Ever since the first successful game consoles came onto the market in the 1980s, gamepads have been standard equipment on every console. The Nintendo company in particular made history with the NES. What began as a small plastic rectangle with a directional pad and two buttons has since developed into a high-tech product. Many buttons, thumbsticks and vibration feedback adorn the sometimes opulently equipped devices.
Until a few years ago, the use of gamepads was mainly reserved for console gamers. But more and more games from the genres of car racing, sports and action-adventure, which were originally developed for consoles, are finding their way onto the PC. This makes game controllers interesting for PC gamers as well. But which is the right joypad?
The following comparison presents 7 gamepads of different price ranges. The following guide gives valuable tips and tricks about the gamepad and goes into important details such as haptics or connection options for the gaming experience. Finally, we take a look at possible gamepad tests by Stiftung Warentest, Öko-Test and computer magazines.
4 different gamepads in the comparison table
These comparisons also offer a lot of information about a flawless gaming experience
1. 4 different gamepads in the comparison table
1.1 What is a gamepad?
1.2 Can all games be played with a gamepad?
1.3 What buyers of a gamepad should look out for
1.4 The history of gamepads
1.5. technical terms for gamepads
1.6 XInput and Directinput – what is the difference?
1.7 Where can I buy a gamepad?
1.8 Which manufacturers and brands make gamepads?
1.9 Is there a gamepad test by Stiftung Warentest?
1.10. Has Öko-Test published a gamepad test?
1.11. Gamepad tests of well-known computer magazines
2. gamepads list 2021: Find your best gamepad
1. Sony PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 Wireless Controller – the original controller for the PS4
The Sony Playstation 4 DualShock 4 Game Controller is not only suitable for use on the gaming console, but also for desktop PC or laptop. With the help of the game controller, gamers can also use Sony’s streaming service PSNow on the PC or stream games from the PS4 to the Windows PC. This model is a re-release of the gamepad that came with the first version of the Playstation 4.
The layout of this gamepad is reminiscent of the Playstation 3’s predecessor, with eleven push buttons on the top. The player uses the left thumb to operate the left, right, up, and down navigation buttons. The right thumb operates the function keys X, circle, square and triangle. Above the navigation buttons on the right is the new Share button, and above the function buttons on the left is the Options button. The PS button is located between the two analog sticks, which are as usual next to each other in the middle of the pad.
A new feature of the Playstation 4 controller is the touchpad, which is located centrally between the Share button and the Options button. This allows the player to use different functions depending on the loaded game. Among other things, the pad supports zooming in and out in a mini-map.
Other buttons are located within reach of the index fingers on the front of the controller. The buttons referred to as R1, R2, L1, and L2 have a new design that should allow for easier and smoother operation. The Options button combines the functions of the old Select and Start buttons. The new gamepad has sound output from a small, built-in speaker as an added feature.
Two built-in vibration motors provide feedback to the player. The new Share button is used to broadcast the game to the internet. The DualShock 4 Wireless Controller comes in a variety of colors and designs.
The original Playstation 4 controller works without a cable. The player connects the input device to the game console via Bluetooth and does not have to make sure that the controller is wired to the console. The battery can be charged using the included USB cable on the Playstation or via charger. While charging, the player can continue to use the input device.
Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 – the high-end gamepad from Microsoft
With the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2, Microsoft is launching a new version of its high-end gamepad. The gamepad works with both the Xbox One gaming console and a desktop PC running Windows 7 to 10 operating systems.
Microsoft touts the gamepad as the most advanced controller in the world, which is reflected in the high price tag. The gamepad is equipped with many features that the competing products lack. The design is based on the well-known predecessors from the Xbox world.
The most noticeable difference compared to the previous Xbox controllers is the changed control pad. It has a circular design and is equipped with an inwardly curved surface. According to Microsoft, this allows for more precise control. The analog sticks are located to the top right and left of the directional pad.
In the upper right corner of the controller are the four function keys A, B, Y and X; in the middle sit the three option keys. The four additional R1, R2, L1, and L2 buttons are placed so that the player can use them with their index fingers.
