Nintendo does things differently. First came the Wii’s motion controllers, then Wii U’s tablet-style GamePad. Now the Nintendo Switch delivers a portable and home console in one that works well wherever you want to play on the go as well as at home.
With a 6.2-inch tablet and two versatile, removable Joy-Con controllers, capable of used solo or split for local two-player multiplayer. While lacking the raw power to produce 4KHDR graphics like its rivals, its innovative design is a surprising hit.
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The Nintendo Switch launched with its share of issues, but Nintendo has responded quickly to fix the biggest concerns.
Related: Switch vs PS4 and Xbox One
Nintendo Switch – Design
As a result of the Switch’s dual purpose, it comes with quite a bit of gear.
Aside from the Switch and Joy-Con L and R, you get the Switch Dock for connecting the console to a TV. There’s also a Joy-Con Grip, which slots the left and right Joy-Con into it to act as a more traditional controller.
Then there are two Joy-Con straps for games that use motion controls, destined to be a blessing for ‘enthusiastic’ gamers – we don’t want another Wii fiasco with players smashing 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 the Joy-Con controllers and what you have is a black box no bigger than a mini Android tablet.
The Nintendo Switch has a thick bezel around its 6.2-inch capacitive touchscreen. The display size is fine when playing games in portable mode, like a slightly larger PlayStation Vita screen, or perhaps a decent phablet. When in tabletop mode using the kickstand, it’s comfortable, but I had to sit closer to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in two-player local multiplayer because of the game’s frantic nature.
The touchscreen’s responsiveness is 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.
In the hands the console feels incredibly well made, 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 console manufacturer.
Despite the Switch’s sleek build, the one anomaly is its kickstand. While the console is made from metal, the kickstand is plastic and incredibly thin. The fact that the kickstand can also only allow for one viewing angle is disappointing.
Nintendo’s reasoning behind this design is that it’s taken into account our stupidity. If you attempt to dock the console without closing the kickstand, it’ll snap off (without actually breaking), and can easily be reattached. Nintendo warns against constant wear-and-tear, though.
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While this seems a smart decision in theory, in the weeks following launch I’ve only snapped the kickstand off the console once, yet it already fails to sit flush into the back of the Switch. Playing in handheld mode will see the kickstand flap loosely, meaning I have to hold my finger on it to keep the thing in place.
With each of these considered decisions, Nintendo always manages one or two glaring omissions. The Nintendo Switch supports Bluetooth 4.1, but not 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, while the console plays this noise to let you know the Joy-Con is docked, this noise alone doesn’t mean the controller is safely attached. There’s a separate, mechanical click that should be heard when the controller is locked in place.
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.
The dock, meanwhile, is quite chunky, and includes a flap at the rear to hide the HDMI, power adapter and USB ports. Following the launch of the console, a number of users have reported various problems with it, including it scratching the console’s display. I haven’t experienced this, primarily because I slapped a screen protector on at the earliest possible opportunity, but I have had problems with how it interacts with my TV.
When the Switch is in the dock, my TV will randomly change to whichever HDMI input the console is using, no matter whether I’m watching TV, using an app like Netflix or playing on another games console. Even after the day one update the problem persisted, meaning I often resorted to leaving the console undocked when not in use. However, Samsung (the manufacturer of my TV) has recently stated it plans to fix this issue, so hopefully it doesn’t persist much longer.
Nintendo Switch Battery Testing
With the Nintendo Switch pitched as a home console you can take on the go, its battery life is a key factor.
I wanted to test the battery and see how close the Switch got to Nintendo’s claims of 3-6 hours, depending on the game as well as the brightness and Wi-Fi settings.
I tested the Switch at two settings. For both tests I played Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for one continuous hour, after which I charged the console using the supplied power adapter for another hour to see how much charge it recovered.
For test one, Zelda was played at 100% brightness, with Wi-Fi enabled. Test two was played at 50% brightness in Airplane mode. Here are the results:
100% Brightness and Wi-Fi enabled
-36% after one hour of play
+47% after one hour of charge
50% Brightness and Airplane mode
-31% after one hour of play
+45% after one hour of charge
The good news here is that the results are more or less exactly as Nintendo claims. Zelda is a good benchmark, given how demanding it is.
When used at 100% brightness with Wi-Fi enabled, I estimate you’d get around two hours and 45 minutes. That’s less than the three hours claimed by Nintendo, but not by much. All sorts of variables, such as the intensity of the section of the game you’re playing, could impact that result.
