After months of waiting, Nintendo’s modular console has arrived - and it’s quite the doozy.
Is it, though, a platform without compare? See, while the Nintendo Switch does triple duty as a home console, play-anywhere tablet and multiplayer machine, it’s not the first to offer such modularity.
Take the iPad. Sure, it’s a tablet first - and performs that function very well - but it can also act as an at-home gamer and will do multiplayer, too.
With the Switch out on Friday 3 March, then, which is your best bet for a multi-functional games machine? We selected the five-star iPad Mini 4 - which is closest to the Switch on screen size and price - sent it into a darkened room with the Switch and poked them both with sticks until fighting ensued.
Here’s what came out of it.
Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad Mini 4...as a handheld
Our man Rob Leedham reviewed the Switch just this week and reckons it’s “portable perfection.” A classy build, clever controllers and a button layout that just begs to be held make the Switch a seriously capable go-anywhere playing platform.
Its 6.2-inch touchscreen only offers up a 720p resolution, but it’s big, bright and colourful all the same, with Switch games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looking a treat. A real-world battery average of around 4 hours solid gaming is decent, too, while a weight of 295g shouldn’t leave you with wrist ache.
As for the iPad? Well, its screen is better by a mile. Its 7.9-inch display - with a 324ppi pixel density - is a joy to look at, while at 299g its near identical to the Switch on the scales. You’ll get more play-time out of the Mini 4, too - with its 5124mAh cell delivering upwards of 6 hours solid gaming (depending on the title).
The true comparison, of course, is the gaming experience - and the Switch benefits greatly from being a platform with defined control inputs. As a touchscreen device, for some the iPad will simply never compare to the Switch’s dedicated Joy-Cons.
Stick the Mini 4 in a Gamevice, though, and things change. No, it’s not a solution with the same finesse as the Switch, but it delivers a very similar result - with arguably more diversity. For now, it really comes down to the type of games you play and how you want to play them - but the Switch isn’t the clear leader.
Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad Mini 4...as an at-home games machine
Here’s where the Switch pulls away a little. Stick it in the Dock and it’ll seamlessly switch from capable handheld to excellent sofa gamer.
Sure, it only outputs at a maximum of 1080p, but it means near-instantaneous big-screen enjoyment of the same titles that make the Switch a must-buy handheld for Ninty fans.
Can the iPad compete? Sort of. You can mirror your Apple tab’ on certain screens, using either AirPlay or a Digital AV converter that sticks in the bottom - but it just doesn’t quite feel the same.
Games rendered for the iPad’s screen might look no worse than Switch games, but the problem is simply that most are designed for playing on a tablet, not a TV.
Sure, if you’ve got your Mini 4 in a Gamevice you’ll have a similar controller solution to the Switch on your box - but the solution feels neither as fluid nor as enjoyable on the wall.
Winner: Nintendo Switch
Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad Mini 4...as a multiplayer platform
It’s a similar score when it comes to playing with your mates. One of the Switch’s coolest tricks is the ability to use one Joy-Con as a complete controller, meaning it is, by its nature, a multiplayer console.
Pop out the kickstand and you’ve got a dinky screen on which to battle your buddies over Snipperclips, Mario and more. Alternatively, pick up the Joy-Cons and hit 1, 2, Switch for cow-milking laughter.
While there are plenty of multiplayer games made for iOS, they simply can’t compete with the neatness of the Nintendo’s solution. Games on iPad generally take the form either of co-op or multiplayer on a single screen, or playing online against your mates.
And, while titles such as Fruit Ninja and Asphalt 8 are good fun, they just don’t feel as fluid or natively accessible as scooping up the Switch and having a bash.
Winner: Nintendo Switch
Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad Mini 4...on content, titles and online competition
Where the Switch does fall down - and it’s perhaps the biggest question mark hanging over the otherwise capable console - is the scale of its launch lineup, or lack thereof.
See, while you’ll get Nintendo exclusives such as Breath of the Wild and the addictive 1, 2, Switch at launch, the majority of titles for the Switch - and there aren’t all that many - are coming later in the year. Contrast that with the iPad and the Apple App Store, where literally thousands of games are just waiting to be played, and the scales tip pretty heftily in one direction.
Admittedly, many of those are glorified mobile games that can’t hold a candle to the scale of Breath of the Wild, for example, and won’t satisfy Nintendo fans’ thirst for Switch exclusives that can’t be found anywhere else. In fact, the Switch’s success hangs on those people’s lust for such titles.
For anyone else, though, there simply isn’t enough content on the Switch - especially with an eShop that, as of today, is yet to activate and no evidence of how well online play will, erm, play out.
Winner: Apple iPad Mini 4
Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad Mini 4...on price
A Switch will set you back £280. A 32GB iPad Mini 4 will set you back £380.
Firstly, that extra £100 gets you a fully functioning tablet that’ll do a whole lot more than gaming, whereas the Switch is, without Netflix and the rest, a fully focussed fun machine.
Secondly, that base price for the Switch is not indicative of what you’ll actually need to pay to get a proper setup. The Pro Controller - which you’ll want to buy sharpish - will set you back £65, while a spacious microSD card (a necessity, given the Switch’s restrictive capacity) will add another £30 or more.
Throw in the high cost of games - £48 for Zelda, for example - and the Switch soon becomes a pretty expensive investment, especially compared to the raft of free and inexpensive titles available for iOS.
Really, though, it comes down to what value you place on owning one. More so than a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One S, the Switch is a console that you’ll likely buy because it delivers an entirely unique gaming ecosystem unique to the platform. Yes, it’ll cost you a lot more in the long term than owning an iPad - even one with an £80 Gamevice attached - but it’s an experience that can’t truly be replicated.
Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad