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Our Pick of the Best Controllers for the Steam Deck

Written by: Goran Damjanovic
Best Steam Deck Wireless Bluetooth Controller

In my Steam Deck review I have mentioned that playing esports games on Valve’s console can be quite frustrating if you’re relying solely on the built in controller, and the only solution is to get a proper Steam Deck controller. Everything else is just a compromise.

Well, to complement that statement, me and the team sat down and created an overview of the best controllers for the Steam Deck, covering all price brackets; from affordable last gen models up to the latest premium pieces of gaming tech. However, similar to the situation we had with External Steam Deck SSD‘s, not all controllers are compatible with Valve’s handheld.

So, before we jump on to the full list, let’s first clear up some misconceptions around the Steam Deck and its compatibility with external devices.

Understanding the Landscape of Steam Deck Controllers

Considering that the Steam Deck is more or less a regular PC running Linux, technically most wired and wireless controllers should work out-of-the-box, but as it always goes, the devil is in the details dongles.

  • Bluetooth controllers work effortlessly with the Steam Deck.  You only need to enable Bluetooth on your console and pair the device. Even the DualShock 3, which was a pretty tricky beast to make it work back during the early days of Steam Deck, can now be connected to a Steam Deck pretty effortlessly. The Bluetooth connectivity is stable, and the multiple controllers we tested, such as the Xbox Core and 8BitDo Ultimate, worked without noticeable hitches when in the same room as our Steam Deck.
  • 2.4 GHz wireless controllers are also compatible with the Steam Deck. Same as with Bluetooth, Valve’s console supports the 2.4GHz protocol, but you’ll need to find a way on how to connect a USB-A receiver in to Steam Deck’s USB-C port. To do that, we would either suggest the official Steam Deck docking station from Valve, or you can go for one of the many Steam Deck dock alternatives. Alternatively, a simple USB-A to USB-C adapter will do the job as well, which you might also need for other peripherals sooner or later, which brings me to my next point.
  • Steam Deck is also compatible with most wired controllers. All you have to do is connect them when docked or use the aforementioned USB-A to USB-C adapter if you want to use a controller without a dock or a USB hub.
  • Controllers running exotic or older technologies might cause some hiccups. Here we’re talking mostly about older PlayStation and Xbox controllers. There have been several issues with the DualShock 3 model, as well as the Xbox Wireless Adapter, but most of them can be resolved with a few Google searches.

Be prepared for some light troubleshooting. Some models, like the Xbox Core controller, suffer from latency and connection issues at first, but an update solves that problem.

To conclude, most controllers work great with Steam Deck, a fact that didn’t make our selection process any easier. We tried to include models with the best combination of price, features, build quality, and comfort. Bluetooth connectivity was preferred, but we didn’t make it mandatory for the budget pick.

Regarding prices, the only category where we considered $100+ controllers was the outlier pick, representing a high-end choice for Deck owners with unlimited budget. Finally, considering the sheer abundance of wireless controllers on the market and the fact that you can hook up a cable to most of them and use them in wired mode, we didn’t include the wired category, but we did mention a few wired options as alternatives to our budget pick.

Let’s start with the best all-around Steam Deck controller, which actually includes multiple options.

Best for the Steam Deck Overall: Current Gen Console Controllers

Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony make some pretty darn good controllers for their home consoles. The Xbox Core, the DualSense, and the Switch Pro controllers are available worldwide, sport competitive prices, are well built and offer excellent ergonomics, and all three work great with the Steam Deck. So, whichever from these three you pick, you’ll definitely be happy with your purchase.

Best Steam Deck Controller Xbox CoreThe Xbox Core wireless controller is probably the most popular choice, the reason behind it is the fact that it’s also working great with PCs, with built-in Windows support by default. You can expect high build quality, superb ergonomics, excellent rumble along with trigger rumble, high-quality face buttons and analog sticks, solid but somewhat annoyingly clicky D-pad, serviceable bumpers, and excellent triggers that are very grippy. The Core controller uses AA batteries for longer battery life, so be prepared to purchase a pair of rechargeable ones if you’re looking to rumble around with it. For the best choice, you can check out our article on the best rechargeable batteries for Xbox. Additionally, you might encounter some Bluetooth latency issues, and you’ll need to connect the controller either to your PC or to an Xbox console to resolve them via a firmware update.

