Nintendo Switch – Our Full Preview

Nintendo Switch – Our Full Preview
It really is a beautiful piece of hardware in person.
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Buckle up while we take you through an exhaustive tour of the new Nintendo Switch in pictures and videos!

The console/handheld itself in all its glory. Starkly reminiscent of something like an Amazon Fire tablet at first glance; very nondescript and subtle in its presentation.

The console/handheld itself in all its glory. Starkly reminiscent of something like an Amazon Fire tablet at first glance; very nondescript and subtle in its presentation.

The bottom. Note the intake vents and the kickstand (on the left).

The bottom. Note the intake vents and the kickstand (on the left).

We might not be a gargantuan news outlet here at DigitalChumps, but we’ve been doing this game journalism stuff for many years now (15+ for all of our Senior Editors), and I think I speak for everyone when I say that it’s not common that we’re as intrigued and excited about a product launch as we have been regarding the Nintendo Switch.  Imagine our delight, then, when we received a nice shiny (well, brown cardboard) box from Nintendo PR a few days ago.  We knew precisely what was inside.

Here’s how the unboxing process went, totally unrehearsed:

While we won’t be passing any final judgment over the quality of the unit in this preview of the hardware, today, we’ll tour the device with high-resolution photos and video, and we’ll talk about a few of our first impressions and any initial concerns we might have.  Before the Switch launch on March 3, we’ll update this article with full review conclusions and our complete opinions on the overall product.

Let’s start with the device itself.  For anyone who still hasn’t held one (yes, we realize, that’s most of you guys), it feels really solid.  Quite obviously, for $300, you aren’t going to get the super-premium CNC metal-crafted quality case of, say, an iPad or other high-end tablet—but this thing certainly feels like a bargain for the price.  It’s got just enough weight to it (398 g / 0.88 lbs.) to feel substantial, but it’s still not enough to cause serious fatigue in hand.

The Left Joy-Con

The Left Joy-Con

The Right Joy-Con

The Right Joy-Con

The Joy-Cons, weighing in at just around 52 g apiece (and both—104 g total—included in the above measurement, by the way) are also attractive pieces of hardware.  The plastic from which they are constructed is matte and does not attract fingerprints, which is appreciated.  Separated from the device itself, they serve as either two parts of a single controller or two separate controllers depending on the occasion and the game being played.

The buttons each have a satisfying click to them with a good sense of feedback.  However, some people have expressed concern that the buttons seem too small to be truly functional in all situations (and in all hands).  Although our hands aren’t massive (check out my unboxing video for more about that), we never really had issues with this.  Rumblings of concerns over having to play games such as Zelda using “the claw” have appeared in various online forums, but we can also say that we haven’t ever run into problems with that, either.  At first, we were most concerned about the really tiny SL and SR buttons on the top of each Joy-Con—but as it turns out, once the wrist strap is attached, these are enlarged and made much easier to operate.

Here's what the top SL/SR buttons look like on the Joy-Cons, along with the four indicator lights and the connection button.

Here’s what the top SL/SR buttons look like on the Joy-Cons, along with the four indicator lights and the connection button.

The wrist straps attach rather snugly and are actually a bit difficult to remove. Don't worry; you won't break it.

The wrist straps attach rather snugly and are actually a bit difficult to remove. Don’t worry; you won’t break it.

Beyond simply the construction and feel of the actual hardware, the design really oozes thoughtful and subtle touches throughout.  For instance, you might be wondering what happens to the nifty four connection lights indicating which player each controller represents after the wrist strap is attached.  After all, it covers up the lights, right?  Yes, but the wrist strap features special cutouts with translucent plastic which carries the light to four of its own cutouts.  It works perfectly.

What about that kickstand?  It does look a bit flimsy, doesn’t it?  It does seem that it’s plastic, but it certainly feels like a higher-grade plastic—such as perhaps a polycarbonate like those long used by Lenovo to construct its ThinkPad notebooks.  It’s also designed to have a bit of give to it, which is probably in the interest of durability.  In light of that, it’s doubtful that it’ll break too easily.

Here's a look at the kickstand, which also hides the MicroSD slot beneath it.

Here’s a look at the kickstand, which also hides the MicroSD slot beneath it.

The exhaust vent on the top expels the heat from the heatsink/fan.

The exhaust vent on the top expels the heat from the heatsink/fan. The fan is generally active, even while undocked, through it runs at a lower RPM.

