In this review, I take a close look at one of the highest-rated 3rd-party controllers of this generation: the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro+.
One Controller to Rule Them All?
8Bitdo have been at this for a while now, yet I don’t think they started to gain mainstream notice until the SN30 Pro+ was compatible with the Nintendo Switch. Before that, they were mostly favored by enthusiasts in the retro gaming world, as they produced wireless bluetooth clones of the NES, SNES, and Genesis controllers. But this controller has a lot to recommend it when compared to one of their popular SNES clones: hand grips, full-size trigger buttons, dual analog sticks, and dedicated customization software.
It’s available in multiple colours, including nostalgia-inspired versions like the one I bought (in addition to a sleek all-black option). The SN30 Pro+ controller has quickly become my go-to option when gaming on the go with my Switch or my Android phone. Yet it is not entirely without issues, so lets dive into this review!
Being in a house full of gamers can often mean facing a randomly annoying phenomenon: controller clutter. We have a Switch, a Raspberry Pi retro machine, an older Xbox 360, and a Steam Link for a PC. Every one of those usually uses different controllers, and although it’s not always an issue, it would be ideal if these would all play nice with each other. We all have our favourites, and for me I’ve always preferred the various PlayStation DualShock designs. On picking up the SN30 Pro+, it immediately felt both comfortable and familiar to my hands; the Pro+ model is essentially shaped like a middleground between a SNES controller and a Dualshock 2 or 3.
On picking up the SN30 Pro+, it immediately felt both comfortable and familiar to my hands
The comfort of the device extends to its compatibility, as (with a few steps) you can get this controller working on Nintendo Switch, Windows, macOS, Android, and Raspberry Pi. My Android phone was the one I had to work on the most here, yet across the board when compared to other options, it was surprisingly quick to get up and running. That being said, when you use an Xbox controller, moving over to PC tends to be a plug-and-play experience for both wired and wireless, whereas the SN30 Pro+ can require some up-front set-up on PC (detailed below).
Now, as I mentioned above, the occasion where this controller is getting the most use for me is when I’m travelling and gaming on my phone. I took advantage of the optional extra Smartphone Clip to get my retro gaming nostalgia on the go. A nice bonus to have!
The compatibility across multiple platforms is not without issues. Take a quick look at the lower user reviews out there and they all point at problems shortly after software updates on consoles, Windows, or MacOS. Although 8Bitdo does a great job of updating the firmware of the controller when things like this occur, a user has to know to even look for that in the first place.
One of the more concerning aspects of some budget controllers is the buttons. It is one of the easiest places to cut costs, yet when you’re designing a controller to work over multiple platforms, like 8Bitdo has here, you need more nuance. And they have mostly delivered! The most obvious place you notice this with the SN30 Pro+ is the face buttons and triggers. If you have a PC and Mac, you can get more customisation (more on that in a moment), but even out-of-the-box the buttons, sticks, and triggers all feel quite decently made. It’s clear that there is a bit of softness initially to the triggers, yet there is enough resistance there to allow for good overall control.
One thing that did not really do much for me is the vibration strength. When you compare it to the PS4 controller or the Joy-Con HD Rumble options, the SN30 Pro+ does feel a lot weaker, even if you crank it up on the PC software. I spent most of my review time bouncing between my Switch and Android, and when I was travelling I didn’t mind the weaker vibration—yet once I connected it to the Switch when I was back at home and wanted a more noticeable response, it was more obvious.
One thing that does not really do much for me is the vibration strength
Keep in mind that this is a main feature of both Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons and Switch Pro controller, not to mention it having been a part of the other console controller designs for a while now. This weakness is where I feel most of the saving in cost was made and a lot of this comes down to whether you like the feedback of the rumble sensation generally. At least when I was playing retro games, of course, I didn’t need it and didn’t feel its absence. But going from a modern controller with the normal strength to that of the SN30 Pro+ is a little disappointing.
Now, speaking in comparison to other models from 8bitdo (having used some with my Raspberry Pi for some good old retro gaming), the Pro+ is a very worthwhile upgrade thanks to the addition of the grips, the larger triggers, and the new software unique to the SN30 Pro+.
The best part of the new design here is probably the newly developed “Ultimate Software”. As 8Bitdo explains, the software, “gives you elite control over every piece of your controller: customize button mapping, adjust stick & trigger sensitivity, vibration control and create macros with any button combination.” It is that level of customisation that is the standout of the controller and it’s thanks to 8Bitdo wanting the controller to be compatible across so many platforms while having a ‘Pro’ feel.
Finally, one further nice design feature to mention is the removable, rechargeable battery. Not only does this charge through USB-C (cable comes included in the box), yet if you want to have some backup power while traveling, you can pop the battery out and replace it with normal AA batteries.
3: Button Feel
As mentioned above, there are some things I do quite like about the design of the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro+ controller. Yet, when it comes to classic/pro-style controllers, this is still in the more budget range of modern options, and some compromises have been made. I’m going to break this down a little brutally here, so if you’re going to be using the controller for a particular type of gaming, you can be aware of everything ahead of time.
A, B, X, Y Buttons
With being the only real constant across basically every generation of games, these are the buttons I have battered the most so far. Compared to the d-pad detailed below, these are housed really well, have an excellent response, and still have a nice spring to them even after my considerable use. I’m glad they didn’t use 4 identical buttons (another fault of cheaper controllers) so that the top of my thumb can more easily push on the concave X and Y, with the convex A and B being the better choice for lower down my thumb.
