The Best Feature of Sony’s DualSense Edge Controller Is Durability

The Best Feature of Sony’s DualSense Edge Controller Is Durability

Sony just released the DualSense Edge, a controller that costs nearly half as much as a PS5 but comes with a potentially waste reducing feature: replaceable thumbsticks.

I’ll level with you, I wasn’t a fan of this controller when I first saw it because I knew it was using potentiometers, or pots, in the thumbsticks. Pots and thumbsticks don’t go well together, as we’ve covered at length. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic that Sony made the sticks modular, it makes repairing a drifting stick an absolute breeze, but it’s puzzling that they’ve continued to use potentiometer-based sticks instead of drift-resistant Hall effect sensors. It’s even more surprising at its $200 price point.

While I don’t believe the potentiometer was originally introduced as a point of failure, I do believe that it’s being unfairly retained despite the growing awareness that better options are readily available. To the manufacturer’s number crunchers, a quality controller means a one-time sale unless consumers can be convinced to ditch it and buy something else.

The cynic in me wants to say that at $20 per replacement module, Sony and others are death-dating the component to sell more units. And while that possibility is definitely a viable scenario, as I dug deeper into the controller I noticed minor—and major—improvements that made me think twice about that potentially planned obsolescence.

First Impressions of the DualSense Edge

The DualSense controller is popular and it’s a design that’s been in development since the very first Playstation so it’s not surprising to see that the exterior hasn’t changed. What is surprising is that the internals have been iterated on with repairability in mind. 

One of the first things you’ll notice when opening the controller up is that the rumble motors—previously soldered to the mainboard—now use simple JST connectors. This is a huge win for the average gamer who may, one day, find themselves delving into this controller for a rumble motor replacement.

It’s also a clear indication that Sony has begun to actively and intentionally incorporate repairability into its design process. Could it be that manufacturers are preparing for a new legal landscape that enshrines repairability into law

The internals of the DualSense with soldered rumble motor cables and DualSense Edge with a removable connector
Sony DualSense with soldered rumble motors (left) and DualSense Edge with JST connector (right)

DualSense Edge Changes: Smaller Battery, Bigger Trigger Springs

As with the original DualSense, the battery is accessible the moment the back cover is off. At 1050 mAh, the li-ion battery in the Edge is about two-thirds of the capacity of the 1560 mAh battery in the original DualSense. That’s to be expected; swappable components—and those paddle boards—need a bit more internal space.

The smaller battery is reported to achieve around 5 hours of playtime, which should meet the needs of all but the most hardcore of gamers. But really, how far has our obsession with wireless gone that we’re complaining about only 5 hours of playtime, even when we have a 9 foot (~2.7 m) cable included in the box? It’s worth bearing in mind the environmental cost of putting a lithium-ion battery in every device when the wired option can, at most, be considered a minor inconvenience.

Three controller batteries on a white background, from left to right: DualShock 3, DualShock Sense, DualShock Edge
DualShock 3 with 570 mAh (left), DualShock Sense with 1560 mAh (center), DualShock Edge with 1050 mAh (right)

Rummaging through the controller reveals more changes, but the trigger mechanism in particular has had one minor, and one major, overhaul. Starting with the minor, many DualSense owners were reporting that one of two springs on the R2 and/or L2 trigger was wearing out and breaking. This left people with a trigger that was “floppy” for a lack of a better word. The new Edge controller uses a more robust spring. It’s nice to see Sony’s engineers are paying attention. The design didn’t change, they just iterated and improved on the materials already there.

The trigger mechanisms of the DualSense Edge and DualSense
Talk about minor changes. The DualSense Edge (left) has a more robust trigger spring than the DualSense (right).

The DualSense Edge’s Secret Upgrade

Most modern controllers these days use Hall effect sensors in the triggers and Sony has been behind the curve with its simple graphite activated circuits. At least they’re not pots, and by all accounts they seem to work well enough, but that is the same mechanism that you’ll find on your d-pad. It’s accurate enough and for 99% of people it will work just fine.

With the DualSense Edge, that graphite activated circuit is still there for the L1 and the R1 buttons, but the trigger mechanism itself now uses a Hall effect sensor. This is a game changer for PS5 gamers because the sensor is not only more accurate but also has the potential to outlast the graphite pads it replaces.

Where the DualSense (left) has two graphite activated circuits, the Edge (right) substitutes the trigger for a Hall effect sensor.

The Persisting Issue of Drift

A number of things can cause a potentiometer-based thumbstick to drift, but the main reason is down to the mechanical wear caused by a copper brush moving against a film resistor. We’ve covered this in great detail in our stick drift video. The problem is widespread and very well known.

But there is a solution to drift, one that all manufacturers are familiar with, and that is Hall effect sensors. Inside most modern controllers you’ll find a few of these sensors in the trigger mechanisms—but nowhere else. Hall effect sensors allow those trigger mechanisms to be compact and simple, reducing the cost of producing them while also increasing the longevity of the mechanism as a whole by reducing the number of mechanical components.

