Sony has been refining its official PlayStation controllers for years, and PS4’s iteration - the DualShock 4 - is undoubtedly the best it’s ever been, with an ergonomic design and extra functionality like motion controls and a touchpad.
Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, and there’s now a whole ecosystem of third-party PlayStation 4 controllers that offer something a little different. Whether you want a high-end pad for tournament play or something cheap and cheerful for smaller (or less careful) hands, there should be something for you.
Remember that you can use the official DualShock 4 on PC, and most third-party controllers will work well on a computer too - the only exception in our round-up is Hori's budget Mini Wired Gamepad.
PlayStation DualShock 4
Let’s start with ol’ faithful: the DualShock 4. While Microsoft has unleashed untold variations on its base Xbox One controller, Sony has (mostly) resisted the urge with the DualShock 4, only releasing one update to the pad - clearly recognising that this is a great enough controller that it doesn’t need constant tweaks, refinements, or a fancy Elite version.
The aesthetic is classic PlayStation, and at first glance you might think the functionality is basically the same too, with the standard face buttons, D-pad, analogue sticks, and shoulder triggers. You’ll also find the Options and Share buttons. It works wirelessly, charges by microUSB, and has a perfectly respectable battery life.
There’s more under the hood than that though. There are motion controls (even if not that many games use them), a light bar that changes colour to match in-game events, and a touch pad that doubles as a button. More recent versions of the controller (since 2016) also make the light bar slightly visible through the touch pad, rather than limiting it to the back of the controller.
The updated DualShock 4 isn’t a big enough improvement to ever justify an upgrade, but if you need to replace a broken controller, or want to pick up a second for local multiplayer, there are a lot of reasons to just grab an official one. It’s cheaper than most of the competition, now comes in a decent range of colours, and you know it’s just going to work.
Scuf Impact PS4 Controller
The standard DualShock 4 is all well and good, but if you’re willing to spend a little extra you can get a lot more bang for your buck. And for our money, the absolute best PS4 controllers out there come from Scuf.
The company offers two basic models of PS4 controller: the Impact and the Infinity4PS Pro. We’ve tested out the Impact, which takes its design cues from the Xbox One pad, but check out the Infinity if you prefer a more traditional DualShock shape - at the cost of fewer rear paddles.
Either way, customisability is Scuf’s first, most obvious selling point. You can design your controller in just about any colour scheme you can imagine, including button and thumbstick colours, and even add a textured grip to the rear of the pad.
More advanced options including picking your thumbsticks (domed or concave, long or regular), choosing between a D-pad or a control disc, adding adjustable hair triggers, remapping the rear paddles on the fly, and even removing the rumble to make the controller lighter and more accurate.
The thumbsticks can be quickly swapped out at home, while the triggers offer even more flexibility - not only can you swap between regular and extended trigger covers, but if you opt for the trigger kit you can also set a trigger stop to reduce trigger movement and finely tune the hair triggers for the perfect response.
Each of these additions adds to the cost, so the fussier you are the more you’ll pay. It might be worth it though, because the quality is exceptional - Scuf’s pads feel well-built, they’re reliable, and they just play damn well. Whether you’re serious about competitive play or just want to treat yourself, right now Scuf is as good as it gets.
Evil Shift for PS4
We’ve got to admit, Evil Controllers’ Evil Shift for PS4 is a personal favourite of ours. The star of the show is undoubtedly the innovative paddle system the controller utilises, as it’s different from standard paddle systems found on other controllers.
Rather than using flappy paddles, the Shift features smaller, ergonomically shaped paddles that are mounted directly on top of activator buttons. This provides lightning-quick response time, even with the smallest amount of pressure. It doesn’t matter if you hit the paddle at an awkward angle either, as it picks up input from almost any angle.
It features one of the simplest remapping systems we’ve ever used too; rather than requiring an app or additional accessory to remap buttons, you need simply hold the Share button and the paddle you’d like to remap, then select the button you’d like to assign. It takes a couple of seconds, and apart from having a few more screenshots in our PS4 library than we’d like, it’s the ideal solution.
The Evil Shift also features hairpin triggers that feature a 50 percent reduction in trigger tension, increasing reaction time with only a fraction of the required pressure. It allows you to respond quickly, although we’ve found them to be a little too sensitive at times (we’ve rested our fingers on the triggers and accidentally activated them on more than one occasion).
