Hori Split Pad Pro review: Big and beautiful

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The Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons are impressive pieces of engineering but suffer from a massive lack of ergonomics due to their completely flat backs and diminutive sizes. Trying to solve those problems are Hori with their Split Pad Pro, a complete Joy-Con replacement system that gives you beefy controllers which slot onto the regular Switch rails.

The Split Pad Pro asks you to make a choice when buying them because, while they do replace the Joy-Cons, they don’t offer all of their functionality. NFC functionality, HD Rumble and a lack of the ability to be used while unpaired are the biggest losses here. That last point is especially worth considering as these controllers need to be attached to the Switch at all times to be used.

This means no TV or tabletop play can be done with the Split Pad Pro, relegating you to handheld mode only. In exchange for these losses, and aside from the larger, more hand-friendly design, you are actually getting some functionality that the Joy-Con lacks. This comes from two programmable buttons on the rear of the controllers, and a turbo mode.

Taking these controllers out of the box and connecting them to the Switch and the first impression you’re likely have is sheer surprise of the size of these lads. The official product dimensions of these are 8.7 X 5.8 X 2 inches (22 X 14.7 X 5 centimetres). The best way to really describe how large these are is by saying that it effectively doubles the horizontal size of the Nintendo Switch tablet (sans Joy-Cons).

By our measurements the Switch tablet is 17.3 centimetres long. With the Split Pad Pro attached that balloons to 30 centimetres.

The strange this is, once in the hand, you really don’t feel like the extra size is a problem, and soon forget about it after a few hours. Even while playing the cramped spaces in the back of a car on a trip, we didn’t find this to be a problem.

More than that the build quality here is superb. We’d say that it’s actually on par with the Joy-Cons, and maybe even surpasses because, you know, the sticks don’t drift.

The feel of both the sticks and the buttons are really nice. The sticks here are extremely smooth and have a much wider range of motion compared to the Joy-Cons, and the buttons have a longer press. If you’ve been playing the Switch since launch it won’t take long to get accustomed here, and you may actually prefer how this is put together in some places.

There are, however, some glaring problems. The first is those two programmable buttons on the back. We found these always awkwardly poking into our ring fingers. Even after using this setup for dozens of hours at this point, this problem never went away. We wish these buttons were more recessed or had a better, smoother taper on the edges. We truly believe this will drive some people batty, but others may not find it a bother depending on the size of their hands and how they grip it.

What’s more problematic in our eyes is the lack of depth here. While the “wings” or “grips” are actually present here, unlike the Joy-Cons, they’re far too small. Again, this may come down to preference, but these should have been bigger. Their smaller size may help with portability, but at the expense of ergonomics. This is a problem as ergonomics are, at least to us, a massive reason why someone would buy this.

One of the problematic back buttons.

Speaking of, the value here is a difficult thing to judge. According to the South African Nintendo distributor, who borrowed us this review unit, the Hori Split Pad Pro has a RRP of R899.

This is actually fantastic, as the same distributor sells a pair of Joy-Cons for R1 399. That massive price difference should make this a no brainer, right? If you want larger controllers and can live without certain features (and only play in handheld) these should be an easy purchase?

No necessarily, as stock of the Hori Split Pad Pros are difficult to come by, and the Nintendo Distributor doesn’t have local stock just yet. Online retailer Raru does have them in stock right now as an import, but they cost R1 299, and you will need to wait a considerable amount of time before they arrive in the country.

Finally you have to consider the existence of grips. These are plastic shells which add the aforementioned “wings” to your standard Nintendo Switch. We reviewed a version from SparkFox last year, with the product getting a strong recommendation from us. On top of that these grips are much cheaper (the SparkFox costs R215 right now), don’t require putting your Joy-Cons in storage, and models are available for the Nintendo Switch Lite.

That leaves the Split Pad Pros in a weird spot. On their own, this controller replacement is right up there in build quality with only a few design quirks getting in the way. If you do use your OG Nintendo Switch in handheld mode most of the time, they can be a really great purchase, but you’ll need to find them at a decent price and be aware of the other options out there, as well as the loss of certain Joy-Con features.

For some people this will be the perfect product they’ve been searching for, but just make sure you’re one of them before reaching for the credit card.

Oh, and right now the Split Pad Pro is only offered as a product with branding from the game Daemon X Machina. Thankfully the branding here is extremely subtle and consists of a rather neutral black and red colour theme, as well as stylised X button. We’re sure that many reading this review may not have been aware of that fact until reaching this paragraph.

Your Switch can still be docked with the controllers attached, something that third party grips can’t usually do. You will need a different controller to use it like this, however.
Clinton Matos

Clinton Matos

Clinton has been a programmer, engineering student, project manager, asset controller and even a farrier. Now he handles the maker side of htxt.africa.