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Sidewinder Precision Pro, joystick, Microsoft, $75.

The Sidewinder Precision Pro joystick is just the ticket for most computer gamers, but it proves especially useful for flight simulation players short on desk space. Dedicated virtual pilots will prefer a full complement of joystick, throttle unit and rudder pedals, but such a fine set of peripherals requires money and space. A decent setup of the three is likely to cost nearly $200. For $75, the Precision Pro combines elements of all three in a single device.

The joystick is ergonomically designed and very comfortable to grip. Four main buttons and a hat switch capably handle the bulk of primary input needs, while a throttle lever and four programmable buttons on the base of the unit add further utility. The Precision Pro is also a true digital joystick, meaning that it holds its calibration better than analog joysticks and sports excellent precision and reliability.

The literal “twist” of the Sidewinder brand of joysticks is the ability to rotate the joystick handle around the z-axis. Most joysticks allow two-dimensional movement to simulate pitch and roll, but Sidewinders additionally allow one to twist the handle left or right to simulate rudder input. This novel idea relies on a somewhat unnatural hand movement, but is a boon to players without rudder pedals. Rudder input is particularly useful in simulations of propeller-driven planes and helicopters.

The only drawbacks I could detect were the joystick’s obvious right-handed bias and the restriction of use to Windows 95 software (like most digital joysticks, the Precision Pro is incompatible with DOS-based programs). Although some would consider CH Products’ joysticks a bit sturdier, the Precision Pro comes well built and easy to use.

Bernard Dy