The Nintendo Switch is quickly on track to become my favorite Nintendo console of all time, and this is greatly due to its portability and flexibility. As a frequent traveler and regular commuter, I can take the Switch with me on my adventures and never have to worry about missing out on a game (or having to play it late). It’s a bit of a first-world problem to be sure, but this instantly attracted me to the Switch concept. The entire system seems well-designed, and it executes its main concept — the idea of being able to quickly and easily switch between a portable and home device — extremely well. It has a few small flaws, but these don’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the console.
What’s in the box
Let’s start off with what’s in the box: there’s the Switch console itself, the dock, left and right Joy-Cons, left and right Joy-Con bumpers, a Joy-Con Grip, an HDMI cable, and an AC adapter. It’s everything that you need to get up and running and enjoy the system in a variety of configurations. Additional accessories are available, such as a Joy-Con Charging Grip or Pro Controller, but I wanted to focus on what you get for your initial investment.
So far, I haven’t felt the need to buy anything else, bar a carry case to protect it while I cart it around. I’ve been pretty happy using the Switch as is. There’s one minor niggle with the Joy-Con that has me considering buying a Pro Controller, but at US$70/AU$100 it’s a little hard to justify right now; more on that below.
The entire package both looks and feels good. The main console is a tablet, albeit slightly more chunky than your typical iPad, but it’s surprisingly small considering what it can do. This size is great for portability. The actual screen is larger than any other portable console and the one on the Wii U GamePad. It’s nice having such a large screen on a portable console without the overall device being too large or uncomfortable to hold.
The tablet’s HD display is impressive; everything renders crisply at 720p with a wide viewing angle, which is important for portability. The multi-point touch screen is responsive, and although I haven’t used it for gaming yet, it makes connecting to online services and entering details a lot faster than inputting via the controllers (which you can also do; handy if the console is docked).
The 32 GB of system memory isn’t huge, so you’ll probably want to eventually buy a microSD card to increase the storage capacity, particularly if you plan to download a lot of games. You’ll need to do the initial system update before you can use SD cards, and the console will prompt you when you insert one if you haven’t already installed the update.
Setting the Switch up was incredibly quick and easy. You don’t need to connect it to a TV to begin, and the console will provide instructions on-screen. There is a day-one update, but it only takes a few minutes to download and install (on an ADSL2+ connection). The home screen is clean and minimalistic, and the news screen includes a series of helpful tips about using the Switch. Even the System Settings menu is straightforward and streamlined. When you create a user account on the Switch, you can link it to a Nintendo Network ID, and the console allows several user accounts on the one device.
Connecting to online services such as the eShop may take a small amount of time due to servers, but gone are the long menu load times of the Wii U. In fact, I’ve been playing Breath of the Wild on the Wii U as well as the Switch, and the Wii U feels all the slower after using the Switch.
Putting the Switch to sleep is as easy as pressing the power button, and you resume it the same way. It’s a matter of seconds before you’re back into the game. Booting the device up from scratch takes only a few seconds longer. The Switch uses game cards (and yes, they taste as bad as you’ve heard), which speeds up load times in comparison to discs.
One nifty feature of the Switch is the ability to capture screenshots via a capture button, and this instantly takes a screenshot (interestingly, this doesn’t work in the eShop). The Switch saves its screenshots as 1280×720 JPEGs. You can then view your screenshots in an album and upload them to Facebook and/or Twitter. You won’t need to exit your game to go back to the home screen and use online features, which makes life so much easier. And if you want to archive them on a PC, the Switch will automatically save screenshots onto your microSD card if one is inserted.
I’ve actually found that the graphical performance of the Switch while running Breath of the Wild has been more consistent in tablet mode. When docked I’ve noticed on a few occasions that the frame rate drops as the game tries to render too many things on screen at the same time. The Switch will upscale Breath of the Wild’s resolution to 900p when the tablet is docked, but I was surprised to notice this happening, especially considering that the game was originally designed for the Wii U (the Wii U, for the record, struggles more with the visuals than the Switch).
