Joy-Con vs. Pro Controller: Which Nintendo Switch controller should you buy?

Nintendo's Joy-Con is a capable controller on its own. Still, its real draw is the ability to convert into three different modes: A traditional controller in the grip, attached controllers flanking each side of the Nintendo Switch, or turned sideways and operating as two separate controllers when you have people gaming with you. The Pro Controller is far superior on its own, but it won't work with certain multiplayer games.

Joy-Con vs. Pro Controller: What's the difference?

Joy-Con and Pro Controllers are different even though they offer many of the same features. They can be used with any Nintendo Switch, from the base model to the Nintendo Switch OLED, and even the Switch Lite.

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SpecsJoy-ConPro Controller
Battery LifeUp to 20 hoursUp to 40 hours
Charging TimeUp to 3.5 hoursUp to 6 hours
HD Rumble
amiibo Functionality
Motion Controls
Weight3.52 oz14.1 oz
Colors & DesignsGray, Neon Red / Neon Blue, Neon Pink / Neon Green, Mario Red, Neon Purple / Neon Orange, Neon Yellow, Blue / Neon Yellow, Neon Green, Skyward Sword Edition, Fortnite Edition, Splatoon 3 Edition, White Nintendo Switch OLEDBlack, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Edition, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Edition, Monster Hunter Rise Edition, Monster Hunter Rise Sunbreak Edition, Splatoon 3 Edition

What do these differences mean for you?

By default, the Switch and Switch OLED ship with the unique Joy-Con controller. They're two controllers that work together to behave as a single controller when connected to a special dock or on the sides of the console.

The Joy-Con is special because, when detached, it can act as two separate controllers in multiplayer games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This makes them fantastic options for entertaining kids in the car during long rides, hosting game nights, or if you just have a lot of family and friends who like playing together.

If you're playing alone and want more comfort with games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or like to play competitive multiplayers more seriously, then the Pro Controller is what you want. Not only is the ergonomic design more comfortable for your hands, but the familiar feeling of a traditional gamepad makes it easier to complete challenges in games that require more dexterity and faster reflexes.

Joy-Con vs. Pro Controller: Use matters

The small size of the Joy-Con is a setback for serious gamers, but these dimensions make them a perfect option for kids. When detached, Joy-Con practically weigh the same amount as feathers and are much lighter than the Pro Controller. However, the Pro Controller's ergonomic grips will keep adult hands from cramping, while the Joy-Con can be uncomfortable to hold after long stretches.

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Able to play for as long as 40 hours, Pro Controllers have double the battery life of Joy-Con. This once more makes them a great option for long gaming sessions. But the 20 hours afforded by Joy-Con is nothing to sneeze at. As long as you're charging them between playing sessions, you'll never run out of battery in one go.

The Pro Controller is a quality gamepad with a weight we love, the comfort needed for long sessions, and a perfect button design for better performance. The Joy-Con lack many of the benefits the Pro Controllers have. They work fine, but put two equally matched opponents up against each other in games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Dragon Ball FighterZ — one using a Pro controller and the other on Joy-Con — and the Pro Controller user will have the edge.

Since both the Joy-Con and Pro Controller feature amiibo scanning, HD rumble, and motion controls, you won't miss out on any of these features by choosing one gamepad over the other.

Joy-Con vs. Pro Controller: Price

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller Connected To Switch Dock

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Just because Joy-Con is a better value doesn't mean it's the better controller to use with the Nintendo Switch.

Just because Joy-Con is a better value doesn't mean it's the better controller to use with the Nintendo Switch. The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is unmatched when it comes to design. You'll just have to determine how you plan on using the Switch to figure out which controller option is better for you.

For instance, say you wanted to get a total of four controllers to play multiplayer games with family and friends. You'd have to purchase four separate Pro Controllers, which would get rather expensive. However, if you decided to go with Joy-Con, you'd only have to buy one additional pack of Joy-Con and then use them alongside the pair that came with the Nintendo Switch to have four controllers ready for multiplayer action. Now, if you're mainly planning to play solo adventure games or online shooters, then you'll be better off with the Pro Controller.

Joy-Con vs. Pro Controller: Design and color variety

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller Monster Hunter Rise Edition

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Design-wise, there are far more Joy-Con colors, which are relatively easy to find on major retailers' sites. Meanwhile, the Pro Controller does have some special edition designs featuring themes for popular Switch games. However, these limited-edition Pro Controllers are often harder to find, making it so you have to turn to third-party sellers who sell them for far higher than their MSRP. You'll likely need to settle for a black Pro Controller since this is the one color that's available plentifully.

Joy-Con vs. Pro Controller: The curse of Joy-Con drift

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Unfortunately, the joysticks on the Nintendo Switch, Switch OLED, and Switch Lite suffer from drift. This means that the Switch is receiving signals telling it to move an on-screen character even if you aren't touching the Joy-Con. As you can imagine, this can make gaming sessions frustrating. This problem is so prevalent that several lawsuits have been filed against Nintendo because of it.

Depending on what the exact issue is, there are some ways to fix Joy-Con drift, and while some of these methods can help, it's still frustrating that this issue is so common. Now, it's also possible for the Pro Controller to have drift issues. However, there aren't rampant reports of joystick drift for this more traditional-looking controller. In that way, it's a more reliable option.

Joy-Con vs. Pro Controller: Which one should you get?

(Image credit: Nintendo)

If you're specifically looking to buy more controllers so you can play multiplayer games, it will be easier to purchase more Joy-Con since they spread farther. The downside is that you'll need space to put them if you want to travel with all your controllers. You'll also need multiple Joy-Con charging docks if you fancy those.

It's worth noting that you don't have to sacrifice one for the other. You can totally use a Pro Controller while your guests use Joy-Con. You'd probably get some dirty looks for this, but it is possible. When determining which route is right for you, think about the games you play and who you play them with.

After taking all of this into consideration, here's our take. At the very least, you should buy a Pro Controller for your personal use. This way, you have a comfortable, traditional-style gamepad for normal usage plus the two separate Joy-Con halves that came with your Switch for anyone tagging along.

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend. 

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