The controls for the directional pad and the analog sticks are interchangeable, Microsoft supplies necessary accessories. This allows the player to customize the elements to their needs. A directional pad is included as well as stick elements with a higher shaft. The resistance of the thumbsticks can be adjusted with a special tool.
The connection to the game console is wireless via Bluetooth. The player connects the included charger for the battery, which has a runtime of up to 40 hours according to the manufacturer, via USB-C cable. The gamepad can still be used during the charging process.
The player can connect the gamepad to a desktop PC. This works wirelessly via a Bluetooth interface or with the USB cable. The operating systems Windows 7, 8 and 10 recognize the controller without installing separate drivers.
The scope of delivery includes the controller, the charger and a USB-C cable. In addition, the player receives a storage bag, in which all accessories have space. Even charging in the storage box is possible. Various interchangeable thumbsticks, paddles, and control paddles are included.
3. Logitech F310 Gamepad for the console feeling on the PC or Mac
The Logitech F310 Joypad offers an affordable solution for gamers looking for a game controller for the PC who can do without both a wireless connection and vibration motors. The connection is made via a 180 centimeter long USB cable.
The manufacturer Logitech has based the layout on well-known game pads. On the left side is the directional pad, on the right are the four function keys A, B, X and Y. Below these sections are two function keys. Below these sections are two analog sticks, which are operated with the thumbs. In the middle, there are three more function keys. The front of the pad houses the L1, L2, R1, and R2 buttons, which the player controls with the index fingers of the hand.
Just about all games that support the use of a gamepad can be operated by players with the F310 gamepad. If a game does not have gamepad support, the F130 Gamepad can still be used. With special software, the programmable gamepad from the comparison can simulate the functions of the keyboard and mouse.
4. jamswall gamepad for Xbox 360 and Microsoft operating systems
The Jamswall Gamepad is suitable for use with the Xbox 360 and Xbox 360 Slim, as well as computers with the operating systems Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 10. The connection to the console or PC is made via a USB cable. The gamepad is a replica of the original controller from Microsoft including vibration motors.
The gamepad is compatible with the operating systems Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 10. The arrangement of the buttons is classic: On the right are the four function keys A, B, X and Y, on the left is the directional pad. The analog thumbsticks are also on the right and left. The additional keys L1, L2, R1 and R2 are located on the front of the input device, so that the player can operate them with the index fingers.
During gameplay, the player gets feedback from the controller in certain situations via the built-in vibration motors. Like the original, they are adjustable in intensity. It is not possible to operate the gamepad without a cable.
5th Razer Raiju Ultimate Gamepad with exchangeable elements
The high-end game controller Raiju Ultimate from Razer is suitable for both Playstation 4 and computer use. The special highlight of the device is its flexible features. Gamers can swap out and customize the controls, as well as tailor the controller to their needs.
The design and arrangement of the buttons, keys, and sticks are no different from those of Sony’s original controller. The two thumbsticks are centered on the left and right, with the directional pad and the four function keys X, triangle, circle and square diagonally above them. Share and option buttons are also present, as well as the touchpad on the upper side. The R1, R2, L1 and L2 buttons can be operated with the index finger.
The biggest differentiator from the original controller is the interchangeable buttons and knobs. The control pad and thumbsticks can be swapped out by the player for other designs and mechanics. The height of the sticks can be increased with various adapters to improve the gameplay experience according to one’s preferences.
With an app available for free for Android and iOS, the player can make further adjustments. The sensitivity, the pressure points and the button assignment can be changed. The multifunction buttons are located on the bottom of the pad. With special sliders on the bottom, the player can activate the hair trigger mode: This allows a reduced keystroke of the main triggers, for example to allow faster firing in shooters.
6. EasySMX Gamepad for Playstation 3, Computers and Smartphones
The EasySMX gamepad works on both a Windows PC and a Playstation 3, as well as on mobile devices with an Android operating system. The player can connect the input device wirelessly via cable or with the included Bluetooth adapter. Input devices from Apple as well as game consoles from Nintendo or Microsoft are not supported by this gamepad.
