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Write-Up: Finding Comfy Controllers. Reviews, Analysis.

Jem_Kindheart
Jem_Kindheart
✭✭✭
Write-up: In Search of Comfy Controllers {Ver 1.0, Jan 13, 2020}

Intro:
Throughout my travels in Elder Scrolls Online, I've met and even been in trial teams with many players who have assorted hand discomforts gaming with a keyboard + mouse. Some are due to ailments, some to age, some to prior injuries, or assorted situations. Many have made the jump to gaming with a controller (aka 'gamepad'), and plenty of other players just like using a controller better anyway. A commonly used controller is the model for the Xbox One or 360, as it is plug-n-play for ESO and many other games (Skyrim, Fallout, etc). One frequently heard complaint is that this model is simply too large for players with smaller paws. With these reports in mind, I set out to locate and test some controller options in regards to ergonomics and ease. Here is the analysis and results.
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Goals:
+) Test a few controllers in regards to ergonomics, detect potential problems, weaknesses, and strengths.
+) Determine which programs, and how difficult to set up, are good options for bringing non-Xbox controllers into ESO.
+) Provide this information to the community in a thoughtful and concise manner through a write-up.
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Ergonomics: What is it, in a nutshell?
Basically, ergonomics is the term for comfort at the interface between human and object, usually machine. A soft round ball is more ergonomic than a hard metal cube. In terms of controller design, higher ergonomics can be achieved several ways: make things rounded or beveled, make things softer, make things require less force, if it needs to be hard then make it with rounded edges, and make it fit in the hand comfortably. If you've ever held or remember an NES controller, yeah, that's textbook opposite of ergonomic. The SNES model was a giant leap in the right direction. Fast forward to today, some companies are much better at this than others.
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Input Language:
Of course, there are competing input protocols, Xinput and DirectInput. ESO and most PC games have their gamepad modes set to listen for Xinput, part of the DirectX library and what the Xbox series uses. Other consoles and non-console gamepads transfer in accordance with the DirectInput protocol. This is why Xbox series controllers are plug-n-play with ESO and others require a program to translate the inputs. Steam users do have an advantage, Steam can directly recognize both protocols and translate it on the fly. How to set that up is outside the scope of this write-up, and I operate the non Steam version.
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Programs: note that no programs are needed for Xbox series controllers, they are instant plug-n-play in ESO. This isn't to be a comprehensive list by any means, but a sampling of what looked like good ones.

reWASD: (free 14 day trial, or $15.99 USD on sale): has a great user interface but did not detect the PDP brand Nintendo Switch controller at all, might work for the PS4 but there's a better and free option for that. It's not needed for Xbox controllers of course, and so it may have limited applicability. Could be a good option for non-console controllers (Logitech, etc).
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DS4Windows: free: this is the one you want for using a PS4 controller! It has easy instructions, and a working default profile right away that works well for ESO. Can control the lightbar colors. By default the trackpad translates to mouse pointer movements and L/R clicks, I quickly disabled the pointer movement and rebound it to Start and Select, you may wish to do similarly. You can set it to do all kinds of things though, like swipe up could press H for horse, or whatever.
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Xpadder: $9.99. Very old feeling user interface, difficult to set up, but is very powerful. This was able to get the PDP brand Nintendo Switch controller to operate as a keyboard and mouse for ESO. Has an unacceptable input lag. Maybe pass on this one.
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Pinnacle Game Profiler: $6.99 on sale. Claims to support almost any controller, but simply put, I couldn't get it to even run after installing. Not a good sign. The pictures on the website do appear to show an easy user interface, though. Might be worth trying out it you have a non-console controller like a Logitech or something.
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JoyToKey: free but you can buy a license to support the developer. Did not test here, haven't had to use it in years, but it's one of the longest running programs for turning controller inputs into kb+mouse actions. I recall the setup to be rather complicated, but it may have a better setup interface in recent releases. It is still being regularly updated. I think this is the one I got halfway working in the early days of ESO before built in controller support, but that was many meads ago and even a whole PC ago, haha!
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WiinUPro: free, still trying to make it work, it has proven quite a struggle, still worth a mention. Claims to be able to receive Wii and Switch controller inputs and output them as an emulated Xbox controller, thus native for ESO gamepad mode. If true this is a similar function to what DS4Windows does. Will update if I get it functioning as claimed.
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Controllers:

