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Lifewire / Zach Sweat
Great for local multiplayer
Relatively low cost
Graphics aren’t as good as other consoles
Lackluster online service
No Ethernet port, Wi-Fi only
The Nintendo Switch is a truly revolutionary device in the gaming world and an excellent console for those who are on-the-go or love local co-op.
While the Wii U was a bit of a blunder, the Nintendo Switch has been anything but, selling roughly 32 million worldwide. It’s now been about two years since its debut, and the ambitious little console has made quite a stir in the gaming world. While most were initially concerned with the Switch’s “gimmicky” functionality of being able to play at home and on-the-go, the Switch’s portability has clearly been a success, with the announcement of the new Switch Lite proving there’s strong demand for handheld gaming. A mix of portability, excellent first-party games, and family-friendly features, make the Switch a console that punches above its weight.
Unlike the Wii U, which felt like a cheaper, plastic-y toy, the Switch is anything but. The build on this console is excellent and feels high quality throughout, despite it being made entirely from plastic. In the box, you’ll get the console itself (a small tablet-like device with a 6.2-inch touchscreen), two controllers (dubbed a “Joy-Con”) and their detachable bumpers, a controller dock for combining the two Joy-Cons into one full-sized controller, a dock for connecting it to your TV, and the accompanying cables needed for everything.
The console itself is quite small, almost unbelievably so, making it extremely portable. On the device, there are two small stereo speakers near the bottom of the screen, and one USB-C port for charging or connecting to the dock. At the rear, there are two more slots for cooling and a kickstand that also hides the Switch’s microSD slot for expanding storage. The kickstand is perhaps the biggest weakness of the console’s build, being fairly flimsy and lacking any way to adjust the angle. The top of the Switch hosts a power button, volume control, vent, 3.5mm jack for headphones or mics, and the game card slot.
A mix of portability, excellent first-party games, and family-friendly features, make the Switch a console that punches above its weight.
Now for the Joy-Cons. Each Joy-Con has two shoulder buttons (one bumper, one trigger), a four-way D-pad (the left are directional buttons, the right are X, A, B, Y) an analog stick, a menu button (- on the left, + on the right), and finally a screenshot button for the left and a home button for the right. Both of them include HD rumble, gyroscopic inputs and motion controls for added utility, and they work quite well in most applications. The right controller also has an IR camera and an NFC reader if you’ve got amiibos (to add them, simply hold the amiibo over the stick and it’ll recognize it).
When you want to either charge them (note that they can only be charged while docked) or play the device in handheld mode, simply take a Joy-Con, align it with the rail on the side of the console and then slide it down until it clicks and locks into place. To remove it, press the small button near the top and slide it free. This works flawlessly and is pretty genius on Nintendo’s part.
If you want to play the console in tabletop mode, remove the Joy-Cons, flip out the kickstand, and then use the controllers independently or connect them to the controller dock. One of the coolest features of the design is that each Joy-Con can be used as a separate controller for multiple players, meaning you’ve always got two controllers for local multiplayer. You can either use these with or without the bumpers to make it easier to use of the shoulder buttons embedded in the rail, but they’re a little difficult to use without.
To switch back to docked mode for playing on your TV like you would any other console, simply place the Switch in the dock and it’ll lock into place and appear on the screen.
Although the Switch has a lot going on, the setup process is pretty damn easy. We’ll explain how to use it both docked and undocked since they’re a bit different.
For handheld use, take your console and attach both Joy-Cons, hit the power button on the top and you’re ready to play.
Dock use is a bit more in-depth, but nothing too difficult. First, connect the dock to your TV with the HDMI cable, hook up the power cable and slide the console into the dock. You should see the screen on the Switch illuminate and show the battery level. Now, remove the Joy-Cons from the sides and here you’ll need to decide what form you plan to use them in.