The internals of two Xbox controllers showing triggers and rumble motors
Everything connected to the trigger on the Xbox 360 controller (left) vs the trigger on the Xbox One controller (right) and a single sensor.

Hall effect sensors are more resistant, though not impervious, to drift because the element of mechanical wear is removed from the equation. A sensor sits on a circuit which can detect changes to the magnetic field around it. This change is translated to movement by other chips on the circuit. Because there’s no wear and tear, the failure points are now restricted to the sensor and the magnet. The lifespan of a sensor will depend on its production quality but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a lifespan of 10 to 20 years. A neodymium magnet will lose around 1% of its magnetic field after 100 years. All elements of this system can be designed to last a very long time.

Sony in particular stands alone as the only manufacturer of modern controllers to have made Hall effect sensor thumbsticks with a subset of Dualshock 3 Sixaxis controllers released between 2008 and 2013. At the time barely anybody noticed that this controller was a cut above the rest so it wasn’t hard for Sony to nix what was then, and still is today, a superior thumbstick design.

That upgrade was so silent that it’s tough to find a record of such a significant redesign. The DualShock 3 Sixaxis Wikipedia page is an excellent example, the only reference to an improved thumbstick is the “10-bit analog sensitivity” with no mention whatsoever of the Hall effect sensors. But, the fact that these controllers will quietly outlast even newer models, isn’t enough for Sony’s bottom line. Not yet anyway.

DualShock 3 Sixaxis thumbstick internals
The DualShock 3 Sixaxis controller used 4-pin Hall Effect sensors in the thumbstick module. The “brush” is actually a magnet.

The Solution to Drift

But talk is cheap so let’s get to real solutions. Aside from certain models of Sony’s DualShock 3 Sixaxis controller, Gulikit has been the only other manufacturer of controllers to disrupt the potentiometer-based thumbstick market. 

They’ve patented their implementation of a Hall effect sensor thumbstick and we’ve seen their tech in the Gulikit KingKong 2 Pro controller, their Steam Deck thumbstick replacements, and most recently their Nintendo Switch thumbstick replacements. And they’ve already announced their intention to produce a Hall effect module for the DualSense Edge. It’s not a perfect solution, our teardown of the KingKong 2 Pro shows that it’s not as feature rich as a Sony or Xbox controller and concerns around quality control have been raised. Still, the technology stands a good chance of outlasting your pot thumbstick controllers.

And if longevity isn’t reason enough to switch to Hall effect sensors then consider this:

  1. Hall effect sensors have smaller dead zones when centered which means they’re more responsive to movement.
  2. Hall effect sensors can be more accurate than pots because they can register more subtle stick movements. This can be a literal game changer for competitive and pro gamers.
  3. Hall effect sensors can be made to draw less power than potentiometers making them ideal for mobile devices that run on batteries.

Large manufacturers can do better than this. Sony has already done better than this both in the DualShock 3’s Hall effect thumbsticks and in the DualSense Edge Hall effect trigger. With a modular thumbstick replacement, Sony acknowledges that potentiometer-based sticks are a problem. However, that’s not quite enough; we need to take it a step further and do for thumbsticks what we did for lightbulbs: end the farce and adopt a longer-lasting technology. For lightbulbs it was LEDs, for thumbsticks it’s magnets and Hall effect sensors.

What Sony Did Right

Despite the poor design choice on the thumbsticks, I think it’s important that we acknowledge what Sony did right. For the first time ever in any console controller, we have hot swappable modular thumbsticks! This design will save a lot of controllers from ever reaching the e-waste pile and it’s a definite win for everyone: consumers, manufacturers, and the environment. It’s not a total victory, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Alongside this major design breakthrough, Sony took a couple of extra steps towards durability, making improvements to the trigger mechanism. Firstly, they took note of user complaints centered on a single spring that was a common failure point. That spring has now been replaced with a heavier duty spring that should be able to withstand the abuse it receives by the average gamer (if only my online gaming experience could receive such an upgrade).

Secondly, the improvement in the trigger was surprising, and a change most people missed because it was never announced. The simple graphite activated trigger mechanism has been replaced with a Hall sensor. This might not be new for controllers in general but hey, a change that brings longevity to our devices, no matter if it’s groundbreaking or not, is still a win for everybody.

While many of us are severely disappointed that Sony and others continue to use pots in their thumbsticks, we’re also pleased to see Sony listen to the feedback that we, and others, have provided. There is value in retaining a familiar design and iterating on it as opposed to starting from scratch on a new platform. And though the new DualSense Edge is a redesign from the inside out, it’s clear that lessons from the original DualSense have made its way into the iteration of this new design. I’m looking forward to seeing more of that.