Don’t Throw Away Your Joy-Cons

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  • Hori’s Split Pad Pro is a bulky pair of full-sized Nintendo Switch controllers, made for hardcore gamers.
  • Though heavier than Nintendo’s Joy-Cons, the Split Pad Pro has a better D-pad and joysticks.
  • The controllers also have a Turbo toggle and reassignable buttons, but most gamers won’t need these features.

The Nintendo Switch is the best-selling console of this generation. Despite this, the Joy-Con controllers that Nintendo packages with the Switch and Switch OLED are notorious for feeling small and cramped, and being prone to drifting glitches

If you’re longing for the feel of a “real” controller, you might be interested in Hori’s Split Pad Pro, a pair of full-sized Joy-Con alternatives that you can use while your Nintendo Switch is in its handheld gamepad mode. 

The Split Pad Pro is marketed as both an alternative to the Joy-Cons’ cramped design, and an option for hardcore gamers who want a fuller gaming experience. And best of all, it only costs $50, nearly half the price of a new pair of Joy-Cons.

As one of the rare Switch owners that plays the system exclusively in handheld mode, I saw the Split Pad Pro as a perfect fit for my playstyle. I tested the Split Pad Pro with a variety of games, both fast- (Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Hades, Splatoon 3) and slow-paced (Pokémon Sword, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel).

But due to its extra weight and lack of features — including motion controls and wireless connectivity — I came away with the impression that the Split Pad Pro is a niche product, meant as more of a Joy-Con addition than an alternative.

The Hori Split Pad Pro is a set of full-sized controllers for the Nintendo Switch. Although they only work in gamepad mode, they add better joysticks, a proper D-pad, and extra buttons.

The Split Pad Pro makes the Switch easier to hold, but sacrifices some key features

Nintendo Switch systems side-by-side, one with Split Pad Pro controllers attached and another with Joy-Cons attached.

A Nintendo Switch with Split Pad Pro (top) and a Switch with regular Joy-Cons (bottom).

William Antonelli/Insider

The Split Pad Pro controllers are built exclusively for the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode. They’re not wireless, and have no internal battery — they only work when they’re connected to the Switch for handheld gaming. This also means that they’re only compatible with the standard Nintendo Switch and Switch OLED, not the Switch Lite.

Hori does sell an adapter that turns the Split Pad Pro into a separate wired controller, but it still isn’t compatible with the Nintendo Switch Lite. It costs $30.

The Split Pad Pro controllers also don’t have any rumble feature, don’t let you scan Amiibos, and don’t have any motion controls. This makes them difficult to use in games that have motion control options in handheld mode, like Splatoon, or games that require motion controls for certain actions, like Breath of the Wild.

But in exchange, the controllers have a larger, grippier surface that fits more naturally into your palms than the regular Joy-Cons. Whereas the Joy-Cons just poke into your palms, the wider Split Pad controllers easily fill your entire hands. After playing with the Split Pad, switching back to the lighter Joy-Cons came with a shock as I realized how tiny they truly are.

The bigger joysticks move more smoothly, like there’s less resistance pushing against them. This makes precise joystick movements — for example, switching between light tilt attacks and strong smash attacks in Super Smash Bros. — easier to perform. I didn’t encounter any joystick drifting issues in my time playing with the Split Pad, and all the user reviews I’ve read say similar things. 

The Split Pad’s larger face buttons (A, B, X, and Y) provide some benefits as well. Aside from being easier to switch between, they feel hollow, which gives them a louder click. It’s a satisfyingly tactile experience compared to the standard Joy-Con buttons, and reminds me a lot of the difference between membrane and mechanical keyboards.

The D-pad and left joystick on a Hori Split Pad Pro controller.

It’s got bigger joysticks and a better D-pad.

William Antonelli/Insider

Lastly, the left Split Pad Pro controller fixes one of the left Joy-Con’s biggest issues: The lack of a proper D-pad. Instead of a D-pad, Nintendo gave the left Joy-Con four separate directional buttons that are awkward to press quickly — but Hori’s left Split Pad controller has a real D-pad that you can easily roll your finger over to change inputs.

I’m a big fan. Rolling my thumb over the singular D-pad to quickly switch between cards in Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is much more comfortable than switching between separate directional buttons. It’s also a big improvement if you play a lot of 2D games that only use the basic four directions.