You can use them independently, use one by itself or attach both to the controller dock for a more typical console experience (note that you can also get a Pro Controller which more closely resembles an Xbox controller if you’d like). Pairing the Joy-Con is a bit strange, but all you essentially have to do is let the Switch know how you’re using them. Whether you’re using one Joy-Con sideways or two combined, just press the left and right shoulder buttons down and the Switch will identify the orientation automatically.
Once your controllers are set up, the Switch will run you through the usual process for Wi-Fi, account creation (or login), etc. When complete, you can either pop in a game card or download one digitally to begin gaming.
Take a peek at some of the best Nintendo Switch accessories you can buy.
The Switch’s functionality as a mobile and at-home console system each work perfectly, but how does it perform while gaming? Let’s get into the details. The screen uses 720p resolution in handheld and 1080p docked. While that seems a bit behind the times with 4K looming on the horizon, it never bothered us. During our sessions, there were no big drops in frame rate as well, so rest assured that Nvidia’s custom Tegra X1 seems like it’s got plenty of power for the Switch’s needs — just don’t expect it to match up to an Xbox One or PS4. As for frames per second (fps), it depends on what game you’re playing, how many players you have, and if it’s online or offline.
For many games, the Switch is locked to a measly 30fps, though some have since introduced 60fps for certain games in specific conditions. For example, take a look at Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: docked you get 1080p/60fps single-player; handheld: 720p/60fps single-player; two-player multiplayer 60fps; and three- or four-player multiplayer 30fps.
As you can see, it all depends on the conditions. Most games will perform better in docked mode, which makes sense. Despite these somewhat lackluster numbers, most people won’t care, and it didn’t detract from the majority of games we tested. But if you’re used to playing a title like Doom at 144fps on your PC, then you will probably notice. It is at least consistent with those numbers.
If you like to play games with friends on your couch, take your gaming with you on the commute or travels, and just plain love Nintendo games, then the Switch is an easy choice.
For single-player games, we tested a range of titles from first-party games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, to indie games like Stardew Valley and even ports like Doom. With each of these, the Switch did a solid job of keeping up the frames and providing a nice gaming experience free of stutters.
One thing tons of people, including us, love about this console is the strong first-party lineup and the ability to play some good old couch co-op or multiplayer. With the Xbox and Playstation, you commonly need two consoles and an online connection for multiplayer, and many people don’t want to pay the cost to do so. With the Switch, just take off the Joy-Cons and hand them to a friend.
We tested local multiplayer with titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Mario Party. Setting up and playing a few rounds of these games is so simple that even non-gamers find the Joy-Con easy to operate after a round or two. Because the setup and gameplay is so easy, this is perhaps the one area the Switch beats out every other console on the market. This makes the Switch the ideal console choice for families, couples, or for those who prefer local in-person multiplayer vs. online. Even with eight people playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Switch performed well and exceeded our expectations.
Now, this brings us to online multiplayer. Initially, the Switch launched without an online service like Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus, but in September 2018, Nintendo launched their Nintendo Switch Online service. This service is now (mostly) required for online gameplay. Despite the service’s extremely low cost at only $20 a year (or $35 for a family plan that allows up to eight users, also available at $4 a month), many are frustrated with its capabilities. The service includes some nice perks, like access to the NES virtual console, the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app, Save Data Cloud (a long-awaited feature), and special offers for members. However, it is easily the worst of the online console services.
Many functions of the service require you to use the app on your smartphone, like online voice chat (which falls short compared to Xbox or PlayStation). Instead of giving out free games for the current console like Sony and Microsoft do, you get a library of NES games, which is nice, but not quite the same thing. The matchmaking and connectivity are okay, but due to the lack of an Ethernet port, the performance for online gaming is dismal compared to other consoles, relying solely on Wi-Fi. Note that you can get a dongle to add an Ethernet connection, but it is extra and not included in the box.
All in all, the Switch performs very well for single-player and local multiplayer experiences, but suffers from the lack of an ethernet port and a handicapped online service, making it less than ideal for gamers who tend to play a majority of their games online—especially competitively.