The design of the EasySMX gamepad is a cross between an Xbox and Playstation 3 controller. While the shape is reminiscent of a PS3 controller, the thumbstick placement is more like the Xbox 360 pad design. The directional pad is located at the bottom left, while the two analog sticks are located above and to the right of it, respectively. At the top right of the EasySMX gamepad are the action buttons X, Y, A and B, whose names differ from Sony’s standard.
The function keys L1, L2, R1 and R2 are positioned so that the player can operate them with the index fingers. The gamepad is not equipped with a built-in battery, but requires two AA batteries for cordless operation. Those who connect the controller via USB cable do not need batteries.
The gamepad is equipped with two vibration motors. This provides the player with force feedback while gaming. The intensity varies from game to game. The player can also turn off the vibration function in the game’s options.
7. CSL Gamepad with simple features for PC
The gamepad from CSL is a simple and very inexpensive gamepad that is only suitable for the PC. On a game console such as the Playstation or Xbox, this game controller does not work. The Gamepad works wired, an operation without cable is not possible. The Gamepad can be connected to the computer via USB cable.
The analog sticks are positioned in such a way that the player can operate them with his thumbs. Five additional buttons between the directional pad and the four function buttons on the gamepad provide access to various game options such as Select, Clear, Start and Turbo. The two integrated vibration motors provide feedback to the player on certain events, if supported by the game.
The gamepad from CSL works with Windows version 7 or higher without additional drivers, as the operating system automatically detects the gamepad. The permanently connected USB cable has a length of 180 centimeters.
What is a gamepad?
A gamepad, also known as a game controller, is a device that the player uses to control his or her character in a computer or console game. The player operates the gamepad with both hands. Every modern gamepad has several control options:
- Control pad
- Analog thumbsticks
- Function keys
The directional pad gives eight possible directional commands to the computer or game console: left, right, up and down. In addition, there are the four “corners” of the cross, which activate two directions at the same time.
Typically, the player operates the gamepad’s directional pad with the thumb of the left hand, which is why it sits in the upper left corner of the device in common gamepad layouts.
Also known as joysticks, these sticks are movable so that the player can make a circular motion with their thumb. Unlike the directional pad, analog thumbsticks have more than eight directions. The player operates the thumbsticks with their thumbs. Due to their construction, the sticks are the most sensitive parts of a gamepad.
In a first-person or tactical shooter, the player can use the left thumbstick to move his character and the right to control his angle of view and thus the crosshairs of his weapon. Numerous configuration options allow players to freely assign sticks and buttons on the controller depending on the game.
Function keys that are relevant to the game, there are quite a few on a gamepad. First, there are the four buttons in the upper right corner. Depending on the manufacturer and system, these are named differently. Secondly, there are the four function buttons on the front of the controller, which the player operates with the index fingers. Depending on the game, the buttons on the gamepad have different functions and tasks.
In a first-person shooter, the thumbs are already so busy with the analog sticks that operating the four function buttons on the top right would be too cumbersome. Therefore, players use the other four buttons, which are operated with the index finger, to fire, change weapons or perform other functions.
Can all games be played with a gamepad?
Yes, if they are console games. The situation is different with games for the PC.
Computer games are divided into genres to make it easier to classify them thematically. This classification in gaming is also useful for answering the question of whether or not games can be played well with a gamepad. The following genres work well with gamepads:
- Car racing games like Project Cars 2
- Fighting games like Streetfighter
- Sports games like FIFA 2020
- Jump-and-run games like Yooka Laylee
- Action-adventure games like Witcher 2 or Read Dead Redemption 2
On the other hand, there are games where the mouse’s function as a pointing device is very important. These include complex strategy games or business simulations. When it comes to shooters, opinions differ. While gamers who played games such as Counter-Strike or Call of Duty on the computer with a keyboard and mouse had a clear advantage, technical progress now makes it possible for console gamers with a gamepad to feel like pros as well. The following game genres are designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard, and are rather unsuitable for gamepad use:
- Adventure games like Life is Strange
- Construction games like Anno 1800 or Cities: Skyline
- First-person shooters like Borderlands 3 or Battlefield 1
- Online role-playing games like World of Warcraft
- Strategy games like Civilisation VI
That can’t hide the fact that there are still first-person and tactical shooter games where console players are overmatched compared to PC players, for example by using aiming aids. In professional e-sports, gamepads are frowned upon and not allowed anyway.