The second test, which is more typical of how most people will use the console on the go, is encouraging. At 50% brightness and in Airplane mode, you’d get around three hours and 15 minutes – a decent 30 minutes or so extra, and over Nintendo’s three-hour guideline.
I’m incredibly impressed that this dinky little machine can power three hours of gaming with high-end experiences like Breath of the Wild. And if you were to play simpler games that don’t push the hardware as hard, I’m sure you could get far more from the Switch.
It’s why I feel like Nintendo has missed a trick by not pitching this machine as the most powerful handheld console ever. It’s really underselling the machine’s portable prowess.
It still feels amazing to know I can play the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 and Zelda on the toilet. No room is safe from my gaming advances.
It’s also reassuring how fast the battery charges. Nintendo states that a dead battery will take three hours to fill, though my test has the battery refuelling slightly faster – albeit not from flat.
There are, however, two big caveats. The first is obvious: while the battery life is impressive and more than enough for the average daily commute, if you’re taking a long-haul flight, or planning a family day out, it will not last. Three hours isn’t enough for a transatlantic trip, nor will it keep boredom at bay for kids on a long drive.
Nintendo has used a USB-C port on the Switch to allow the use of portable battery packs for charging on the go, but this leads to the second issue: exactly which portable battery packs are powerful enough to charge the console quickly.
The power adapter provided with the Switch has an output of 5V/3A, and it has a USB-C plug. My Anker PowerCore battery pack has an output of 5V/4.8A, so I assumed I was more than equipped to charge my console on the go. However, in practice, the Switch took an age to charge. In about 15 minutes of charging while in Sleep mode the console only recovered 3% battery, and that’s without Joy-Con controllers attached.
However, after running these tests, I bought a USB-C-to-USB-C portable battery, the Anker PowerCore+ 20100 and the Switch regained 45% charge after an hour in sleep mode.
The speed at which the console can recharge using a USB-C battery pack makes that pretty much an essential purchase for those planning to frequently take the console on long trips. It does also, unfortunately, increase the overall investment in the machine.
The placement of the charging port at the bottom is also less than ideal. While this makes sense when it comes to the entire setup of the system and docking it for TV mode, it means you can’t play in tabletop mode with the kickstand while charging at the same time.
The Joy-Con Controller
Ahead of launch, myself and many players reported issues with the left Joy-Con. Nintendo has acknowledged the problem and provided a fix. It’s now offering to fix the Joy-Con free of charge – and not only that, but a change in the manufacturing process means that all future Switch consoles should no longer have the issue.
All that tech – HD Rumble, infrared and all the gyroscopic smarts of Wii MotionPlus – housed in two tiny little controllers feels a bit like overkill. Having played games that take advantage of this stuff, I now appreciate the Joy-Con’s versatility, but I still have concerns that much of it will be ignored beyond the launch games.
HD Rumble is a bit like virtual reality – you can’t really understand it without trying it. It wasn’t until I played the ball-counting game in 1-2-Switch that I realised how well it translates in the hand. It does genuinely feel like there are tiny balls moving up and down inside the Joy-Con. The gentle ‘bump, bump, bump’ of each ‘ball’ hitting the end of the Joy-Con is quite amazing, its accuracy a pleasant surprise.
HD Rumble also needs the Joy-Con to be held in your hand to work best. If using the Joy-Con grip, its hollow plastic design means the rumble dissipates and its intricacy isn’t appreciated. 1-2-Switch tells players to remove the Joy-Con from any accessory before playing certain games to ensure its effectiveness.
1-2-Switch also utilises the rest of the tech, with minigames using the IR sensor for players to eat a sandwich, the gyroscope for the likes of cowboy quickdraw, plate spinning, air guitar and even modelling on a catwalk. However, the problem is 1-2-Switch is pretty much the only game to take full advantage of what the controllers can do.
The Wii U’s big selling point was its ability to offer asynchronous multiplayer using the GamePad and TV screens, or offering one player multiple perspectives on an in-game event. But it quickly became neglected, and was pretty much abandoned altogether within a year, even by Nintendo’s first-party games. In games such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2, there’s very little beyond the basic rumble being used, setting a familiar trend.
The Joy-Con also have great battery life. It’s quite incredible that two tiny controllers with so much tech are able to keep going for 20 hours apiece. I haven’t ever needed to stick them on the Switch because they were running out of juice. As they charge when docked on the Switch, I don’t foresee players ever worrying about their controllers dying mid-game. At night you can re-attach them to the console and in the morning they’ll be fully charged – they require 3.5 hours to recharge from a dead battery.
