Nintendo Switch: Hardware review
Tablet performance at console price?
It may be late, but I have had nearly 2 weeks now with the new console to get to grips with it, the functions, hardware and most importantly software….or lack thereof.
Click to connect
I covered most of my thoughts on the machine back when it was revealed with far more content than would ever hit launch. Nothing has changed from my view then and now.
As a review this would normally cover the machine, options and games it has but the only game really available to show it off, killer title no doubt, is also available on their last gen machine, a common Zelda trait. So I have an In-depth analysis up of that you can check out below.
Hardware wise this is a solid piece of kit, no better or worse than a Samsung inspired Tablet device, albeit with a landscape orientated design. Gun metal silver looks good on the unit itself and the joycons that adorn it, as small as they are. Even though attached to the side of the unit in its base form handheld mode they feel good to use and well built. Detached ready for the device’s more Wii inspired party games they are way, way too small for my shovels. Being 6,4” I am not small by any means but these are tiny in my paw like grip, using them as a game controller is awkward at best.They improve when attached to the included Joypad frame to emulate a full game pad, but a full pro controller is required, one I have not picked up as yet but is on my next click list, a sad state for a console that ships with so little from the start in more than just the box content.
What is in the Box?
A competently designed but by no means a jaw dropper in the flesh, the more subdued colour scheme here helps, with the Neon option controllers adding more pizzazz to it if you are more of an extrovert persuasion. Once unpacked and ready for use it can be used as a straight touchscreen device, with detached or attached controllers or in its full hybrid TV mode complete, docked into a rather cheap feeling docking station with standard USB and HDMI out connectors and AC in for power. This is the same AC that can also charge the device through its USB type-C connector when separated so many, I think, like myself will leave this always connected here and simply drop your device in to charge. This can be done with the Joycons attached, a requirement as they also charge through the main unit. Games can be digitally loaded or clicked into the top right side SD card like slot for the SD card like games.
It takes approximately 3 hours for it to charge its 4310mAh battery, which is little more than a modern phone is packing & around half of an Ipad Air tablet. Not the best choice for a device sporting powerful (for mobile levels) APU, Memory, 6.2” IPS 720p display panel, and also a constant Wi-Fi 802.11 connection as it has no in-built LAN connection, an adapter can be bought for extra (a recurring theme here). To give it due it is a decent point Wi-Fi level as it supports 802.11ac with obvious backward compatibility with more common n routers. In theory giving a maximum 7Gbps throughput in the shorter, wider 5Ghz band, reality is somewhere around the 1.5Gbps. Most will only have a slower router so this should use as much of the 600Mbps limit it can, from my tests I can max out my 100Mbps DL WAN connection with ease. This is a vital point to cover as 1) many games will be downloaded (another problem I will address) and 2) like all modern devices as soon as you extract it from the box, an update is required to utilise any of these social based features, a modern gaming cross to bear, you can read the full specs on the side out box.
And this brings us to the screen which is, after all, the raison d'etre of the machine. Colour & brightness is good, response is fast with minimal pixel trailing or blurring. Not quite at OLED levels but more than good enough to present the clean visuals seen from the 2 titles I have tested on the machine. It still suffers all the same issues from its panel choice mind, with wide views causing colour/contrast to fade at 25d or greater angle, screen glare is also a problem with the reflective screen giving high bounce in brighter areas or outdoors. In the end it is better than the 3DS or bigger XL model (biggest reason being the screen size increase), a suitable comparable as this feels as much, if not more so, a succession of that than the Wii U, something I echoed back with the reveal of the machine, a handheld device that can also hook up to your TV.