Xbox One / 360 wired controller: brand PDP, Afterglow/Prismatic with Audio control model.
This is the model I've been using and raiding with for years and can provide some deeper inside comments on. (before this, in the Skyrim days, I used base model 360 units from the same company.) The unit changed slightly a few times over the years but it's still basically the same controller. Prices ranged from about $30 to $45, and last about 6-9 months depending on how hard I'm raiding trials. Yes, they are wear and tear items at this point. None ever broke in the exact same way though, which is a good sign from an engineering standpoint, meaning I personally broke them, not due to design weakness. Sadly I have a pile of maybe 7 or 8 dead ones in a box in the closet, hoping I could figure out how to recycle them in an environmentally friendly manner. It's a controller, nothing too special except that when it breaks you can grab another nearby at W*lmart or B*stBuy. It is not super comfortable, but I never had any discomfort problem personally even hitting trials for many hours. The buttons are hard, require strong presses, and have long travel distances till activation. The unit is probably probably too big for people with smaller hands, though it fit me okay. On the plus side, the headphone jack does support a microphone, an important thing for a vet healer to know is available, and has volume control on the controller which has come in handy sometimes. Has cool RGB if you care about that.

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Nintendo Switch Pro wired controller: brand PDP, Prismatic with Audio control model.
Pros:
Slightly more ergonomic than Xbox One models (name brand Nintendo units are even yet noticeably more ergonomic), are more compact and would fit smaller hands better than Xbox One units, readily available, reasonably priced, quality control standards for Nintendo licensed products appear to be noticeably higher than those of Xbox, has softer and larger ABXY buttons. Button presses require less force and have medium travel distances, less of both that the Xbox units and thus perhaps better for ouchie paws. Has volume control for the wired headset jack. (Did not test if the wired 3.5mm jack has a mic line, I presume it does since the Xbox units do.) Has RGB.
Cons:
Is not supported nor recognized by ESO, no vibration, will require very complex setup (honestly beyond a lot of players' level of motivation to do so, time, or ability), will need more frequent additionally using kb+mouse than Xbox controllers, has noticeable thus unacceptable input lag due to having to run through old 3rd party translation applications, (strangely was not even recognized by reWASD program at all, perhaps an OEM Nintendo unit would be)
Verdict:
Quickly returned for a refund. Despite finally getting it kinda working, the input lag, lack of vibration, and constant need to still use kb+mouse were too many strikes against it. This particular model would be just fine for use on an actual Nintendo Switch, though, or even casually in emulators for older console games if you don't have a different controller.

