- No gamer wants to be tethered to their fun box of choice, and that’s why a good Bluetooth controller should always be in one’s arsenal.
- With cutting-edge technology and unmatched ergonomics, the Xbox Wireless Controller is the best you can buy. We also have four other favorites to recommend.
Ask any gamer what their most important tool is and the answer might surprise you. You’d assume the gaming console, system, or platform itself, but it’s the controller that can make or break a gaming session.
Wired controllers are great and have their uses – pros prefer them to cut down on latency, for instance – but it’s always worth having a good Bluetooth controller in reach. There are no wires to entangle and trip over, and you can’t risk your console flying off its stand when your dog runs a random marathon around the house.
You can use Bluetooth controllers to play video games on PC, Mac, and even some consoles such as the Nintendo Switch. A Bluetooth controller is also the de facto choice for those looking to game on their smartphones, many of which are designed for this very purpose.
These controllers have their downsides, including the need to manage battery power and dealing with potential connection issues. We’d argue that the convenience more than makes up for those concessions, and a good Bluetooth controller mitigates these pains, anyway. Let’s look at the best of the bunch.
Note: We didn’t focus on video game consoles because they deserve their own buying guides, which we are currently working on. However, the controllers that come with consoles are generally terrific.
Here are the best Bluetooth controllers you can buy:
- Best Bluetooth controller overall: Xbox Wireless Controller
- Best Bluetooth controller for computer gaming: Steam Controller
- Best Bluetooth controller for iPhone and iPad: SteelSeries Nimbus
- Best Bluetooth controller for Android: BEBONCOOL Wireless Controller
- Best Bluetooth controller for retro gaming: 8BITDO SN30 Pro
The best Bluetooth controller overall
It’s not just for Xbox. Microsoft’s well-engineered Xbox One Wireless Controller is perfectly compatible with Windows and can also work with Android phones.
There are few controllers that can match the overall efficacy of the Xbox Wireless Controller. With billions of dollars poured into its research and development, Microsoft has engineered a controller with superior ergonomics and forward-thinking features like dedicated vibration engines for its triggers.
The company also helped popularize the layout of the face buttons, directional pad, and analog sticks. Analog sticks line up on opposite ends of the controller, as opposed to lining them up right next to each other like on Sony’s DualShock 4 for the PlayStation. This makes for a more balanced control experience, though this is a matter of preference. Having used this controller extensively myself, I can attest to the heightened sense of immersion these features enable, and the comfort level allows me to enjoy gaming for hours at a time.
The Xbox One’s controller didn’t always support Bluetooth. Microsoft made that upgrade when it unified the company’s gaming efforts across console and PC (and yes, Macs included). As such, the Xbox Wireless Controller works with scores of your favorite games on PC. Many games have dedicated controller or joystick modes that communicate directly with the controller interface included with Windows 10.
In games that don’t automatically target it, it’s simple enough to map the buttons how you like. It being Bluetooth means the pad can also work with Android smartphones, though it’s not always perfect as some mobile games don’t have proper support.
One other niggle is that the controller accepts AA batteries as standard. You’ll need to buy a separate battery – either a Play-and-Charge Kit (25 hours of battery life) or rechargeable AAs (40 hours) – if you want that functionality. The upside to this element, and something I bill as an advantage, is that you can hot-swap your batteries when they’re dead, so there’s never a need to connect a USB charger if being tethered is out of the question. This also eliminates the need for repairs or replacements when battery life eventually degrades.
The Xbox Wireless Controller maintains an average of around 4 stars out of 5 at Amazon. More than 4,000 reviewers have chimed in, and one buyer said it’s “very comfortable to use, and the Bluetooth connectivity to my Windows 10 PC is consistent.” That sentiment echoes PCGamer’s views, which scored the original incarnation of this controller a 90 out of 100, calling it “a vast improvement over the original Xbox 360 controller,” which itself was the best of its time.
Pros: Masterful ergonomic design, native Windows 10 support, user-replaceable batteries, widespread game compatibility, excellent battery life, value
Cons: Need to supply your own batteries, some Android games are not supported
The best for computer gaming
The Steam Controller works with games designed for mouse and keyboard.
Valve’s Steam Controller was one of the hottest items in PC gaming back when it first launched. The company presented something that looks almost alien-like up against the traditional gamepads of the era.
That’s because the Steam Controller uses dual trackpads over traditional control features like directional pads and analog sticks. That functionality is still present – the surface of the trackpads emulate the buttons and sticks they replace – but this technology also makes it possible for you to use the controller with games designed purely for the standard mouse and keyboard control scheme. The trackpads can emulate joysticks, steering wheels, analog sticks, and trackballs, and you can download user-made configurations for your favorite games if you don’t have the elbow grease needed to do it on your own.
Other niceties include dual-stage triggers. They can function as both analog and digital input triggers (at the same time, even) and perform different functions depending on how far you push them. Haptic feedback rounds out the immersion-driving bits for games that support it.
While we’d prefer something more traditional for shooters, fighters, and sports, the Steam Controller can help fuel your couch gaming sessions for genres like simulation and strategy without requiring a messy mouse and keyboard setup. The controller is also prohibitively expensive, so it’s worth looking elsewhere if your needs aren’t so particular.
