Hori Split Pad Compact review: "Ergonomic comfort without the bulk of the Pro"
There aren't many quality Joy-Con replacements out there for Nintendo Switch, which means anyone suffering the dreaded drift or simply looking for an alternative gamepad doesn't need to look far to come across Hori's range. While these attachable controllers do shed some of the more cost-intensive features of Nintendo's originals, anyone on the hunt for a more ergonomically minded control scheme is going to be pleased with the results.
The Hori Split Pad Compact is, by nature of its name, the smaller of the two Nintendo Switch controllers Hori has brought to market. Featuring a more comfortable grip, D-Pad, and two programmable back buttons, this is still a full-sized gamepad - it's just much smaller than the Hori Split Pad Pro.
After wrapping my hands around the Pro model, I spent two weeks with a Pikachu-themed set of Compact controllers to see exactly where they fit among the best Nintendo Switch accessories.
Smaller than Pro model but still comfortable
Nicely contoured curves and bumps for ergonomics
Lightweight but solid build quality
While Joy-Cons will have you cramping your hands around two skinny slivers of controller, the Compact is naturally contoured to a far more comfortable position in the hand. Unlike the Pro model, there are no legs jutting away from the main body, giving the Compact a more classically Nintendo look in its square shape. However, it's still a far more comfortable option that Ninty's own.
The back of each controller slopes gently outward for extra purchase around the base of the system and the wider gamepads offer plenty more space to navigate the controls. It's definitely an improvement over the Joy-Con, but I was still missing the chunkier grip of the Pro model. Of course, if you don't want the bulk of that larger device, the Compact does keep things a lot more streamlined.
That squared off form factor isn't as harsh as the Joy-Con either. These controllers are far thicker, and extend outward slightly at the bottom, making the rounded corners even softer when nestled in the palm. That's supported further by a slightly textured surface around the back.
The control scheme itself is as you would expect. The left flank packs a thumbstick, d-pad, screenshot, and '-' button, as well as clickers to assign functions to the back button and enable Turbo mode. The right offers a classic set of Nintendo face buttons, another thumbstick, Home and '+' buttons, as well as another Assign / Turbo pairing. Despite its smaller size, spacing remains pretty much identical to the Pro model, though the actual buttons are noticeably smaller which did have some impact on precision.
The Hori Split Pad Compact comes in either Apricot Red or Light Grey and Yellow, with two Pokemon-themed options to choose from; Pikachu & Mimikyu or Gengar. I received the Pikachu version, with its pale blues and yellows. My only concern with this particular colorway lies in the Assign and Turbo button legends, which, save for a small white border, are the same color as the background. That's a little tricky to see, but it certainly doesn't get in the way of the experience.
Build quality is still strong here, with each unit feeling lightweight but sturdy in the hand. The rails are fixed nicely into the system with no wobble when attaching to the console and a satisfying clack when clicked into place.
No rumble, NFC, or wireless connection but...
... additional back buttons are more useful in solo play anyway
Assign and turbo functions are both easy to set up
We'll get the bad news out the way first. The Hori Split Pad Compact has been designed with comfort and a lower cost in mind. That doesn't mean it's lacking additional features (in fact the Compact adds some extra functionality over the Joy-Con), however you'll still need to keep those official controllers handy for certain games. There's no rumble or NFC for Amiibo in here, but it's the lack of motion controls and wireless connection that may put some off.
That means titles like Ring Fit Adventure and Nintendo Switch Sports will still need the old reliables to play, as will Super Mario Galaxy as I found out in my testing. Basically anything that relies on a gyroscope is out the window here, but the level of disruption will largely depend on what you play. Dropping wireless connectivity also means that the Hori Split Pad Compact will only work when attached to the console directly. Whereas a set of Joy-Con can act as two controllers in one package should you find yourself in a spontaneous multiplayer scenario, this is a single player, handheld affair. Of course, the price reflects that, but it's worth noting if you're on the hunt for more co-op gamepads.
