Nintendo Switch Review
Innovation with a hint of compromise
What is the Nintendo Switch?Well, it’s a good question as the Nintendo Switch straddles two traditional product sectors while sitting in one of its own. The Switch is both a handheld and home console which makes it, therefore, a hybrid device and it’s unlike more or less, anything that’s come before. It may seem blindingly obvious to say so but the Nintendo Switch console, itself, very much resembles a Tablet PC because, well, that’s essentially what it is, only with a virtually singular purpose of being a gaming platform. The Switch uses a modified version of the NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor found in the SHIELD Android TV and similar to the K1 CPU in the SHIELD Tablet, which we guess is one of its closest competitors when considered as a handheld but that’s an apple to oranges comparison - or at least apples to pears - as Nintendo is aiming at a broader market than that.
The Switch is marketed both as a family console, a la the original Wii, and a powerful handheld with vastly more power than a 3DS (XL); if they can get anywhere close to emulating the success of either, we’d imagine they would be very happy indeed. What Nintendo will be desperate to avoid is a repeat of the Wii U’s ill-fated fortunes, which saw it flop at retail amid consumer confusion about exactly what it was all about. In many ways you could look at the Switch as Nintendo’s attempt to rectify the mistakes they made with the Wii U, although the similarly vague pre-release marketing hasn’t really helped but initial sales appear to be strong so there’s hope for the Switch in its early days, at least. We’ve had the console for a while and we’re hopefully pitching the review at what represents a good proportion of AVForums readers, i.e. those that appreciate great pictures, sounds and games. Is this the console to reinvigorate Nintendo’s hardware fortunes? Let’s get our Switch on.
Switch Console – Design & ConnectionsThe build quality of the console is very good, aside from one thing; the flip-out stand on the back is pretty flimsy and the Switch will fall over easily with only a moderate amount of force applied when propped up by it. Considering the power button sits atop of the console, we’d expect knocking over the device will become a common occurrence in Switch owning households that engage in the local multiplayer aspects. We really like the two-tone grey colour scheme, although there are more colourful options available. The multiple components of the package in the box are hewn from high-grade plastics that don’t show up fingerprints too readily, which is something we appreciate.
Next to the aforementioned power button is a volume rocker, while further along the top edge is a vent, a 3.5mm audio/headphone output and a flip out cover concealing the slot for the games cards. On the bottom edge of the Switch is a USB Type C port which can be used to charge the console, while on the go, as well as forming the basis of the connection to the Switch Dock, where it also charges. The stereo speakers are placed on the bottom of the Switch's bezel, at the front, and provide a pretty convincing output for such small drivers but if you’ve got a decent set of earphones or headphones, you can do better. The headphone out is capable of driving most headphones of a ‘reasonable’ sensitivity but might struggle with any that are particularly low. The remaining notable feature of the console is one that is quite well concealed, being a Micro SD card slot you can use to expand on the 32GB of built-in storage, which is situated under the flip-out stand which we think is a nifty piece of design.
Switch Dock – Design & ConnectionsThe Dock houses the HDMI 1.4 port needed to link the console to a TV or AV receiver behind a drop-down side. Also in the compartment, which doubles as a cable tidy mechanism, is the USB power port which connects to the AC power adapter that’s on the end of a cable measuring 150cm in length. The other ‘hidden’ connection is a USB port, which is joined by two others on the front of the dock for easier access. One connection missing that, no doubt, owners of non-HDMI soundbars and receivers would like to see is a digital audio output (coaxial or Toslink). It should also be noted that the Switch can only output 5.1 audio using LPCM so, if and when, streaming video services are added to the feature-set, sound will be limited to two channels, only, as you need Dolby licensing for ‘surround’ support. We have seen reports that the Dock is causing issues with certain TVs where it will switch to the HDMI port its connected too, unexpectedly and unwantedly, even when it’s powered down. There is a setting to disable this CEC feature but it reportedly doesn’t work in all cases, so Nintendo has work to do on compatibility. We haven’t seen this behaviour with the review unit, as a point of note.
The flap conceals the remaining connections of the dock
Joy-Cons, wrist straps & Switch GripThe variety of control options is really what gives the Switch its name so it’s important Nintendo has nailed it in this department and, by and large, we think they’ve mostly succeeded in the execution. The build quality of the three components is nice, although we wouldn’t get excited as some have about that, and the usability is largely sound and as intuitive as could be expected.
