This time last year, I laughed at the suggestion that Nintendo would ever sell me another portable console again. I love playing Nintendo games, but like many my mobile gaming had been isolated to my phone and my tablet for years now. I didn't feel the need to carry another thing with me just to play games, especially when the games weren't all that different from the experiences I could get on my phone.

Fast forward to today, and anytime I know I'm leaving my house for more than a few hours there's a good chance my Nintendo Switch is in my bag. And I'm nowhere near alone. In fact, portability is one of the defining features of this fully formed game console. It's a one-of-a-kind experience right now, and in many ways a clear sign to game developers and consumers alike that there's more to mobile gaming than the phone these days.

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Everything you need to know about Nintendo Switch

Designed for everywhere, and almost everyone

Nintendo Switch Hardware

Six months in, and I'm still not always sure how to describe this little console. It's like a chunky tablet, only the touch screen doesn't work when you're playing most games. It's like a handheld console, only you can also prop it up on a table or connect it to your television. It's like my other game consoles, only impossibly small by comparison without really sacrificing much. There are so many things the Switch both is and isn't, and really it all comes down to the individual user.

In talking to hundreds of other Switch owners over the last six months, the one thing that quickly became clear is how few people agreed on the "right" way to enjoy this console. Some prefer to play in portable mode all the time, and the side Joy-Cons never leave the console. Others keep the Switch docked at all times, preferring to use the more traditional Pro Controller in front of the television. I've seen people in the middle of a park sharing a pair of Joy-Cons for a 1-vs-1 race, and I've seen the Switch docked in a custom minivan rig so the display is mirrored to the two displays built into the top rail. The variety of options available is incredible, and there's a lot of evidence suggesting those options are heavily used everywhere.

With that flexibility comes a fair bit of personalization. Nintendo has quickly capitalized on multiple color options for the Joy-Cons, and making some colors more difficult to acquire has created a buzz among the more hardcore fans. The Pro Controllers see a fair bit of custom designs as well, though not quite as many options are currently available. There's no shortage of quality cases for the Switch with whatever your favorite game is stamped across it, but the most unique form of personalization comes in what is frequently called a Dock Sock. These covers for the front of the Switch dock are often handmade and available on maker shops like Etsy but have quickly become super popular in the process.

It's a tiny powerhouse, and more importantly, it's your tiny powerhouse to customize and as you see fit.

As for the design of the Switch itself, all signs point to it being a success. It performs above expectations when in handheld mode, and as long as you aren't looking for 4K output or hyper-realistic graphics the Switch is genuinely pleasant to use. The active fan in this tablet body does a great job keeping the hardware from ever being uncomfortably warm to hold, even when going from intense gaming in the dock to portable gaming in your hand.

The one feature I am genuinely surprised to enjoy after six months is the Nintendo game cartridge. I mean, come on right? This is 2017, year of the Blu-Ray disc and streaming whole games over a big fat internet connection. Are we going backwards? It turns out, no. In fact, Nintendo's cartridges largely solve the biggest problem facing game consoles today. When I buy a game for my Xbox, I put the disc in and there's a 20-30 minute install process depending on the game. Ironically, being able to just pop a game in and play was one of the features that got people to buy the original game consoles. Now, Nintendo is the only company able to pull it off. Pop a cartridge into the Switch, and the game is immediately ready to play.

Durability is an important factor as well, and so far Nintendo hasn't had any major issues here. There were some early concerns regarding scratches on the screen caused by sliding against the plastic dock and some Bluetooth issues with early Joy-Cons, but neither turned out to be major issues. Your mileage may vary when it comes to accidental drops, but overall this portable is far from fragile.

Overall, the Nintendo Switch hardware is fantastic. It delivers a quality experience, and it does so without being the lightest or the thinnest or the most stylish. It's a tiny powerhouse, and more importantly, it's your tiny powerhouse to customize and use as you see fit.

A little better all the time

Nintendo Switch Software

Out of the box, this console did exactly one thing. You put a game cartridge in, or downloaded a game from the shop, and you played that game. No streaming video apps, no online chat, and no easy way to record video of whatever cool thing you just did in-game. The software felt a little on the spartan side, with exception to sharing and parental controls. Right out of the gate, Nintendo offered a convenient way to set up to seven accounts up on your Switch as well as a monitoring and control app that gave parents unparalleled access to their kids' activities.

There have been three major updates to the Switch since its launch, and several smaller ones to deal with minor bugs and performance concerns. Through those updates, Nintendo has delivered a ton of new features. It is now easier to find friends from other Nintendo apps and consoles you've been logged in to, recording video is now a simple button press, and Nintendo Online now connects gamers who want to chat as a team. You'll even find a single streaming video app for the Switch now because Hulu exists on everything. Everything.

Software on the Switch started out simple yet capable, and has grown more complete at a healthy pace.

This experience hasn't been without its bumps over the last couple of months. Nintendo Switch Online is basically being built in front of us, with the intent to start charging for the service once wrinkles have been ironed out. The original design for communication involved connecting a headset to your Switch and your phone at the same time with clumsy wires, but support for a handful of Bluetooth headsets saved a lot of Switch owners from that headache. Nintendo's online services have always seemed a little clumsy compared to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, due in no small part to the intentional focus on child safety. Nintendo makes it difficult to randomly add someone you haven't played a game with yet, and online chat or messaging isn't a forward-facing feature because those options are difficult to police when kids are involved.

Nintendo's software on the Switch started out simple yet capable and has grown more complete at a healthy pace. Best of all, the company is amazing about communicating those updates to its fans through the monthly Nintendo Direct presentations, which keeps people ready to jump on the next big thing.

Just plain fun

Nintendo Switch Experience

I average about 15 hours of gameplay on my Switch a week. Nowhere near the power gamer levels of my high school and college days, but way more time than I would ever have on my Xbox or PlayStation. The portability of the Switch means I can enjoy a game while waiting for my kids to get off the bus just as easily as I could in my living room. And the convenience of being able to dock my console and switch from portable to television gameplay keeps me playing the game I started elsewhere.

And the games are so good right now! Nintendo's console wasn't available the whole year, yet Nintendo titles dominated this year's lists of best games all over the world. Nintendo hit hard with deeply re-imagined classics from Zelda and Mario, but also doubled down on new experiences like Splatoon 2. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, DOOM, and other big names fill the store these days, and the indie game scene in the Nintendo Store is massive.

Through my experiences, I find battery life to be a little inconsistent. Games that require more power will obviously drop the battery faster, which means some games will keep you playing for 4-5 hours on a single charge while others will drop your battery in half that. If I'm traveling, I know to bring a battery back with me when I want to play. When the Switch first launched, a good battery was a complicated thing to track down. These days, not so much.

The coolest part about my Switch experiences by far has been sharing with my kids and watching my kids share with their friends. My kids aren't old enough to have ever really enjoyed the multi-player living room experience like they have on the Switch. They're all used to needing their own screens to play "together" but not on the Switch. There are a bunch of games they can all enjoy together, and it's great to be able to participate in that.

This should be obvious by now

Should you buy it? Absolutely.

Nintendo got things right with the Switch that I didn't even realize were wrong on other consoles. It's a high-quality gaming experience that got me to put my phone down and enjoy a better class of gaming when I'm not at home. My kids love it, I love it, and if you enjoy gaming but are not always in your living room there's a good chance you're going to love it as well.

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Nintendo Switch


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