A HOTAS joystick is a gaming apparatus that’s designed to have controls, buttons, and other functions all in one place: on a joystick. These apparatuses work well with certain types of videogames, such as racing games, flight simulators, and other vehicular genres.
While a HOTAS joystick isn’t usually required to play a game, they can be excellent for deepening the player’s immersion in the game and improving their enjoyment. They function as a miscellaneous peripheral for PCs and consoles, similarly to how steering wheels exist for racing games.
Since the demand for HOTAS joysticks is rather small compared to other peripherals, there aren’t too many to choose from. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any options to choose from – far from it, actually. There are several options on the market for HOTAS joysticks that any flight simulator fanatic will enjoy.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through some of the best HOTAS joysticks on the market today. After all, with such a niche product, there will be options out there that are reliable, and there will be others that are cheap and not worth purchasing. We’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each option so that you can make your best informed decision before buying one!
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The 5 Best HOTAS Joysticks for 2020
What Does HOTAS Mean?
HOTAS is an acronym that means Hands On Throttle-And-Stick. It’s a throttle design that was implemented to make it so flight pilots didn’t need to remove their hands from their throttles to reach controls. This design choice allows pilots to keep their hands where they need to be, and it’s since been implemented into similar situations, such as the steering wheels on race cars.
As such, a HOTAS joystick follows the same philosophy. Instead of a single joystick meant only for steering, a HOTAS joystick also features controls, buttons, and switches on the joysticks themselves. This way, gamers can reach more controls without removing their hands from the joystick.
HOTAS joysticks come standard with several different functions that make them superior to playing on a keyboard and mouse. While the main advantage is the use of the joystick itself, a HOTAS joystick also offers more movements in 3D space than most other media can handle.
In real life, an airplane pitches, rolls, and yaws in addition to usual forward, backward, up, down, and sideways movements in 3D space. Having a joystick that can handle these movements both makes the experience more engrossing and helps raise the skill level of the players, too.
Additional buttons, as well as button modifiers, expand the functionality of the joystick, too. After all, if your airplane or spaceship will be shooting various weapons in the game you decide to play, you will need controls for that, too. The same goes for any other nonstandard maneuvers you might want to initiate from the joystick.
HATs, on the other hand, are a unique term that refers to the ability to take a third-person view of the plane you’re controlling. Since most simulator-style games put the player in the cockpit, a dedicated button to look at your surroundings is both helpful and appreciated.
Thrustmaster T16000M FCS
The Thrustmaster T16000M FCS is one of the premium entries on out joystick lineup. As far as price, the Thrustmaster T16000M comes in on the low-middle end, but it’s not lacking in features, either. With 16 buttons, a full 5 axes, and an 8-way HAT switch, this HOTAS joystick offers excellent functionality in an inexpensive package.
However, there are several complaints that could be made about the model. Its color scheme, for example, is locked into orange and black and is not customizable. However, at the price point it occupies, this is a small price to pay.
In any case, even if the orange-on-black color scheme is unchangeable, it’s not unattractive. The colors are added subtly, and although the onboard lights could use some customization options, it’s nothing you’ll miss much at this price point.
Both halves of the joystick itself are made entirely of plastic. While this isn’t uncommon in these joysticks, some metal aspects definitely make the setup feel sturdier (and higher quality). That being said, the buttons and lights are attractively designed, and it doesn’t look like a low-end joystick at all.
Unfortunately, as many mechanical objects are prone to do, the Thrustmaster T16000M can sometimes fall prey to joystick drift and other long-term fatiguing – namely, in the z-axis controls. However, this is something that can happen with virtually any joystick over time.
Overall, the Thrustmaster T16000M FCS seems like an all-around solid purchase option, minus some quality control issues. It’s an excellent entry to mid-level option for simulator enthusiasts, and while it’s not something that will last a lifetime, it will get the job done.
- Attractively simple
- All plastic
- Prone to drifting or breaking
- Lack of customizable colors
Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X
The Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X is our budget addition to this joystick list, and it really puts the term cheap into a new light. While you really can’t beat this unit’s price, that price unfortunately shows through in many aspects of the design. The joystick set looks more like a child’s toy than an adult’s gaming peripheral, but it does get the job done.
Despite being a budget option, the T-Flight has a surprising amount going for it. The controllers have wider grips than normal, for example, which players with larger hands will appreciate. It also comes with a small internal memory module that will save any custom mapping changes you make. You won’t have to worry about losing your custom maps when you install new software this way.
While 12 buttons is the minimum entry on our list, that doesn’t mean this unit should be underestimated. It doesn’t have any bling, lights, or frills, but it will get the job done. However, this unit isn’t suited to those looking for something with all the bells and whistles.
We’re not a fan of the all-plastic style on this model, either, but we can’t deny that it’s an incredible cost-saver. When compared to the Thrustmaster Warthog, which weighs in at almost ten times as much as this unit, plastic looks like a blessing.
Unfortunately, this unit does have one archaic quirk that stood out to us as annoying: while the two halves of the unit are able to separate, they’re connected by a cord instead of operating via separate USB cords. While some users might even appreciate this feature since it frees up a USB slot, far more will find the extra cord laying across their desks to be annoying. We sure did.
