The big picture: Analog joysticks using Hall sensors are nothing new, but companies like Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony and Valve have not yet implemented them into their game controllers. Stick drift is still a serious problem affecting modern controllers as they age, and the only solution available comes from a small Chinese company that manufactures Hall joysticks.
For Nintendo Switch owners, few problems are more serious than the dreaded Joy-Con drift, also known as “phantom input.” The Japanese gaming giant has sold more than 114 million portable Switch devices over the past six years and is pursuing several class-action lawsuits over a problem that plagues virtually all modern game controllers.
Despite the resounding success of the Switch game, Nintendo has made only minor changes to the device in the form of Switch OLED and a more portable version called Switch Lite. The company insists that it has made many “invisible” improvements to Joy-Con that should make them more durable, but the problem still persists after all these years.
As Gizmodo noticed, a company called GuliKit wanted to solve the problem of Joy-Con joystick drift using an old idea — sticks using Hall sensors. Standard analog joysticks use potentiometers to convert your input into measurable changes in electrical resistance, but this involves friction between certain components and is prone to debris accumulation inside the mechanism.
For comparison, Hall effect joysticks use magnets and a set of sensors to convert input data into small voltage changes on a conductor. There is no friction between these parts, which makes the whole mechanism less susceptible to wear over time.
The GuliKit upgrade kit for Joy-Cons includes a set of Hall sticks, as well as the tools needed for replacement — a plastic tool, tweezers, two screwdrivers and 18 replaceable screws. It looks like a set of two sticks can be bought on Amazon for about $30, and the company also produces a similar set for Steam Deck owners experiencing drift issues on their regular sticks. The same technology is available in the form of a full-fledged game controller called GuliKit KingKong 2 Pro.
If you need a guide, iFixit has a great video on how to replace Joy-Con joysticks here. It’s also worth noting that since this is a do-it-yourself procedure, you’re probably voiding the warranty on your Nintendo device.
If you’re wondering why electromagnetic joysticks aren’t so common, Sega explored this idea in the 90s with their Saturn 3D and Dreamcast consoles. One possible reason is the slightly lower cost of manufacturing analog sticks with potentiometers. Companies such as Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and Valve may also have difficulty securing enough sensors and magnets to meet the growing demand for game controllers. In addition, there is the possibility of patent disputes, the source of many corporate headaches.
At the moment, it seems our options are limited. You can either try to compensate for stick drift with software calibration, replace outdated parts with identical ones, or buy several Hall sticks from relatively little-known companies such as GuliKit and hope that they will live up to the promise of much greater reliability.