Both the bigger face buttons and the new D-pad make it harder to accidentally press the wrong button in the middle of a game. That certainly helps when you’re playing games that involve rapid fire inputs, like Hades.

The Turbo toggle and assignable buttons are nice, but won’t be relevant to most players

The back of a Nintendo Switch with the Split Pad Pro attached.

The Split Pad has extra buttons on the back, but it’s easy to accidentally press them.

William Antonelli/Insider

Aside from the extra size, the Split Pad Pro’s main selling points are the Turbo feature and added assignable buttons.

Turbo features have been a staple of third-party gamepads for decades. Once you assign the Turbo feature to a button, holding down that button will send a repeating signal to the Switch, making the system think you’re tapping it dozens of times per second.

Turbo buttons used to be immensely useful for shooting games, since a Turbo controller could let you shoot exponentially faster than manually pressing the button. These days, most games either put a cap on how fast you can shoot, or simply let you hold down the button to go at max speed, making a Turbo button redundant.

Despite that, I managed to find two great uses for the Turbo button: Skipping through dialogue and cutscenes as fast as possible, and grinding levels in turn-based RPGs.

In games like Pokémon or Final Fantasy, grinding for experience usually involves running into basic enemies and mindlessly tapping the A button. The Turbo feature means you can just hold the A button down, reducing the amount of button presses in a single battle from about a dozen to one.

The Split Pad also has assignable paddle buttons, which you can assign to match the function of any other button on that controller. But to hold the controllers comfortably, you have to rest your middle fingers directly on those extra buttons. It’s easy to accidentally press them without thinking, especially if you’re holding the controller tightly.

I also couldn’t get comfortable using them while playing. I mapped the right and left paddles to the R and L triggers respectively — this way, instead of having to switch between the R/ZR and L/ZL buttons with my index finger, I could dedicate my index finger to ZR/ZL and my middle fingers to R/L.

But although this new layout made sense, I couldn’t break my habit of using one finger for both triggers. I even bought a new game, Splatoon 3, in the hopes that learning from scratch how to play with the paddles would help me memorize the new layout — it didn’t.

I’m sure there are gamers out there who will make great use of the Turbo and paddle buttons. But most won’t, and unless you’ve already planned out a way to use them, they’re not worth much thought.

The bulked up controllers make your Nintendo Switch far less portable

A Nintendo Switch with the Split Pad Pro attached, laying on top of an Orzly Switch case.

The size of the Split Pad Pro makes it impossible to carry in many cases designed for the Switch.

William Antonelli/Insider

The biggest benefit of playing the Nintendo Switch in gamepad mode is that it’s immensely portable. With or without the Joy-Cons attached, the Switch is essentially a thin rectangle that’s easy to store and fit.

But with the Split Pad Pro controllers attached, the Switch’s gamepad mode loses a lot of that appeal. Aside from the added weight, the extra size makes it impossible to store your Switch in a case without removing the controllers. And once you’ve detached them, you’ll need to find a spot to store the Split Pad Pro too.

I use a popular Orzly case to transport my Switch and a few games. Whether attached or detached, I couldn’t fit the Split Pad controllers anywhere in the case. As a result, I ended up carrying the controllers in the cardboard box they came in — not ideal.

Should you buy the Split Pad Pro?

Hori advertises the Split Pad Pro as a Joy-Con alternative. Despite this, I can’t recommend it over the standard Joy-Cons for most Switch owners. For all its improvements, the Split Pad Pro just has too many downgrades — more weight, less portability, lack of motion controls, lack of wireless connectivity, awkwardly placed paddles — to be worth it.

But this isn’t to say that I disliked Split Pad Pro. The controllers feel good in my hands, have some interesting extra features, and offer a massively improved D-pad. If you’re looking for a full-sized gamepad controller, need extra joystick precision, and want better directional buttons, the Split Pad Pro is a great choice.

The best way to think of the Split Pad Pro isn’t as a Joy-Con replacement, but an addition. I still prefer the Joy-Cons, and I’m going to use them for the large majority of my gaming sessions. But for those situations where I want to quickly grind out levels in Pokémon, or need a joystick that I know won’t drift at all, I’ll have the Split Pad Pro ready.

Hori also sells a version of the Split Pad called the Split Pad Compact, which has the same features as the Pro, but a different size and shape, and about half the weight. This gives you access to the more precise controls and extra features without a lot of the bulk.

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