The Essential Review
This is TechRadar's review summary that gives you all the key information you need if you're looking for quick buying advice in 30 seconds - our usual full, in-depth review follows.
Of the three console manufacturers around today, Nintendo has been around for the longest. Since the original Nintendo Entertainment System was launched in 1983 the company has released a total of six consoles, ranging from the classic Super Nintendo Entertainment System to the motion-controlled Nintendo Wii.
The company is no stranger to innovation, whether it’s inventing the thumb-stick with the Nintendo 64 or establishing motion-controls as a force to be reckoned with alongside the release of the Wii.
So when we say that the Nintendo Switch might be the company’s most innovative console yet, that statement carries some weight.
The Nintendo Switch is both a handheld console that you can use to play games on the go, and a home console that can play games on a living room TV.
What’s great is how seamlessly the console transitions between these two uses - you can even do it mid-game.
Its graphics aren’t quite at the same level as the competition, but they’re probably the best we’ve ever seen from a handheld console.
It’s form factor is interesting, but whether or not this console is for you will inevitably come down to its library of games.
Having only been released earlier this year, the amount of games available on the console is currently much more limited than what’s available on the PS4 or Xbox One, but of the small number of games already released there are already some absolute gems including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Splatoon 2.
However, while its library will definitely improve over time it’s unlikely that the console’s online functionality will ever match the competition. What we’ve seen so far is basic at best, indicating the Switch will probably never become a primary destination for fans of online gaming.
Who's it for and should I buy it?
The Nintendo Switch is an innovative console that’s a little different from what we’ve seen before. It won’t be for everyone, but if you fit Nintendo’s target demographic of wanting high-quality portable gaming, with less emphasis on power, then the console is fantastically robust and feature-packed.
If you’re a fan of Nintendo’s past games then the Switch is a no-brainer. All the company’s best franchises, from Super Mario to Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda, are either on the way or already out on the console. This is the only place to play these games as Nintendo does not support other hardware.
If you like local multiplayer gaming then the Switch is also a great choice of console. It effectively includes two controllers in the box for use on one system, and it can also be easily linked together with other systems locally.
In addition to a strong first-party lineup, the Switch is also increasingly becoming a home to many indie favorites. Shovel Knight and Overcooked are great, and Stardew Valley and Rocket League are also on the way.
However, if you like to play online then the console might not suit your needs quite as well. The online functionality is limited, a lot of it relies on a phone app, and it’s simply not as feature-packed as the competition.
Finally, if you’re a fan of the bigger third-party franchises around such as Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, then the Switch is unlikely to get these games in the same form as the Xbox One and PS4 due to its relative lack of power compared to these consoles.
Nintendo Switch Price
- Launch price: $300 (£280 / AU$469.95)
An identical experience at home or on the go
- Games switch seamlessly between displaying on the handheld's screen, and displaying on a TV
- Handheld screen is lower resolution (720p), but is bright and vibrant
Nintendo Switch Specs
Screen size: 6.2inch
Resolution (internal): 720x1280
Output resolution: (Up to) 1,920x1,080
Dimensions (mm): 102 x 239 x 13.9
CPU:Nvidia Tegra X1
Storage: 32GB + microSD
This is really the most remarkable thing about the Nintendo Switch, namely the way its experience remains so consistent across handheld and console use.
In fact, if we hadn’t been told that the resolution changes between the handheld’s screen and our TV (the former runs at 720p, while the latter increases to 1080p) we’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.
The effect is to make you feel as though you’re taking console games with you in your pocket. Similar functionality has been promised in the past, but this is the first time it feels as though it’s been properly delivered on.
A 'jack of all trades' controller
- Joy-Cons can be detached from the screen to form up to two controllers
- More traditional controllers available separately
- This versatility leads to minor compromises
The Switch has an almost dizzying array of different controller types. You can use them while they’re attached to the screen, you can detach them to use them separately as a single controller, or you can even split them in half completely for multiplayer gaming.
By default you get the two Joy-Cons that attach to the sides of the console and a ‘grip’ that they slide onto to make a traditional gamepad, but it’s likely that you’ll also want to buy a Pro Controller for its more traditional form factor, as well as additional Joy-Cons and a grip for more multiplayer options.
None of these accessories come cheap unfortunately, which means that a fully featured console will set you back a little more than the cost of the base console.
Generally these controllers work well. Buttons have a satisfying click to them, and everything feels solidly put together.
But some compromises have been made to allow them to be so versatile. The D-pad on the left controller, for example, is made up of four separate buttons to allow it to be used as ‘face buttons’ when the controller is separated. This prevents it from being as capable a D-pad when attached to the console.
Likewise the joysticks are kept small to allow them to work well in portable mode, but they feel far too small when used in console mode.
When split apart the individual Joy-Cons are also very cramped. They’re perfectly functional, and work great for some spontaneous multiplayer, but for longer sessions you’re going to want to buy a set of dedicated controllers.
The only place to play Nintendo games...
- Console has already seen some great Nintendo releases
- More on the way that look promising
The jewel in the crown of every Nintendo system is the company’s own first-party games. These are exclusives, meaning you won’t be able to play them on anything other than the company’s own hardware.
The tone of these games tends to be more family-friendly in nature, but they cover a variety of genres and styles.
So far the Nintendo Switch has already seen a number of excellent exclusive releases that include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2 and Arms.
If you’re a fan of Nintendo’s own games then there your decision has almost been made for you since they won’t be available anywhere other than the Nintendo Switch.