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Sony PS4 custom 'Soft touch' DualShock 4 controller: $45 used to $80+ new.
First thoughts: Oh this is nice! This would fit smaller hands much better than the Xbox One controller.
Pros:
Very lightweight but not cheaply so, very comfortable, thumbsicks rest the thumbs comfortably in their dimples and are nicely a few millimeters shorter than the Xbox models. ABXY buttons are large, beveled edges, and have softer, shorter travel distances than all other models. The triggers and bumper buttons are extremely comfortable, yet slightly textured for a bit of traction, and have what felt like the sweet spot of travel distance. The 'soft touch' custom painted faceplate feels like a marriage of velvet and silk... Where has this been all my life? All buttons work in ESO with DS4Windows just like I'm used to with the Xbox layout. Bluetooth wireless mode does indeed work! You'll probably need a Bluetooth USB dongle if you have a tower PC, a cheap one online is fine, $5-$10. Most laptops will have Bluetooth built in. Wired mode works fine too, standard Micro USB port.
(This is the first time I had ever held a PS4 controller and had no idea what I was missing. This might be my new default controller.)
Cons:
Few nitpicks, and these are a stretch. The Start and Select buttons are flush, meaning that these aren't always too easy to find. By default, these operate Map/Horse (long press) and Inventory. To make it easier, I set the left trackpad press and right trackpad press (there's buttons under there) to operate as these keys too. I found a personal issue where, when I try to hit the bar swap (left Dpad) I often hit the bottom Dpad by mistake (first person / 3rd person view swap), this probably will go away with a little more practice and likely a result of using Xbox controllers only thus far. I might end up swapping the keys. The lightbar is ridiculously bright at night, I quickly found you can adjust the colors or select a Black in the DS4Windows program to turn it off. Not really a con but, Bluetooth mode obviously operates on a built-in battery, meaning from time to time you'll need to recharge it, Micro USB cable, done. Did not come with original packaging nor USB cable but everyone has tons of those by now. Speaking of, the port on the controller is kinda just...there.. Meaning it could easily come unplugged with almost no effort. This could be a huge problem in vet content if you're mid raid and in wired mode. Don't think there's a solution for this except just operate it in Bluetooth mode. (3rd party brands usually have these ports recessed with a tensioner to prevent that, but this was always designed to be a wireless controller anyway.)
Verdict:
This is probably the one you want. Don't be cheap here, get an authentic Sony model, it'll probably last longer than two cheaper replacements. if you're going for comfort and/or have ouchie paws, look for the 'Soft Touch' units and spend the few extra coins. I'm ordering another one next month in a different color for personal use, if that gives you a hint. The unit I have is from a store called 'OCGamingStore', they do the paint mod themselves starting from new Sony units, check popular auction sites or G*ogle. Note that I have no affiliation nor sponsorship by them, I just saw one and knew it looked cozy, and was totally sold on it when I opened the box.

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Fusion Pro Xbox One controller, PowerA brand, white and copper model only from B*stBuy. $79.99 retail, $85 after tax to my front door.
First Thoughts: *audible gasp* when I opened the packaging. This is, by leaps and bounds, both the most high quality and beautiful controller I have ever seen or held. Worth it.
Pros:
Very high level of craftsmanship, faceplate is matte white and soft, the ABXY buttons are hard plastic as usual but very rounded and comfortable, the triggers and bumper buttons a smooth but very well rounded and the fingers hold them well, triggers have adjustable length which is very cool, Dpad is also hard plastic but also round edged and comfortable, thumbsticks are soft but do have tiny little friction teeth around the top edge which is grippy while not uncomfortable. Faceplate is detachable to maintenance the thumbsticks or rings. Paddle module on the bottom is detachable and very precise. The cable is braided and very high quality. Vibration feedback is much more calm and refined than other Xbox models. Carrying case and packaging is very nice.
Cons:
This thing is heavy, and I mean heavy. While not a problem for me personally, some players may have an issue with its weight. The LED light is way bright and shines right at your face, I put a tiny piece of tape over it for now, with the faceplate removed it could be painted over with some nail polish or something similar to shut it up. For the trigger adjustments, I found the shortest-length setting to just not work. Maybe some re-calibration could solve that, for now the medium pull setting is still an improvement over other models. One big issue: there's a firmware update from the website, it solves a hardware bug with the headset jack. You'll have to flash it to the controller, which is easy, then calibrate the controller (instructions on the same web page) which is not easy. If you don't plan on using the built-in audio jack, maybe you can skip this entirely idk. Controller cable is extremely difficult to remove once in there, not necessarily a bad thing. Paddle keys down below can only be mapped to other controls in the controller, not keyboard keys or combos. This is purely a limitation the Xinput data protocol, a weakness other Xbox controllers with extra buttons share. It's not a design issue of the controller or companies being lazy, that's pure Microsoft code problem. Did I mention it was heavy? Haha!
Verdict:
This is the one you want if you're going for the Xbox controller platform and comfort. It is simply leagues better than others. It is still Xbox sized, so if that's an issue, it's maybe not for you. It is heavy enough to perhaps bother some, maybe use a lap pillow and keep your posture good and it should be okay though. Still, I love mine and plan to keep it and use it.

