Review: 8Bitdo SN30 Pro (Hardware)
After the hit that was the NES30 Pro, 8bitdo have been hard at work to squeeze any small improvement into their latest major controller, with a particular audience in mind.
Perhaps the biggest allure of this controller, like any 8bitdo product, lies in its design. Designed to match the undeniably gorgeous SNES controllers of 1990, it does a good job in taking you back to a time of wonder and excitement; where a controller truly felt a portal to another world. Of course, the version I find myself reviewing today is the model stylised after the American controller—and while it may be visually lacking when compared to its colourful European and Japanese counterpart, I find myself overjoyed to see 8bitdo keep the functional advantages. You see, what the American model lacked in visual appeal, it made up for in its concave X and Y buttons; and having used this controller for almost a month now, I struggle to return to the colourful woes of my native controller. Aside from this, and a slightly darker design, the SN30 Pro is functionally identical to the SF30 Pro—the model sporting the colourful face buttons.
If like me you already own a NES30 Pro, you might question exactly what this new controller has to offer. It boasts Switch compatibility first and foremost, but this isn't something new for 8bitdo controllers, with the NES30 Pro receiving support via firmware update months ago. Allow me to walk you through the changes.
The biggest difference is the design, but that's to be expected. They're obviously based on different controllers. The front of the controller is largely the same at a glance; though there are a number of interesting changes. While it may be obvious to those who own a SNES, the face buttons aren't actually arranged in a square as many modern gamers will be accustomed to. This is naturally to mirror the feel of the original SNES controller, but it can take some adjustment. As mentioned previously, the X and Y buttons being indented is another pleasant change, and I found it useful in adapting to the slightly skewed buttons, it creating a degree of separation from modern controllers in my mind. The D Pad has been changed to again better match the original SNES controller, and I feel they did a good job here. While slightly more raised than my SNES Classic controller, it offers a satisfying sound when pressed, and doesn't tend to catch other directions as much as the NES30 Pro did.
The two biggest changes in my mind come from the shoulder buttons and analogue sticks. The shoulder buttons are where you would expect them to be, however working with the thickness of the SNES controller, 8bitdo have managed to position L2 and R2 behind L1 and R1. This might not sound particularly revolutionary, maybe even expected, but for users coming from the NES30 Pro, I'm sure this comes as a relief. Positioned similarly to its predecessor, the analogue sticks could look similar at a glance, however they most certainly are not. Extending almost twice as far from the controller as the NES30 Pro, and with pads covering a much larger area, they feel unquantifiably better to use; albeit at the cost of the controller not fitting flat in your pocket. The analogue sticks being larger also allows for a better degree of accuracy when using them to aim, no longer cursed with jarring movements as you try to align a shot. Both of these changes do wonders in making the transition from Joy Con as smooth as possible, putting forward a controller that feels as well made and easy to use as Nintendo's own.
Naturally, the changes don't stop there. Being primarily targeted at Nintendo Switch users, this controller adds new buttons and features to make it a perfect match. Sporting both motion controls and (non-HD) rumble, as well as a screenshot and home button, this controller can handle anything the Switch has to throw at it. Having realised the rather confusing and often broken light bar on the NES30 Pro didn't work, 8bitdo opted to replace it with four square lights on the bottom of the controller, showing status updates clearly on when the controller is connecting, and whether it is connected. These lights also function properly on the Switch, showing which player you are connected as. The only fault I can find in this new design is the scrapping of a power button, instead having to hold start. This isn't terrible, but for users eager to use the controller, it could be confusing as there is no indication of this on the controller itself. With the sync button moved to the top of the controller, I question why the power button couldn't have had similar treatment. It should be noted this is a minor irritant to me, and it doesn't necessarily hold the controller back once you know about it.
Where I found the NES30 Pro fell largely short was in its poorly explained button combinations and excessive number of modes and light patterns to memorise. It was a pain, and even when you were in the right mode, it wouldn't always play ball; often struggling to connect to the Switch for me. The SN30 Pro excels here. Once you understand the start button is the power button, you can follow a handy set of instructions printed on the back of the controller to boot into your desired mode. From there, it depends on what you're trying to connect to. For the Switch, you simply have to hold the Sync button the first time you connect it in order to pair devices. After that, the controller will be paired to the Switch and usable as long as the Switch is awake. Note the Home button cannot be used to wake the Switch up the same way it can on the Joy Cons. I had no issues connecting it in conjunction with Joy Cons and enjoyed playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with a friend. XInput mode worked flawlessly on Steam, acting as an Xbox controller with no issues, rumble and all. For those planning to use this primarily on PC, keep in mind the A and B, as well as the X and Y buttons are swapped, as to mirror the Xbox controller design. Sadly, I don't have a Mac to test its macOS mode.
The final mode is DInput, most useful for using the controller on Android devices. To supplement the mobile experience, a smartphone clip is available to buy separately. Reasonably priced, it is a small piece of plastic that clips onto the controller, with an extending arm to accommodate varying sizes of phone. It fit my OnePlus One securely, and I felt comfortable holding my phone by the grip knowing it wouldn't slide out. If you plan on using this controller for your phone, I can't recommend the grip enough.
Above shows the process of connecting the device to my phone, as well as some gameplay on MyBoy; a GBA emulator. The controller has an interesting feature of using the Screenshot button as a rapid fire toggle when not in Switch mode. I question whether I would have preferred the option to have it configurable, since a lot of emulators already have a rapid fire option, but it's a nice feature for those without.
This is an undeniably brilliant controller. Sporting the incredible compatibility seen in the NES30 Pro, with noticeable quality of life changes. I have never owned an American SNES controller before, so I can't guarantee authenticity in its design, but the attention to detail I noticed when comparing it to my European SNES Classic controller really impressed me; details down to the screw positions on the back. The colours may still not be my favourite, but I can begrudgingly say this has converted me to using American SNES controllers; and for those who would still prefer the fruity buttons, the SF30 Pro is available. I would recommend this as a Switch controller, as a PC controller, and as a phone controller. For all the bases it covers, it easily justifies itself as a premium controller, as well as its £40 ($50) price tag. The grip costing just £6 ($8) is fantastic for the flexibility and ease it adds.
+ Nostalgic and eye-catching design
+ Feels great to use
+ Analogue sticks feel great
+ 1:1 mapping of Switch controls
+ Hassle-free Switch setup
+ Smartphone clip gives any phone a new lease of life as a gaming handheld
+ Upgradable firmware
- Slightly less portable than the NES30 Pro
- Screenshot button not configurable
- Drops additional compatibility of NES30 Pro (PS3, Wii support)
out of 10
I struggle to find reason not to recommend this controller. While not much cheaper than the official Switch Pro Controller, the seamless support for PC and Android sets it apart. From design, to form factor, to attention to detail and support, it is fantastic through and through.