The Switch is a convertible console designed to let you play games on its built-in touchscreen on the move and on your TV when home. As a result, it comes with quite a bit of gear.
Aside from the Switch and Joy-Con L and R, you get the Switch Dock to play on a TV. There’s also a Joy-Con Grip, which slots between the left and right Joy-Con parts when the Switch is docked. This turns the Joy-Con into a more traditional controller.
Related: Splatoon 2 preview
Then there are two Joy-Con straps for games that use motion controls, which will inevitably be a blessing for “enthusiastic” gamers – we don’t want another Wii fiasco with players smashing their tellies. Finally you get an HDMI cable and power lead.
It’s surprising quite how small Nintendo’s new flagship machine is. Strip away the dock and Joy-Con controllers and what you have is a black box that looks no bigger than a mini Android tablet, which is why I remain consistently impressed by what it can do, even if others aren’t overwhelmed by its hardware specs.
The Switch has a thick bezel around its 6.2-inch capacitive touchscreen. The display size is fine when holding the console in my hands, much like a slightly larger PlayStation Vita screen, or perhaps a decent phablet. When it’s in its tabletop mode, it’s comfortable, but I can see myself having issues playing games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in two-player local multiplayer on such a small screen.
The touchscreen’s responsiveness is fine, and streets ahead of the Wii U GamePad’s cheap and soft resistive screen, which often had delayed inputs and was a pain to use. This feels like I’m actually using a tablet screen, which is a relief.
In the hands the console feels incredibly well made, and is again a far cry from the GamePad’s Tonka Toy plastic. The metal finish of the Switch coupled with the comfortable (if a little weightless) Joy-Con make this the best console Nintendo has made from an aesthetic perspective, perhaps by any gaming hardware manufacturer.
But despite the Switch’s sleek and expensive-feeling build, the one anomaly is its kickstand. While the console is made from metal, the kickstand is plastic and incredibly thin. When I first opened it to use the Switch in tabletop mode, I was worried it’d collapse under its own weight, especially with the Joy-Con attached. However, it handles the weight fine.
Nintendo’s reasoning behind this supposedly flimsy item design is that it’s taken into account our at-times absent-mindedness. If you attempt to dock the console without closing the kickstand, it’ll snap off, but can easily be reattached to the back of the console – although Nintendo warns against constant wear-and-tear. I haven’t detached the kickstand myself, but having tried removing it from the back, I learned it’d take a decent amount of force for it to clip off to begin with. But this does show another smart design choice.
However, as always, for each smart decision Nintendo makes, there are always one or two glaring omissions. The Nintendo Switch supports Bluetooth 4.1, but, from what I can tell, there’s no support for wireless headphones. Considering the recent big push towards Bluetooth headphones, it’s bizarre that there isn’t the ability to use them with the Switch.
Docking and removing the Joy-Con controllers is easy enough. Simply pressing the button on the back of the controllers sees them simply lift off the machine, and they slide easily onto the console’s rails, making the satisfying “click” noise you’ll have heard on the Switch’s many trailers to let you know they’re attached to the unit. However, there’s a pretty significant caveat: while the console plays this noise to let you know the Joy-Con is docked, that isn’t actually the noise you need to hear to let you know the controller is safely attached. There’s a separate, mechanical click that should be heard to know the controller is locked in place. I only notice this when playing around with the console and slid Joy-Con L off the Switch without having unlocked it.
As the Joy-Con slide onto the Switch from the top down, this is a pretty important thing for users to be aware of to avoid the Switch dropping from the Joy-Con – and dodging plenty of tears as your shiny new console gets shattered on the floor.
Looking at the Joy-Con themselves, they’re very comfortable to hold, but again are a little small. What’s interesting is that, while they’re mostly identical, their subtle differences are intriguing. Joy-Con R’s Home button protrudes from the controller, whereas the Share button on L sits almost flush.
Related: Nintendo Switch vs Wii U
The alternately aligned analogue sticks on L and R reflect those seen on the likes of the Xbox 360 pad, but the right analogue stick feels just a little bit too low, meaning I have to adjust my grip. Again, without having a game to test how this affects dexterity, there’s no way to fully understand its ramifications.
The Joy-Con Straps – which slide onto the rail of the controller and include a cotton band to attach to your wrist – serve a dual-purpose. As well as stopping over-exuberant players causing serious damage, they also increase the size of the diminutive Joy-Con.
Along the inseam of the Joy-Con are additional “SL” and “SR’ buttons, which replace the shoulder buttons when the controller is held on its side like a retro gamepad. Without the straps the controller’s a little too small in this configuration.
With them, though, it’s lovely to use as a standard pad. The handles’ rounded grips and smooth plastic finish makes the Joy-Con incredibly comfortable to hold. Plus the analogue sticks are in a more comfortable position when using the Grip, too, making the whole thing the go-to choice when gaming at home.
The dock for using the Switch with a TV, meanwhile, is quite chunky, and includes a flap at the rear to hide the HDMI, AC adapter and USB ports.
Related: Nintendo Switch vs PS4 and Xbox One
Overall, I think the Switch is off to a very impressive start. It’s a nifty machine with great build quality, but being unable to comment on the screen’s resolution with reference to games and UI without the day-one update and significant online access leaves my hands a little tied.
I’ve tried letting you know as much as I can based on the current amount of equipment I have, but don’t worry, there’ll be plenty more to discuss in the coming days as we receive more and the Switch launches.
There are a few minor hiccups right now, like the lack of Bluetooth pairing for audio, the at-times insecure Joy-Con docking, and the dinky controllers, but overall most of these issues are easily overcome, or at least should be remedied with patches. Let’s hope Nintendo is more reactive to these niggles than it has been in the past, because this console could very easily become 2017’s must-have piece of tech.