Having heard a lot about the Nintendo Switch in the build up to its March launch I was excited to get early access of the device in the home. This gave me a chance to test out the technology myself as well as seeing what other family members made of it.
So what does the Switch do that the likes of PlayStation and Xbox don’t? As ever with new devices the Nintendo Switch is a combination of existing technology put to new uses, but with some brand new tricks.
The controls themselves are the most novel and can be used in three configurations. When the Switch is in the dock and displayed on the TV like a traditional console you can use the Joy-Con controllers clipped into a holster to create a traditional joy pad configuration.
This isn’t new but does apply both materials and design intelligently to give the illusion that you are holding a single piece of hardware. It really does work very well and feels as ergonomic as any other console controller I’ve used.
More unusually you can slide out the two halves of the Joy-Con to create two separate controllers. These are a little smaller than the Wii Remotes and can be held horizontal or vertical depending on the game.
Although there is some familiarity in form factor, the technology packed into these diminutive devices has changed a lot. Firstly there is a new high definition rumble feature. A little like the rubble triggers on the Xbox One controllers, this lets the Joy-Con provide player haptic feedback that communicates more about what is going on in the game.
The level of detail in rumble here is impressive. One game tasks the player with counting how many virtual marbles are rolling around the controller just from the buzzes, jolts and bumps of its haptic system. What’s surprising is that it works really well.
The right Joy-Con has another piece of tech embedded in it. At the bottom is a camera that can “see” shapes and distances in the real world. A little like the Xbox Kinect, this opens new ways of playing games and new novel challenges.
The device has enough fidelity to identify the different hand shapes of Rock-Paper-Scissors as well as detecting whether someone has their mouth open or closed. In my tests it worked well, but will only really come into its own when games start putting it through its paces.
Unlike Wii Remotes the Joy-Cons also include their own batteries. Not only does this save money but it also means they can automatically charge when connected to the main Switch screen. One down side is that the provided Grip holster won’t charge the controller while playing — you need the premium version for that.
Moving over to the Switch tablet itself, the screen is bright and multi-touch with a finger. This is a move away from the lower quality single touch screens in older systems like the Wii U. It holds its own next to an iPad or other high-end devices and will make games look really clear and crisp.
The Switch is also quite small, a little smaller than the iPad Mini. This means that when you have it out the dock in handheld mode it feels like a system you really can take with you — not quite pocket sized but close.
When in the dock, as well as charging it transforms into a traditional console and instantly appears on the TV screen. That this works so seamlessly was crucial for Nintendo so players can really feel that they can "switch" between console and handheld mode.
Overall I was impressed with the technology and design I previewed in the Switch. While I would like the packed-in grip to offer charging and will miss backwards compatibility for Wii U or Wii games, the Switch has already got me very excited for what is ahead for the console.
In my family the kids have gone from vague interest to daily pestering about when we will have games to play on it. If there’s a better measure of the upcoming success of a device than how excited children (and big children) are about it I don’t know what it is.
My prediction is that this will sell out fast and stay sold out as we approach Christmas. Best order early if you don’t want to be disappointed.
Nintendo provided FamilyGamerTV a Switch for this preview.
Andy Robertson is a freelance technology expert for national press and broadcast media. He also runs the FamilyGamerTV YouTube channel