The Thrustmaster T.16000M can be recommended as a more expensive but also long-lasting and accurate joystick. However, it is not free from downsides. Its ergonomics is not perfect and some of its details are too cheap for its price (for example, it has rubber-membrane buttons).
This joystick is downright overpriced compared to products with similar functionality. Considering that the volume price of the 3D Hall sensor Melexis MLX90333 is a mere $3 and that they saved even on the buttons in the T.16000M design, the latter's price should not differ much from other joysticks of the same class like the T.Flight Stick X, for example.
Still, the T.16000M cannot be put off the list of recommended products. The more advanced models are twice as expensive whereas the more affordable ones with similar functionality are far less accurate and do not last that long.
Next go the rather affordable but feature-rich HOTAS kits from Saitek: X52 and X52 Pro.
The two models are close in design but the Pro version is free from many minor shortcomings that spoil the life of the owner of a regular X52. An example of such a problem is that the control stick is not identified when you turn on your PC (this can be cured with the X52 by disconnecting and reconnecting the cable between the control stick and the hands-on throttle). The X52's mouse wheel emulator doesn't work very well and the control stick axes have more nonlinearity. The Pro version features a handier control stick load system (it's central but has a second compensating spring) and a more conveniently positioned display on the hands-on throttle. There are a number of smaller differences. In fact, those differences are all insignificant, even though the X52 Pro is generally more comfortable to deal with, but their price tags differ by about 50%!
These devices are not ideal (the exceedingly light central loading of the stick is perfect for precise aiming but piloting turns out to be sloppy, which is further worsened by the nonlinear response) but they have no rivals in terms of price/performance ratio. They virtually have no alternatives for today's modern plane simulators with lots of onboard equipment: the cheaper single-piece joysticks lack functionality for such games whereas the flagship HOTAS kits from the top three brands are much less affordable.
Let's discuss such top-end HOTAS kits now. I mean the Logitech Flight Control System G940, Saitek X-65F and Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog. They come at similar prices and each has its own peculiarities that can appeal to wealthy virtual pilots.
The Logitech Flight Control System G940 boasts the richest selection of accessories including separate flight pedals. It features force feedback for the control stick but is priced somewhat lower than its competitors. By the way, this is the only mass-produced joystick with bearings in its mechanics (but only in the control stick suspension).
Yes, the included pedals are downright poor, even though sturdy enough. They are inferior in ergonomics to any pedals selling separately. On the other hand, considering the price of the G940 as opposed to its competitors, they look like a free accessory. After all, they are no worse than the twist, anyway.
The feedback is quite good here, though. Although it doesn’t match the legendary Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2, which is still being hunted out by virtual flight aesthetes at online auctions, it is generally better than what you get with a regular force-feedback joystick.
Saitek’s top-end X-65F model is not really meant for everyone. It’s less ergonomic than both of its top-end competitors (even though without serious shortcomings in this respect) but the main problem is that it’s got a very unusual fixed control stick with strain sensors.
It’s control accuracy is immaculate and its reaction to the user’s effort is lightning fast which is due to both the strain sensors (there are no mechanical movements of the stick which would otherwise take some time) and to the electronics (a very high speed of polling the axes). The sensitivity of the strain sensors can be flexibly adjusted for each of the three axes (the control stick and the twist) independently, so you can easily set them up to your taste whether you prefer a weightless stick or thick the HOTAS Cougar too soft. A classic joystick cannot provide you such a broad adjustment range.
It takes a natural-born surgeon to wield this scalpel-sharp instrument, though. An ordinary mortal will find it hard to control his hand accurately enough whereas the strain sensors are too eager to record even the slightest of efforts, including accidental deflections in an unwanted direction, even a change in the angle of the plane the joystick is standing on!
This device has one problem. The axis of the left part of the composite control stick is not identified by many flight simulators.
Finally, the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog is an exact replica of the control stick and throttle (including the base with switches of the A-10C Warthog ground-attack aircraft). I've never met any other serially produced product to be so impressive at first sight. It really looks serious, reliable and authentic much more than the HOTAS Cougar.
Besides its stunning looks, this joystick features good ergonomics, excellent control accuracy and the best stick effort you can find among joysticks with the central loading design. The software capabilities are wide whereas the stiff buttons contribute to the impression of an authentic and solid military gadget.
The HOTAS Warthog is not without downsides, though. The control stick is somewhat loose (also along the "twist" axis which is not implemented in it physically). The software is not polished off and its interface is hardly intuitive. The control stick or throttle would occasionally malfunction with the earlier versions of the joystick's firmware.
This is also the most expensive option. Being the most expensive serially produced joystick by itself, the HOTAS Warthog calls for pedals (sold separately) because it lacks the twist (as in the Saitek X-65F) and the swinging bar (as in the old Saitek X45) and pedals (as come with the Logitech G940). Using it without pedals is like trying to save on your insurance or service costs after you buy a Rolls-Royce.
The perfectionists mentioned at the beginning of this review are right in their own way. Although joysticks can be used out of the box (there are very few downright bad samples), there have never been perfect joysticks as yet.
The biggest problem of every serially produced joystick is about some play in its mechanic parts. If the latter were immaculate (steel, bearings, laser cutting, milling machine processing and other luxuries), the resulting product would be much more expensive than today's ones. As for the electronics, the leading manufacturers have already polished it off well enough (except for the use of cheap potentiometers in low-end models). There are but occasional failures like the nonlinearity of the Hall sensors in Saitek’s products.
I hope you’ve picked up enough joystick-related knowledge from this review to make an informed shopping choice.