The Nintendo Switch launched over 10 days ago, and one of the big things no one had a clue about before the console arrived in everyone’s hands was what the software would be like. Now that we’ve spent some time with the Switch, we have a good idea what it offers on that front.
While the PS4 and Xbox One more or less nailed the user experience - the latter after a series of updates - Nintendo's Wii U faltered in terms of OS and usability, what with a tremendous amount of lag in menus that never quite went away for the duration of its life. Similarly, the 3DS was never as snappy as the PS Vita or even an Android device. To make things worse, both were barebones in terms of features, with options such as the ability to share images tacked on post-release in a manner that was far from intuitive.
We're happy to report the Switch breaks away from that unfortunate Nintendo tradition. Built on Nvidia’s Tegra X1 chip, the Switch offers snappy performance across the device. Its user interface goes for a minimalistic approach, with flat backgrounds, only two colour schemes, and an aesthetically-pleasing sans serif font throughout. You can use either of the two analogue sticks, or the touchscreen to navigate the Switch.
You may not see some of the features listed below until you install the day-one Switch update, which brought a bunch of network options – be it playing games with your friends online, adding friends, the ability to share screenshots to Facebook, and Twitter, or browsing the online store for digital content on – alongside a News tab, and the option to turn on your TV automatically when placing the Switch in the dock. SD card support also made its way to the system with this update.
As for the rest of what the Nintendo Switch offers in terms of functionality, this is what you need to know.
The central part for any device – and usually the first thing you see when you fire it up – is its home screen. With the Switch, it’s called Home Menu. Nintendo has opted for a carousel look to display your installed games, with the user icons in the top-left, important information – time, Wi-Fi, and battery status – in the top-right, and other system apps – News, eShop, Album, Controllers, System Settings, and Sleep Mode.
You can add battery percentage to the information bar, as well, in addition to the standard icon that gives you an inkling of how much you’ve left. You can get back to the Home Menu by pressing the home button on the right Joy-Con at any time, and bring up a quick setting page by holding it down. The latter contains options for sleep mode, auto-brightness, a brightness meter, and airplane mode toggle.
With the News app, if you've multiple accounts installed, you'll see news from all those regions. For example, when we linked accounts from the US, and Japan, the page fetched news relevant to both regions, which keeps you updated on the latest happenings, even if you may not fully understand half of it - unless you understand Japanese, of course.
On the home menu, whenever you get to any end of a list or screen, there’s a bounce animation and accompanying sound effect to signify that there's nothing beyond that item. It’s a nice touch.
Selecting the user icons on the top-left of the Home Menu takes you to the respective user page, which is a combination of your profile and account settings on Facebook. The categories on the left-hand side are: Profile, Friend List, Add Friend, and User Settings. Let’s go through one-by-one.
Profile does exactly what you think it would. You can change your user icon/avatar, and nickname; and see your online/offline status, and Friend Code.
The status is determined by whether you use the user account in a game. If it’s not attached to any game, it will display as offline even if the Switch is connected to the Internet. The Friend Code, on the other hand, is needed to pair up for multiplayer, part of Nintendo's archaic, and frankly frustrating, process.
Friend List shows the number of friends you’ve already added, and Nintendo currently allows for a total of 300. With no Nintendo social network for now, these are meant for multiplayer only, so you don’t need to add people to share things with them. We’ll get to that later.
In Add Friend, you can view Received Friend Requests; Search for Local Users; Search for Users You Played With; Search with Friend Code; and view Sent Friend Requests. It’s all very straight-forward, and needs no explaining, we believe. The local users feature relies on Bluetooth, so make sure you’re sitting close by to another Switch owner. There's even a Suggested Friends section in there, which shows people that you've interacted with, in other Nintendo apps – Miitomo, or Super Mario Run.
The last of those is User Settings, and contains a few different sections. There’s profile settings – with nickname, and user icon – which is a repeat of what you can also see under Profile. Then we have Friend Functions, which has an option for friend settings, and to manage block user list. Under friend settings, you’ll find privacy options, such as online status, play activity, and notification settings.
After that, on the same User Settings page, is the social media section. Selecting that opens the hidden Switch browser, and lets you link/unlink your Facebook, and Twitter accounts. Below that, you’ll find Nintendo eShop – eShop Settings, and Update Download Progress. The former takes you to the eShop app, that we’ll discuss in a minute, and the latter checks with the Nintendo server to refresh download status. Link Nintendo Account lists your attached email, and nickname.
Lastly, there’s a section called Number for Customer Support, which provides a unique identifier that Nintendo may need for a support inquiry.
When you open the Nintendo eShop, you’ll be asked to log in with your Nintendo account. If you’ve linked more than one, you’ll need to choose the one you wish to shop with. Different regions have varying selection of games, so you might want to create multiple ones to experience it all. For example, the Japanese store has a much better selection of indie titles.
On the left, you’ll see three sections - Recent Releases, Coming Soon, Enter Code. Again, it’s all straight-forward. Selecting any game shows you the details, along with videos and pictures that you can glance through. And of course, the purchase button is front and centre.
In Coming Soon, there’s no support for pre-order currently, except the option to add to wish-list. Like with the rest of the Switch’s UI, you can navigate using the Joy-Con controllers, or using the touch screen.
The top-right corner of the eShop shows your user icon. Tapping it takes you to Account Information, which on the first page shows your current account balance – maximum allowed $200 – location settings, password-entry settings, and active-console status. There are two options with password-entry, either every time you enter eShop, or to never ask your password.
Then there's the Wish List tab on the Account Information page, and an option for Redownload, for software and game DLC. Although there's start-up music for eShop, there's no background music like in the Wii, except the sound of navigation, or other keystrokes.
The Switch album contains all your screenshots, which even has a dedicated button on the left Joy-Con. Pressing X inside the Album gives you the option to multi-select, and delete pictures, while hitting Y lets you filter the album contents by game. Once you select a screenshot with A, you can choose to bring up further controls with a second press of the button. You can share screenshots to Facebook/Twitter, you can even add text as an overlay, copy the file to a microSD card, or delete it.
In Controllers, you’ve the option to change grip/order, or pair new controllers. It even shows you how much battery you’ve left on the two Joy-Con controllers.
The System Settings app is the hub of all available controls for the Nintendo Switch, be it changing brightness, themes, or TV settings.
Here are all the options you have –
On debut, the user experience on the Nintendo Switch is leaps and bounds over anything else the company has done with its recent devices. Nonetheless, it still lags behind the competition in some aspects such as Friends Codes being a means to social interaction. It will be interesting to see what else it brings in terms features in the months to come. Safe the say, much like the PS4, Xbox One, and smartphones, the UI will evolve as new functions become available.
Do you have any questions about the Nintendo Switch software? Leave them in the comments below.
We discuss the Nintendo Switch on the Transition, Gadgets 360’s gaming and pop culture podcast. You can subscribe to Transition via iTunes or RSS or just listen to this episode by hitting the play button below.