After Nintendo followed the record breaking console sales of the Wii with the biggest home console flop in company history with the Wii U, many wondered what Nintendo could possibly do to continue to reassert themselves as the leader in home console innovation. Rumors swirled after company patents surfaced about a home console / portable hybrid, but would Nintendo really cannibalize their portable console dominance to regain a foothold in the living room?
What finally emerged this past spring was the Nintendo Switch, a portable home console that looks, at least on paper, strikingly similar to the Wii U game pad. Is the Switch all that dissimilar from the Wii U, does this mean the end of the 3DS, and is it worthy of a spot under your tree this holiday? We answer all of this and more in our look at the Nintendo Switch.
Under the Hood
Here is a quick rundown of the Nintendo Switch hardware specifications:
- Nvidia Tegra Custom GPU
- 4 ARM Cortex-A57 CPU cores and 4 ARM Cortex-A53 CPU
- 4GB LPDDR4
- 32GB storage (microSD expandable to 2TB)
- 802.11ac wireless
- 4,310mah LiOn battery
- 6.2” multi-capacitive touch 720p Screen
After the Gamecube struggled to keep up with the Xbox and Playstation 2, Nintendo drastically changed their philosophy in home console horsepower. Instead of trying to outdo their competitors with sheer console performance, the company would instead focus on innovative hardware changes that would make their software only possible on Nintendo consoles. Think Wii motion controls and two-screen experiences with the Wii U.
For this reason, the hardware specs of the Nintendo Switch may seem underwhelming when compared to other home consoles. In fact, before the console hit store shelves, the fact that it is powered by the Nvidia Tegra, the same chip found in the portable Android device the Nvidia Shield, left many wondering if the console would even come close to the Xbox One or Playstation 4 despite launching years later.
The answer is, well no, the Nintendo Switch cannot go pound for pound with the XB1 or PS4 when it comes to graphics, but that was never the intent. The console was designed from the ground up to be a device that performed well while consuming the least amount of power for portable gaming, which is why Nintendo chose the Tegra coupled with ARM processors.
Again, this all leads up to Nintendo’s innovation-first philosophy of console design, which is where the Switch really shines.
Console Design and Features
The console design itself is where the XB1 and PS4 cannot even begin to compete with Nintendo. Long have gamers dreamed of being able to take the full-fledged console experience with them on the go, a feat that Sony has tried and failed twice to achieve with the PSP and Vita, portables that had their moments but only succeeded in delivering watered-down versions of their console counterparts. The Nintendo Switch succeeds by making the entire console itself portable. In fact, without the controllers, one would be hard pressed to pick the Switch out of a lineup next to Android tablets.
However, more than just making the console look like a tablet, the Switch succeeds in making the home console experience portable by scaling down the graphics and performance from 1080p to 720p to conserve battery life. This is done effortlessly by attaching the Joy-Con controllers to the sides of the console itself and simply lifting the Switch out of its home console dock. This instantaneously scales the game down, powers up the 6.2” LCD screen and integrated speakers, and the game continues right where you left off, without need to power down or change any settings. The opposite works just as easily; if you’re on the go gaming with the Switch and want to keep playing when you walk in the door, simply slide the console into the dock, remove the controllers and power on your TV. The Switch changes into full power mode and both the video and audio are instantly delivered to your television or home theater via the HDMI cable that stays attached to the home dock, which also charges the Switch battery.
For consumers, this means any home console game purchase you make also gives you on-the-go entertainment without the need for another console or portable version of the software. This also means that now that the portable home console dream is fully realized, you can now pick up where you left off in your favorite games whether at home or out and about.
The internal lithium-ion battery can deliver anywhere between 2.5 to 6 hours of game time when on the go, according to Nintendo. That seems like a pretty wide estimate of battery life, but Nintendo stresses this is because the life depends entirely on what type of game you are playing. Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild might wind the battery down in 3 hours whereas games like Cave Story or Puyo-Puyo Tetris can be played longer since the processor demands are lesser.
