Joysticks, like many of the other bits surrounding our computers, have become a bit complicated these days. They have buttons and levers protruding from the most unlikely places, and are custom moulded and curved to fit most naturally into our (right) hands, with little widgets and lights to show just how clever they are. Unfortunately, if you are like me, you can only dream of one of these £50+ delights with half a housebrick hidden in the base, and the cheapo plastic £9.99 versions that we have to make do with are just not very good. The kids seem to smash about 3 or 4 joysticks per year with frantic waggling and button-torturing. Of course, I wouldn't touch the things myself. Ooooh, no. Well, maybe. The Saitek ST50 Action Stick & Throttle is a pleasant change from the above picture of gloom. It was not the cheapest in the shop (I have my pride), but the second cheapest. It was bought as the latest in a long line of cheap plastic joysticks which have been gradually mangled into oblivion by my sons and me, and we expected little of it. We were favourably surprised. The ST50 looks quite good, looking rather like something designed after 'Razer' from Robot Wars. It even has slightly glittery plastic to make it look vaguely metallic. That counts for nothing, though, as who has eyes in the palms of their hands? No, don't answer that. It has an unusual spring-loaded centring system which looks rather like a shock-absorber, and works very well. This also feels robust and has very few moving parts. It is often the centring system which fails on cheap joysticks, being made of many tiny springs and clips. This one is not like that. It has no weights in the bottom, but relies upon good old rubber suction pads. They don’t suit everyone I know but they seem to work pretty well. The joystick has no calibrating adjusters on board, which is good as they invariably mean that the thing is so shoddy it cannot hold its cali
bration long enough to play a game. Any game played under Windows 9x+ will not need these anyway, as Windows will do it for you. This one has only ever needed calibrating once, at the start, and so far, so good. No special software is needed or supplied. Our version uses a standard PC gameport, but no doubt a USB version is available or ‘coming real soon’. The Saitek also has a throttle wheel. This is a simple little knurled wheel on the centre bottom of the stick. Works fine. Hard to knock by mistake. Good feature. Finally, my biggest bouquet to Saitek for making a genuinely ambidextrous joystick. All three of the joystick users in this house are left-handed. Right-handed joysticks are agony – if you’re left-handed, you’ll know what I mean. If not, trust me. This stick has everything centrally arranged so you can use either hand. There is no clever moulding or dodgy ‘veining’ to cut ridges into your left hand whilst you strain to reach button 2. It’s simple, but effective. Worth buying, although not full of electronics or made of cast iron it is a budget joystick with very good design.