With Joy-Cons attached to the grip, and therefore in what is the most traditional games controller configuration, we found the set-up reasonably comfortable but the placement of buttons being directly above and below the thumb-sticks isn’t ideal and they would be better offset from the sticks, from an ergonomic point of view. The fact that the individual Joy-Cons, though rounded at the edges, slightly dig in to the heel of the hand also doesn’t help and a lack of depth in the assembled grip and Joy-Cons exacerbates the natural urge to grip too tight, while also making using the ZR and ZL (AKA trigger) buttons more awkward to use than it is with a more traditional controller. The engineering challenges in producing a control system that can be used in three different ways are mostly keenly felt here, in our view, and there’s another compromise in that the Grip doesn’t have a headphone jack (there is one on the console), so if you want to game quietly/privately with audio you must either use the headphone out on your TV or receiver, or just play with Joy-Cons attached to the console. It’s a shame Nintendo hasn’t allowed users the opportunity to pair third party Bluetooth audio devices to the Switch as this could have solved the problem for many. There is an answer to all the shortcomings, in the form of the Pro Controller but, unfortunately, it isn’t bundled and will cost a hefty £60 to add to your Switch world.
The Joy-Cons feel most at home attached to either end of the console where the degree of natural tilt you’ll apply for optimal viewing of the screen makes the ZR and ZL buttons more usable with the middle fingers, instead of the indexes, which feels more natural to us. You still have the same issue of the buttons not being offset from the sticks, however, but it feels better overall. Perhaps one issue, for some, might be the weight of the console with Joy-Cons attached, which we measured at just short of 400g. Compared to say the Xbox One standard controller, at 268g, or even the 3DS XL weighing 336g, it’s a noticeable step up in heft, not that it put us off multi-hour Zelda sessions any.
The Joy-Cons slide easily in and out of both the tracks/rails on the Grip and the console, provided you remember to press the release buttons on the reverse side, but assembly with the wrist straps isn’t quite so straightforward. The straps have Plus (+) and Minus (-) signs on opposing sides which dictate the orientation in which they attach to the Joy-Cons, with the signs intended to line up with the matching buttons on the Joy-Cons. The problem is, if done without due care or without the knowledge the signs exist on the straps – they are easy to miss for first time users – it’s all too easy to attach them the wrong way around and they are not at all easy to get off should you make that mistake; yes, it happened to us but we’re not alone!
To wrap up on the controllers and the reports of connection issues with the Joy-Cons, we can confirm we encountered this a few times when using the on-screen keyboard although, thus far, not during a game. It’s only happened when in Grip formation and never when attached to the console but the numerous reports of the issue merits serious investigation by Nintendo.
Update: After a few more days use, the problem occurred several more times, including during gameplay where we would lose control of Link (in Zelda) for a few seconds. This was with the Switch docked near the main AV setup in the house where there are a LOT of Bluetooth/Wi-Fi enabled devices, as well as the internet router. We could have tried switching off several of the prospectively ‘interfering’ devices but we don’t feel that should be the case – Nintendo needs to improve the Bluetooth communication issues on its own.
There is much to like about what Nintendo has achieved with the Switch’s selection of controls but there is just the whiff of compromise about it all, which we guess was inevitable.
Screen & Video QualityThe Switch features a 6.2-inch capacitive LCD display which, in this time of supersize smartphones/phablets, doesn’t sound particularly large but there is no screen real estate wasted, or obscured, with touch-screen controls while gaming. It’s enough to fill most of your field of vision, in any case, and while another half to one inch would have been nice (no sniggering), it would have added further to the weight which, we feel, is about on the upper limit for a handheld gaming device. The display supports resolutions up to and including 1280 x 720 which, again, might seem a little lacking and 1920 x 1080 would have been nice, but the Switch gains extra power when docked and 1080p was said by Nintendo to be a performance problem in handheld mode; we’d definitely take better stability over extra resolution in this instance. To be clear, the Switch will output up to 1080p to your TV over HDMI when docked.
There’s more to a good image than resolution, in any case, and the IPS display does an excellent job with colour and viewing angles, which is important when you consider the local multiplayer aspect for games like 1-2 Switch which can be played with the console propped on the stand. The lack of media playback abilities on the switch make it difficult (read impossible) to properly measure with calibration equipment and software but the colours and white balance looked true when compared to a calibrated TV simultaneously displaying the Wii U version of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s not scientific but it’s arguable how much really accurate colours matter in the context of videogames, in any case, and there’s certainly nothing approaching glaringly wrong in that department with the console's screen.