The prices for Microsoft’s Xbox Core controller start at around $60, with common discounts pushing it down to $50, and to match it with your Steam Deck skin, you can opt in for 6 different colors, with a handful of limited edition controllers as well.

Steam Deck Controller Sony DualSenseSony’s DualSense controller also works great with the Steam Deck, and it works great out-of-the-box, with less tinkering needed than its green Xbox competitor. It’s also a well-built gamepad with excellent ergonomics, but it might prove to be a tad small for Deck owners with larger hands. One of the best things about the DualSense is the fact that both the touchpad and gyro work out of the box, the first one being extremely handy for navigating Desktop mode while docked. The face buttons and analog sticks are of high quality, and we like the bumpers here more than the ones on the Xbox Core. As for the adaptive triggers, they are the star of the show but not usable in most games on the Steam Deck. Aside from being unable to use certain features when hooked to a Steam Deck, DualSense also suffers from very poor, sub-10-hour, battery life.

The prices for Sony’s DualSense controller start at $69, but similarly to the Xbox controller above, discounts are often, and right now it’s down to $49 over at Amazon. There’s a myriad of color options and limited editions available as well.

Best Steam Deck Gamepad Nintendo Switch ProNintendo’s Switch Pro controller is also a great choice, especially if you’re looking for a model with rumble support and a longer-lasting built-in battery. As with the other two, the Switch Pro offers excellent ergonomics, quality face buttons and analog sticks, as well as high build quality. The controller’s simple to pair with the Steam Deck, but it can be a bit finicky with regard to latency and connection stability. You can remedy these issues by disabling rumble or switching to the SteamOS beta branch. At least the gyro works without issues, as long as you are ready for some tweaking in the controller settings. The biggest downside of the Switch Pro controller is the lack of analog triggers. If you’re even remotely interested in playing racing games, get a controller with analog triggers.

Regarding pricing, Nintendo’s Switch Pro controller is the most expensive from the batch, and in true Nintendo fashion rarely gets a proper discount. Prices start at $79, with some Amazon sellers offering it for $70 here and there.

Before I close this part, I just want to mention that every official console controller, even their high-end versions in the form of the Xbox Elite Series 2 and the DualSense Edge, feature mechanical analog sticks instead of Hall Effect ones, thus making them inherently prone to developing stick drift. Our next pick, however, does come with Hall Effect thumbsticks.

The Alternative to the Giants: 8BitDo Ultimate Steam Deck Controller

If the big three console manufacturers didn’t wow you with their controllers, arguably the best alternative for your Steam Deck at the moment of writing is the 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth Controller.

8Bitdo Ultimate Bluetooth Controller SteamThis gamepad is packed with features while sporting the same price point. And similar to them, it’s well built, very comfortable, comes with a charging dock, has a superb, 20+ hours, battery life, packs quality buttons, includes rubber dome bumpers that are way more comfortable to use than clicky bumpers, and comes with probably the best D-pad you can find on the market. The biggest advantage the 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth controller has over the Xbox Core, the DualSense, and the Switch Pro is the Hall Effect analog sticks that won’t develop stick drift. The controller pairs seamlessly with your Steam Deck, and you can use it with its 2.4GHz dongle or via Bluetooth. Note that you can use the 8BitDo app on Windows, iOS, or Android to assign functions to back paddles and that the gyro only works in Switch mode (Bluetooth mode), with a massive caveat of analog triggers being recognized as regular, non-analog buttons when the controller’s in Switch mode.

As for the price, the 8BitDo Ultimate holds a similar pricing point as the rest of the console crew, and starts at $69, with occasional discounts pushing it down to $59. You also have the option of going for the version without Bluetooth, which is set at $49 by default.

A Price Conscious Controller for Steam Deck: Sony DualShock 4

If you don’t want to spend more than $20-$30 on a controller for your Steam Deck, we recommend checking out used DualShock 4 on eBay. The site’s chock-full of pre-owned and refurbished DS4s, with prices ranging from $15 to $30, depending on the condition.

