The Nintendo Switch is a console that does a lot of things all at once. Like the motion controls of the Wii, or the glasses-free 3D of the Nintendo 3DS, or the experimental second screen of the Wii U, the Switch's innovative hybrid design has helped Nintendo to continue to blaze its own trail and do something different.
In the three years since its launch, the Nintendo Switch has become a true gaming hit—every holiday season it's one of the most popular devices around, and as social distancing rules have taken effect during the coronavirus pandemic it's become a firm favorite with gamers and non-gamers alike.
A large part of the Nintendo Switch's success is its hybrid design which has allowed it to bridge the gap between handheld console and home console in a totally unique way.
The way that the Nintendo Switch combines gaming on-the-go and gaming at home, making each a delight in its own way, is a credit to Nintendo's team. With its ever-growing library of exclusive first-party games and top-tier third-party titles, the Nintendo Switch is a better proposition than ever.
Whether you've already made your purchase or not, you have to agree that the Nintendo Switch is a fine idea, mixing together some of what made the Wii and Wii U appealing for gamers (even if developers had a harder time figuring out how to make the most of the latter device).
The Nintendo Switch brings with it a central idea that can benefit literally every game, not just the select few that can use motion control or a second screen. Who hasn't at one time wanted to pack up their console and take it with them?
Largely, the Switch delivers very well on this hybrid idea. You'll find it a solid, premium-feeling handheld, which can then flip into docked mode and work more or less as you'd expect a home console to, if and when needed.
At the same time, the Nintendo Switch certainly isn't perfect: most of the issues it has are a consequence of the way that it dares to try and do everything at once, and it doesn't always get the compromise right.
Those who aren't sold on its hybridity and just want that classic Nintendo handheld experience will no doubt be interest in the compact, lighter alternative: the Nintendo Switch Lite, which offers a solely handheld Switch gaming experience.
Update: We're expecting to see some Nintendo Switch deals during Amazon Prime Day 2021, as it's often been a great time to save on the popular handheld. Make sure you stay tuned to TechRadar so you don't miss any potential savings on June 21-22.
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Nintendo Switch: price and release date
- What is it? Nintendo's hybrid console
- When did it come out? March 3, 2017
- What does it cost? $299.99 in the US, £279.99 in the UK, $469.95 in Australia, R6,999 in South Africa
Nintendo Switch: design
- Three form factors: handheld, console (docked) and tabletop
- Lots of accessories, which are at risk of being misplaced
In the box with your shiny new Nintendo Switch you get the main console, two detachable controller sides (Joy-Cons), a grip which enables you to combine these controller portions into a more traditional gamepad, two straps which can make them into two individual controllers, and a dock for plugging the console into your television.
You also get a USB Type-C power cable (with a non-detachable power brick) and an HDMI cable for connecting the device to your TV.
If you think that sounds like a lot of accessories then you'd be right: we suspect a lot of Nintendo Switch owners will have misplaced at least one or two of these within the space of a few months.
We've taken to wrapping our Joy-Con straps around our Joy-Con grip just to keep everything together, but we'd love some way of attaching them to the console so they don't end up getting misplaced.
It's a pretty novel (not to mention somewhat complicated) setup, so it's worth delving into each of the different ways you can use the console.
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Nintendo Switch: handheld mode
- Bigger than traditional handhelds
- Slightly cramped for the right hand due to right analogue stick
- Split D-pad on the left side
First in the Nintendo Switch modes is handheld mode, the form factor most like the hardware devices that came before the Switch.
In this configuration you attach the two controller portions (the Joy-Cons) to the left and right edges of the screen, then game much like you could do with the PlayStation Vita.
In fact, the size and shape of the console's analogue sticks make it feel a lot like a modern Vita, though it's not as solid because of the joints that exist between the Joy-Cons and the screen.
Along the top of the Nintendo Switch is a slot for game cartridges, a headphone jack (Bluetooth headphones/headsets are currently not supported), a volume rocker and a power button.
The bottom of the device is less busy. You've got the kickstand for tabletop mode (more on this later), which conceals a small microSD slot for expandable storage. Internal storage on the Nintendo Switch is limited to just 32GB, so if you're planning on downloading games rather than buying them, you'll want to invest in a Nintendo Switch SD card (capacities up to 2TB are theoretically supported).
Check out our unboxing video of the Nintendo Switch below.
The detachable Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons have a lot going on. The right hand side has the classic A, B, X, Y button configuration that Nintendo has used on and off since the SNES, an analogue stick (slightly awkwardly placed underneath the face buttons) and two shoulder buttons.
There's a small plus-shaped button acting as the equivalent of the Wii U's 'Start' button, and a home button for reaching the console's system-level menus.