For more traditional gaming experiences, I think the Joy-Con are great, if a little small. Playing with both Joy-Con, I often played with one held in each hand, as I found this most comfortable, like using a wireless Wiimote and Nunchuck. The buttons are easily accessible and my index fingers rest nicely on the shoulder buttons. I used to loathe the fact that Nintendo uses digital triggers, but on the Switch ZL and ZR feel perfect and have a very satisfying and responsive click.
The Joy-Con R’s Home button is raised slightly, whereas the screenshot button on Joy-Con L sits flush, making it tougher to press, perhaps to stop people accidentally capturing hundreds of screens.
The face buttons on both Joy-Con are very small and sit high, but are fine to use. SL and SR, on the other hand, aren’t as nifty. For multiplayer gaming, the controllers are turned on their side, with SL and SR replacing the functionality of the top shoulder buttons. Because they sit in the rail where the Joy-Con attach to the Switch, they don’t protrude, and you’ll have to ‘hook’ your fingers to press them, which isn’t great. My hands looked like I was trying to make a Gareth Bale love heart when holding the pad like this, but when attaching the included Joy-Con wrist straps, things get much better, as it makes the controllers thicker.
For most single-player games, many people will probably use the Joy-Con Grip, though this can also get a little uncomfortable in prolonged play. Playing Zelda with the Joy-Con in the Grip, I found reaching for the right analogue stick in particular – or the face buttons on Joy-Con L, as they occupy the same space – caused my hand to cramp up after a couple of hours. The analogue sticks are very small which doesn’t help, as at times they can sit uncomfortably under the thumb.
Overall, I feel like the Joy-Con are excellent controllers despite their small form factor. I really hope their versatility and tech are used by games throughout the Switch’s life cycle. Maybe this is where indie devs will play a huge role.
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
The Pro Controller is probably the most comfortable way to play the Switch. A giant, meaty controller, the Pro pad sits perfectly in the hands. It’s also light despite including much of the functionality found in the Joy-Con, including HD Rumble, gyroscopic sensors and NFC for amiibo. It also brings over the excellent battery life to boot, with a whopping 40 hours off a single charge.
The plastic main compartment coupled with the slightly rubberised handles and larger analogue sticks make it sit perfectly in the hands, certainly more so than its diminutive Joy-Con siblings. The Pro Controller also has a D-pad, something which the Joy-Con lack, meaning it should be very appealing to more hardcore gamers and eSports players, particularly when the likes of Street Fighter. However, unbelievably for a Nintendo controller, the D-pad is probably the most lacklustre feature.
The D-pad sticks out very far from the controller’s base, meaning it could be very uncomfortable to use. I sat at home and did a few Hadouken inputs and my thumb was already hurting. It’s a minor issue, but one that will definitely be a problem for the controller’s target market.
Another minor annoyance is the placement of +/- and the Home and Screenshot buttons, in that they should be reversed. The Home and Screenshot buttons sit where the Pause and Select buttons traditionally sit on any other pad, meaning there were plenty of times when I wanted to pause a game and wondered why I was looking at the Nintendo Switch’s home screen.
However, these problems aren’t huge and the controller is probably my preferred way to game at home, but what is a huge sticking point is the absurd price. Nintendo is asking £65 for a controller that pales in comparison to its Xbox One and PS4 counterparts, both of which can be bought for around £40 brand new.
This controller is good for a Nintendo pad, but it does nothing to justify the price tag – and it’s certainly not a significant enough improvement over the Joy-Con to encourage players to fork out the extra cash on top of their already £300+ investment.
Screen, UI and Portability
Many reacted with apprehension when Nintendo revealed that the Switch’s 6.2-inch IPS screen would only support a maximum resolution of 720p. However, in practice, the display is a triumph thanks to a vibrant picture capable of showing off beautiful colours.
Playing in portable mode is great, and in fact I’ve spent most of my time with the console as a portable. I still find it incredible that I’m able to play a game as brilliant and expansive as Zelda on a handheld device, and it’s at moments like this when I realise how much I adore the Switch. I happily sit wandering the lands of Hyrule while something else was on the TV without feeling like the experience is at all lacking.
The screen also offers capacitive touch, putting menus and the user interface leaps and bounds ahead of its Wii U predecessor in terms of usability. The screen is responsive and moving around the display is quick and easy, much like using any other mobile device.
In terms of aesthetics, the UI is very similar to the Wii U, offering a simple, tiled display. Simple information including games, users, news, eShop, system settings and synced controllers is all visible from the main screen. Battery and Wi-Fi are visible in the upper-right corner.