Sony Dualshock 4 Controller GamepadThe DS4 is still an excellent all-around controller that works great on SteamOS, with full support for the touchpad and gyro and excellent performance over Bluetooth. The battery life, the arch enemy of the DS4 and the DualSense, is as poor as ever, and you should expect to be even shorter on a used DS4. In general, expect battery life of about five or six hours. But hey, it’s the DS4, one of the best controllers Sony ever made. If you don’t want to head through the used route, check out the 8BitDo Ultimate C controller. The C version of the 8BitDo Ultimate controller omits the charging dock, but it only costs $30, which is a steal for a device that’s almost as good as the 8BitDo Ultimate Bluetooth controller. The lack of a charging dock shouldn’t be a serious issue since the device includes a USB-C charging port.

Best Portable Pick: 8Bitdo Zero 2

Portable Controller 8Bitdo Zero 2The 8BitDo Zero 2 is one of the most compact controllers on the market that packs a surprising amount of features considering its minuscule size. You can literally put it on your keychain, and it won’t look out of place; it’s that tiny. The $20 price point is just right for what you’re getting. The gamepad has Bluetooth connectivity, up to eight hours of battery life –impressive given the dimensions– a D-pad, four face buttons, Start and Select buttons and two shoulder bumpers. The Zero 2 definitely isn’t made to be your main controller, but it’s more than capable of playing simpler, 2D games with it. A perfect travel companion for your Deck. Regarding negatives, the gamepad charges via a Micro-USB port instead of USB-C, there aren’t L2 and R2 buttons, and the face button layout follows Nintendo style.

The price for the 8BitDo Zero 2 is set at $20, which is definitely a steal for such a cool little Steam Deck controller.

The Outlier: PlayStation DualSense Edge

Our final pick is a high-end option for Deck owners with an unlimited budget. And among the high-end controller options, the DualSense Edge looks like the best pairing for the Deck.

PlayStation DualSense Edge Controller It’s because of the touchpad and gyro, which both work great on Deck, with the former being super handy for navigating when in Desktop mode. The controller performs brilliantly on Deck without displaying any Bluetooth-related issues. Regarding features and specs, the DualSense Edge looks like a beefed-up version of the regular DualSense, much like the Xbox Elite controller looks like an evolved version of the Xbox Core controller. You’ve got two paddle buttons on the bottom and two thumb buttons placed below the analog sticks. The good news is that you can remap all four buttons in SteamOS. The DualSense Edge also features easily replaceable analog sticks, physical levers used to adjust the length of the two analog triggers, as well as the same build quality and comfort you get with the regular DualSense controller. Of course, the DualSense Edge is far from a perfect Steam Deck controller. The biggest drawback is the $200 price point. That said, if we consider the prices of other high-end models, $200 doesn’t look that bad.

What can be a deal breaker for many is the poor battery life that offers barely six hours of playtime, as well as the same old analog sticks instead of the Hall effect ones.

If the $200 price point is too steep for you, check out the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller that sells for $170. It doesn’t come with a touchpad, and it needs a firmware update to work without latency issues over Bluetooth, but it is cheaper, features four paddles on the bottom instead of two, comes with much more customization options, and features a built-in battery with a monstrous 40-hour life time. Additionally, its selling package includes extra thumbsticks, a second D-pad, as well as a tool for adjusting thumbstick tension.


How Complicated Is It to Connect a Controller to Your Steam Deck?

In most cases, it’s as simple as turning on Bluetooth on your Steam Deck and your controller, going into Bluetooth settings –Settings ->Bluetooth– finding the controller, selecting it, and pairing it with your Deck by pressing the Start button and then clicking on the “Pair” option. If you own a model with a 2.4GHz dongle, all you need to do is connect the dongle to your Steam Deck and then turn the controller on.

How to Connect Bluetooth Controller to Steam Deck 02

How Many Controllers Does the Steam Deck Support?

According to real-world tests, it looks like you can hook up to eight wireless controllers to a Steam Deck at once with all of them working. Now, considering that the Steam Deck used in the test we linked is running in Docked mode, we aren’t sure if it would be possible to use the built-in Steam Deck controller on top of eight wireless controllers or if the limit is set at seven wireless controllers plus the built-in one.

