Review: Nintendo Switch

An amazing handheld rushed to market.

When Nintendo first revealed the Switch, they were very careful to stress in its marketing that this was a home console that you could take with you on the go, and not a portable console you could plug into your TV. After the sales disaster that was the Wii U, it’s understandable that Nintendo would be reluctant to admit to the fact that their home console business is in any way on the decline, or that their still profitable 3DS handheld line was being replaced.

I understand why Nintendo wants the Switch seen first and foremost as a home console. The problem is, viewing the Switch as a home console does it a disservice. As a home console, it honestly doesn’t appear to be much more powerful than the Wii U, at least based on the games available at launch, and fails to feel like an impressive leap up in raw tech.

However, if you look at the Switch primarily as a gaming handheld that just also  happens to be able to output to a TV, the Switch seems like a far more impressive technical achievement and step forward for gaming. It’s easily the most powerful dedicated gaming handheld out there, it stands up well to being expanded to TV screen play, and it feels right at home in my work travel setup.

When holding the Switch for yourself, it’s immediately obvious that it feels like a far more high-end piece of tech than any previous Nintendo hardware.

Where the Wii U gamepad, which I incidentally loved very dearly, felt like a Fisher Price “Child’s First Tablet” in terms of ergonomics, build quality and design, the Switch feels far more closely related to an Apple product. The UI is fast and responsive, games run in 720P HD on the tablet screen, the controllers feel solidly attached. Everything about the Switch screams high-end product.
The Switch may be uncomfortably pricey, but when I was playing Zelda on it, I certainly felt like the tech worked its hardest to justify its own price tag. I was playing an open world AAA game on the go, and it felt incredibly impressive to do so. The screen has incredibly strong colour acuity, a very high framerate, a decent viewing angle, and a strong pixel per inch density. The multi-touch screen seems responsive, but right now there’s limited software available to really put it to the test in demanding ways.

Docking and undocking is simple and seamless. The system is designed nicely to slide into place in the dock, with small plastic points to guide the USB-C port safely into place. Undocking the system is instant, and when docking you only have to wait the one second or so it takes your TV to register a new HDMI input and sort itself out.

When docked, the JoyCons are a totally serviceable way to control the console. I have spent the bulk of my playtime with Zelda playing with each joycon held in a separate hand, casually by my sides like a pair of wii remotes, and doing so was incredibly comfortable. The included controller grip has been a slightly cramped solution for some of my larger handed friends, but for me and my dainty, petite girl gamer hands it was a very comfortable fit.

While I did pick up a pro controller, and it is undoubtedly a more comfortable controller with the added benefit of a true D-Pad, for me personally I’m happy just using the JoyCon grip exclusively. Doing so would not bother me, unless I wanted that D-Pad.

There is however, one issue I faced when using the JoyCons as my primary controller on the docked Switch. Occasionally, the left JoyCon would seemingly struggle to transmit accurate moment to moment analogue stick data, causing it to momentarily freeze in a position for a second or two before catching up.

This issue existed for me pre day-one patch, with coloured and grey joycons, and regardless of it was in the grip or not. It was not a common issue, and seems to be least common using a grey JoyCon set in the JoyCon Grip, but that’s not scientific.

However, the issue seemed to vanish for me entirely following the day one patch for the system. I updated the system with the JoyCons connected, and it seemed to fix the issue for me. Some people who updated the system saw this issue persist, but the issue seemingly went away for me the first time the JoyCons were connected to the handheld post patch.

Considering the fact that an issue undoubtedly existed out the box, and that many outlets known for their Tech coverage like Digital Foundry were unable to resolve the issue post patch, you should go into any early adoptor Switch purchase aware you may have an issue with the left JoyCon that cannot reliably be fixed.

When holding the Switch for yourself, it’s immediately obvious that it feels like a far more high-end piece of tech than any previous Nintendo hardware.

When playing the Switch in Kickstand mode, there are a couple of things to consider. The kickstand is non-centralised and a little flimsy which is something to be aware of but not a huge issue. The kickstand also only works at one angle, which can be a problem depending on height and position of the system. If you’re six feet tall and sat on a bus with the tray table barely in front of you, the default angle may point at your chest, not your face. Lastly, the position of the USB-C charging port on the base of the system makes it highly impractical, if not impossible, to charge while propped up on the kickstand.

When played in handheld mode, all of the above complaints cease to exist. No joycon desync, easy charge positioning, and no problems pointing it at your face.

With regards to the Joycons as solo controllers, they function admirably, but not perfectly. The sideways held shoulder buttons are serviceable, the positioning of the control stick on the right JoyCon is a little off, but they didn’t feel as small in my hands as expected. Considering the trade-offs made to facilitate always available local multiplayer, this solution feels surprisingly elegant.

The Switch’s UI is simple, minimal and clean above all else. With a choice between a mainly white or mainly black theme, games appear as tiles in a single row on the home screen like on the PS4. They’re sorted by most recently played, with seemingly no way to rearrange or folder them, and there are only 15 available slots for games. Icons for physical games remain on the home screen, even with the game cart removed, but prompt you to insert the cart if you tap their icon.

There are some really nice operating system-level touches, like the system playing that advertisement-friendly click noise when you connect a Joycon to the handheld, and pulsing a light on the side of the screen matching the colour of the controller that go a long way to making the system’s OS feel polished, even when it’s technically missing expected features.