The Steam Controller had its share of problems early on, but Valve rectified many of those, thanks to a swarm of usability updates. Some on Amazon swear by its utility. It has a 4-star rating from more than 2,700 reviewers. A common feeling is that it’s a fun and useful way to enjoy games on PC, though you’ll need patience to work through a steep learning curve.
Pros: Extremely versatile for playing all PC gaming genres, feels great in the hand, wide platform compatibility (Windows, Mac, and Linux), easy to find custom profiles for it
Cons: Steep learning curve, steeper price tag
The best for iPhone and iPad
It’s not so simple for Apple users to pick out any old gamepad, and that’s why the SteelSeries Nimbus is an invaluable option.
As Apple users well know, it’s not always possible to buy any accessory and expect it to work with an iPhone and iPad. Apple’s mobile OS requires adherence to strict accessory licenses and developer policies. Bluetooth controllers have long suffered for it.
But SteelSeries used its partnership with Apple to create a Bluetooth controller that’s licensed for use with the iPhone, iPad, and even your Apple TV. It’s a full-fledged controller featuring pressure-sensitive triggers, dual analog sticks, four face buttons, a directional pad, bumpers, and a dedicated menu button. An LED strip lets you know which player you are, out of four possible connections.
You’ll get 40 hours of battery life, and you charge it with an Apple Lightning cable (the same one used to charge an iPhone or iPad). SteelSeries keeps your controller updated through the Nimbus Companion App, which is where you’ll also go to discover new games in the App Store that have controller support, including “Fortnite.”
Although designed for mobile gaming, the SteelSeries Nimbus doesn’t have a built-in cradle for holding your smartphone. Your options include a smartphone or tablet stand, a case with a kickstand, or inexpensive attachments like these that can turn your phone into a handheld gaming system.
TechRadar scored the Nimbus 4 out of 5 stars in its review. “The SteelSeries Nimbus is easily the best MFi games controller for Apple TV and iPad,” it said, noting the only downside is the lack of a holder for an iPhone.
Pros: Perfect compatibility with iOS, battery can go for several long gaming sessions, comfortable to use, also works with Apple TV, Mac, and Windows
Cons: Needs separate attachment to hold phone
The best for Android
With a clip to hold your Android phone in place, BEBONCOOL’s wireless controller enables a solid portable gaming experience.
BEBONCOOL is a little known electronics brand, but the Bluetooth controller the company has made is the best you could buy for an Android phone. Characteristics of a competent gamepad are plentiful, including dual analog sticks, a directional pad, a full set of face buttons, and your usual cocktail of shoulder buttons.
Important for mobile gamers is the integrated holding clip that can cradle your phone, meaning you can enjoy your playtime on the move without having to prop your device up on a steady surface.
Battery life is on the low side at an advertised eight to ten hours. You should also take note of its smaller size – folks with bigger paws may want to explore bigger options out there, of which there’s an abundance.
The controller holds most smartphones without fail, some better than others. It holds up to a 5.6-inch, 16:9 device, meaning the wave of skinnier 19:9 models dominating the market today will fit just fine. They’ll run a little wider than the controller, but that shouldn’t spoil an otherwise functional gaming experience.
With an average of around 4 stars at Amazon after 600-plus reviews, BEBONCOOL’s reputation has surpassed even MOGA, a company that once held the crown in this arena but has since fallen off the face of the planet. “This device is a recommend. It works fairly well on any device, and I have tried it on several,” one buyer wrote, noting that its minor flaws don’t detract from an overall delightful product.
Pros: Built-in cradle holds your Android phone, features a full set of buttons to play any compatible game you throw its way, lightweight construction makes it comfortable to use, affordable
The best for retro gaming
The 8Bitdo SN30 Pro looks the part for retro gaming and has everything it needs to play all the new stuff, too.
We saved the fun one for last. It’s only right to pair a nostalgic retro gaming session with a controller to match.
8Bitdo has made a name for itself on the strength of throwbacks. Its series of Bluetooth controllers all take after the designs of the 8-Bit Sega and Nintendo consoles of generations past.
The SN30 line is still going strong, but with modern updates. The one we’re looking at today – the SN30 Pro – takes after the Super Nintendo’s classic controller with dual analog sticks being added for today’s games. It has all the usual buttons you’d expect, but what you don’t see is a six-axis motion control system that allows you to play select Nintendo Switch games in fun new ways. It works just like a normal controller for all other scenarios and platforms.
A USB-C connector is present for charging its built-in lithium-ion battery, an affair that takes just two hours thanks to fast charging tech. That battery will last up to 18 hours when it’s at full capacity.
PCMag scored the SN30 Pro 4.5 out of 5 stars. “8Bitdo’s SN30 is functional, responsive, and works flawlessly,” it said in a glowing critique. It also maintains 4.4 stars out of 5 at Amazon
Pros: Oozing with nostalgia, travel-friendly, impressive battery life for its size, perfect compatibility with Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, Android, and Raspberry Pi
Cons: It’s on the small side