- Extremely inexpensive
- Entry-level model
- Decent assortment of features
- Looks and feels cheap
- Lacking in buttons
- Awkward cord placement
Logitech G X52
The Logitech G X52 is an older model of HOTAS joystick that is nonetheless still a “goodie.” Even though its successor, the X55, has appeared in the meantime, the X52 is still a contender on our list of joysticks. This is because it still has a host of useful features, attractive styling, and a surprising amount of functionality.
While the G X52 isn’t this list’s forerunner in terms of buttons and functions, it certainly ties several other entries for having a decent amount. While it’s an older model now, the X52 was cutting-edge in its day, and this is why it’s still relevant even now.
From a coloring perspective, the X52 could be worse. The silver-on-black color scheme of the X52 is attractive, if slightly outdated. If the silver look is too much for you, a pro version of the X52 is available in all black, but it does seem to be prone to more issues than the standard X52.
If you don’t mind investing in technology that’s already a few years old, you won’t be let down by the X52. The unit is solid and reliable, and it comes with a bevy of customizable features that will make players’ lives easier (unfortunately, light customization isn’t one of these features, but you can’t win them all).
One of these features is an adjustable trigger, which you can make more or less difficult to move depending on your preferences. The trigger features detents onboard, as well, which are necessary for certain games. They’re removable for others, however.
- Attractive and futuristic-looking
- Sturdy and reliable
- Tired design
Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog
The Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog is a beast of a joystick that brings everything to the table, including the kitchen sink. According to Thrustmaster, the Warthog is an official replica of the US Air Force’s A-10C aircraft. This makes it the most realistic of the contenders in this list by far.
To add to its realism, the Warthog is made largely of metal, replicating what a pilot would find in an actual plane. As such, it’s very heavy. If you’re looking to take your joystick set with you when you travel or anything similar, this is not the joystick for you!
The materials and realism that come with the Warthog come at a price. Like we mentioned earlier, the Warthog is nearly ten times the price of the Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS X. However, true enthusiasts, collectors, and people looking for a long-lasting joystick will be okay with that price.
Above all else, the Warthog is just plain cool looking. Since it was modeled after a real plane, it looks like something straight out of the simulations you’ll be using it with. This might be the key to increasing the immersion of some players, while others might just appreciate the attention to detail on the unit.
However, the Warthog does come with one clear design flaw: it doesn’t come with any stock functionality for movement on a Z-axis. With most joysticks, you twist the joystick to achieve this movement, but because the Warthog is modeled after a real cockpit, the stick cannot twist. As such, you’ll need to map any Z movements to a button, which may feel unnatural to some users.
- Extremely cool
- Sturdy and long-lasting
- Accurate to life
- Ridiculously expensive
- Missing Z-axis
Logitech G X56
The Logitech G X56 is the successor to the X52, which we looked at earlier in this article. The X56 looks very different than the X52, however; they share very little in the way of resemblance. In addition, the X56 boasts a whopping 31 programmable buttons and 13 axes – numbers which blow all of our other entrants out of the water.
Additionally, the X52 is another cool-looking entrant on this joystick list. While it looks similar to most other HOTAS joysticks from an aesthetics standpoint, it does have RBG functionality – finally! The switches, buttons, and throttles on the unit are also made to look shiny and accurate, which definitely ups the unit’s cool factor.
Unfortunately, the X56 does seem to be plagued by several quality control issues, as some other entries in our list also are. Fortunately, though, Logitech’s customer support is generally good, so you shouldn’t have any trouble setting up an RMA if the device is under warranty. However, whether you want to purchase this unit and run the risk of it breaking or being defective is up to you.
Fortunately, besides the obvious quality control issues, the X56 seems to be an excellent all-around device. Some of the buttons can be hard to reach for small hands, but this should be fine with some getting used-to. Also, the unit is quite big, taking up a lot more desk space than the X52. Users with smaller desks will need to keep this in mind.
All in all, if you’re willing to take the risk of getting a defective unit, this product is excellent. If you’re not a fan of the Warthog’s real-life look, the X56’s future-technology look might just do it for you. With customizable RGB LEDs, this product can really compete your build dreams, too.
- Very attractive
- Many buttons
- RGB customization options
- Quality control issues
- Ergonomics issues
The choice on which HOTAS joystick to buy to accompany your flight games is a deeply personal decision. Different users will have different wants and needs in mind, such as budget, features, buttons, and customizability. We’re sure that the addition (or lack) of RGBs may even be a deal-breaker or deal-maker for some people!
However, overall, we would call this contest as a tie between the Thrustmaster T16000M FCS and the Logitech G X52. Both units offer nearly identical features in attractive packages; the decision-maker between these two will most likely just be a preference for color. The Logitech G X52 comes in a more outdated silver color, while the Thrustmaster T16000M FCS comes in a more modern orange and black.
However, the Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas X is a close runner-up because of its affordability. Nearly all HOTAS joysticks tend to reach into the hundreds of dollars except for this one, and for that alone, it deserves an honorable mention.
In the end, though, just about any of the entries on this list will be suitable for someone. Whether you’re looking for an expensive replica piece like the Warthog, a RGB beauty like the X56, or an inexpensive starter kit like the T-Flight, there is something out there for you!