Crucially, as far as gaming on the go is concerned, there is plenty of luminance available to the screen, too, so you can even use the switch when there’s plenty of sunlight about, provided you use your head and body as a parasol. Direct sunlight will, of course, cause issues but that’s the case with any screen and the Switch does a more than capable job of rejecting ambient light in most situations. Black levels aren’t as impressive – that’s to be expected with IPS – but that’s probably not going to be an issue with Nintendo’s own games, at least, which tend to be very bright and colourful. Screen uniformity on bright screen content was excellent and we scoured for dead pixels without finding any. It wasn’t quite so impressive on dark or black screens, however, with some visible backlight leakage around the perimeters but it wasn’t noticeable with the (two) games available to test.
With the console docked there are various TV Output settings to consider, although it’s a very limited selection. There are no colour space options but you can choose between Automatic, Full and Limited Range RGB. There were no discernible differences between the two, in terms of quality, and provided the TV is set up to expect the corresponding signal the usual course of action would be to leave at automatic. You can find some issues with older HD and Ultra HD TV models in this regard, however, so user intervention might be required in some instances. It is also possible to select a resolution manually, with options of 480p, 720p and 1080p as well as Automatic. Again, some older 1080p TVs – sometimes just on certain HDMI ports – might cause problems with Automatic where it might default to 720p. There is no control on the output frequency (Hz) of the video signal, it’s locked to 60Hz. In the short-term that won’t be a problem but some streaming services, when available, will be displayed non-optimally – UK Catch-up apps, e.g. BBC iPlayer, will look particularly bad on the big screen at 60Hz. The final video related options are ‘Screen Burn-in Reduction ‘ - useful for plasma and possibly OLED TV owners and Adjust Screen Size’ which will compensate for any overscan your TV is applying; you’re best addressing this in the TV Menu, however.
Setup & MenusGetting the Nintendo Switch up and running is about as easy as it gets with a setup wizard first displaying on the console’s screen guiding you through what is a fairly painless process. To use Nintendo’s online, eShop, store requires you to register for a Nintendo Account which requires access to a browser though PC or mobile device and a couple of verification steps. For online play, you will need another account, a Network ID, which again needs a browser to link to your Switch. It is typically convoluted from Nintendo but at least the online interfaces for the processes are easy to follow.
The homescreen of the Switch is familiar looking and very easy to use, both on the TV and the built-in display, with touchscreen control an option on the latter. The screen is dominated by tiles of your games with shortcuts to News, the eShop, Album (screenshots), Controller options, System Settings and Power to the bottom. The eShop isn’t well populated, for now, with a smattering of retro and indie titles available but the demo of Snipperclips is worth a look and Wipeout fans will probably be interested in Fast RMX.
GamesNow this is not a software review and nor am I a games reviewer but we couldn’t totally ignore the main purpose of the Switch. We were supplied two games to test; Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2 Switch which, while quite different, do demonstrate the possibilities of the control. In (too) close to forty years of being a gamer very few, if any, titles have impressed as much as Zelda: BotW which is an epic scale action adventure in a huge sandbox environment. Despite always being a big fan of Nintendo’s output, over the years, and owning every console bar the Gamecube, I have to admit that the Zelda titles have never been must-haves, for me. If memory serves, I’ve only previously completed 'Wind Waker' and, even then, I found it a tad repetitive with just a bit too much grind required to progress. Breath of the Wild largely tears up Zelda’s rulebook and repackages the franchise to deliver something that almost any gamer would enjoy. Nintendo has borrowed little bits from other games – one of my first thoughts on the Great Plateau was Halo - and woven them in to the fabric of Zelda in seamless fashion. It’s quite simply brilliant and I’m only 20-25 hours in with a long way to go but it’s a game I can’t wait to get back to, night after night.
More on message as far as this hardware review is concerned is that Zelda looks wonderful, whether on the TV or Switch, itself, and although the textures can look a little low-res, at times, it doesn’t really detract from the experience at all. The game renders at 900p on the TV and 720p on the Switch’s screen but, in some ways, performance is better in handheld mode with the docked version suffering from slowdown and stuttering, on occasion. We don’t know if Nintendo can update either the software or the hardware to improve performance but hopefully there’s something they can do as it’s about the only downside of the game we can think of.
1-2 Switch is really just a showcase for how the two Joy-Cons can be used independently for two player gaming but we don’t think it represents great value at its @£35 price-tag. It’s a collection of largely forgettable mini-games that, for the most part, don’t merit much repeat play. There are some nice imaginative uses of the Joy-Cons’ abilities – including an IR camera I’ll admit to forgetting was part of the spec – but this should have been a bundled title, in our opinion. Your mileage may vary, of course; our kids enjoyed it, at least for a little while, and we can see how it could be successfully deployed at parties but Wii Sports this is not.