Switching is a joy
The Joy-Con slide on and off the tablet and grip with satisfying clicks. My early impression was that they were going to be rather flimsy because of how small they are, but they feel incredibly solid and well made. There’s an impressive amount of technology built into them (though currently only 1-2-Switch uses all of that tech), and they function as little controllers on their own, although this may take a bit of getting used to as they feel very different to traditional controllers. I recommend putting on the bumper/wrist strap to make them feel a bit more solid. It will be interesting to see how comfortable they are after several rounds of Mario Kart.
The Joy-Con feel incredibly solid and well made. There’s an impressive amount of technology built into them.
The Joy-Con Grip turns them into what is effectively a traditional controller, although one that’s a bit more narrow than most of us are used to. I thought that being narrow may be a problem, but it is very comfortable to play with. The thumbsticks and buttons on the Joy-Con are a bit smaller than those on a traditional controller, so some users may prefer to buy the Pro Controller rather than play with the Grip, particularly if they have larger hands. I’ve personally found that because the thumbsticks are smaller, I sometimes accidentally click them when I’m trying to move, particularly during combat when I’m trying to move myself or the camera quickly. I probably need to learn to go lighter on them, but I’ve never had this issue with another controller before, and it’s the one reason why I’m toying with the idea of getting a Pro Controller. That said, I’ve already sunk dozens of hours into playing it this way and it’s far from being a showstopper.
Playing the Switch in handheld mode is very comfortable, and lends itself to multi-hour gaming sessions quite happily. The option to convert the Switch to tabletop mode lends more flexibility to the portability, although I never felt like I needed to use it because I was tired of handheld mode. I think it will come into play more during local multiplayer games.
The only part of the entire package that appeared flimsy was the kickstand used for tabletop mode, until I discovered that it was intentionally made that way. Nintendo has assumed that some players will forget to put it back in after playing in tabletop mode before docking the console, which would cause it to snap off. They designed it so that it will come away if this happens, but it can easily be clicked back into place. I thought it was strange that the kickstand wasn’t in the middle of the console (or that there weren’t two), but it doesn’t affect the way it works and small bumps don’t knock it over.
The Switch’s charging port is located underneath the console, so if you’re charging and playing at the same time you’ll need to use handheld mode or dock it and play on the TV. It uses USB-C, so you don’t necessarily need to carry the included adapter with you (which is rather bulky). However, if you’re trying to play and charge at the same time using something other than the included adapter, the rate at which it charges will depend on what you’re charging it from. The included adapter – at least the Australian one – takes 100–240 V and 50–60 Hz so I should be able to happily take it around the world with only a plug adapter to match the power socket.
The console relies on most people having regular access to power. It claims 2–6 hours of battery life depending on the game. I get just under three from Breath of the Wild, and this is fine for my commute to and from work (and I could also charge it while at work if I needed to). If I’m going to be flying long haul with it, I’ll be hoping for a plane with USB power to my seat (which is fortunately becoming more and more common).
There’s no HDMI output on the tablet itself, so if you do want to travel with the Switch and play it on a hotel TV for example, you’ll need to carry the dock. Fortunately it won’t take up much precious baggage space or weight due to being small and light.
I used to draw a clear line between “handheld” and “home” consoles, generally preferring the experience of home console gaming because it offers more in terms of gameplay scope. The Switch has totally removed that divide, and I’m still partly in disbelief that I can play a game as massive as Breath of the Wild while I’m out and about.
I’m enjoying my Switch a lot so far, and it’s helped by having Breath of the Wild as a killer launch title; this game is truly a masterpiece. Apart from Zelda, however, the launch lineup is somewhat slim. Considering that Breath of the Wild is also available on the Wii U (and the experience is virtually identical; we’ll have a post detailing our experiences with the two versions up soon), it’s not necessarily a console seller. The Switch has a lot of potential, and there are some games I’m excited about coming out later this year, but Nintendo will need to ensure that they follow up with a strong library of games and maintain support from third parties.
For me, personally, the Switch has quickly proven itself to fit in with my on-the-go lifestyle. I’ve already taken it away with me on a weekend trip to the mountains and have been playing it on the train to and from work. When I get home, I simply move the Joy-Cons over to the Grip, drop the tablet into the dock, and turn on the TV to continue playing.
Nintendo Australia provided us with a Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild for review purposes. (Our review copy arrived later than expected, hence the delay in our posting.)