NEO S controller review - retro hardware that prioritizes customization and convenience

 The CRKD Neo S placed on a wooden surface alongside a Nintendo Switch console.
The CRKD Neo S placed on a wooden surface alongside a Nintendo Switch console.

One-minute review

The NEO S is the newest product from CRKD, the creator of one of the best Nintendo Switch accessories in the Nitro Deck. Despite its compact size, there are a surprising amount of features stuffed into the controller that help it stand out in an oversaturated market of controllers for Nintendo’s console. But, if you want something more versatile, the NEO S is also compatible with PC, smart TVs, and mobile which makes for a great all-rounder.

Given its extensive range of features that pit its capabilities above its peers, there’s a lot that goes into making the NEO S a controller worth adding to your collection. For those after a new go-to Nintendo Switch controller, the NEO S is cheaper than a pair of official Joy-Con controllers as well as the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. Plus, it offers Hall effect thumbsticks to prevent stick drift, alongside neat extras like adaptable triggers and re-mappable back buttons to help further customize your experience.

These are features that a lot of budget Nintendo Switch controllers don’t offer, but can drastically improve your gaming experience and mark the NEO S as a standout product in its price range.

The corner of the CRKD Neo S controller.
The corner of the CRKD Neo S controller.

Price and availability

  • $49.99 / £49.99 

  • US and UK availability

  • Slightly pricier than third-party controllers from PowerA and PDP 

The NEO S costs $49.99 / £49.99, and is available through the CRKD store page or via Amazon store. When compared to other ‘collectible’ controllers on the market, the NEO S isn’t an expensive controller by any stretch of the imagination but still falls a little short of being a hugely budget-friendly option for the Nintendo Switch. However, once you factor in that the controller isn’t exclusively compatible with the Nintendo Switch, since you can also connect via PC, mobile, and Smart TV, its price tag does begin to justify itself.

Specs

A top down view of the CRKD Neo S controller.
A top down view of the CRKD Neo S controller.

Design and features

The design of the NEO S is its main appeal. As we saw with CRKD’s Nitro Deck variants, the controller initially sells itself on its collectability. Although the unit we are reviewing is the ‘Classic Clear’ variation, the controller launched as part of a collection of nine controllers, all sporting various, vibrant designs.

The ‘Classic Clear’ design is quite literal, offering a translucent clear shell that allows you to see all the inner workings. Both thumbsticks and the d-pad and home buttons are black, and both triggers and back buttons are a light gray, but a pop of color is added through the face buttons. As a whole, the design of the controller is a blatant stab at replicating the retro side of 90s hardware, especially with its translucent design and vibrant buttons. It’s a sturdy build, though the face buttons somewhat betray the NEO S with a cheap feel compared to the rest of the controller.

The bottom left hand side of the CRKD Neo S.
The bottom left hand side of the CRKD Neo S.

One of the main concerns I had about the design of the NEO S prior to use was its potential discomfort during longer gaming sessions due to its rectangular shape. For players used to using controllers with grips, the NEO S will feel like a drastic difference since it's a very flat gamepad. But, even though the product looks as though it’ll be uncomfortable in your hands after using it for a few hours, curves on the back support your hands and provide a grip for overall more comfortable gaming.

The design of the back of the controller and where your hands naturally sit during use provide easier access to the pair of re-mappable back buttons. This is ideal if you need to quickly input something without moving your hands from the sticks or buttons on the front of the controller. Even though it does stray from the traditional controller shape in favor of something reminiscent of early Nintendo consoles like the SNES and NES, it's clear that the NEO S has been made with its ergonomics in mind to ensure it's consistently comfortable to use.

Performance

The NEO S is incredibly easy to set up straight out of the box regardless of which platform you’re connecting it to. For Nintendo Switch, it’s as simple as holding down the central CRKD button in the controller connect screen from the main menu while you can use the USB-C cable that comes with the controller to connect to a PC.

There are a lot of in-built features that make the NEO S feel like a high-quality product, especially given its reasonable price tag. You’ll feel the benefits of rumble, which you can increase or decrease the intensity of via the app, and motion controls which are essential for games on the Nintendo Switch like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Splatoon 3. For those looking for a more reactive gaming experience, you can fine-tune everything from trigger to thumbstick sensitivity.

Due to the amount of individual features you can customize, the experience can be tailored to suit your exact needs. Although you can use the controller straight away, there are noticeable dead zones for games that require fast movement such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, meaning that there are certain distances you have to move your thumbsticks before inputs register in- game. Fortunately, the controller also comes with a no deadzone mode which you can toggle on and off in the same way you’re available to adjust trigger sensitivity and remap the back buttons.

The back of the CRKD Neo S.
The back of the CRKD Neo S.

This can all be done through the CRKD app, where you can scan in your controller to see your product number and its rarity. This is great if you’re an avid collector of hardware, and lean into the collectible side of CRKD products. However, alongside accessing all this information, a large button labeled ‘CTRL’ (also referred to as CRKD CTRL) is your gateway to customizing your controller and also installing any future firmware updates. Even if you’ve never personalized a controller before, the app does a great job at walking you through it step by step so you know exactly what you’re doing.

All in all it’s a neat bit of tech that offers everything you could need for a Nintendo Switch controller. Paired with a battery life that lasts around eight and a half hours from my testing, given I only had to charge it once during my 20-hour testing period, it’s a vital addition if you need a decent spare gamepad or something far more comfortable than the Joy-Con. But although its offerings don’t necessarily fall short when connected to a PC, Smart TV, or mobile, they do feel more tailored to the Switch which is why we hold our comparison so close to alternative third-party controllers designed for the system.

Should I buy the NEO S?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Also consider

If you’re not keen on the NEO S, take a look at these two alternatives.

The CRKD Neo S controller.
The CRKD Neo S controller.

How I tested the NEO S

  • Tested for 25 hours

  • Tested across Nintendo Switch and PC 

  • Compared to other third-party controllers at the same price point

I tested the NEO S controller on both Nintendo Switch and PC for over 20 hours on a variety of games. For the Nintendo Switch, I tested the controller within games like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate, whereas I used it for games like Stardew Valley, Duck Game, and Tekken 8 on PC. The programmable back buttons and customizable dead zones of the controller gave me the opportunity to personalize my settings to suit whatever game I was playing, which is a feature many alternative products lack.

Given the mid to high price point for a third-party Nintendo Switch controller, I wanted to see how it stacks up against its competitors - especially given the emphasis on the collectible side of the product over its performance.

To ensure thorough and honest testing, I used a variety of other controllers at a similar price, such as the PDP Afterglow, and during the testing period within the same games, and can say with confidence that the NEO S offers a solid, more personal performance due to its customizable features, alongside a sturdy build quality and unique design that makes it a product well worth considering if you’re looking for an alternative gamepad that also looks the part.

Read more about how we test

First reviewed May 2024