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Most game controllers ape the Xbox controller, which is supported equally well on the Xbox consoles and Windows. The 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth Controller, however, borrows equally from the Xbox and Nintendo Switch Pro gamepads to create a durable, feature-rich controller that could be perfect for all your gaming endeavors—provided you can get past the learning curve.
8BitDo Ultimate Controller design and build quality
The 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth Controller has an interesting mixture of design elements. It’s the same approximate size and shape as the Xbox Series S/X controller, offering a more hand-friendly feel than the Switch Pro controller. The chassis is smooth matte plastic, except for the bottom of the grips, which have a fine bumpy texture like the Xbox controller. There are no exposed screws, but there are a few unsightly seams.
There are buttons in all the places you’d expect, but this controller has the Switch button layout instead of the Xbox one. The remainder of the layout is bog standard for Windows and Switch controllers. There are two asymmetrical thumbsticks, a d-pad, and the shoulder buttons and triggers up top. The 8BitDo Ultimate Controller also has face buttons for select/start, turbo, menu, and profile swapping. Flip the device over, and you’ll see two more buttons on the grips. These are fully customizable in the 8BitDo app.
Ryan Whitwam / Foundry
The thumbsticks stand out from the crowd with their “Hall effect” sensing mechanism. Most gamepads use electrical resistance to track thumbstick position, but the 8BitDo Ultimate Controller uses magnets. This makes the hardware immune to drifting—a common type of hardware failure that causes thumbsticks to register movement at rest.
Dead center on the back are two important hardware features: a switch to flip the controller between Bluetooth and 2.4GHz, and a trio of contacts that connect the controller with the included dock. The dock charges the controller and has built-in 2.4GHz support when connected to a PC over USB. There is also a USB-C port on the top edge of the Ultimate Controller, but the dock is a much more convenient way to keep it topped up.
8BitDo Ultimate Controller features and hands-on experience
The 8BitDo Ultimate Controller is one of the most comfortable wireless controllers we’ve tested thanks to the compact form factor and low mass. You can tell as soon as you pick up the 8BitDo that it’s on the light side—228g, to be precise. That’s a big drop from the Xbox controller at more than 300g with batteries.
The d-pad doesn’t have the useful dish shape of Microsoft’s newer controllers, but the plain cross-shaped control is more stable and accurate than the Switch Pro Controller. The ABXY buttons have a nice, tactile feel, too. However, you’ll have to adjust to the Switch button layout. All the system buttons are clustered toward the middle of the controller, making them easy to reach but keeping them out of range of accidental presses.
Ryan Whitwam / Foundry
We’re quite smitten with the thumbsticks, which are buttery smooth and fully customizable, thanks to the Hall-effect sensors. In 8BitDo’s Ultimate software, you can control the size of the dead zones, flip directions, and more. That same freedom extends to the rest of the controls, which are fully configurable in the app. This is also where you can map buttons to the paddle buttons.
The Ultimate software is overall good once you get the hang of it. The interface is sometimes inconsistent, but it’s serviceable to map buttons and adjust profiles. However, you have to use USB or 2.4GHz to sync—we had general issues with Bluetooth support on Windows. You’ll want to leave it in 2.4GHz mode for PC gaming and switch to Bluetooth for Switch and mobile.
8BitDo claims 22 hours of play time per charge. We didn’t get quite that much, but with a mix of Bluetooth and 2.4GHz, the 8BitDo Ultimate made it over 18 hours before dying. An Xbox controller will last you longer, but the 8BitDo Ultimate has a built-in 1,000mAh battery, whereas Microsoft’s base model controller still needs AAs or an add-on rechargeable pack. Regardless, the 8BitDo Ultimate lasts more than long enough, and the charging dock makes it easy to keep it juiced up.
8BitDo Ultimate Controller compatibility
8BitDo makes two very similar Ultimate controllers. The Bluetooth version we are testing has the widest compatibility. With a USB-C port, it’s easy to connect the controller to a PC or console the old-fashioned way if you so choose. This version retails for $70, and the non-Bluetooth is $50. That version only has 2.4GHz support for PC gaming—no Switch or mobile Bluetooth support.
For wireless mode, you’ll want to stick with 2.4GHz on Windows, which works much better than Bluetooth. If you use Steam, there are some settings for controlling how non-Xbox controllers are used. For mobile devices or the Nintendo Switch, Bluetooth is the way to go. If you’re a Switch owner, this device offers a big upgrade over the Joy-Cons. It even has a gyroscope inside, so you’ll get the full Switch experience.
The button layout will be the biggest compatibility issue. Depending on the settings and button mapping, your in-game controls might not match the legends on the buttons, or the ABXY button order will be different. In either case, switching to this controller will come with a bit of a learning curve. If you aren’t already committed to the standard Xbox layout, then it’ll be easy to adapt.
Ryan Whitwam / Foundry
Is the 8BitDo Ultimate Controller worth it?
The 8BitDo has a lot going for it with the Ultimate Controller. The compact, lightweight design makes it comfortable to hold for long periods, and the Hall-effect thumbsticks should be perfectly smooth for years to come. We also like having a full customization app to adjust controller settings, including the option to assign controls to the rear paddle buttons.
The 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth Controller has wide compatibility, including Windows, Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS. The option to use 2.4GHz and Bluetooth is appreciated, but it would be nice if Bluetooth wasn’t buggy on Windows. On the upside, 8BitDo includes a charging dock with the controller, and it has a 2.4GHz dongle built-in. So, you might have to toggle the wireless mode, but we’ve had no trouble using the Ultimate Controller on our devices.
You will pay a little more for this controller—it’s $70 versus about $60 for the standard Xbox gamepad. However, 8BitDo’s controller has an integrated rechargeable battery and more robust hardware. The biggest issue for PC gamers will be the button layout, which follows the Switch arrangement.
If you play games on both Switch and PC, this controller is a no-brainer. Even if you don’t have a Switch, the 8BitDo is one of the best PC controllers in terms of hardware and features.
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