Thankfully, the cartoony and childlike aesthetics of the Wii U’s software are gone in place of a cleaner and more mature UI, much like the console as a whole. Because the Switch is also a tablet, you can use the touchscreen for most functions outside games (only certain games support the touchscreen), making for a much-improved UI navigation when compared to those with only controllers. This means typing info out or browsing apps is a breeze, and the touchscreen itself is quite good.
Turning on the Switch will bring you to a quick start screen where you can jump back into your recently used game or app. You can also go straight to the main home screen by hitting the home button. Here, you’ll see a long line of tiles for your games and apps. You can scroll to the right or left to choose one, or jump down to the lower row for things like news, the eShop, screenshots, controller settings or the console’s settings itself.
The bottom left also displays your current mode or controller setup (even the colors of the Joy-Con) so you know what mode you’re in. Bottom right is a guide for what buttons you can use to interact with the options on screen. At the top, you’ll find your profile and friends list. To the right of this, there’s a clock, Wi-Fi meter, and battery gauge. Currently, there are no themes or backgrounds aside from a light and dark theme, but hopefully, they’ll add more in the future.
The major concern with any mobile device like the Switch is the battery life. Because of its small form factor, the battery had to be fairly small. The lithium-ion battery inside is 4,310mAh. According to Nintendo, the Switch is rated for anywhere between 2.5 to 6.5 hours of runtime. This depends primarily on what you’re doing with it. For beefier games like Breath of the Wild, it’s supposed to last about 3 hours. For charging, they say it’ll need about the same to fully charge (while in sleep mode).
During our extensive tests, we found these claims to be mostly true, give or take a half an hour depending on the brightness, and whether the console was in Airplane mode versus online. With Airplane mode on and the brightness reduced, you can squeeze a little more juice out of it, but it’ll be hard to get more than 4 hours out of the Switch for most games. This isn’t horrible, but you will want to do some digging to find a good power brick to increase your lifespan (there’s a Nintendo-branded one sold by Anker). Since the battery is internal, you will have no option to swap it out for a new one when it inevitably starts wearing out, though we didn’t experience any major dips in the battery’s performance during use.
Considering many consoles in the current lineup range from $200 to $500 depending on which version you pick, the $300 price tag of the Switch is both affordable and competitive. With that initial cost, you also get two controllers, so you can avoid the age-old issue of having to buy an additional controller alongside your expensive new console to play local multiplayer.
Considering many consoles in the current lineup range from $200 to $500 depending on which version you pick, the $300 price tag of the Switch is both affordable and competitive.
Other costs you may need to consider are that additional Joy-Cons (which you’ll need to play four-player games) will run you about $70 (note that price essentially includes two). The online service that’s required for most online games is either $4 a month or $20 a year, making that the cheapest out there (aside from PC). Lastly, most first-party games are quite expensive and rarely go down, but there’s a ton of good indie games for cheap out there as well. All of this makes the Switch one of the cheapest consoles around.
Comparing the Switch to the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but there isn’t really anything else out there to compare it with since no other company has such a powerful handheld console.
The Xbox One packs a much beefier GPU (of course, depending on which version). It and the PS4 are the clear winner in that area, in addition to online service and play. However, the Switch truly excels as a local multiplayer device, so it’s up to you to decide what’s more important. Aside from specs, the lineup of games is still perhaps best on the PlayStation (due to exclusives and graphic capability), but this also depends on personal taste, since Nintendo has one of the best lineups for exclusives as well.
The Switch is a console in its own world. You won’t get another device that doubles as both a mobile and at-home console, so this should be the primary factor when making your decision. Do you want the best graphics possible in a console? Do you prioritize online gaming? Well, the Switch may not be for you. But if you like to play games with friends on your couch, take your gaming with you on the commute or travels, and just plain love Nintendo games, then the Switch is an easy choice.
An innovation in gaming.
The phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” sums up the Switch pretty well, but that isn’t a bad thing. It does a whole lot well when it comes to portability, while being forced to make a few sacrifices in hardware, which doesn’t detract from the awesome gaming experience.