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Controller vs mouse and keyboard - what's best for you?

Rig Nacon Pro Compact
(Image credit: Future)

The controller vs mice and keyboard debate has 'raged' for ages now - particularly on PC where both can now be used seamlessly.

If you kit yourself out with either one of the best PC controllers or a combination of the best gaming mouse and the best gaming keyboard, there's always an element of the grass being greener, but we're here to give you a succinct rundown of both sides - even if it just means you're happier with the side you're already on. After all, they're just games and your first instinct should be to use whatever feels the most natural.

However, there are clearly some pros and cons to both sides. We'll lay it all out straight and hopefully help you find your way onto one side of the fence if that's what you're after, or help you see the merits in having both setups to hand if that's appropriate for you to do so.

While some folks will be faithful to one side of the divide, no matter the game, it's important to remember that that's just their preference, and that's fine. However, it's largely agreed that a controller is better for some games, and a mouse & keyboard is better for some others. It may well be that you recognise this and have both. (Though this is, of course, easier to achieve on PC.)

But how does the controller vs mouse & keyboard conflict fold out in terms of features, pros and cons, accessibility, and more? Let's find out.

TL;DR: controller vs mouse & keyboard

Controller

  • Traditional game controller feel
  • Most comfortable; ergonomic design
  • Great for movement and rotation
  • Extra features like rumble
  • Excellent inputs
  • Widely compatible

Mouse & keyboard

  • All the buttons
  • Huge amount of choice
  • Doubles-up as regular PC gear
  • Fast and precise
  • Designed for PC gaming
  • Customisable

Controllers vs mouse & keyboard: what's the difference?

Naturally, the biggest difference between controllers and mouse & keyboard setups is form factor; they are completely different to hold, use, and game with.

Simply put: do you prefer having you gaming controls sit in your hands as a single unit, or do you prefer being able to wield a pointer one one hand and a keyboard in the other?. Personally, I prefer a controller, hands down, every time - but I have different and small hands so I am naturally pushed one way. But the logic is there; some folks just prefer to play with a game pad where the inputs are all in reach of both hands across one ergonomic unit, and others prefer the flexibility and greater set of buttons at their disposal with a mouse & keyboard.

The other main difference is potentially that of speed and precision. It's generally accepted that a mouse can be more accurate and precise for most actions, including shooting. For example, with a controller you 'guide' the on-screen reticle to your target, but with a mouse your pointer actually is the reticle. The potential trade-off for that (for most folks) is that a controller's sticks make for much better and smother movement and camera control - no need to lift the mouse and re-position for quick action. 

Razer Huntsman Elite

(Image credit: Razer)

These two are genuinely the biggest differences, as everyone who plays games - from the most casual up to esports professionals can get going with either. As a result, the similarities are worth confirming and consolidating. Either control solution can be connected wirelessly or wired. Both control options have excellent ergonomic designs that are improving over time as well. Such design improvements also extend to reducing the actuation of buttons, housing extra ports, utilising USB-C connectivity for charging, dedicated extra media controls, and more!

The mouse and keyboard do have it over controllers when it comes to custom buttons and controls though. While some third-party controllers from the likes of Thrustmaster, Nacon, and Razer offer that extra level of customisation, it is just an objective fact that it's far easier to use custom macros, extra inputs, and shortcuts on mouse and keyboard - this can be the main driver for some folks to go down this route as it's something that just isn't a level playing field.

We often mention price as a factor when comparing two options, but the truth is you can pick up cheap gaming controllers or expensive ones, and you can also get premium mice and keyboards as often as you can budget ones. As a result, you can spend big or go the budget route on all devices.

However, it's very much worth noting that despite the differences between the two setups, it is now increasingly affordable, and arguably sensible, to have them both at your disposal. That's particularly true if you are a PC gamer (as it's likely you'll have a mouse and keyboard already just for normal PC use), but even if you are on console, and want to cover yourself for a range of games that might need different control inputs.

