Skip to main content

Nintendo Switch hands-on: hardware makes a promising start, but software questions remain

Nintendo Switch hands-on: hardware makes a promising start, but software questions remain

/

It’s like getting a new iPhone that can’t connect to Wi-Fi

Share this story

Remember that episode of The Twilight Zone with the bookish guy and the broken glasses? “Time Enough at Last.” The TV Guide synopsis would go something like this: Henry Bemis is a humdrum bank teller who just wants to read books but never has the time. One sunny afternoon Bemis sneaks away to the bank vault to read, only to return to an empty bank, an empty street, and an empty city. While our man Bemis was on lunch, the world got obliterated by nuclear warfare. What luck! Bemis suddenly has decades of free time. As he bends over to grab a book, the glasses on which he depends to see, fall and crack. Surrounded by all the novels in the world, Bemis has no glasses with which to read.

I am reminded of the agony of Henry Bemis when I hold the Nintendo Switch, a magnificently designed piece of hardware with which there is very little to do — at least at the moment. In that way, it’s an inversion of “Time Enough at Last,” like having the perfect pair of glasses but little to see. As I write these impressions, the video game console is unable to download games or even sign onto Nintendo’s eShop. It’s unclear how its multiplayer features will work or if they will work, or how friendship profiles will connect Switch owners.

I am assured by Nintendo representatives these features will be added with a day one patch, and we will surely provide impressions when they’re added. But for now, nadda. Rather than further enumerate the many things I still don’t know about the console and its core features a little less than a week before launch, I’ll direct you to my peer Chris Grant’s piece at Polygon, “Nintendo is already repeating the Wii U’s mistakes with Switch.”

What I’m left with is a beautifully made slab of glass, plastic, and parts, and the complete mystery of how to use them should I ever want to do more than play Zelda. Perhaps that is enough?

It’s beautiful, it’s simple, and it feels a bit like magic

The tablet summons that giddy feeling I got from Apple’s original iPhone, and long before both, Nintendo’s own original Game Boy. It’s beautiful, it’s simple, and it feels a bit like magic. Nintendo has long encouraged players to step outside, and now they’ve made a home console that allows for that. Relaxing in a lawn-chair in my backyard while tooling around an open-world Zelda feels luxurious.

The screen is bright enough to go to battle with the midday Texas sun, though it looked better in the shade. It is generously wide and tall, still smaller than an iPad, but noticeably larger than a PlayStation Vita. Sticking with that comparison, I am happy to say the dual joysticks do the best job of any mainstream portable console at delivering precision close enough to a traditional controller.

It helps that, unlike its portable contemporaries, the Switch has the dozen buttons and two joysticks expected by most console games. Nintendo has fit a smorgasbord of inputs onto the Switch’s tiny physical real estate with the skill and efficiency of a longtime Manhattan studio apartment dweller: every surface and corner has its purpose. In the rear of the console is a kickstand, which doubles as a holster for the microSD card. A screenshot button rests beneath the buttons on the left, and an NFC reader is hidden within the joystick on the right. Both “sides” detach from the Switch screen, becoming their own discrete controllers — meaning every Switch console allows for two players to play out-of-the-box. Even the little controllers have hidden buttons, two tiny nubs set into the bar that connects each side to the tablet.

A minor gripe about these detachable controllers: the sides don’t release from the tablet with the ease shown in Nintendo’s commercials. The process requires a bit of fumbling, and I strongly recommend doing the maneuver over a table or while sitting on a very soft couch, lest you drop the machine altogether with a loud crack. I learned this lesson firsthand.

Which reminds me: the Switch is built from the ground up for maximum ASMR stimulation. It intentionally cracks, clicks, snaps, and swooshes. The kickstand has a satisfying clack; the controllers snap onto the tablet with on automated crack; and the joysticks zip back into place with an elastic thwip. I’m not the first person to make the point, and I certainly won’t be the last. Surely some entrepreneurial soul will produce the Switch ASMR YouTube channel the world deserves.