Ghost in the shell
Fan noise is pretty much non-existent even after hours of play in both forms, weight, heat, are all good, feeling ergonomically weighted in your hands for long play sessions. It does have a flip out stand at the back but this feels both cheap and weak but is required for social play which is where the mentioned screen glare and angle issues can arise. It works best in darker rooms out of direct light sources or window reflections, not always an option. So as a handheld this machine is certainly the most powerful one you can buy, powered by Nividia’s own Tegra X1 hardware it should not surprise any that it is as predicted, both below the PS4 and X1 in its sheer horsepower stats. The CPU does have some benefits also being bang on what I expected powered by a 4-core ARM Cortex-A57 CPU. This runs at the same clock speed docked or un-docked at the rumoured 1020Mhz rate. The insightful teardown of the machine by Tech Insights http://techinsights.com/about-techinsights/overview/blog/nintendo-switch-teardown/
shows us a clear shot of the die, innards and modular design of the machine that further updates and iterations can & will be delivered in short time, I feel a 4K/HDR screen could be one such addition added in future versions of the switch. The detachable SD card reader also points to a modular design with possible bandwidth limits also associated with that.
But future expansions aside many will hook this up to a TV and dive into a new home console that follows more of the nineties launches of previous generations with minimal software to support it and high initial cost, but I will cover that at the end. Plugged in and into the dash you can create a new profile and then Nintendo ID or associate with a previously created one. Menu’s are fast and have that familiar feel of the Wii, 3DS units but with an odd choice of the handhelds 720 screen resolution being displayed, not the most attractive on a HD display or 4K panel. This could and I hope will be patched in a future update, as it is a frankly ludicrous decision. The news page, home page and digital store are all easy to navigate using the controllers or touchscreen, download times are fast with the Wi-Fi but will not be plentiful with the in-built 32GB of NAND storage, of which only 26GB is free to use, not much when bigger titles can eat up 7GB of that in one chunk.
Separate SD cards can be purchased and I recommend minimum 128GB Hi-speed cards that will at least carry you through for next few months as games start to hit the store and machine, as of right now it all looks very emaciated. Outside of some simpler SNK ports from the NEO-GEO, Zelda and the F-zero inspired Fast-RMX you have nothing to show off your new device.Possibly a blessing as you may have no cash left to buy after getting the device in and ready to use.
This brings me to my biggest gripe and that is cost, or more importantly value! As I said before this screams of fast cash-in, nostalgic spends and minimal content. Having to buy a LAN connector is poor but forgivable with its Handheld focus and strong Wi-fi included, but having to spend another $80 or £60 on a decent and, for me at least, usable controller is not. Add in the shockingly small storage space included, high cost and complete lack of stock for retail games makes all of the additional spend high outside of the not at all frugal $300 entry point. Multi-player is free for now but will be become a payed for service later in the autumn, right when games, action and stock ramps up. It is supply constrained on purpose and I am sure has sold well, but the signs still point to a low 3rd party sign up. Even if the tools and SDK is all much simpler and easy for ports by information I have got from some developers, it still needs to entice everyone to launch games on it. We may not see the likes of CoD or Battlefield but Fifa, Watchdogs or more could really help raise the machine away from the sink hole that swallowed the Wii U without a trace, signed off with a Footnote with its best game delivering it's swan song alongside its replacement.
All in with a controller, usable storage space, 1 modern game you have spent nearly $500 and that is a great deal of money. When you can get for half that a console that is much more powerful, has a vast catalogue of cheaper games and in the XboxOne S a 4K blu-ray player & free game. This cannot be ignored, although the Switch is going after a different market for sure, it does not exist in a bubble with games being the heart of a platforms success, right now the machine is on life-support even if it has a title that is clearly a return to form for Nintendo and a jewel in its crown, you can play and enjoy that exact same game on the cheaper, older system with minor sacrifices. Even Mario Kart 8 deluxe is simply another improved port from the same console. As much as I love the new Zelda and enjoy the possibilities that the switch offers, I can only recommend it to the hardest of hardcore gamer's and those that have the money to spare, waiting on the side-lines until we see what 1st party will deliver and which 3rd party teams invest, is my advice for all. An impressive handheld indeed that can also be a fun home console, but right now we can only see the silhouette of the promises it could hold when it steps into the light. If you build it, they will come used to work but not now, you need to furnish the place at least.