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VKB Gladiator NXT Joystick Review: Maximum Bang For Your Buck

Review verdict: The VKB Gladiator NXT is one of the best joysticks in its class, delivering class-leading performance under $200 or Php 10K. Don’t let its plastic build fool you – underneath that exterior are quality hardware that makes it one of the best joysticks if you’re cash strapped.

Pros:

  • Excellent price-to-performance
  • Lots of buttons, POV switches that can be mapped
  • Excellent ergonomics
  • Comes in left and right-hand versions

Cons:

  • Plastic exterior
  • Can’t upgrade to the Premium variant if you bought the standard one

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Because of quarantine restrictions that hit the country in the past year, I’ve been yearning to go back to hobbies that I dabbled in as a teen but didn’t have enough cash to fully pursue. One of those hobbies is playing flight sims like Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) whose steep hardware requirements I could now realistically achieve.

Sadly, it seemed like other sim enthusiasts had the same idea in the Philippines, which meant I had a heck of a time looking for a durable, solid joystick that was fairly priced. Defeated by inflated local pricing, I stumbled onto manufacturer VKBSim and the Gladiator NXT, specifically. The Gladiator NXT had a positive review or two online, so I took the plunge and bought one from their Aliexpress store.

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Ordering, packaging, box contents

I ordered the VKB Gladiator NXT via VKBSim’s Aliexpress page. What’s nice about the Gladiator NXT is the fact that you can get it in both left and right versions, as well as in STD or Premium flavors. I opted for the standard version like a dummy, but you shouldn’t be like me and buy the Premium version instead for reasons I’ll expound on later.

The company only uses premium shipping to ship out their products during the time of COVID, so you’re looking at an additional $35 on top of the base price of $120 for the standard version. The Premium variant is a little more, at $150, but you’re getting one more hat switch (near where your thumb is that also acts as a button) as well as a rapid-fire trigger near the main trigger.

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After ordering, the package arrived at my door in around 4 days, which is an astounding turnaround.

The joystick came in two parts: the base and the grip that you chose. There is some assembly required, but trust me when I say even someone that never takes apart a gadget in their life can manage. It’s all as simple as screwing in 7 screws and plugging in a small wire. After that, you’re ready to go.

VKB also ships the standard version with an extra high palm support piece, and two spare springs to replace the ones already in the stick if they break.

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Design

The grip of the VKB Gladiator NXT is made with ABS plastic, with portions of the grip sporting a semi-rubberized finish.

The overall ergonomics of the grip feel very good, and I’ve never felt fatigued while using the grip during extended flights in DCS.

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The palm rest has a nice rubber coating on it and can be swapped out with a second that’s a little higher if you have smaller hands.

The only metal part of the build is the base that screws on the bottom, which is enough to keep the joystick from lifting when you start maneuvering.

The standard version of the joystick comes with a plethora of buttons, including 3 POV switches (that’s four buttons with a fifth you access by pressing down) a two-stage trigger (useful for pilots who main the A10C or A10C II in DCS) along with 7 buttons on top of that, two rotary encoders, a twist axis for rudder input (that you can lock with a grub screw if you have your own set of pedals) and a throttle at the base.

That’s a ridiculous amount of buttons, and there are enough POV switches here that you can easily map all but the most complex of modules of DCS on it without having to spring for a throttle like the Thrustmaster TWCS, for example.

The Premium variant adds even more, as you get a rapid-fire trigger and an analog mini stick (8-way controls) with a center push button.

Everything about the joystick feels high-quality, and while the buttons are plastic, the hat switch stems are made of metal for enhanced durability.

We found during our VKB Gladiator NXT review that you can’t buy the premium grip if you change your mind and want the rapid-fire button and the 8-way mini stick, despite VKBSim shipping the controllers in two distinct pieces,

Performance and calibration

Once you get the joystick together you’ll have to calibrate it first before you can use it. This is a function inherent in almost all modern sticks, and what’s nice about the Gladiator NXT is that the calibration function can be done without having to install software on your PC. You simply have to follow the calibration guide in the manual, and you’re good to go.

The Gladiator NXT uses a gimbal system that utilizes 2 contactless MaRS sensors on both the X and Y axis, which the company says is more sensitive than sensors that use Hall Effect sensors.

I primarily use the stick in DCS, where I fly the AV8B Harrier, the A10C and A10C II Warthog, and the KA-50 Black Shark.

I love how precise the joystick is when I’m flying in both the Black Shark and the AV8B especially when I’m hovering, as I’m able to counteract the wind and oscillation forces quickly before it ever becomes a problem with very minute inputs on the stick.

The ridiculous amounts of buttons and switches mean that I’m able to map even the most complex of controls on the joystick. If this VKB Gladiator NXT review taught me anything, is that I should have bought the premium variant so I could have mapped even more HOTAS controls on the joystick.

But even casual gamers who just want a stick to use in games like Star Wars: Squadrons will find that the Gladiator NXT is quite a solid buy, as it’s ridiculously high quality despite its mostly plastic chassis.

The base is heavy enough to stay put on your desk while you’re playing, but it’s light enough that you can push it aside when it’s time to buckle down and work.

Some users reported stickiness with the twist axis when they first got theirs, but I never really had that issue with mine.

As for the overall stiffness of the stick, it did feel a little stiff, but after a while, I got used to it. If it really bothers you, you can buy replacement springs from VKBSim to change them to be softer or stiffer, though people who buy the premium variant get these additional springs for free.

Wrap-up and verdict

During our VKB Gladiator NXT review, it truly surprised me with its features, available buttons, and overall performance.

It’s a stick that punches way above its weight class, and the very small annoyances I found with it are nothing compared to the value that it gives would-be pilots.

VKB Gladiator NXT Price Philippines

The VKBSim Gladiator NXT is priced at $120 for the standard version and $150 for the premium variant in Aliexpress as of press time. Shipping to the Philippines is currently Php $31.48, so you’ll be paying $151.49 or Php 7388 total for the joystick for the standard version. Take note there shouldn’t be any additional taxes when it arrives since it’s below the $200 de minimis limit for items purchased overseas.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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