To survive long flights, the Switch may need a good portable charger

That audibly appealing kickstand might sound superfluous for portable gaming. I certainly assumed I’d use the machine as I have used the Vita, the 3DS, and every handheld that came before them, essentially lifting the machine toward my face and lowering my face toward the machine, creating a slouched and unhealthy posture that makes me look as if I never matured from my fetal stage. But wow, what a difference not gradually damaging your back makes to a portable game experience. The screen is large enough to work just fine from a spot on a desk, a small distance away. I do recommend having a wireless Pro controller — a large ask, I know, for the Zelda enthusiast on the go. In the box, you will find a bit of plastic that turn the left and right controllers that detach from the Switch, turning them into something resembling a normal wireless controller, but the result is small and cramped, and holding the plastic bundle feels a bit like posing as a T. rex, your arms and hands mushed together into a space not to scale with the rest of your body.

There are some other limitations to the Switch’s portability. I can’t provide a highly technical, professional stress test, full data point breakdown of the battery life, but I can say from firsthand experience that the battery depleted to half-full in the time it took to watch an episode of The Bachelor — a little under two hours. That makes the Switch ideal for gaming around the house or on a commute, but folks who want a portable console for long flights, let me direct you to the best options in portable chargers. Speaking of air travel, the kickstand is rather precarious, and the tablet fell over while sitting on my desk during a particularly intense typing storm. I can’t say for certain, but I’m skeptical of the tablet maintaining its ground against a mildly turbulent hop from JFK to LAX.

Of course the Switch plays just fine on a TV at home. As advertised, you simply slide it into a dock that takes negligible time to connect to a television or receiver with an included HDMI cable. A tired marketing phrase, in this case, is just a blunt truth: it just works. Again, I’m going off very limited and non-technical impressions, but I didn’t notice markable performance differences between the Switch as a portable and as a “home console.” That was a big concern going into the hardware, and while I still reserve final judgement, the Switch is off to a promising start.

What happens to portables without software? Ask the Vita

I just wish I could say the same about its software. A little over a week from launch, I can’t tell you a single thing about what it’s like to download games, play online with friends, or even format a microSD card. That is absurd. And while I know we will have answers, the fact that we don’t know at this point leaves me concerned, bordering on skeptical. It doesn’t help that Nintendo leadership can’t give clear answers to simple questions in Q&As.

My impression going into launch is that Nintendo has made an exceptional piece of hardware. But Sony did the same for its PlayStation Vita, a fantastic albeit idiosyncratically designed portable that was doomed by a muddy user interface and a lack of games. Maybe Nintendo will surprise us. Maybe the day one patch will solve its historic problems with online IDs, and maybe the eShop will have a crop of classic Nintendo games for some version of the virtual console. Who knows? That’s the problem. The Switch is promising hardware. You know what, I’ll just go ahead and say it: as a fan of the Vita, the Switch feels like my dream console. But hardware needs software, and right now I can’t speak to the Switch’s games — or even its user experience.

Photography by James Bareham / The Verge

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 32 minutes ago 10 minutes in the clouds

A
External Link
Andrew J. Hawkins32 minutes ago
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


E
TikTok
Elizabeth LopattoTwo hours ago
Spain’s Transports Urbans de Sabadell has La Bussí.

Once again, the US has fallen behind in transportation — call it the Bussí gap. A hole in our infrastructure, if you will.


J
External Link
Jay Peters4:28 PM UTC
Doing more with less (extravagant holiday parties).

Sundar Pichai addressed employees’ questions about Google’s spending changes at an all-hands this week, according to CNBC.

“Maybe you were planning on hiring six more people but maybe you are going to have to do with four and how are you going to make that happen?” Pichai sent a memo to workers in July about a hiring slowdown.

In the all-hands, Google’s head of finance also asked staff to try not to go “over the top” for holiday parties.


E
External Link
Elizabeth Lopatto4:21 PM UTC
Insiders made the most money off of Helium’s “People’s Network.”

Remember Helium, which was touted by The New York Times in an article entitled “Maybe There’s a Use for Crypto After All?” Not only was the company misleading people about who used it — Salesforce and Lime weren’t using it, despite what Helium said on its site — Helium disproportionately enriched insiders, Forbes reports.


J
Youtube
James Vincent2:50 PM UTC
Nvidia’s latest AI model generates endless 3D models.

Need to fill your video game, VR world, or project render with 3D chaff? Nvidia’s latest AI model could help. Trained on 2D images, it can churn out customizable 3D objects ready to import and tweak.

The model seems rudimentary (the renders aren’t amazing quality and seem limited in their variety), but generative AI models like this are only going to improve, speeding up work for all sorts of creative types.


R
Richard Lawler1:02 PM UTC
Green light.