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'Soft Touch' modded OEM Xbox One S controller: untested but honorable mention. These would come from 'OCGamingStore' too, and are simply the stock Xbox One S (newer model) controller modded with the soft touch paint. Will be relatively comfortable, though Xbox sized again, should last a reasonable time, will be instantly plug-n-play, and are fairly priced. It appears that, being One S units, they are also Bluetooth wireless.
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Dishonorable Mentions: There is no shortage of very cheap budget controllers. Stay away. They're going to hurt, they're going to break, and they'll cost more to keep replacing in the long run. If it looks like trash, or priced as such, it probably is. Beware of counterfeit Sony controllers from overseas, the auction sites can't even keep up in removing them. You'll know an authentic Sony in your hands. There's one controller I almost grabbed for testing 'till I read the horrible reviews: a "Mini Xbox One controller" on A*azon. It's like $29 and apparently falls apart immediately. Sounded like a good option for small paw players, but be wiser with your gaming dollar. Choose authentic units, even if comfort modded, or go with upper tier 3rd party names.
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Mods: I've tried lots of those 'cool' or themed button replacements, Dpad replacements, glowy thumbsticks, you name it. Most are very cheaply made trash. Most break quickly, start sticking, and just aren't up to par. Be very wary of button mods, it may likely cause more headache than hand comfort or style in the long run.
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Conclusion: With controllers, you do get what you pay for, but it doesn't have to break the bank! If you come from PlayStation console gaming, you'll feel right at home with a 'Soft Touch' PS4 controller, just nab that DS4Windows program and you're ready to rock. If you have small paws this is probably what you want. Providing you like the Xbox series layout, and don't mind the bigger size, a 'Soft Touch' version of that model or Fusion Pro are very good options for you. Be careful going much cheaper, the PDP brand is probably as cheap as you want to realistically go, and they're nothing special or offer much buff to comfort. So far the Switch series controller is a wipe, but it can be made to work with enough effort, though the input lag may get you dead often. Use caution when considering button mods, they aren't really worth the work.
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Future Testing Plans: (will update above as needed)
The hope is to test a couple more units and will keep this updated as such. I'd like to give an authentic Nintendo brand Switch Pro controller some testing and see if 1.) the input lag was due to my choice of 3rd party brand, and 2.) if the applicable programs listed above can recognize it. I'd also like to at least get my mittens on a Microsoft Elite Xbox controller (newer edition) and at least hold it a few minutes and see if it might be worth their sky high $180 asking price. Going to check with friends and local physical game stores and see if they have one I can at least hold or hopefully loan for testing. Personally, I'm satisfied with my Fusion Pro as the 3rd party clone, and at $85 is more reasonable (online reviews by others indicated that it's a near perfect replacement for the Elite at half the cost, plus it's much prettier). There are also two models by Razor which look quite ergonomic, that is something to think about going forward, but it may be hard to justify the prices just for testing. One of the models, I believe, is meant to be another Elite replacement option.
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Real Community Need:
After going through these controllers, and listening to reports from others, it is more clear than ever that there is a legitimate and serious need in the community for a very high quality gamepad of smaller proportions. One that can fit people with smaller hands, such as women gamers for example, and be highly ergonomic while geared towards heavy gaming such as veteran content. By the reviews, the $30 garbage 'Mini' unit with the Minecraft paintjob isn't going to cut it for serious gamers. There is no logical or technical reason this does not exist already, absolutely none. In a perfect world, it would also be wireless and Xinput so it is plug-n-play. Thus, essentially, take a marriage between the Fusion Pro like I have and a 'Soft Touch' Xbox One S wireless, shrink the entire thing by 20%, and sell it. I've opened up maybe two or three dozen of these controllers, there's plenty of open space in there they could shrink from. The controller you're probably here needing most, well it simply doesn't exist yet.
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Thank you kindly for reading, hopefully it helps someone! Feel free to ask any questions and I'll do my best to answer them.
Sincerely,
-Jem-
Edited by Jem_Kindheart on January 14, 2020 3:17AM
Longtimer since beta, the usual. Recent changes finally brought me to forums. 20 CP toons. 810+ on main account, 300cp on 2nd account. Endgame-ish lol still progressing the last top stuff. Healer main: vSS, vSO HM, vAA HM, vAS+2, vMoL, vHoF, vHRC, vDSA. DPS NB: most things in game+Flawless. USMC 00-08 Hoorah
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