If you asked me a month ago on whether I’d prefer a device with a built-in rechargeable battery pack or one that’s run by AA batteries, I’d quickly answer the former without any hesitation. But two third party Nintendo Switch controllers are making me reconsider my opinion – 8bitdo’s SN30 Pro Plus and PowerA’s Enhanced Switch Wireless Controllers.
I initially considered getting 8bitdo’s latest SN30 Pro Plus controller because it has a small feature that it’s predecessor lacked – grips. But I was dissuaded from the purchase when I learned that the SN30 Pro Plus didn’t have a built-in rechargeable battery and instead relied on AA batteries for power – getting grips on my controller but having to rely on AA batteries wasn’t a justifiable trade-off. I am also very interested in PowerA’s Enhhanced Wireless controllers because of its programmable buttons – a feature so unique, I am still considering getting one even if it is at the cost of relying on AA batteries.
Now that I am less dismissive of the lack of a built-in battery, I’d like to go over the supposed advantages of rechargeable AA batteries that people who prefer them over the former keep mentioning and hopefully make a conclusion at the end.
Ease of Use
When a wireless controller run out of juice, all you need to do is plug them to a power source and you’re supposed to be good – you can continue playing using that controller as it charges. But this is what makes how easy it is highly situational. To be frank, I always ensure that my controllers have enough juice in them because I don’t have power outlets that are easily accessible where I sit and play video games. Whenever one controller gets low on power, I switch to another controller and plug my primary one for charging – it’s much easier compared to setting up extension cords and playing my primary controller while it charges.
There is the option of hooking up to portable power banks but it does have an impact as you are now wired to another device. In comparison, I used to have a Nintendo Wii which uses AA batteries and whenever one Wiimote would get low, all I needed to do was swap out its batteries for a fully charged pair – takes a little longer than plugging my primary controller to a power source but also more convenient as I am still completely wireless after the swap. Still, that meant that I had to buy extra pairs of rechargeable batteries for this specific reason. If I didn’t have spares, I would have to stop playing until after I had charged my AAs.
So in terms of ease of use, it would highly depend on your set up and on how often you’d need to use your device. Some devices, even if they’re wireless, don’t have to be in-hand and so they can function well even if plugged into a power source. Overall, devices with built-in batteries will be more convenient for some, and rechargeable AA batteries will be more convenient for others.
Cost is another aspect that is hard to measure when comparing the two approaches. At first, a device with a built-in battery will look like it’s cheaper just because you don’t have to buy anything else to use it. Whereas if you don’t have it already, moving to a rechargeable AA way of powering your devices will require that you (1) buy enough rechargeable AAs and (2) buy a charger. The situation obviously changes in favor of rechargeable AAs if you already own them.
Again, relating this to my own situation – I used to have a rechargeable AA charger but I stopped using it after I had stopped using my Nintendo Wii. Despite owning other devices that could have made use of rechargeable AAs (various remote controls and other battery-powered toys) I’ve moved away from the rechargeable setup simply because my other AA dependent gadgets don’t eat up much power – it would take months and months before I needed to replace their standard batteries. So let’s say I end up buying PowerA’s Enhanced Wireless Controller, I would have to buy rechargeable AAs and another charger.
Can Be Used with Other Devices
One argument that I see pro-rechargeable AA folks keep making is how rechargeable AAs can be used with other devices. That’s true, yes, but not really. I mean, if I only had two rechargeable AAs and I had them in my TV remote, I don’t see myself taking them out so I can use them in one of my controllers. What will probably happen is this: the batteries in my TV remote would run out of juice, and I would replace them with a spare pair. I’d charge the pair of batteries that I originally had in my remote, then later on use that pair in a controller (or whatever gadget needs the batteries).
So it’s not like I can have just one pair of rechargeable AAs and use those with all of my devices – I would still need enough of them to support most or even all of my devices at the same time. Being able to swap batteries will be handy, but I can see how using devices with built-in batteries can be more convenient in this regard.
Having this conversation with the Nintendo Switch specifically in mind adds a few nuances to the topic. Imagine needing to bring your Switch elsewhere, and you’re also packing one of your controllers because you know you’ll play your Switch in docked or tabletop mode. You’d either need to bring a separate charger and/or charging cord for your controller, or buy a pack of standard AA batteries as a back up.
Similar to the above, this is also highly situational. If you keep your controller topped up when not in use, you shouldn’t run into problems. If you are in a situation wherein you are unable to charge your controller, then how are you able to play your Nintendo Switch? Being on an AA battery set up is an advantage but the situation wherein this will be an advantage will probably be quite rare.
Long term life
Here’s where I really think rechargeable AAs have an advantage over built-in batteries – long term, and I mean really long term, lifespan. I’m not sure how kind time is going to be on the Nintendo Switch – will it have similar staying power to that of the NES and Super NES, or are people going to move on from it completely and will no longer desire playing games on the Switch ten, maybe twenty years from now?
If the Nintendo Switch will have long term staying power and will still be played ten years from now, then I think a controller that uses AA batteries will be more convenient. I don’t know how long these built-in, proprietary battery packs will last, but what I do know is AA batteries have been around since even before the era of the Nintendo Gameboy. I’m not sure if the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller’s batteries will still be working and I can’t say how easy it will be to find a replacement if they don’t work anymore, but I predict that rechargeable AA batteries will still be in the market ten years from now. I’d probably be really happy if I owned a controller that still works by them because it uses AA batteries.
Writing all of this down and forcing myself to really think about all these scenarios has helped me make my own conclusion, and here’s what I think: while the advantages of using rechargeable AAs are clear, most are highly situational and I would still need to invest in a charger for AA batteries (a charger that handles AA and AAA would be great) to support this set up. I don’t think one side has a clear advantage over another, and specifically to controllers there is definitely some value in owning one that uses AA batteries.
So I’m convinced that long term, it’ll be good to invest in a charger and a bunch of rechargeable AA and AAA batteries (I have several remotes at home that can make use of them). I can’t see myself using a controller that uses AA batteries as my primary controller though – I still find those with built-in battery packs to be more convenient. But I’m still leaning towards purchasing PowerA’s Enhanced Wireless controller, both as a back up and because of it’s special feature (more on this in the future) and as an investment for far-into-the-future use.