Nintendo's new controller is a little odd, but that's not a new thing to say about Nintendo.
Update 4/28/17: This article has been updated with additional thoughts on which of these controllers is best for you!
Nintendo Switch owners have a big decision to make, as soon as the console and all of its accessories come out of the box. This new console includes a unique new controller, called a Joy-Con. It's actually two controllers, and they work together to behave as a single controller when connected to a special dock or on the sides of the console. If you think that sounds a little unusual and potentially uncomfortable, you aren't alone. New Nintendo controllers are often looked at as kind of awkward at first, but historically have become quite popular as it gets used.
Not everyone adapts to new controller formats, though, which is why Nintendo also has the Pro Controller. Like its predecessors, the Switch Pro Controller exists as an alternative that feels a little more like a traditional gamepad. So, which of these controllers are you going to want when it's time to get your Switch on? Lets take a look!
Double your Joy
Looking past the odd look of Nintendo's new Joy-Cons, they're something of a technical marvel. These two halves of a controller work together to deliver a unified gamepad experience, no matter if you're playing on the television in your living room or out at a coffee shop on the actual tablet. When operating as one, this controller gives you an Amiibo docking station, intense vibration feedback, and all of the buttons you expect in a modern gamepad.
If you want to play a game with a friend, you simple split the two halves. Each half is its own controller, complete with vibration feedback and motion controls. When playing a Switch game designed for the Joy-Con halves, the individual motion actions allow you and a friend to have almost Wii-like gameplay, no matter where you are and with no extra sensors. You can be out at a park in the sunlight and still have a completely enjoyable two-player experience with nothing but what came in the box when you bought it.
This is essentially an all-in-one controller setup, which has never really been done well before. Joy-Cons quickly transform to meet your needs, and it's clear the designers were trying to optimize for every possible scenario. While technically impressive, there's an ergonomic concern with the Joy-Cons. When attached to a Joy-Con dock or the sides of the tablet, the right joystick is mounted on the bottom half of the hand grip. This is opposite the top left mount of the joystick for the left side, because when the Joy-Con halves are separate it's important that the controller layout be identical.
This may not sound like a problem at first, after all Microsoft's Xbox controllers have used an arguably similar layout for years with no problem. What the Xbox One controller, and indeed any "standard" gamepad, has that Joy-Cons don't have is a palm grip under that lower joystick. When your palms rest on either side of the Joy-Cons your thumbs are positioned much higher than they'd be if you were holding a modern gamepad from any other manufacturer. Even the Joy-Con dock itself offers additional resting points for your palms so it's more comfortable, but that isn't an option when the two halves are connected directly to the tablet.
Finding Joy in familiarity
Like the Wii U before it, Nintendo's Pro Controller for Switch is a plain black gamepad designed to look and feel like something familiar to Xbox and PlayStation gamers. It was originally designed as an alternative to the aging GameCube controller design, but wasn't successful at luring hardcore Nintendo fans away from that iconic gamepad. This new Pro Controller is packed with quite a few features you won't ever find in a GameCube controller, making widespread adoption far more likely.
The new Pro Controller is a replacement to the Joy-Cons in every way.
The new Pro Controller is a replacement to the Joy-Cons in every way. On top of being a familiar gamepad, it acts as an Amiibo dock and includes all of the motion and vibration features found in the Joy-Cons. Instead of placing the NFC reader for amiibo on the joystick, it's on the top of the controller in a flat space. This isn't necessarily better or worse, but the placement can be confusing when swapping between these two Controller types. Otherwise, this is a no-compromise controller, something you can use 100% of the time with your Switch if that's what you want. It obviously doesn't connect directly to the Switch, but the kickstand built into the back of the tablet will allow you to enjoy your Pro Controller both at home and away.
This larger controller also packs a larger battery. Nintendo claims Joy-Cons will survive up to 20 hours of gameplay on a single charge, while the Pro Controller will get you up to 40. It also charges from a USB-C port at the top of the controller, making it possible to charge while playing without needing any other accessories. Ultimately, that's the biggest "feature" to the Pro Controller when comparing it to the Joy-Cons; there is no need for anything extra, you just connect and start playing.
Naturally, when using a Pro Controller, there's nothing for a second player unless you've either shelled out another $70 for another Pro Controller or brought your Joy-Cons along and decided it's cool for Player 2 to suffer. This isn't included in the box, most of the Nintendo Switch cases aren't going to be built with Pro Controller storage in mind, and the gamepad itself is physically much larger than the Joy-Cons. If portability is the biggest reason to own a Switch, the Pro Controller can complicate that experience.
Which should you buy?
Choosing between the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons and Pro Controller ultimately comes down to personal comfort. If your hands feel cramped on the Joy-Con layout, the Pro Controller is going to be what you want. If you plan to be portable with your Switch more often than not, and can't guarantee a convenient place to use the included kickstand, the Joy-Con layout is going to be a great deal more convenient.
For some, the deciding factor may well be price. The Joy-Cons are included in the box, and include everything you need for two-player gaming. Adding a $70 Pro Controller to the $300 Switch on top of the cost of whatever games you want to buy adds up quickly, so it's possible this accessory becomes and add-on for later when you're sure you can't adapt to what Nintendo includes in the box.