This week Friday brings the debut of Apple’s other new hardware. We’ve reviewed both the new AirPods Pro and this chonky Apple Watch Ultra, and now you’ll decide if you’re picking them up, or not.

Otherwise, we’re preparing for Netflix’s Tudum event this weekend and slapping Dynamic Island onto Android phones.


The Apple Watch Ultra on a woman’s wrist
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
J
External Link
Jess Weatherbed12:31 PM UTC
Japan will fully reopen to tourists in October following two and a half years of travel restrictions.

Good news for folks who have been waiting to book their dream Tokyo vacation: Japan will finally relax Covid border control measures for visa-free travel and individual travelers on October 11th.

Tourists will still need to be vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test result ahead of their trip, but can take advantage of the weak yen and a ‘national travel discount’ launching on the same date. Sugoi!


T
External Link
Thomas Ricker11:00 AM UTC
Sony starts selling the Xperia 1 IV with continuous zoom lens.

What does it cost to buy a smartphone that does something no smartphone from Apple, Google, Samsung can? $1,599.99 is Sony’s answer: for a camera lens that can shift its focal length anywhere between 85mm and 125mm.

Here’s Allison’s take on Sony’s continuous-zoom lens when she tested a prototype Xperia 1 IV back in May: 

Sony put a good point-and-shoot zoom in a smartphone. That’s an impressive feat. In practical use, it’s a bit less impressive. It’s essentially two lenses that serve the same function: portrait photography. The fact that there’s optical zoom connecting them doesn’t make them much more versatile.

Still, it is a Sony, and like.no.other.


C
External Link
Corin Faife10:44 AM UTC
If God sees everything, so do these apps.

Some Churches are asking congregants to install so-called “accountability apps” to prevent sinful behavior. A Wired investigation found that they monitor almost everything a user does on their phone, including taking regular screenshots and flagging LGBT search terms.


J
External Link
James Vincent8:41 AM UTC
Shutterstock punts on AI-generated content.

Earlier this week, Getty Images banned the sale of AI-generated content, citing legal concerns about copyright. Now, its biggest rival, Shutterstock, has responded by doing ... absolutely nothing. In a blog post, Shutterstock’s CEO Paul Hennessy says there are “open questions on the copyright, licensing, rights, and ownership of synthetic content and AI-generated art,” but doesn’t announce any policy changes. So, you can keep on selling AI art on Shutterstock, I guess.


T
Thomas Ricker6:58 AM UTC
This custom Super73 makes me want to tongue-kiss an eagle.

Super73’s tribute to mountain-biking pioneer Tom Ritchey has my inner American engorged with flag-waving desire. The “ZX Team” edition features a red, white, and blue colorway with custom components fitted throughout. Modern MTBers might scoff at the idea of doing any serious trail riding on a heavy Super73 e-bike, which is fine: this one-off is not for sale. 

You can, however, buy the Super73 ZX it’s based on (read my review here), which proved to be a very capable all-terrain vehicle on asphalt, dirt, gravel, and amber fields of grain.


R
Richard Lawler12:25 AM UTC
The sincerest form of flattery.

I had little interest in Apple’s Dynamic Island, but once a developer built their spin on the idea for Android, I had to give it a try.

Surprisingly, I’ve found I actually like it, and while dynamicSpot isn’t as well-integrated as Apple’s version, it makes up for it with customization. Nilay’s iPhone 14 Pro review asked Apple to reverse the long-press to expand vs. tap to enter an app setup. In dynamicSpot, you can do that with a toggle (if you pay $5).


DynamicSpot app on Android shown expanding music player, in the style of Apple’s Dynamic Island in iOS 16.
DynamicSpot in action on a Google Pixel 6
Image: Richard Lawler
R
TikTok
Richard LawlerSep 22
TikTok politics.

Ahead of the midterm elections, TikTok made big changes to its rules for politicians and political fundraising on the platform, as Makena Kelly explains... on TikTok.


R
External Link
Richard LawlerSep 22
The Twitter employee who testified about Trump and the January 6th attack has come forward.

This summer, a former Twitter employee who worked on platform and content moderation policies testified anonymously before the congressional committee investigating the violence at the US Capitol on January 6th.

While she remains under NDA and much of her testimony is still sealed,  Anika Collier Navaroli has identified herself, explaining a little about why she’s telling Congress her story of what happened inside Twitter — both before the attack, and after, when it banned Donald Trump.