It’s quick and easy to pop open a version of the home menu when in-game, the system auto saves data before you run out of battery, and sleep mode conserves power at a very impressive rate. All of these aspects of the system software feel really nice.

Otherwise, there’s a settings menu for altering things like parental controls and save data, a link to the eShop and a location to see your in- game screenshots, but honestly not much else. It’s a very bare bones UI, with next to no app support at launch and even lacking a basic internet browser. But, but it’s clean, fast, and does the job of getting you into your games nice and fast.

It misses some of the fun and flair of past Nintendo UI’s, and lacks many of the features of past Nintendo OS systems, but it’s uncluttered, visually polished and functional.

It misses some of the fun and flair of past Nintendo UI’s, and lacks many of the features of past Nintendo OS systems, but it’s uncluttered, visually polished and functional. The focus seems on fast functional design over flair and flash. It’s clean, fast, and does the job of getting you into your games nice and quickly.

Of important note is how user accounts on the Switch work. Accounts are logged into when accessing software, rather than on a system-wide login level, which presents some interesting options and drawbacks. You can set your user region independently from your system, meaning that accessing other region eShops is as easy as creating a new user, telling the system what region the user is, then using the eshop as them. Software purchased from foreign eShops are totally playable by differing region users, and all show up together on the same home screen.

The major downside right now is that there is currently no way to set a password for one user on a system. If you have kids sharing your Switch, there’s no way to prevent them from playing on your user, and as such  your save files, at this moment.

While the build quality and UI overall feel fairly premium, the peripherals available separately struggle to feel as justified in their overpriced nature.

Even though the Joycons are packed full of tech, much of what makes them impressive is currently only showcased in demo settings. HD-Rumble is incredibly impressive in its ability to let me count marbels rolling around inside a controller in 1 2 Switch, but I’ve yet to see a core game make use of them in a way that excuses how much the tech increases the cost.

Also, the fact the system comes with a JoyCon Grip, but not a Charging Grip, feels ridiculous. Considering the price point of the system, and the relatively low price of adding a battery to the grip, it feels like a really needless way to squeeze a little extra money out of consumers already paying a premium.

When playing the Switch as a portable device, my biggest issue is battery life. Playing Breath of the Wild, depending on how I tweaked my system settings, I got between 2 hours 15 minutes, and 2 hours 45 mins out of the system. With repeated drains and recharges the lithium ion battery life is only going to reduce, so you’re unlikely to be playing graphically intensive games for an entire lengthy flight without charging it.

Thankfully, the Switch’s move from proprietary Nintendo chargers to the USB-C standard helps a lot with this. Since the day one patch, I have been using a 21K mAh Anker PowerCore+ to charge the system over USB-C to USB-C cable and I’ve been able to play BOTW with the battery of the Switch slowly increasing or at least staying stable during play. The above mentioned power bank gave me around 8 extra hours of battery use when playing Zelda, though this was a brand new Powerbank on first use and that too will likely reduce in effectiveness over time.

The fact that, at launch, the Switch is missing basic tablet features like a Web Browser, media player, or video apps is somewhat expected but disappointing. While the lack of these features is likely in part due to the ways the Wii U and 3DS were hacked and exploited via some of these functions, it does mean the Switch struggles to compete directly with even basic android tablets.

The lack of analogue triggers on the Joycons also feels like a big missed opportunity that’s going to limit the system long term. I’m not entirely sure why they were avoided, and they feel like a notable omission.

I hope that Nintendo’s plan to roll out regular software rather than front loading their launch day works in their favour, but I do feel a little like the day one system is lacking in choices of new software that really made me feel like my purchase was justifiable.

Out of the box, the Switch feels expensive and lacking a real system seller to show people why the console package alone is worth buying. 1 2 Switch should have been a pack in, or SnipperClips, or really any piece of software to showcase either the JoyCon tech or the ability to play multiplayer with the included controllers.

1 2 Switch’s Ball Count nicely showcases the JoyCon’s HD-Rumble. The Eat minigame shows off the odd uses of the included IR Camera. These are parts of why the controllers are so expensive, yet their showcase is locked into an expensive mini-game collection.

The Switch is a really odd proposition. It’s a nice piece of tech that feels well made, full of potential, well conceptualised and polished to perfection. It also feels like its own tech is underutilised, the expensive base package is excessively bare bones, and the lack of numerous features we have come to expect from consoles leaves the Switch feeling somewhat underbaked.

As an owner, I am definitely excited for the prospect of AAA HD games when I am travelling for work, and for me, right now, that’s enough.

I honestly believe the Switch would have been a far more attractive proposition if it released six weeks later, with a few more games ready and a few more expected software features. Still, it’s clear pushing launch out of this financial year was not an option for Nintendo.

Nintendo, you really should have thrown in a game code and a charging grip at that price.

Manufacturer: Nintendo

Price: £280 approx.

Release date: Out Now

  • Fast, simple, clean UI
  • Feels premium
  • Stunning dedicated gaming handheld
  • Poor battery
  • JoyCon issue?
  • Feels underpowered as a home console

An amazing dedicated home console with TV docking ability that feels somewhat rushed to market.


Pros and Joy-Cons

Laura’s gaming journey began in the 90′s when she was given a SNES by her older brother with Mario paint. From that day video games were all she thought about day or night, be it playing them, designing them, discussing them or writing about them.