Buyers of gamepads should pay attention to the following points
At the beginning there is always the question for which system a gamepad is suitable and to which device it should be connected. Most controllers work on computers, but very few work on all consoles. This is not only true for the big manufacturers Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, but also for the gamepads of one system among each other. For example, a gamer can’t use their Playstation 3 controller on a Playstation 5 and vice versa.
This means the buyer has to be clear about which system he wants to purchase a gamepad for. PC gamers have it the easiest, as most gamepads, albeit sometimes only in a roundabout way, work on computers. After it is clear for which system the new gamepad will be purchased, the following criteria should be considered:
- Design and arrangement of the controls
- Control elements interchangeable
- Customization possibilities via software
The prices for gamepads vary a lot. There are devices that cost only a small two-digit amount. Premium devices, on the other hand, come in the low three-digit range. Which price range makes sense for which gamer depends not only on his budget, but also on the amount of time he spends with the device. Casual gamers are well advised with an inexpensive gamepad. Those who want to play more often and more intensively should go for a more expensive device.
There are two ways to connect a gamepad to a PC or game console:
The original devices of current console manufacturers such as Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft are equipped with a Bluetooth interface. This makes it possible to connect the gamepads to the end devices without cables. These gamepads have a permanently installed battery. The cheap gamepads for connection to a computer often do not have this equipment, but instead only a USB cable for connection. The advantage: Such a gamepad does not need a battery.
- The player does not have to sit directly in front of the screen
- Maximum freedom of movement, as there is no annoying cable on the gamepad
- If the battery is empty, the gamepad no longer works.
- Battery as an additional wearing part on the gamepad
The buttons and keys of a gamepad are arranged in a certain order. This varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. The controllers for a Playstation are fundamentally different from those for an Xbox.
It’s a matter of taste and acclimatisation which arrangement the gamer prefers on the gamepad. This point plays an enormously important role in the product search, because very few players want to get used to a different design.
The controls on a gamepad, such as the function keys or the thumbsticks, are very sensitive. If you play several hours a week, you should either look for a solid build quality or replaceable elements. These replaceable elements aren’t just good for repairs: premium models allow players to add elements that suit their own play style. This includes, for example, raised thumbsticks or other control crosses.
Some gamepads can be programmed by the player. This is done either via software on the computer or on the smartphone using a special app. This way, the player can adjust the functions of the individual buttons or set the sensitivity. This usually does not work with the cheap gamepads.
The history of gamepads
Before the first gamepad came on the market, joysticks dominated the PC and console gaming market. Such a joystick is movable and equipped with several buttons, either on the stick itself or on the housing. The first joysticks were used to control bombs and rockets during World War II. After the war, the stick continued to be used for military purposes, but also for civilian purposes, such as in industrial plants, cranes, tractors, and for model airplanes. For the computer game industry, these joysticks were too bulky to mount on their game consoles – so Nintendo invented the compact gamepad.
The first gamepad appeared in 1985 as the control unit of the NES console. Compared to today’s models, the functions were rudimentary, yet little changed in the basic design. After that, manufacturers learned quickly, designing gamepads to be more ergonomic and equipping them with more and more versatile functions. A chronology:
- 1985: NES controller with directional pad and two action buttons.