...but you might be left wanting otherwise
- Power difference means third-party support is less certain
- But support from indie developers has already been strong
The flip side of its excellent first-party support is that third-party support for Nintendo’s console’s can occasionally fall short of the competition.
A lot of this comes as a result of the difference in power between Nintendo’s console and the competition. While it’s not too difficult for a company like Activision to bring Call of Duty to both PS4 and Xbox One without too many compromises along the way, the same isn’t true of bringing the game to a Nintendo console with much lower power.
This means that you’re unlikely to see releases from major franchises such as Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed or Battlefield at the same time and in the same form as the other consoles.
That said, the Switch’s unique form factor is attracting a lot of attention from indie developers. The console has already received excellent ports of Overcooked and Shovel Knight, and both The Binding of Isaac, Rocket League and Stardew Valley are also on their way.
Limited online functionality
- Online play is present, but tertiary online features are sorely lacking
Since the Xbox 360 and PS3 embraced online play in a big way our expectations for what an online service should consist of have expanded exponentially. Nintendo has not yet caught up.
The PS4 and Xbox One support a plethora of online options that allow you to, for example, party up with friends, voice chat with strangers, stream your gameplay and even, on the PS4, remotely take control of someone else’s game.
The Nintendo Switch, in comparison, has a much more limited set of options. More frustratingly still, a lot of this functionality is locked in a companion app. Though the app was recently updated so that you can now continue to use voice chat functionality while your phone is in sleep mode or you're running other apps, this really only brought it up to speed with other chat apps and it's certainly not the most convenient form of online play on the market.
The bottom line is this; if you want to game online for hours with friends and strangers that you can talk to and strategize with, then the Nintendo Switch is probably not the console for you. It’s easy enough to play online, and inviting friends into matches isn’t overly difficult, but the console’s online offering lacks the richness and robustness of its competitors.
- Nintendo quotes 2.5 to 6 hours of battery life depending on graphical intensity of games.
- We experienced a total battery life of 2.5 hours when playing Breath of the Wild.
Battery life is obviously a big concern when it comes to a portable console, and the Nintendo Switch is no different.
Nintendo quotes a battery life of between 2.5 and 6 hours, and we’ve found this figure to be broadly accurate.
We found that the console ran down in roughly 2.5 hours when playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is a very graphically-intensive game. We played the console with its screen brightness turned up to its maximum, and with Wi-Fi turned on.
However, even if you’re playing a large 3D game like Zelda you still have options if you want to get more battery life out of the console. We found that simply turning down the screen’s brightness and putting the console in airplane mode worked wonders.
We found that for our daily commute that the console’s battery life was more than sufficient, but that longer journeys such as plane rides were more of a struggle.
- Nowhere near the levels of the PS4 and Xbox One.
- But much better than handheld consoles that have come before.
In recent years Nintendo has had very little interest in competing with the likes of Sony and Microsoft in the graphical stakes, and the Switch is no different.
Using this measure, the Nintendo Switch has around a third of the graphical horsepower of the Xbox One and less than a quarter of the PS4.
So yes, it doesn’t have any sort of power advantage over its two closest competitors, and if you’re interested in getting the most powerful console around then the Switch is probably not for you.
With that said, the Switch is comfortably the most powerful handheld console ever made - which definitely puts the machine into perspective.
Anything else I should know?
- Local multiplayer is also possible and works well.
- Video streaming services are absent, but might arrive in the future.
There are a couple of other details you need to know about before you part ways with your money.
First is that in addition to online multiplayer, the console also supports local play between multiple Switch consoles. This is a great way to game with friends locally while getting an entire screen to yourself.
Better still, you can combine this with having more than one player on each Switch console. We recently hosted a six-player Mario Kart 8 Deluxe play session in which we had three Switch consoles with two people playing on each. The experience was lag-free, and worked very smoothly.
The Switch is a gaming console first and foremost, and this means that Nintendo has neglected to include any video streaming apps on the device.
This means no Netflix and no Amazon Prime Video, and really no media playback of any kind.
This probably won’t matter when you’re at home and are surrounded by devices capable of playing these services, but on a long journey it can be a hassle having to remember to pack both a tablet and your Switch to handle all your media playing needs.
Not convinced? Try these:
Sony's PS4 has been the best-selling console of recent years, and with good reason. It's good a fantastic library of games, a nice clean interface, and a fully-featured online offering.
While it's exclusives - which include Uncharted 4, Bloodborne and Horizon Zero Dawn - are good, they're probably not quite as timeless as those from Nintendo. Thankfully third-party support is excellent, and you won't struggle to find excellent games to play.
- Read our full PlayStation 4 review.
Xbox One S
The Xbox One S is the closest competitor to the PS4. It plays many of the same third-party games, but has a number of exclusives of its own that include Forza Horizon, Halo 5, and Gears of War 4.
It also sports an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive, as well as support for 4K streaming services, giving it the slight media edge over the PS4.
- Read our full Xbox One S review.
The PS4 Pro is the 4K version of the PS4. However, while it does indeed output a 4K signal, it often achieves this through upscaling, which doesn't look quite as good as native 4K.
It doesn't include an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, but it does support 4K streaming. If you've left physical media behind, then this might be a compromise you're willing to make.
The console can play the PS4's entire library, which should mean you'll have enough to play until the end of time.
- Read our full PS4 Pro review.
- Here's our pick of the best Nintendo Switch games currently available.
First reviewed: March 2017