At a reasonable $30, the barrier for entry is far lower than the more premium options in the market. If you want similar back button functionality from other controllers, you’re going to have to spend well above $100.
The price difference makes sense relative to those top-tier models: With the Back Button Attachment, you’re only getting two back buttons, whereas the other controllers offer four options for buttons and a host of other features, including app integration. But if you’re anything like me, and you just want the comfort of programming the buttons in the back to free up your thumbs and other fingers, the Back Button’s feature set will suit you just fine.
The attachment may seem a bit difficult to snap in at first. The device is small and sturdy, but also lightweight. That combination, and the strange angle at which you have to insert the attachment, made me hesitate: Do I really just jam this into the microphone jack? Yes, yes you do. Once you get over that fear, it snaps in and fits snug in the back and base of the controller. Then, all you have to do is turn on the controller and the device will work immediately.
You can click a small and simple OLED screen on the circular center of the back buttons to switch between three saved button configurations, and holding it down lets you program them as you’d like. Want to switch guns without lifting your fingers off the thumbsticks? Program a back button to the triangle button.
Here’s how I used it. Death Stranding is a game about hiking. It tries to mimic the sensation of holding both straps on your backpack by asking players to hold the L2 and R2 triggers of the game. My hands often got tired from extended Death Stranding sessions. To remedy this, I simply programmed the back buttons to function as L2 and R2. Now, instead of gripping the controller tightly, I’m simply holding down the two back buttons with my index fingers nestled in the back.
You can also save up to three button configurations for easy switching. Say I get tired of Death Stranding, and I feel like booting up Spider-Man. I programmed the back buttons to the jump and swing functions. Now I can easily replicate the iconic sweeping camera shots of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films without contorting my fingers. The game looks more dynamic and beautiful than ever, and even the feel of the gameplay becomes different once you realize how the attachment frees up your movement.
That’s the best part of these back buttons. Back buttons bring controller players closer to the full functionality mouse and keyboard players have had for years. Jumping and shooting is a tried-and-true strategy in shooter games. It was always easy with a mouse and keyboard. However, to jump (usually the x button) and aim (the right stick) controller players have had to resort to what’s become known as “the claw” grip method, when players would contort their hands to use more fingers than what the controller’s design intended. For years, professional players often relied on the far less comfortable grip to allow for free camera movement, while still being able to jump, aim and shoot at the same time. With back buttons on your controller, there’s no reason to ever learn (or perfect) the Claw method.
I own both versions of the Xbox Elite Series controllers. The comfort, build quality and customization (you can even adjust the tension of the thumbsticks) make it a worthwhile purchase in my view, especially since the controllers come in a sturdy case that doubles as a charger. Third-party companies like Scuf have also made high-quality “pro” controllers similar to the Xbox Elite, priced around $130.
But here’s the thing: I actually think Sony’s method of programming the buttons and switching profiles is a lot more convenient than Microsoft’s more expensive solutions.
The Xbox Elite controllers require players to download an app on their PC or Xbox. That app stores programmed button profiles — dozens of them, if you so desire. I have distinct four-back-button settings for several games, including games as diverse as Fortnite, Devil May Cry 5 and Forza Horizon 4. Currently I have three button profiles saved for those games ready to switch on my controller. But if I suddenly want to switch to playing Warframe, I’d have to open the app and either create a new profile for Warframe, or select my previously-created Warframe setup.
The Xbox applications app for setting the controller is snappy, but the switching and programming is too cumbersome.
The Sony solution doesn’t require any apps. You don’t have to get up off the couch and you don’t need any other tools. If I want to play a fourth game that’s not saved on my Sony attachment, I can simply flip the controller around and click through to the button I want. No menus, no loading.
Most importantly, the buttons are responsive and comfortable. They’re also far more comfortable to press and rest your fingers on, versus the colder steel of the Xbox Elite’s back pedals. The only criticism I can really muster is that the thing is kind of ugly and goofy-looking. It works perfectly, but it gives the Dual Shock 4 a bit more junk in its trunk.
It’s not certain whether the upcoming PlayStation 5, scheduled for release this winter, will have this feature or use this attachment. For what it’s worth, Sony has reportedly filed a patent that shows two back buttons built into a controller. It could be nothing (companies often file patents for products that never see the light of day), but it’s about time Sony started thinking about providing more premium-priced controllers.
If you can afford them, the features of the elite controllers justify the three-digit price tags. But Sony’s stopgap solution is simply the cheapest, most readily accessible way to get the most important function of those controllers.