run these gamepads between a recharge, Nintendo's Pro Controller is the clear winner. On average, you’ll get a phenomenal 40 hours of charge from Nintendo’s pad, before needing to top up. That’s enough to beat most games, or roughly half of Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
In comparison, The 8BitDo manages 20 hours’ charge, give or take. That’s still adequate, however, and the relatively short battery life is somewhat offset by the included charging dock that’ll have you back up to full in just a couple of hours.
Which controller should you buy?
The choice between the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller versus the 8BitDo Ultimate will come down to preference when it comes to feel. But we’d say the 8BitDo Ultimate edges out thanks to its advanced features, slightly better build quality, and because it matches the Pro Controller for price.
If you’d prefer colossal battery life and NFC functionality the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller will suit you better. In either case, you’re getting a fantastic controller and you can’t go wrong no matter which pad you choose. But we just love those back paddles and custom button profiles.
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Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.