Rather than the multi-tiled layout, though, the Switch opts for a single row which can be easily scrolled through using your finger. This improves visibility on the small screen and also helps reduce clutter. How this will play out as gaming libraries increase and players have to scroll endlessly to find what they want to play remains to be seen. This list automatically shows the most recently played game first, which should help.
The eShop also looks very similar to the Wii U and 3DS offerings, using the same orange glow and tiles, only the user experience is faster and user-friendly. Checking out Super Bomberman R on the shop allows me to browse pictures, product description and I can also check out related titles without waiting an age for each thing I click to load – a far cry from Nintendo’s previous offerings.
Friend requests and notifications pop up in the top left of the screen, and then a small icon will be affixed to the relevant user on the home screen. By then clicking onto your own profile page, you can view, accept and add new friends.
Another cool feature is being able to add friends based on who you’ve played with in previous games on other devices. For example, I received friend recommendations based on Super Mario Run, again showing Nintendo’s (albeit slow) adaptation to online functionality and connectivity.
On the downside, Nintendo still relies on the dreaded Friend Codes. Given that you link your Facebook and Twitter accounts to post screenshots, it’s about time Nintendo finally sorted out this system.
Overall, the user interface is basic but functional and easy to use. Considering the Switch’s broad target market, it makes sense to strip everything back and allow only the simplest of settings to be available with very minimal obstruction between the user and the games they want to play or buy. This has come at a cost, of course, with notable absentees like Bluetooth settings for wireless devices or modern niceities like Netflix, but the minimalist beginnings leave potential for growth.
In terms of portability, the Switch itself is incredibly easy to take on the go, and the transition of gameplay from TV to handheld and vice versa is amazingly fast. Removing the Switch from the dock sees whatever I’m playing on the TV almost instantly transfer to the console’s screen. It only takes a fraction longer for the game to transfer to TV when docking the device, and I’m pretty sure the fault lies with my telly rather than the Switch.
The console is extremely comfortable in handheld mode. It isn’t too heavy and sits nicely in the hands. When sitting at a table, sliding the Joy-Con off the Switch and playing in tabletop mode is also fine perhaps moreso as I can let my hands rest by my side with the display in front of me.
Its width means it won’t sit easily in pockets, so will probably need to be carried in a backpack of some sort, which also comes onto my next point… I’m a bit OCD when it comes to tech, and try my best to keep it as close to mint condition as possible for as long as I can. That’s why bought the Switch carry case just for peace of mind, once again upping the overall cost of investment.
Other things to consider
While the Nintendo Switch retails at £279.99, this is just to get you in the door. There are several accessories which many people will consider a necessity. A battery pack for starters is probably a must-buy for anybody looking to take the console on a long commute or flight, which will set you back anywhere from £30-50.
This isn’t the only accessory demanding a chunk of cash, either – Nintendo is expecting consumers to fork out another £25-30 for a Joy-Con Charging Grip. The only difference between this and the Grip in the box is that it has a USB-C port at the top, meaning you can charge your Joy-Con while playing games. Extra Joy-Con controllers can cost £75 a piece, and even a new AC adapter can set you back £25. The Switch also only has 32GB of internal storage, so a microSD memory card will soon be required, which can cost up to £100 for the larger capacities.
I feel like Nintendo has been the most forward-thinking of the ‘big three’ hardware manufacturers. While Sony and Microsoft chase the top end in performance with Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, Nintendo is chasing me, as a consumer, by adopting the core attribute that’s made Netflix, Amazon and others so successful: convenience.
Sure, it’s not as powerful as other consoles, it’ll cost a bomb to get the full kit and the dock is cumbersome. Yet I can’t help but love the Nintendo Switch for its versatility and the fact that it really speaks to me as an avid gamer who knows time to pour into my love and passion is becoming shorter by the day.
If you seek the apex of gaming experiences, played in the highest visual fidelity with graphics so good they’ll make your eyes bleed, then of course the Switch isn’t for you. If you’re simply looking to have fun with some amazing games, with a console that can be played wherever you are and that comes with two controllers in the box so your kids don’t have to fight over whose turn it is, then you could do worse than get this machine.
As a gamer with less and less time to play games at home, I’m able to look past many of the Switch’s current faults and love it for what it is. Personally I can’t put the Switch down right now.
I’ve slowly but surely been won over by the charm of the Switch. Its versatility and accessibility make it a joy to play, particularly as a portable machine. With Nintendo swiftly addressing my biggest concern with the hardware, it’s hard to argue this console isn’t absolutely brimming with potential in the months to come.