- 1988: Sega Mega Drive with three and six buttons
- 1990: SNES with four action buttons
- 1994: Sony Playstation with four action buttons
- 1996: Nintendo 64 with six buttons and thumbstick
- 2000: Sony Playstation 2 with two thumbsticks
- 2006: Nintendo Wii with motion sensors
- 2011: Nintendo Wii U with display
- 2013: Sony Playstation 4 with display and LED lighting
Technical terms for gamepads
If you read through the manufacturer’s description of a gamepad, you will quickly come across technical terms that require an explanation. Not all buttons are the same, each has its own function and mechanics. Here are the most important terms and expressions about the gamepad:
Action buttons are the buttons on the top of the device. They are usually color-coded and marked differently depending on the design. For controllers that follow the Xbox design, they are labeled Y, X, A, and B. On devices that follow the Playstation design, they are marked with the four symbols circle, triangle, X and square. But the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 are also common. In addition, there are two, three or four more buttons that are assigned to certain functions like menu, back or mode.
The player operates these two sticks with his thumbs. They are used to control vehicles or game characters. Ideally, the grip surfaces of the sticks are rubberized so that the player’s thumbs do not slip off.
The directional pad is digitally controlled and knows the directions left, right, up and down. The “corners” of the cross between the four direction buttons activate two directions at a time. These buttons of the directional pad are designed for thumb control.
The triggers are the lower buttons that the player can operate with their index fingers. They are analog controlled, which means that the triggers not only recognize the two states on and off, they also have a trigger travel. This allows the player to apply the throttle in a controlled manner in racing games, for example, or to gently apply the brake.
The shoulder buttons are the two upper buttons that the player controls with his index fingers. They serve as a supplement to the digital action buttons on the top of the gamepad.
XInput and Directinput – what’s the difference?
There are two different software interfaces that a computer uses to address a connected gamepad: XInput and Directinput. The difference between the two systems is that with XInput, the player does not have to configure the gamepad. With XInput, the game automatically assigns functions to the individual buttons, and the player can start playing immediately. The situation is different with Directinput: In comparison to XInput, the player has to take action and assign each button of the controller to a function in the game.
Games that are not older than 15 years get along well with the XInput interface. Lovers of classics and very old games will have difficulties. Here it makes sense to use a gamepad when gaming, which supports Directinput. With some devices, the player can switch between the two interfaces Directinput and XInput with a simple switch. If you want to play older games, you should pay attention to the presence of the XInput and Directinput functions.
It is problematic with controllers from Sony. The largest manufacturer of game consoles relies on the Directinput interface. Therefore, a gamer cannot use a gamepad intended for a Playstation on a PC without a major configuration effort. However, there are free tools for Windows PCs that can simulate the XInput interface.
Where can I buy gamepads?
Gamepads are available wherever there are consoles. That means they’re available at every major electronics store, mail order, and online retailers. Gamepads are available here, for example:
- Media Markt
- Electronics Partner
In the stationary trade locally often only a limited selection Gamepads is available to the buyer. If you are looking for a certain model, you will not always find it there. On the Internet, there is a much larger selection of gamepads from well-known and unknown manufacturers. Based on the reviews of other buyers, the prospective buyer can get a good idea of the advantages and disadvantages of each gamepad.
Which manufacturers and brands produce gamepads?
Gamepads are available from a number of manufacturers and brands such as Speedlink or Sony. The most well-known suppliers of gamepads include
- Speedlink Torid
Is there a gamepad test by Stiftung Warentest?
The Stiftung Warentest has not yet dealt with the topic of gamepads and has not published a test. Should this change, this guide will be updated accordingly.
Has Öko-Test published a gamepad test?
The magazine Öko-Test has not yet published a gamepad test. Should this change, this guide will be updated accordingly.
Gamepad tests of well-known computer magazines
There are quite a number of computer magazines that regularly deal with gamepads in great detail. On the website of the computer games magazine Gamestar, readers will find regular tests of current gamepads. The editorial staff tests the gamepads in practice and gives a professional overview. An overview of the test reports can be found here.
PC Games Hardware magazine also offers interesting reading material time and again. A last big test comes from December 2019 and includes a total of 13 gamepads at prices between 10 and 180 euros. Interested parties can download this test for an amount of 0.99 euros.