For lack of a better word: floaty. If you’re using the d-pad for slower paced games, you won’t really notice this, but if you’re having to switch between up and left/right (or down and left/right) quickly, you can get a bad push on the pad resulting in an incorrect input. At least on my instance of the controller, there’s a lot of wiggle room on the d-pad in the cut-out. If this is down to imprecise design in general, or just a badly sized component to fit the cut-out, I couldn’t tell you. All I do know is if you’re playing a fast game, it really makes you think once you notice the d-pad moving around a lot.
When I’m playing something chill like Pokémon on my phone (don’t @ me!) you don’t notice it, as there are really no fast-paced changes in direction. However, if I play one of my childhood gaming nightmares like “The Simpsons: Bart vs. The Juggernauts”, there are moments that require super-fast changes of direction (the downhill skateboard levels…) and you can really feel the d-pad moving around under your thumb.
This problem magnifies if you’re doing diagonal directions. Again, for slower movement it’s not too bad, yet for those quick changes in direction, it can get frustrating feeling the d-pad moving around and it will result in it not registering diagonal movement especially at times.
These are solid. Really nice! I connected the controller up to my PC to give it a run in GTA V with driving around and you can be very precise with them… if you set them up right. Out of the box the sensitivity was set to 50% which gave me no fine control, it was either go straight or make a sharp 90 degree turn. However, turning the sensitivity up to 100% suddenly gave me more precise control, which does make me wonder why they’re not just set to that out of the box.
Admittedly, 8Bitdo make this easy to change and, indeed, they proudly advertise the adjustable sensitivity of the sticks. Yet the default setting does not lend itself to having the controller exactly how you might want it out-of-the-box. You wouldn’t expect the Switch Pro Controller, for example, to need adjustment out-of-the-box to work perfectly.
As mentioned above, one of the main advertised features are the analog adjustable triggers. And they are quite excellent. Just like the thumbsticks, however, I had to go into the software and change the sensitivity here to tighten up the response. Once you do, they feel as good as any standard console controller, yet they fall short of the trigger feel you get on Pro controllers.
Like the back grip, more premium controllers have a little more texture and shape to them to assist you in quickly flicking the trigger precisely, which doesn’t make the trigger of the SN30 Pro+ ideal if you’re going to be playing shooters with this at a high level. For more general gameplay however, they’re totally acceptable, assuming you go in and adjust the sensitivity.
4: Comparing the SN30 Pro+ to Other Controllers
At an ~$20 lower price point, I see the SN30 Pro+ as a true budget alternative to the “premium” standard console controllers out there. It’s a solid budget option which does almost everything right, from compatibility to customisation to design. However, with its lack of rumble strength and imperfect d-pad, certain players that are used to recent console controllers might be left wondering if it was worth spending the extra $20 to get the most out of some games.
I see the SN30 Pro+ as a true budget alternative to the “premium” standard console controllers out there
One negative with the flat plastic grips comes if your hands sweat while playing. Although normally I’m not prone to this, in the hot weather like we’ve been having recently, not having a grip material on the back of the controller or a texture to the plastic of the grips makes it quite noticeable. Still, the lack of a different material or a textured design on the grips is probably another acceptable tradeoff for its cost, as it’s something I only picked up on after 30 minutes or so in the summer heat.
That all being said, one thing I cannot really do is re-map a controller like the standard Xbox One Controller to suit my needs across different platforms. Having the ability to add macros and custom controls is a huge benefit, as well as being able to save multiple sets. The closest I’ve seen to this is with the likes of the Xbox Elite controller. To me, that is still the benchmark for an “ultimate” customizable gaming controller, but in fairness it does come with a $100+ premium over the SN30 Pro+!
8Bitdo SN30 Pro+ Final Verdict
Overall, I was very happy with the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro+ controller for the price of it. It has a decent enough build for the price, with the analog triggers, customisable controls, and removable rechargeable battery being the highlights. If you’re after a cheap alternative to the standard mainstream console controllers to work across multiple platforms, the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro+ is the best of the bunch and does a great job of merging style and feel on a budget.
Its only major weakness is a poor vibration function, something which might improve on later models and which might not matter to everyone—but is possibly a deal breaker if you’re looking for a controller primarily for the Switch and enjoy the HD Rumble of the standard Joy-Con controllers.
One thing I would like to see 8Bitdo improve upon is how the controller behaves out-of-the-box. I personally had to adjust both the triggers and thumbsticks sensitivity, as well as bump the vibration up to 100%, to get things how I liked them. I doubt I’m alone with that, and although they do advertise the customisation, not everyone will want to go messing around in software to get the performance. I would personally advise these being at or near their maximum to allow users to see the full potential of the controller immediately (whatever happened to just plug in and play?). Then, if someone feels something is too much, they can tinker and pull back on the sensitivity.
8Bitdo SN30 Pro+
– Excellent button and sensitivity adjustment/customization
– Solid compatibility across multiple platforms
– Great trigger feel, analog sticks, and overall button design
– Removable rechargeable battery, compatible with standard AA
– Weak rumble feature in comparison to modern options
– Seemingly cheap design of d-Pad and grips
– Too much reliance on fixing out-of-the-box issues in software
With only a few native issues that can be fixed in software and a couple less-than-stellar design details really working against it, the 8Bitdo SN30 Pro+ controller is a great option. It’s popular due to its compatibility, customisabilty, and price point.
I would say this controller is well worth a buy. But do be aware of its several small issues going in, and be prepared to make adjustments to suit your gameplay.