The controllers which attach on each end of the Nintendo Switch carry nearly as much innovation as the console itself. Dubbed “Joy-Con,” the L and R pair can be used while attached to the Switch console, where they also charge their internal batteries, or can detach to be used while at home and work wirelessly through Bluetooth connectivity. When not hugging the Switch, the Joy-Con controllers can be attached to the included Joy-Con grip to deliver a more traditional controller feel or used separately in each hand. They can even be turned sideways and used as two separate controllers by attaching the included Joy-Con straps.
Inside the Joy-Cons themselves is a new rumble feature Nintendo calls “HD Rumble,” and really must be felt to be believed. More than just shaking, the Joy-Cons can deliver precise haptic feedback to the player in different areas of the controller.
The right Joy-Con controller also includes an IR motion sensor that is capable of detecting shapes and even determining its distance from other objects.
No new console launch would be complete without a slew of accessories to go along with it, but rather than just fluff like vertical stands or console skins, there are a few that should be considered essential.
Joy-Con Controllers – The Switch can accommodate up to 8 wirelessly connected Joy-Con controllers simultaneously, or 2 per player for 4-player support. The purpose of extra Joy-Cons is obvious, but what is less obvious is the fact that if you purchased a neon or special edition Switch that includes colored Joy-Cons, the only way to assemble a single controller in a solid color is to purchase the other half of the Joy-Con in a matching two color bundle. Since the L and R Joy-Cons look very similar, but actually feature different buttons and hardware, swapping colors with friends or family won’t get the job done.
Pro Controller – Gamers looking for a more traditional controller style can feel right at home with the Switch Pro Controller. Considered essential for extended play sessions of Zelda or competitive shooters like Splatoon 2, the Pro Controller features the precision IR control of the Joy-Cons but does not have HD rumble. Not only is this controller comfortable and better accommodating to larger hands, the ability to charge the controller via USB-C means not having to attach the controller to the console and play on the 6.2” Switch screen if you want to keep gaming when the batteries die.
Switch Dock – Some may scoff at the idea of buying an extra dock when one is already included in the box, but when your console is all about convenience, consider that having a second Switch dock in the bedroom or man cave means you can move from room to room easily while still gaming on a large TV.
What about the Nintendo 3DS?
For good reason, once the Nintendo Switch was finally revealed, 3DS owners around the world considered themselves to be on notice. With a home console that is also portable, what good would it do Nintendo to continue to support the Nintendo 3DS?
For one, the 3DS is a cash cow, and even though the Switch is capable of being a portable gaming device, Nintendo is not about to kill off a device that has an installed user base of almost 70 million gamers worldwide. Nintendo has reinforced their full support of the 3DS through their Nintendo Direct presentations with both a slew of first and third-party software titles planned through 2018 and new hardware revisions and special edition consoles arriving just in time for the holidays.
In short, the day may come that Nintendo pulls the plug on the 3DS and makes the Switch their home and portable flagship console, but it is not this day.
The Switch has been one of the hottest selling products since the day it was released, and supply has been limited as is usual for new console releases. With the inevitable surge in buying that comes with the holidays and the very likely scenario where the Switch becomes impossible to find, it may be wise to secure a console sooner than later if Santa plans on delivering a Switch to a very good boy or girl in your household. Keep in mind that the scarcity of the Switch can be especially true for Switch accessories like the Pro Controller or Switch Dock, which have proven to be as challenging for shoppers to get ahold of as the Switch itself.
This doesn’t mean you have to completely give up on holiday bundles or doorbuster deals that may emerge. Take advantage of return times or layaway offerings that will let you hedge your Black Friday bet, this way if a better deal comes along and you’re within the period where you can return the console for a refund or cancel your layaway, you’ve essentially guaranteed your Switch purchase with zero risk or out of pocket expense.
Of course, if there are any Switch bundles, doorbuster deals, or price breaks, the news will happen first on BFAds. For Nintendo consoles and more, BFAds is the #1 resource for shopping on Black Friday and throughout the holiday season.