For all the ways the PlayStation 4 has bested the Xbox One over the past decade, Microsoft has long had the advantage of selling an official enhanced controller. Its Elite series of gamepads come with extra inputs, swappable button layouts, adjustable trigger sensitivity, and other tricks that can give more dedicated Xbox One players a competitive edge.
Sony, meanwhile, has relegated these kinds of accessories to outside manufacturers like Scuf and Astro, whose “premium” controllers have largely been fine, but they can’t quite provide the feature set or sense of harmony that a full-on first-party pro controller could.
The DualShock 4 Back Button Attachment isn’t quite that. It doesn’t have “hair trigger locks,” interchangeable joysticks, or many other special features. But it does add the most immediately useful piece of any enhanced controller: two mappable rear paddles, which can duplicate any pair of buttons on the DualShock 4 proper. The idea is to give you quicker or more convenient access to inputs you frequently use in certain games. Because the device is so minimalist, it’s highly affordable—at $30, it’s multiple times cheaper than most pro controllers, even factoring in the cost of a DualShock 4 itself.
Crucially, it’s also available. Sony initially launched the DualShock 4 Back Button Attachment all the way back in January, but the accessory sold out after a few weeks and was almost completely unavailable for several months. We’re posting this review today, after five months of regular use, because retailers only just started to restock the device over the past week. Even now, availability is spotty at some stores.
Still, now that buying one is at least feasible, the DualShock 4 Back Button Attachment is worth a look for a good swath of PlayStation 4 owners. While it can’t match the flexibility of a true pro controller, it carves out a place in the middle ground for those who want more from their PS4 controller but don’t want to pay the price of a second console to get it.
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Setup and how it works
Sony DualShock 4 Back Button Attachment
In general, the Back Button Attachment is as straightforward as its name suggests. It snaps onto any official DualShock 4 controller through the gamepad’s audio jack. It’s not too much of a nuisance to connect, but it will likely require some fiddling at first: instead of sliding naturally into place, the attachment puts its connectors on a swivel, which you need to line up with the controller’s 3.5mm jack and EXT port before firmly pressing the whole thing into place. It’s far from ideal, but it shouldn’t take more than a few tries to get the hang of it. From there, the attachment runs off the DualShock 4’s built-in battery and behaves like a part of the controller itself.
Once you’ve connected the Back Button Attachment, its small circular display lights up, and you’re free to assign each rear paddle to an existing button on the controller. The interface technically uses an OLED panel, which helps conserve power, but it’s not flashy—all text is displayed in a simple black and white.
Programming the rear paddles is quick and painless. There are 16 potential bindings in total, covering every individual input on the controller besides Share, the PS button, and the touchpad. (One binding lets you set a back button to do nothing.) You hold the bottom of the OLED panel for about a second to enter the binding mode, cycle through each input using the corresponding paddle you wish to customize, then press the panel again to lock the profile into place. The Back Button Attachment supports up to three profiles in total, which you can swap through with a double press of the OLED display.
These profiles are saved to the Back Button Attachment itself, so you can connect the device to a secondary DualShock 4 and pick up right where you left off. Once each back button is assigned an input, the accessory behaves like a native extension of the controller, so there’s no additional friction when using the gamepad with a PC. With services like Steam or Google Stadia, both of which officially support the DualShock 4, I was able to instantly use the back buttons just as I would on the PlayStation 4, with no additional button delay.
With a non-DualShock-compatible client like the Epic Games Store, however, I still needed to download an emulation program like DS4Windows to get games to recognize the gamepad—just as I would without the attachment equipped. Even then, store exclusives like Control still wouldn’t recognize PlayStation UI elements, so “B” and “A” existed in-game where O and X should be. All of this is just to reiterate how seamlessly the attachment works with the controller; once attached, it effectively becomes just another part of the DualShock 4, with all the ups and downs that implies.
