I received an invitation to attend the Nintendo Switch preview event in Toronto last Saturday, and I thought I would share some of my thoughts here after getting my hands on the console for a few hours. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask!
First, I’ll share my thoughts on the hardware itself. Nintendo Switch as a Portable
Almost every part of the Switch is more sleek and compact than it appears in Nintendo’s marketing. The Dock, the Joy-Con, and especially the main Switch unit are very streamlined in their design. For one reason or another, it seems Nintendo's marketing is giving most people the impression that the Switch is larger than it really is, as many other people seemed to have the same reaction I did. I couldn’t get a completely accurate feel for the weight since all the Switch units at the event were tethered, but it felt fairly light. I was also pleased with the overall build quality of the main Switch unit.
Coincidentally, Nintendo UK recently revealed detailed specifications for the Switch which I’ll also use to provide some additional context to my hands-on impressions. New Nintendo 3DS XL
Size: 93.5mm x 160mm x 21.5mm (when closed)
Battery life: three-and-a-half to seven hours when using 3DS software, seven to 12 hours when using DS software
Charge time: three-and-a-half hoursNintendo Switch
Size (with Joy-Con): 102mm x 239mm x 13.9mm - Joy-Con are 28.4mm at the thickest
Size (without Joy-Con): 102mm x 167.2mm* x 13.9mm
Weight: 297g without Joy-Con, 398g with Joy-Con
Battery life: roughly three hours while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, can last over six hours depending on software and usage conditions
Charge time: three hours (while in sleep mode)
*Nintendo didn’t provide these exact numbers; this is based on the dimensions they give for the Joy-Con (102mm x 35.9mm x 28.4mm)
The main Switch unit is not materially larger than the New 3DS XL. I would venture to say it might be more portable, actually, given the fact that it’s a good deal thinner than the New 3DS XL (when closed). It then comes down to the ease with which the Joy-Con can be attached and removed. Going back to my own experience at the event, it’s not as convenient as simply pulling out a tablet, but I didn’t find attaching and removing the Joy-Con to/from the main Switch unit to be particularly cumbersome. The risk of losing the Joy-Con on the go is still an issue, however, given the high cost of replacing them.
Drawing conclusions on battery life is still a bit difficult. Doing a straight comparison of the numbers Nintendo has given us, Switch is right in line with the New 3DS XL. However, Nintendo’s description leaves the door open for more power-draining games than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to appear on the Switch. It’s also possible that the distribution of games will skew more towards the low end of battery life with the Switch than they did for the New 3DS XL. This is likely the Switch’s weakest area as a portable, but it’s helped by the fact that it charges using USB-C.
After getting my hands on the Switch and seeing these specifications, I’ve come away more confident with its ability to function as a true handheld. For those who carried the New 3DS XL in their pockets without any issues, removing the Joy-Con and carrying the main unit in a separate pocket shouldn’t be much of a hassle. Battery life remains a question, but there are ways to work around it for now, and it’s also the easiest area for Nintendo to improve with future revisions. Beyond that, the Switch in handheld mode is comfortable in your hands, the controls feel natural (more on this shortly), and the screen is vibrant. Perhaps it’s not 100% there, and maybe Nintendo will go in a different direction for their flagship handheld even when/if it is, but I think the Switch will be able to function as a true portable gaming device even with its initial iteration. Controller Configurations
I became accustomed to the Switch controls in handheld mode very quickly. Even playing games with familiar controls like Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the transition from the Wii U Gamepad and Pro Controller to the Switch in handheld mode felt nearly seamless. I picked up the Switch handheld and started playing those games as I normally would, and the gameplay I was accustomed to followed. The Switch didn’t feel heavy or obtrusive in a motion-intensive game like Splatoon 2, and I could rest my hands comfortably on my lap for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Anyone who has spent a lot of time with the Wii U Gamepad making use of off-TV play will also appreciate the tremendous increase in quality in the Switch’s vibrant 720p screen. I knew that would be the case going in, of course, but seeing it was still a real treat.
Unfortunately, one area I wasn’t able to test as much as I wanted to was the split D-pad.
Honestly, I wasn’t blown away by the Joy-Con. However, I think that mostly comes down to the fact that I came into the event with very high expectations (after hearing and reading all the effusive praise for the controllers over the past month), and not many demos at the event showcased the depth of HD rumble. The controllers themselves are small but comfortable to hold, and the motion controls worked very well. I think they’ll work just fine as controllers for many games, and I’m excited to see how future titles incorporate the improved motion controls, HD rumble, and the various forms of unique gameplay the controllers potentially provide.
This set-up I used the least was the Joy-Con Grip, and I didn’t feel particularly strongly about it either way. It’s likely not be the ideal way to play, but it didn’t feel totally weird either. It should be serviceable until the Switch Pro Controller comes down in price or sees its value proposition improve with a larger library of games that significantly benefit from its use.
Much like the Switch console itself, the Switch Pro Controller was much smaller than I was expecting. I was also expecting it to have a “premium” feel to it, perhaps because of the price attached to it, but it didn’t stand out in that regard. It’s a very good controller functionally, however, and that’s ultimately what matters. The D-pad is great, it’s very light and comfortable to hold, and the analog sticks are an improvement over the ones found on the Wii U Gamepad and Pro Controller. This will likely be the best way to play a lot of games, but, given the high asking price, it’s a tough sell at launch.
Overall, I came away pleased with the controls for the Switch in handheld mode, the Switch Pro Controller, and the Joy-Con. I think Nintendo might have a tough time selling these controllers based on their perceived value to many consumers, but the price made a bit more sense to me from after I got to use them for a few hours. Functionally, the Joy-Con and the Switch Pro Controller are very good controllers.
In an effort to not make one giant, unreadable post, I’ll post my thoughts on the games I played at the event a little later!