You’ll also find impressive ‘quick-touch technology’ embedded beneath the buttons on the controller. The buttons require less pressure to activate than a standard PS4 controller, and reduces the distance of button travel. It’s impressive, offering increased reaction times and a rather satisfying mouse-click noise too.
You can also opt for interchangeable thumbsticks, with Evil Controllers offering up to three sets of sticks, each a slightly different length. This gives you a wider surface area and thus greater control over the analogue sticks, ideal for budding snipers and stealth fanatics alike. Oh, and there’s also a range of soft-touch colour finishes to choose from (at extra cost) which feel amazing in the hand.
If you’re looking for a step up from the DualShock 4 but don’t want the faff of customising a Scuf pad, the next best bet is probably the Razer Raiju.
At £150/$150, this thing ain’t cheap, but it’s in line with what you’d pay for a Scuf controller - and cheaper than they are when fully loaded. It offers a lot of the same functionality, with a few little tweaks - and one major downside.
The Raiju is chunkier and blockier than the original DualShock 4, and comes in black with bright blue accents on the soft-touch rear grip and optional thumbstick caps. The added bulk is in part thanks to the extra controls along the bottom, allowing you to switch between customisable control profiles and adjust your audio settings.
On the back of the controller you get four additional programmable buttons. Note that these are buttons, not paddles - so the placement is a bit different, with one pair on the back of the pad and the other pair actually on the end, next to the existing R2 and L2 shoulder triggers. It’s a less fiddly setup that saves you from mixing up a mess of paddles, but does require long index fingers to hit the new shoulder buttons.
The main triggers are also impressive, with optional trigger stops and a hair trigger mode for rapid-firing FPS players. The Raiju also comes with a swanky carry case, cementing Razer’s intent: this is a controller for pro (and aspiring pro) players to take to tournaments.
That’s what directly inspires the Raiju’s one big disappointment: it’s not wireless. Pro players tend to favour the rapid response and reliability of a wired connection, which we understand, but at this price point it seems mad not to include the option for wireless play. Even pros want to sit back and play on the sofa sometimes.
While the majority of PS4 controllers on the market sport the same basic design, Hori offers something a little different. The Hori Onyx is the perfect solution for those that prefer the general shape and design of the Xbox One controller, sporting an off-set analogue stick and wider grips while still featuring PS4-exclusive features including the Touch bar and standard Bluetooth connectivity.
The wide-set design allows for a better overall grip of the controller, especially during longer gaming sessions. The general build quality is decent, and sports matte finish grips on the rear to provide extra grip when gaming gets a little intense and your palms start to sweat.
There is a downside to the controller though; it’s missing some features. You won’t find a 3.5mm headphone jack, light bar or speaker on the Onyx, limiting its functionality in games that utilise the speaker and light bar systems. Oh, and there’s no USB cable included with the controller – you’ll have to use the one that came with the PS4.
Hori Mini Wired Gamepad for PS4
Here’s something a little different. Hori’s Mini Wired Gamepad has none of the bells and whistles of the high-end controllers - in fact it’s even missing a few features from the standard DualShock 4, including PC support.
What it does offer, though, is a simple wired gamepad that’s built for smaller (and clumsier) hands. The features are reduced, but so is the price, coming in at approximately half the price of a DS4.
Available in black, red, or blue, the mini gamepad seems to take its cues equally from retro controllers and the more recent Switch Joy-Con design, with a simple blocky shape that’s about half the size of a typical controller.
All the usual buttons are present and correct, but more advanced features are missing: there’s no light bar, headphone jack, speaker, motion controls, or rumble. The touch pad is also removed but its functionality is kept by letting you simulate certain functions using a combination of a new touch pad button and the thumbsticks.
Hori and Sony are pitching this for kids, and it’s easy to see why. The blocky, sturdy design should survive the worst of younger players’ abuses, and stripping out more complex features just means there are fewer moving parts to break. The 3m cable also makes it a bit harder for them to throw the pad across a room - or just run off with it.
However, the compact size also means the Hori pad could be a compelling proposition for any adult gamers who just happen to have smaller hands, or potentially for some with accessibility issues. It could also make a great back-up travel controller, as it’s more likely to survive getting knocked around in a suitcase.
The stripped back feature set means this doesn’t really make sense as a spare or replacement controller for the average player, but for anyone who’s not well served by the DualShock 4 or its high-end counterparts, Hori’s Mini Wired Gamepad could be a great buy.