There are a few ways Sony could have expanded the capabilities here. The attachment doesn’t provide any buzz or physical feedback when you’ve swapped between profiles, for one, so you typically have to turn the controller around to ensure you’re on the right settings. If you skip past the input you want to assign, you can’t scroll back, so you have to hit the corresponding back button another 16 times. There’s also no way to assign button combinations to a single paddle; admittedly, this could introduce issues for things like online fighting games, but it could still streamline play in games that rely on more complex inputs. (Other devices have just about let this genie out of the bottle anyway.) The focus on simplicity means there’s no way to tie profiles to specific games, either; this isn’t common in other console-based pro controllers, but it would be nice to launch Gran Turismo Sport and have the attachment know to switch back to the button profile I only use with that game.
All that said, there’s zero lag in assigning inputs and swapping through profiles, and it’s always dead simple to comprehend what the Back Button Attachment is doing at any given time. This is a no-frills device that does exactly what it promises, even if it only promises the fundamentals.
That would be moot if the Back Button Attachment wasn’t comfortable to use over extended play sessions. You can definitely feel it when it’s attached: it adds a barely noticeable 25g of extra weight—the controller weighs 210g on its own—but it covers just under half of the DualShock 4’s back. It’s almost entirely made of plastic, so it feels like a $30 accessory in that regard, but the finish is smooth and easy to keep your fingers against.
The circular OLED display introduces a good chunk of surface area to both sides of the controller, but in practice it rarely gets in the way unless you have seriously large hands. (Mine are already on the larger side, and I had no issues.) In general, the attachment hugs the DualShock 4 in a way that prevents it from ever touching the ground while the controller is rested on a flat surface.
The back buttons stretch out to the edge of the gamepad’s grips, with the actual clickable surface located toward the ends of each paddle, meeting your ring or middle fingers where they naturally sit. The elongated design and firm buttons make it difficult to register any accidental presses. The buttons themselves don’t have a deep sense of travel—you’d never want them to replace the L2/R2 trigger buttons in a first-person shooter—but they’re not stiff. Each actuation is fast and clicky.
Any discomfort will come from how far the Back Button Attachment is raised off the DualShock 4’s back. It’s a tough balance: Sony has to give this design enough space to register presses comfortably, but in doing so it must raise and stretch out your ring or middle finger—depending on your grip—slightly more than usual. For the most part, Sony finds a good middle ground; my fingers never felt seriously strained, even after several hours of continuous play. But it is different, and for games that don’t benefit from the extra buttons, a standard DualShock 4 will likely be more comfortable over time.
It’s not a fair comparison, but the Xbox Elite Series 2 is tangibly more agreeable in this regard. All button mapping for that gamepad is done through an outside app, so there’s no need to have the back buttons connected to a bulky module. This allows the Elite’s back buttons to be smaller and rest in a natural spot on the controller’s grips, without the need to position your fingers differently than you would otherwise.
But again, the Elite costs $180, and the Back Button Attachment costs $30. The latter is still more than fine, both responsive and unobtrusive enough. It doesn’t feel flimsy or likely to break despite being plastic, and the fact that it doesn’t sacrifice the DualShock 4’s audio jack is great.
A quick note on battery life
It’s difficult to perform a standardized battery test on a device like this, since the way everyone uses the Back Button Attachment will differ. My method consisted of playing two games that relied on frequent use of the rear paddles (F1 2019 and Destiny 2) as continuously as possible. Any time I took a breather, I kept markers of exactly what times I stopped and restarted. I ran through the process a couple of times to at least somewhat account for unforeseen variances, though both tests resulted in similar figures.
The takeaway is that the Back Button Attachment does cause a slight drop in battery life, but likely not enough to be immediately noticeable unless you’re specifically paying attention to it. With the Back Button Attachment on, my DualShock 4 averaged 15 hours and 15 minutes of battery life. Without it, that figure jumped up to 16 hours and 50 minutes—about a 10-percent increase. Again, I can’t be too declarative since I wasn’t using a brand-new controller. But it makes sense that adding a relatively low-power accessory would cause a relatively low dip in overall battery life.
Listing image by Jeff Dunn