Who should buy a controller?

Fosmon Dual 2 PS5 DualSense Charging Station

(Image credit: Future)

The primary gamer that'll benefit from a controller is someone who solely - or mainly - uses consoles. It's the default control solution for the main consoles and will remain so for the foreseeable future. There is some limited mouse & keyboard support on consoles but only for a relatively few games. Also, if you've historically been a console player but have moved over to PC then you may well enjoy the fact that controllers can be used on the latter seamlessly now too so you can carry that over.

Console players won't usually have to pick a side when it comes to controllers vs mouse and keyboard setups as the default is, naturally, a gamepad. The last generation established a wide variety of pads that made up the best Xbox One controller and the best PS4 controllers, and there's still plenty of choice on the shelves for the current generation as well. 

More generally, however, the controller can offer more comfort and ergonomic benefits than a mouse & keyboard setup. If you prefer not being attached to a desk or surface then a controller will always be for you, and it can follow all your own movements, rather than having to have your hands stuck to the desk.

However, if you're a tournament level competitive player, you might want to rethink those buttons. The precision of a mouse & keyboard can't be matched in this scenario. However, if you play a lot of racing games or car games (think Rocket League and sim racers) then a controller is likely to have the edge for you too.

You should buy a controller if you: 

  • Prefer a traditional pad in both hands
  • Don't want to be desk-bound
  • Don't require the utmost precision
  • Are a console player
  • Prefer driving games

Who should buy a mouse & keyboard

Corsair Sabre RGB Pro

(Image credit: Future)

First and foremost, a mouse and keyboard setup does automatically lean itself more toward PC gamers and players the most. Naturally, a mouse and keyboard is needed for general use on a PC and if you game on that platform too, you may as well stick to that and make your two tools gaming-focused - as all the GamesRadar+ hardware team does. 

However, you should aim for the rodent and plank setup more objectively if you are chasing that precision and accuracy in all your gaming actions. The ability to essentially 'be' the reticle and aim precisely where to shoot or carry out an action is excellent. The choice that a mouse and keyboard setup offers in enormous too - and not only in the breadth of products available - as you'll have dozens of buttons at your disposal for inputs and configuration, and cracking RGB options to round out your gaming setup.

What might also swing it for you is being able to hone in one actually how the individual buttons works on your keyboard - and that is to say, you can pick the precise style of switches that work on your keys. This opens up a whole load of choice as to how your keyboard can feel and how fast each button actuates. Not only is there an incredible range of models from manufacturers that offer different switch solutions which you can take your pick from, but in the shape of the best hot-swappable keyboards, you can even swap these switches in and out at your leisure without having to get the soldering iron out. Controllers, unfortunately, just do not offer this luxury.

If you also don't get on with the design and builds of controllers, then a mouse and keyboard are going to be better for you - after all most gamepads follow a broadly similar build and shape, and one of two different button layouts.

Go for a mouse and keyboard setup if you:

  • Are striving for the utmost precision in most games
  • Prefer having access to all kinds of inputs and buttons
  • Prefer your controls separate
  • Want to slimline a setup and crossover with day-to-day work
  • Are predominantly a PC gamer

Check out the latest prices and deals on some top gaming mouse models below.

And complete the combination with one of the best keyboard for gaming right now too, with their latest and lowest prices displayed below.


To round out your research, don't forget to check out the latest and greatest Nintendo Switch headsets, while some golden ones can still be found among the best PS4 headsets and best Xbox One headsets.

I'm the Commissioning Editor for Hardware at GamesRadar+ and have been here since late 2018. I'm also a writer on games and have had work published over the last five years or so at the likes of Eurogamer, RPS, PCGN, and more. Day to day, I take care of a whole host of gaming tech reviews, buying guides, and news and deals content that pops up across GamesRadar+. I'm also a qualified landscape and garden designer, so I do that in my spare time. I'm also an expert on the virtual landscapes and environments of games and love to write about them too, including in an upcoming book on the topic!