What Is the Nintendo Switch?

Everything you need to know about this hybrid gaming console

People gathered around the Nintendo Switch playing Mario Kart

If you are a little confused about the Nintendo Switch, you aren't alone. The best way to think of The Switch is that it is both a portable gaming console and a home game console all wrapped up into one device. 

Hence, the name: This Nintendo console can 'switch' from a home console attached to a television to a portable game console with controllers on either side of the Switch to a portable home console where the tablet portion becomes the television and the controllers are detached and used by separate players.

How Does the Nintendo Switch Work?

In the simplest of terms, the Nintendo Switch is a tablet with a 6.2-inch display and two Wii-like game controllers attached to either end of the device. This setup is what allows the Nintendo Switch to be played as a portable game console. But the Switch does far more than just act as a portable console.

People gathered around the Nintendo Switch playing Mario Kart

First, the controllers can be detached from the tablet section of the Nintendo Switch and used independently. The Switch has a kickstand on the back, which allows it to be propped up and used as a portable screen while players use the wireless controllers called Joy-Cons to play the game.

In addition to the two controllers that attach to each side of the Switch, gamers can wirelessly connect two additional Joy-Cons to the Switch allowing up to four players at the same time.

Additionally, the Nintendo Switch can be placed in a docking station that both charges the Switch and connects it to a television. This is what allows the Switch to be used as a home game console. The controllers that are attached to each side of the Switch when in portable mode are detached and placed in a special holder that mimics normal pro-style controllers used with other game consoles. Or, the controllers can be used separately when people are playing in multi-player mode.

The Nintendo Switch vs the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo 3DS

The Nintendo Switch has one distinct advantage over any other gaming system: It is an all-in-one solution. The ability to be used as a home game console for a single player or group of people, a portable game console for a single person or a portable console for a whole group of people to play at the same time is the genius of the Switch. And the ability to pull this off without sacrificing quality in any individual mode is outstanding.

The Switch won't compete with the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 in terms of graphics or hardcore gaming, but that crowd has never been Nintendo's audience. Rather, Nintendo is aimed squarely at younger players, casual players and anyone who has played iconic games like Mario Kart and the Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo 2DS or 3DS.

Watch Out for Battery Life 

Any time the console is connected to the dock, the Switch is charging. The Joy-Con controllers, however, are a different matter. There are a couple of different methods you can use to keep your Switch fully charged so that play doesn't get interrupted. Be sure you know what those are before you begin to play. Otherwise, play can get interrupted at very inconvenient times.

Is the Nintendo Switch Kid-Friendly? Should I Buy It for My Child?

The Switch is easily the most kid-friendly game console since the Nintendo Wii. It doesn't have the clumsy controls of the ill-fated Wii U or the graphic violence that is part of the appeal of the hardcore consoles like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

The parental restrictions allow you to keep your kid away from your e-wallet, so you can avoid surprises when the bill comes, and Nintendo has an app for smartphones that allows parents to set parental controls from anywhere.

The Nintendo Switch is best for kids aged 6+. The content itself is fine for children of all ages, but the controls may be difficult to learn for children under the age of 5. The Nintendo Switch also uses small game cartridges slightly bigger than a thumbnail, so a certain amount of maturity and respect for objects is needed, which is why we suggest an age of 6 or older. The actual age of the child will depend on the specific child, of course, as some 5-year-olds will do great with the Switch and some kids aged 7+ will quickly lose those small cartridges.

Taking care of the Nintendo Switch is pretty easy, too.

How to Buy A Nintendo Switch

If you are worried that the Nintendo Switch is one of those hard-to-find consoles, those days have come to an end. Most retailers now have enough in stock that it shouldn't be too difficult to find one in stores or online.

  • Where to Buy: Electronics and game shop retailers such as Gamestop, Best Buy, Target, Walmart or Amazon.
  • Typical Game Prices: $55 to $60.
  • What to buy with the Nintendo Switch: Extra Joy-Con controllers are recommended if more than two people are going to play the Switch at the same time, and a USB-C charging cable is a definite must-buy for all Switch owners.