The joystick just can't seem to die with the recent popularity of the X3TC. With the upcoming X-Rebirth There might be more people interest in this topic. I wanted a 3D stick (twisting) at least one hat switch, many keys on the stick (6 is usually max) preferably one pinky switch for shift keying (extra finger).
When I was looking for a stick locally and found that the prices are steep on professional sticks like Saitek X52 which was highly recommended by X3 players . The X52 has 6 keys (including pinky + the trigger has 2 modes) +2 POV hats lots more keys on throttle and another POV +software support . It cost 165$~ locally while its price in the USA is about 100$ ( I bet euro prices are similar).
The x52 was just way beyond my budget so I looked at The Thrustmaster HOTAS X that cost 90$ locally (35$ in the USA) . It's still expensive while having only 4 keys on stick (no pinky) a slider(I read it's useless in X3 but there are 3rd party software).It's throttle has a bunch of keys but I doubt it's enough to fun X3.
Next up was Saitek Cyborg X (technically a fly 9 ) for 62$~ (getting more realistic but cost 40$ in US) . It looks good, has a good position for it's dual throttle in front left (couldn't figure out what to use it for in X3) . I don't think it's a 3D stick (twisting handle ) It got saitek software support so it's generally a good buy but it has to be ordered . I was rather confused by it's shape it has no pinky key.
I also considered Logitech Extreme 3d pro (42$ locally 25$ in US) but I had their Attack 3 and the keys at the base are not working or half working(you have to keep a hammer handy to press them) . I was quick to dismiss them but it was a viable option.
When you couldn't get the best I jumped on the best value. I found a very cheap stick (cost me about 18$) called Trust GM-2500 . 6 buttons on stick (no pinky) 1 hat ,handle twist ,but the throttle is rotating (not that bad). 6 butons on the base in similar way to Logitech 3d pro. It's fairly stiff in term of resistance and the twist does take some force so it's very controllable. My only regret is that I found there is a GM-2550 which is very similar but has a pinky button. Pinky buttons are usually used as shift which change button functionality. Without one you have to use your other hand for shift-keying . I might buy it because cause I found it for 20$ including shipping but my wife vetoed the idea (buying another thing of the same type that I just bought).
So far the stick is doing Ok but I'm a little dissatisfied by lack of accuracy compared to the mouse but I think it's more related to the settings and my adjustment to using a stick. I found a nice utility that's called JoyToKey which seem to work well. There is unlimited trial period +7$ registration. I'm still considering writing an AutoHotKey script. I generally use the stick just for combat and the rest is keyboard/mouse navigation.
My current problem is trying to figure out how to setup my keys. Some people say they don't need to touch the keyboard/mouse anymore but I guess old habits die hard.
my current setup Combat:
stick (unusual setting compared to aircraft )- Y ="elevation ", X ="ruder" twist - rotation(banking - doesn't affect moment in vacuum) .
trigger (#1) - ctrl (shoot) ; Left side botton( #2 )- missiles as default (click select hold launch)
stick's thumb panel : NE = time compression(runs 10X faster) , NW =booster , SE =prev enemy, SW= next enemy + hold for Target scanning
hat- 4 direction maneuvering thrusters (strafe,jump ,duck directions) in non combat it's mouse control.
base: 2 buttons closer to the throttle are shift keys the 2 farther away are configuration switching
I couldn't figure out what to use the two middle buttons for .
I'll be happy if someone gives me tips on control configuration or recommended software for extra joystick customization.