Friday, April 21, 2017

By Patrick Hawes-DeFrias

A bit over a month into the Switch's life, I've had plenty of hands-on time with Nintendo's latest console... handheld? Let's just go with "game system" for now. Today we'll take a look at the Switch’s design, compare it with control styles of other systems, and analyze its features. Let's begin!

The first question most prospective buyers of the Switch will have is "how small are those controllers?"
The answer? Pretty darn small, actually.
Here we have the right Joy-Con compared with (from left to right) a 3DS cartridge, a Switch cartridge, and lastly a PS Vita cartridge. Thus, you can see how small the Joy-Con is- about 3 1/2 3DS carts long. Interestingly, the Vita cart is actually a bit skinnier than the Switch cart, while the thickness of the 3DS and Switch carts is about the same. Though, Vita carts are a tiny bit wider than Switch carts. Here's a comparison with my hand:
As you can see, I've got fairly chunky hands, but my fingers aren't all that long. I was shocked to find out that the controllers didn't feel too out-of-place in my hands, but I can tell that it'd be incredibly awkward for anyone with hands even a little bigger than mine. Most users, I'd imagine, will want to use the Pro Controller, or the Joy-Con Grip ... speaking of which:
Here we see the Joy-Cons in the Grip next to a PS4 controller. The awkward shape of a square on top of a normal controller grip initially looks like it'll be a nightmare, but in practice it works fairly well. Buttons being used as a d-pad allows for good precision, though the triggers are really just buttons, which makes games that utilize them such as Breath of the Wild feel a bit strange until you get used to them. Near the bottom of either Joy-Con, you'll see a button- on the right is the home button, which just like the PS4 and Xbox One, brings you back to the home screen. On the left is the capture button, which I didn't even know the Switch was going to have. Pressing it takes a screenshot, which is added to a gallery in the home screen for viewing or sharing. The Joy-Cons/Grip are a tad slimmer than the PS4 controller, and they're noticeably lighter, making them a bit odd to those used to contemporary controllers, but not a bad showing all-around. I'd guess that either handheld mode or this controller layout will end up being the most widely-used option Switch users will operate the system with going forward.
Of special note: the Joy-Cons charge by being attached to the Switch. Meaning, you CAN'T charge them while using the Grip, or just while using them apart from the Switch. So, if one or both Joy-Cons runs out of power, you'll either need to play in handheld mode, change controllers, or stop playing for a while. There is a version of the Joy-Con Grip called the Joy-Con Charging Grip, which can be plugged in. I haven't felt the need to get one yet because the Joy-Cons do last for several hours before needing a charge, but it is something worth considering for a new customer.
Here, we see the Switch in comparison with the Vita, which I thought was the most comparable with the Switch's handheld mode in terms of design and size. The Switch is definitely bigger, screen included. It's also here that we see how asymmetrical the Joy-Cons are, similar to the Xbox line of controllers. This leads to a problem for certain multiplayer games, but we'll discuss that more later on. One final system comparison:
Now, I never got the New 3DS, 3DSXL, or New 3DSXL, or a 2DS, so the final comparison I have for tonight is my original 3DS. Here we see just how much bigger the Switch is over its handheld predecessor, which makes sense as this system is no longer using a clamshell design or dual-screen technology. This does, however, bring up a problem- the Switch is far less portable-friendly than the 3DS. With a screen as big and as powerful as the one used by the Switch, you'll want to invest in a screen protector and/or a carrying case if you plan on bringing it out and about. This, of course, is a necessary compromise to make the Switch a true visual upgrade from the 3DS, which by now is well-known for its "meh" resolution, and certainly a change had to be put in place to make the Switch powerful enough to be usable as a home console. Thus, less protection from the elements in exchange for an overall more powerful system. This change I understand, but the next... well, you'll see in just a moment.
Here, we see the Switch's kickstand, which allows it to stay upright on a table or other flat surface. Notice that port inside it? That's the slot for a micro SD card memory expansion. So, if you want to use the kickstand, which will likely be in an outdoor environment, you'll also be exposing the SD card slot to the elements, so be careful where you put it. This decision baffles me, to be frank. What's more, the kickstand just doesn't feel good. It's made out of a very thin plastic, and you have to push it a bit too roughly for my taste to get it to snap into place. Every time you use this stand, you're going to feel as if it's about to break. One last thing about the kickstand- for some reason, the stand is on the right side of the Switch, rather than in the middle as you'd expect it. Meaning, on top of it feeling flimsy and exposing your micro SD card, it ends up being pretty easy to tip the system over anyway. Unlike the console being rendered less portable in exchange for sheer power, I feel like this was a compromise where nobody really won out.
Let's take a closer look at those Joy-Cons. Here, you can see that since each Joy-Con is a controller in and of itself, they each have little bumpers at the top. Now this is a bit awkward, but that's where these attachments come in:
These are the Joy-Con Straps, which extend the controllers a little bit, make the bumpers less awkward, and of course give the controllers safety straps just like the Wiimote. They slide on using the same rail system that attaches the Joy-Cons to the Switch and Grip, and they also have a white tab that helps lock it in place. Here's a picture of one close-up:
So as you can see on the right, there's the white tab conveniently labeled LOCK. Now, I would like to use these attachments, because sometimes I feel like using the Joy-Cons without the Grip, and the added size the straps give makes them feel better in my hand, but there is a slight issue with the lock. When you push the lock in, it causes the two pins in the strap to move in, locking it onto the rail. Problem- the pins never fully retract even when unlocked, meaning that you kinda have to force them off, and again, I end up feeling like I'm going to break something. Two final things to note about the Joy-Cons. The controllers are, of course, asymmetrical, in order to work as both one combined and two separate controllers. Well, unfortunately this leads to an issue with the right Joy-Con. The analog stick is in the middle of the controller, so if you're playing a multiplayer game, whoever gets that controller will have an awkward time. Lastly, the Switch, as you probably know already, has an NFC reader just like the WiiU. But the reader is in a very bizzare place, the right analog stick. So for all you Amiibo collectors out there be warned- it's incredibly difficult to use the reader if you keep your Amiibo in the box. You'll have to bend the bottom of the box and line it up just right. Now, if you're using a Switch Pro controller, thankfully the NFC point is right in the middle of the controller, so there's likely far less hassle.
The final thing I wanted to discuss was the charging port, which uses standard Micro USB 3.0. I can't confirm this, but I've been told that the Switch has been known to brick when using a charging cable other than the one included. So just to be safe, if you take the Switch out with you DON'T use a phone charger. Unplug the Switch power cable from the dock and bring that with you. Of course, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before Nintendo starts selling them individually, so if you felt like dropping the cash for it I'm sure you could grab a spare eventually. Oh, and one more thing- as you can see here, the port is on the bottom of the Switch, so charging while playing will be awkward, and charging while using the kickstand is basically impossible.

The verdict? The Nintendo Switch is a fascinating and revolutionary piece of hardware, but being the first of its kind has also rendered it quite awkward. There's several design decisions that work against the system, but this is balanced by the fact that the base concept is just so strong. Is it worth getting the Switch right now? I personally don't have any regrets getting it day one, but there's merit to holding off. If you don't have a WiiU and want to play Breath of the Wild, I'd say sure, go for it, since you'll get so many hours of enjoyment from that game it'll be time for the next Switch release before you know it. Otherwise it would probably be a better idea to wait until more games come out, because by then I'm sure the Switch will start being sold in bundles, such as with Super Mario Odyssey, and you'll be able to get a better deal.

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