- Some very nifty engineering
- Generally very good build quality
- Screen is bright, colourful and accurate
- Headphone output of good quality
- Joy-Con occasionally disconnects
- Stick & button layout can be awkward
- Headphone only available in handheld mode
- Wi-Fi capability could be better
- No Bluetooth pairing capability
- No bundled software
- Price to performance ratio seems high Vs PS4 & XB1
Nintendo Switch Review
Should I buy one?The Nintendo Switch is, for the most part, a very well-engineered device, launched with intent of blending portable and home console gaming in one compact unit. Priced at £279.99, it looks a little expensive against the PS4 and Xbox One, which both have a lot more power for significantly less money but Nintendo is again gambling on its ability to sell consoles, largely on the back of innovative ways they’ve conjured up by which to control them, as well as some killer, first party exclusive games. It worked a charm with touchscreen on the DS and with the ‘Wiimote‘ on the original Wii Console. The Wii U’s not-a-tablet controller didn’t’ propel it to anything like the success of the Wii (in fact it flopped), or the company’s handhelds, although the ability to switch from gaming on the TV to a handheld device – and vice versa – was always a winner. What hampered that idea for the Wii U was the fact you could only ‘go portable’ when near to the console.
The Switch throws the shackles off by being a true portable which can be used anywhere, on the go, something Sony or Microsoft can’t offer. The big two are now pursuing VR, 4K and HDR while Nintendo ploughs its own furrow. The Switch shows plenty of promise, even if it is currently lacking software worth having barring, of course, the unbelievably great, Zelda: Breath of the Wild; Wii U owners don’t have such a compelling reason to upgrade, for now, since there’s a version for them, too. The build quality of the Switch console, itself, is top-notch and the 6.2-inch IPS panel is bright, colourful and plenty accurate enough for discerning gamers, with ample brightness and light rejecting qualities to make it a bona fide option for using outdoors. The two Joy-Cons slot easily on to the sides of the console and provide the full, traditional games controller feel, with all the buttons and ‘triggers’ you would expect when sat gaming on the TV. In fact, it’s with handheld mode where we find the Switch shines brightest.
With console docked in the Switch Dock, you can up-res your gaming from 720p to 1080p but we didn’t enjoy the control system with Joy-Cons attached to the Switch Grip quite so much. Somehow the non-offset thumb-stick and button layout seemed worse in this form and it’s not ideal in handheld mode. The fairly wide, yet thin, set-up with the Grip, added to the close proximity of the ZL/Z and ZR/R buttons, also tended to make us clasp too tight, although we do accept one can adapt one’s grip. Still, we do think that if you were intending to primarily – or at least significantly - use the Switch on the big-screen, the investment in a (£60) Pro Controller would become a must. This is probably the biggest compromise of the Switch’s multi-form innovation and, added to that, we got reasonably frequent (approx one per hour) wireless drop-outs with the left Joy-Con during gaming. It’s not a deal-breaker at that kind of frequency but it’s the sort of thing that would grate more over time and it’s something Nintendo needs to fully investigate as the problem seems to be not uncommon. The other shortcoming in the Grip format is a lack of headphone jack on the controller, which you obviously do get when in handheld mode.
As for media playback duties or ‘Smart TV features,’ forget it, at least in the short-term. Nintendo has said that they will add the likes of Netflix down the line but for now the focus is on the gaming and we think that’s quite right. Do you really need another device to deliver YouTube, Amazon, BBC iPlayer, et al, when most of you reading will have at least one that could do it, and likely better since the Switch is locked at 60Hz video output? The Switch is all about the games and how you play them and while it’s clearly lacking titles, for now, if enough people buy into its unique capabilities, it will get plenty of full-blooded software support from developers, other than Nintendo’s own.
Will it succeed where the Wii U tanked and is Nintendo capable of conveying the message on what the Switch can do? Frankly, we don’t know. It’s not the simplistic, instant proposition that the original Wii was and the Switch runs the risk of, perhaps, being a better concept than it is a reality but it’s a great little console which merits our recommendation, not just to Nintendo fans but those looking for something just a bit different. If you can be patient and hold on for more comprehensive software support and/or a price-drop, or a deal with a bundled game, do so, but by the same token if you're dying to get your hands on some cool new Nintendo hardware, there's plenty of reasons to dive in.
Styling and design8
Ease of use8
Value for money7
Our Review Ethos
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