Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Nintendo Switch might be a disappointment

The Nintendo Switch, the upcoming "next-gen" console by Nintendo, seems to be quite interesting.

Years ago there were already rumors about Nintendo's next console being some kind of hybrid between the 3DS handheld and the Wii U desktop consoles. Back then this seemed a bit far-fetched, and just some wild rumor that somebody came up with. However, it turns out that the rumor was absolutely correct.

The Switch is essentially a tablet-like portable console with detachable controller-halves on each side. You can attach it to a docking station, which is connected to a TV or monitor, and detach the controllers (or use a separate controller) in which case it will act like a desktop console. Or you can detach it from the docking station and use it as a relatively large portable console, a bit like a tablet with a physical controller attached to it (a bit like an oversized Game Boy Advance of sorts).

After the initial excitement, however, many people have pointed out some things that may be a bit of a disappointment.

While connected to a TV or monitor, it will support resolutions up to 1080p. However, the tablet part itself, which is used in the "portable" mode, has only a 720p (ie. 1280x720) resolution, which by modern standards is a bit low (especially given how physically large the screen is, which means that it has quite a low DPI density by modern standards.) It's not horrible, but it's a bit of a disappointment.

There is one saving grace to that, though, something that justifies the somewhat low resolution: It requires less rendering prowess from the graphics chip, and thus said chip can run in a lower speed mode, saving battery life.

However, apparently it's not limited to that. While still mostly at the stage of a rumor, it seems that, while detached, the console will not only run on a speed low enough to render the same content at the same framerate to its lower-resolution screen, but it will apparently run even slower than that, meaning that games will actually have lower graphical quality in portable mode.

Yet, still, regardless of this power-saving mode, it seems that the battery life is quite short. In the 2 to 3 hours range. (With a typical handheld one would expect at least 5 hours or more.) This seriously limits how much it can be used in portable mode (eg. during long trips).

The two controller-halves (Joy Cons as they call them) have their own battery, so that they can be used wirelessly while detached from the console. However, apparently there is no way to separately charge them other than having them attached to the console itself (or some accessory sold separately).

Moreover, apparently they cannot be charged when they are attached to the "Joy Con Grip", which is an accessory which can be used to make the two Joy Cons form a sort of traditional controller:


This "controller" is something that worries me, because of its ergonomics. The D-pad and the right thumbstick are rather awkwardly positioned. They don't look like they can be used comfortably.

Contrast to, for example, how these same controls are positioned in the Xbox One controller. (They are effectively at about the same distance from the base of your thumb as the left thumbstick and the ABXY buttons, making them comfortable to reach with your thumbs by just shifting them.)


Moreover, those grips (ie. those black "bulbs" that you hold in your hands to more firmly and comfortably hold the controller) are only usable in this configuration. That's because they are part of the grip accessory:


They are not part of the "Joy Cons", and thus not usable when using the console in portable mode:


The console looks quite uncomfortable to use in this mode because of that. And I'm talking from experience because the 3DS has the same problem, and it can be really awkward to use at times (for example, it's surprisingly hard to press the left shoulder button and the D-pad at the same time.)


At least in the New Nintendo 3DS the right thumbstick (that knob above the Y and X buttons) is more comfortably positioned than the right thumbstick of the Switch, which just looks awkward to use.

I don't think I'm exaggerating about this. Just take a look at this snapshot from Nintendo's own promotional trailer for the Switch:


Notice how the D-pad and the right thumbstick are positioned (although obscured by the person's hand, you can deduce its position from the previous image of the Switch above.) They look painfully uncomfortably positioned. And it doesn't even look like the person in this trailer is holding the machine incorrectly, as his index fingers look to be naturally positioned to press the shoulder buttons.

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