However, I found the features that are included to be far more useful in everyday play. Yes, this only applies to crashing on the couch in handheld mode, but the assignable back buttons made for far more intuitive Dragon Quest Builders 2 sessions. Being able to quickly assign a function with the dedicated button on the bottom of each controller meant I could quickly set up a control scheme whenever I jumped into a new game. Yes, it would have been nice to set certain presets but that's just not something the Switch system can accommodate.
While I found less use for it in my daily testing, there's also a turbo function here - particularly handy for Smash Bros. sessions. Assigning the turbo button is just as easy and once set up you've got a perfect shortcut to save your thumb from button mashing.
Thumbsticks and triggers are more precise than Joy-Con
Mushy face buttons and d-pad are disappointing
Smaller buttons sometimes reduce accuracy
Taken in isolation, I was happy with the overall feel and response of the Hori Split Pad Compact. Like the Pro model, the thumbsticks and triggers are far more satisfying and precise than those of the Joy-Con, which made my brief stint in Wolfenstein: Youngblood all the more bearable. Aiming and snapping into place with speed and accuracy, these feel far more like the sticks available on the Pro Controller than the often slippery-feeling Joy-Con iteration. On first firing up the Split Pad Compact, though, I was surprised by the mushiness of both the d-pad and face buttons.
That's because I had come straight from the Pro, which boasts greater travel and a more satisfying clack to each button. In comparison, the Compact feels soft and squishy under the thumb. While it had no bearing on response times, that reduced quality is disappointing. The slightly smaller buttons offer less purchase overall, and I was regularly hitting multiple ones by accident during more frantic Super Mario Sunshine moments.
Should you buy the Hori Split Pad Compact?
The Hori Split Pad Compact is certainly an option if you're after a Joy-Con replacement that won't bulk out your system or break the bank. At $49.99 / £49.99, it's a more affordable set of controllers that work in key areas that the Joy-Con simply can't. However, the Compact is relying on its additional comfort features and remappable back buttons to see its price tag justified. And that's where things get tricky - its existence is far harder to justify than the fully fledged Pro model.
The Hori Split Pad Compact is a nice proposition but it's just not doing enough to satisfy its key comfort USP
The Hori Split Pad Pro is the better buy here. It leans into its ergonomic form factor a lot harder, providing a chunkier grip, more comfortable form factor, and larger, more tactile face buttons, thumbsticks, and d-pad. Yes, it still drops the wireless connection, NFC, rumble, and motion controls of the Joy-Con, but it's often the same price or cheaper ($49.99 / £39.99) and you're getting a lot more in the way of comfort for your cash. Plus, you can pay a little extra to pick up the Attachment Set instead of just the controllers. This $79.99 / £69.99 package is a little harder to justify from a cost-saving perspective, but allows you to use the Split Pad Pro while docked as well.
Overall, the Hori Split Pad Compact is a nice proposition but it's just not doing enough to satisfy its key comfort USP for the price you're paying. The smaller form factor is a definite draw, and makes it well worth considering if you're after a sleeker alternative to the Pro, but overall I'd recommend the majority of players go Pro.
Buy the Hori Split Pad Compact if:
How we tested the Hori Split Pad Compact
I've been using the Hori Split Pad Compact for all my Nintendo Switch gameplay for just under a month, while also directly comparing against Joy-Con, Pro Controller, and Hori Split Pad Pro performance. In that time I was primarily testing in Dragon Quest Builders 2 and Super Mario Sunshine, with some shorter Wolfenstein Youngblood, Super Mario Galaxy, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sessions. For more information on how we test controllers, check out the full GamesRadar+ Hardware Policy.
For more Switch kit, we're also rounding up the best Nintendo Switch cases and the best Nintendo Switch headsets. Or, take a look at the best Nintendo Switch chargers to keep your console juiced up on the go.