Should I Worry About Input Lag When It Comes to Bluetooth Controllers?

Some controllers, such as the DS4 and the DualSense, work great over Bluetooth without discernible lag, even in competitive multiplayer games. Others, such as the Xbox Core and Elite gamepads, suffer from high latency over Bluetooth unless you update their firmware.

The Switch Pro can also suffer from poor performance over Bluetooth in some instances, with the solution being switching to the SteamOS beta branch or disabling rumble. Your mileage may vary, but in most cases, you’re getting excellent Bluetooth performance out-of-the-box with most controllers that use Bluetooth as the primary connection standard.

What Is the Lifespan of a Gaming Controller?

If you’re an “expressive” gamer, the lifespan of an average gaming controller can coincide with the first occurrence of expressing your feelings over a multiplayer match. Jokes aside, most controllers can give you years of service as long as you take care of them and have the know-how needed to replace analog sticks.

Unfortunately, most controllers come with mechanical instead Hall effect analog sticks, meaning they’re inherently prone to developing stick drift. Mind that most don’t feature analogs as bad as those found in JoyCons, but you should expect stick drift to rear its ugly head sooner or later. Luckily, you can replace thumbsticks relatively easily on most controllers.

Also, from personal experience, if you’re a gamer who plays games on a controller for multiple hours on a daily basis, put silicone grips on your analog sticks unless you want to see them wear down, or even tear and fall off in most egregious cases. This is especially true for DS4 and Xbox One controllers.

Which Game Controllers, Compatible With the Steam Deck, Are Most Serviceable?

As far as we know, Microsoft is the only big-name brand that offers official first-party repair parts on their online store and has repair video guides for its Core and Elite controllers. You can use the repair parts offered on the store to fix most issues you might encounter with your Xbox Core or Elite model. The Xbox Elite Series 1 and 2 also come with a plethora of customization options that include extra analog sticks.

8BitDo also sells repair parts for its controllers on their web shop, but, unlike Microsoft, 8BitDo doesn’t offer replacement shells and PCBA and rumble motor assemblies. That said, you can find droves of replacement parts for many different controllers, as well as repair guides, on the iFixit online store. However, if we only look at first-party spare parts and guide offerings, Xbox Core and Elite controllers are definitely the most serviceable of the bunch.

With regards to Sony-made controllers, the iFixit store offers a ton of different spare parts as well as guides. DualSense support at iFixit is much weaker but still better than what Sony offers, which is nothing. At least the DualSense Edge supports seamless analog stick replacement. A great option to have after the default sticks develop stick drift, which will happen sooner or later.

Finally, regarding Nintendo, they’re in the same boat as Sony, with the addition of being the company that keeps selling JoyCons despite their massive stick drift issues.

Wireless and Bluetooth Controller for Steam Deck

And What Are the Worst Controllers for Steam Deck in Terms of Serviceability?

JoyCons, hands down. The infamous stick drift issue is widespread, affecting every single pair of JoyCons sooner rather than later. Further, JoyCons feature complex assembly with many small parts found inside every JoyCon; you might have a very hard time trying to repair them.

Even replacing the default analog sticks is a tall order for anyone that isn’t experienced with DIY repairs, with the procedure being much more complex than on Xbox or DualSense controllers. So yeah, if repairability is important for you, don’t even think about getting JoyCons for your Steam Deck.

DualSense controllers also feature complex assembly and are quite tricky to repair. Worse still, the iFixit store doesn’t offer replacement PCBs, trigger rumble motors, shells, or face buttons as it does for DS4 and Xbox controllers. So while JoyCons are easily the worst with regard to repairability, the DualSense controller isn’t that far behind.

Can I Connect My PS3 Controller to the Steam Deck?

While earlier versions of SteamOS made pairing the DS3 much more complicated than it ought to be, you shouldn’t encounter issues anymore. All you need to do is hook the controller to your Steam Deck via USB for the first time, wait for your Deck to recognize it, after which you can use the DS3 via Bluetooth like any other Bluetooth controller.