Nintendo Switch: Answers and Questions

A New Paradigm Emerges with Nintendo Switch

We’ve known that Nintendo was developing a new system for over a year. Rumors have come and gone, and perhaps to no one’s surprise, a lot of them turned out to be true. The Nintendo Switch, revealed this morning in an energetic commercial from Nintendo, confirms a lot of those rumors, and expands on them.

What We Know About the Nintendo Switch Hardware So Far

The most important thing about a gaming console is not its specs, a line Nintendo has hewed toward for, well, forever. So it’s no surprise that the commercial didn’t really delve into any of that. Even so, we do know a little, and can infer a little more based on the video.

nintendo-switch-hardwareFirst off, the system is powered by an Nvidia Tegra processor, which covers both its CPU and GPU. We don’t know which model, but rumors suggest it’s Nvidia’s latest, the Tegra X1, and is the reason behind the cancellation of Nvidia’s Shield tablet. If the Nintendo Switch is using the latest Tegra X1 (or a custom variant thereof, more likely), then it should offer plenty of power. The specs for that chip include a 64 bit octocore ARM processor (4 “big” cores and 4 “little” cores) and up to 256 GPU cores.

We can’t confirm that, but based on Nvidia’s blog post about the Switch, it might well be the case, as they claim that “The high-efficiency scalable processor includes an NVIDIA GPU based on the same architecture as the world’s top-performing GeForce gaming graphics cards”, which seems to hint that the X1 or some variant of it is at the heart of the Nintendo NX–err, Switch.

Beyond the Guts

nintendo switch kickstandA nice touch on the tablet portion (assuming it’s in fact touch screen, of course, which wasn’t shown) is the included kickstand, allowing you to setup the screen on a table and use the controllers wirelessly to enjoy your games. And for wired headphone fans, you’ll be happy to see in the video that there’s an included headphone jack right on the dock.

Regarding the dock, two things are obvious: it’ll have HDMI out (duh), and it has two USB ports on the left hand side. Being 2016 I’d presume USB 3.0. No mention was really made of media capabilities, but it seems likely it’ll have some, given every Nintendo system for the last decade has.

Also, as rumored, the Nintendo Switch will, we learned, use cartridges. From what little we can see in the image, they appear to be about the size of Nintendo 3DS cartridges. Those carts maxed out at around 8GB, but rumors claim the Switch will have up to 32GB available on cartridges. With today’s games on Xbox One and PS4 often exceeding that size, it remains to be seen whether that’ll be enough, but to play the devil’s advocate, a lot of games are also smaller than 32GB and yet still are gorgeous and full of content.

Open Questions on the Hardware:

Why does the dock have USB ports?

Does the Switch support external storage for games? Movies? Music?

Does it have internal storage to tote around your own media or games collection?

Will the system include a MicroSD card slot like the 3DS does, so you can bring your own storage?

What’s the screen technology and resolution? It looked great in the video, but odds are good it was simulated.

Nintendo Switch and the Connectivity Question

As you no doubt noticed in the trailer, Nintendo Switch has detachable wireless controllers. The meaning here is pretty obvious: they’ll be Bluetooth and have integrated, rechargeable batteries. Wifi seems pretty obvious, given it’s 2016. But in one section of the video we also see that multiple people, each with their own Nintendo Switch, all gather to play multiplayer Splatoon together.

nintendo switch joycon multiplayerIn another scene, people use two Switches play a basketball game together, outside. In that setting in particular, finding a wifi router to connect to is pretty unlikely, so it seems probable that the Switch also supports WiFi Direct or something similar. Provided this is super easy for players to use, it could prove a huge hit for on-the-go gaming.

Open Questions on Connectivity:

What wifi version is supported?

What Bluetooth version?

Will the dock sport an ethernet port?

Will the Switch support bluetooth headphones?

Nintendo Switch: Controllers, Controllers, Controllers

The detachable controllers, called “Joy-Con” controllers (gotta work on those names, Nintendo), appear to be a hybrid between a classic NES controller and a modern controller. They each sport four buttons and an analog stick where you’d have found a D-Pad in days gone by, which makes sense given the greater utility of an analog stick in 3D games. Attached to the tablet portion, the four buttons on the left side appear to take the place of a D-pad. However, when using each of the Joy Con controllers as a separate controller for two players, it looks like the buttons essentially function as A/B/X/Y, just like on the right half. That’s a clever design idea.

nintendo switch pro controllerWe also saw the new Pro Controller, which looks to further adopt the design of the Xbox 360/Xbox One controller design and its offset analog sticks. A lot of gamers will definitely prefer this model of controller, at least for gaming at home. Playstation fans may be a little annoyed at the different layout, if they don’t like the Xbox controller, but I suppose, C’est la vie.

Open Questions on Controllers:

How many controllers can connect?

Will the Switch support Wii Remotes? The Wii U Pro Controller?

Will there be other types of controllers beyond the Joycon and Pro Controller?


Final Thoughts on the Nintendo Switch

I have to say, despite the fact that so many of the rumors and leaks turned out to be quite accurate, I still feel impressed by what Nintendo showed us in this video. Just from this we know we have a home console that doubles as a portable, that it supports local and wireless multiplayer, and that it apparently has the power to run Wii U software. Especially for a portable, that’s pretty fantastic. I appreciate, too, that Nintendo chose to focus on games and gameplay scenarios above all else for this introductory video. I fully expect them to announce various media features, including Netflix, Hulu, etc, but for now, I think the focus on games was the right choice.

So what do you think? Is Nintendo NX–err, Switch shaping up to be a console you’ll want to own?

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