Across on the left Joy-Con it's a very similar story, as you would expect. You've got a minus button that acts as the console's 'Select' button, a share button for taking screenshots and video (in selected titles), an analogue stick, two shoulder-buttons, and the most un-Nintendo D-pad we've ever seen.
Instead of the classic cross D-pad Nintendo has utilized since the NES, the left Joy-Con instead has a set of four circular buttons that are identical in shape to the face buttons on the right Joy-Con.
This design decision, which appears very odd at first glance, is so the left Joy-Con can be used as an individual controller, with the D-pad acting as face-buttons in this configuration (again, more on this later).
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Nintendo Switch: console mode
- Connects to your TV via an included dock
- Docking process is seamless, and can be done mid-game
The second Nintendo Switch form-factor is console mode. You place the main portion in the included dock, which connects the device to your television – you're then free to detach the Joy-Cons to control the Switch from a distance.
The way the console transfers the viewing experience from its own screen to the television is as seamless as it could possibly be, and you don't even have to pause your game. Everything happens in real time.
Detaching the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons can be a little fiddly, admittedly: it's done by holding small buttons on their backs and sliding the controllers up.
The TV dock is roughly the same size as the Nintendo Switch's middle portion. Around the back you've got a USB Type-C port to provide the console with power, an HDMI port to connect it to your television, and a USB Type-A port.
On the left-hand side of the console are a further two USB ports, mainly used for charging your Switch controllers as you play wirelessly (more on this in a moment).
If you want to use the Nintendo Switch with multiple televisions throughout your home, you can buy additional docks, which make it easy to transition from one screen to another, plug-and-play style.
Nintendo Switch: tabletop mode
- Screen can also be detached and propped up on a table
- Great for two-player gaming, but four players on the console's small screen is a push
The final form factor for the Nintendo Switch is what Nintendo calls 'tabletop mode'. Using the kickstand that's attached to the back of the screen, you can prop the console up on a table and then detach the Joy-Cons for some semi-portable gaming.
In theory, this is perfect for long journeys on public transport where you have a tray table to place the console on; in reality, we found it a bit of a mixed experience.
We do like being able to use the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons in the grip rather than having them attached to the console – the grip provides just enough extra plastic to make the controllers much more comfortable in the hands, and having the console a little further away means your sitting posture can be a lot more natural.
Tabletop mode is also great for multiplayer on the Switch. Detaching both Joy-Cons to allow two people to play against one another is a pleasure: it makes the Nintendo Switch perfect for whipping out at small gatherings where you'll already have everything you need for a multiplayer session.
However, there are a couple of issues that prevent the console from fully capitalizing on this rather intriguing tabletop mode.
First is the kickstand. Although it's rubberized, which means that the Switch doesn't slide around, it only supports the console at a single height: if your tray table is a little closer to you then there's no ability to prop the console up so that it's facing you more directly, and instead you'll be stuck with the screen pointing at your chest rather than your face.
Second is the Nintendo Switch charging port, which is inaccessible when you're using it in tabletop mode. During a recent train journey this meant that although we were in the perfect situation to use tabletop mode, we ended up using the console as a handheld so that we could charge it up.
Finally, for multiplayer gaming the NIntendo Switch screen is just a little too small for more than two players. Four-player Mario Kart is almost impossible due to the size and resolution of the display (we found ourselves putting our faces inches from the console to be able to make out distant details).
Overall, tabletop mode on the Switch feels better suited to short periods of use, which is a shame when it feels like it should be the de facto way to use the Nintendo Switch over long periods.
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Nintendo Switch: set-up
- Set-up is simple enough
- Console needs to be told whether Joy-Cons are being used together or separately
Setting up a brand new Nintendo Switch is refreshingly simple, you'll be pleased to learn.
If you're using the device as a handheld, simply attach the Joy-Cons, press the power button, and... er... that's it.
If you want to play Nintendo Switch games on your TV, you need to plug the dock into the TV via HDMI, then hook it up to some power via the included USB Type-C power lead. The console then easily slips into the dock.
Pairing the controllers is a little more complicated than with other devices because of the fact that they can either be paired or used separately. The way you tell the Switch which controllers you're using is to press both the L and R shoulder buttons in whichever configuration you've opted for.
So if you're using the Joy-Cons individually, you press the buttons on the Joy-Con straps to indicate that this is the case.
On the software side, the console asks for the standard combination of Wi-Fi details and user account set-up info. These details are a doddle to input on the console's touchscreen – the keyboard isn't quite as good as a phone's but it's much better than a typical console experience.
After that's taken care, games can be played off a cartridge or the Nintendo Switch's internal memory.