The Switch, which contains a custom Tegra chip from NVIDIA highly suspected to be close to the X1 chip it’s using in its own Shield TV handheld, is actively cooled.  That means that an actual cooling fan engages to help with thermal management, which is hardly a surprise to anyone familiar with the TDP and energy demands of the chipset, regardless of its efficiency.  What was perhaps more of a surprise to us, actually, was that the fan still runs while the system is undocked.  It makes sense, since the games are still quite demanding even running at the 1280×720 resolution of the Switch handheld screen—but the thing is, it’s so quiet, you can hardly tell it’s running.  It spins at a much lower RPM while being used handheld, so even if you’ve got really good hearing, you’re unlikely to be bothered by it.

What about heat?  Well, that’s another cool (no pun intended) design point.  You see, first of all, it’s possible to play with the Joy-Cons completely disconnected from the system, thereby sidestepping any possible concerns over sweaty palms.  But even with the Joy-Cons attached, your hands will still likely survive in full comfort.  The reason for this is that the Joy-Cons are not really part of the same casing—and so not a lot of thermal bridging actually occurs between the main Switch body (whose materials are designed to help dissipate any wayward heat) and the controllers flanking it.  Even still, however, the heatsink and fan seem to do a fine job of expelling heat in our experience thus far.

The dock, sans Switch

The dock, sans Switch

The dock, Switch installed

The dock, Switch installed

One minor concern that we must admit we have regarding the whole active cooling approach on a handheld is that it does, of course, add one more thing which could possibly fail.  Anytime additional mechanical parts are introduced, it does greatly increase the odds of an eventual mechanical problem.  However, we are hopeful that the fan can be serviced and possibly replaced if the unfortunate ever does occur.

How about actual operation?  Well, let’s begin with switching between handheld and console/TV formats, since that’s clearly what Nintendo focuses most on with their marketing, and since it’s also likely one of the most curious aspects of this device.  The short version is that it works great.  It’s not only nearly instantaneous to switch between play modes, but we have yet to experience even a single problem doing so in our time with the machine.  The dock is also relatively easy to get used to, and depositing the Switch is quick and fairly painless.  We were afraid we might accidentally drop it the first few times, but we never had that problem.

The access panel on the rear hides the connection ports.

The access panel on the rear hides the connection ports.

The AC adapter is USB Type-C interface.

The AC adapter is USB Type-C interface.

Setup of the system is also quick and easy, which is fortunate since only a single AC adapter (USB Type-C) is included with the handheld.  That means that every time you’re on the go and expect to play for more than a few hours, you’ll need to physically unplug the adapter from the back of the Switch dock and take it with you.  Of course, you can always buy an extra adapter ($30), but it’s really not all that challenging.  A simple access door on the back of the dock makes connecting and disconnecting the cables a breeze, and as we all know, USB Type-C connectors can be oriented in either direction and still function properly.  There’s no wrong way to plug it in.

The menus and interface are super slick—far nicer than anything we have honestly seen from Nintendo to date on a console or handheld.  While the Wii and Wii U menus were relatively slow and cumbersome to load, the Switch is lightning quick by contrast.  Returning to the home screen from a game in progress is equally fast, and you can even adjust settings and perform other operations without closing the game being played.  It’s just really great.

It really is a beautiful piece of hardware in person.

It really is a beautiful piece of hardware in person.

Here's what you'll likely be using to play the Switch while docked if you don't have a Pro Controller handy. Of course, you can always also disconnect the Joy-Cons and play with them completely separately.

Here’s what you’ll likely be using to play the Switch while docked if you don’t have a Pro Controller handy. Of course, you can always also disconnect the Joy-Cons and play with them completely separately.

As far as potential concerns, we have experienced one problem with our unit, however: the left Joy-Con, specifically, seems to struggle to remain consistently connected (or to transmit/receive reliably) from outside of a roughly six foot radius of the console itself.  We have tried all of the typical remedial steps to rectify the problem (unpairing/repairing, powering on/off, etc.) to no avail.  We’re quite sure it’s actually a defective Joy-Con, however, as the right Joy-Con literally has no problems, ever.  We’ve reached out to NOA regarding the issue and we hope to update you further come time for our review.

Well, speaking of time, we’re out of it—and it’s Nintendo’s fault (thanks, Nintendo!), because they also shipped us The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for review (more on that later).  So for now, we hope you’ve enjoyed our unique preview coverage of the Switch, and we’ll be updating soon enough with much more to round out our assessment.  Stay tuned.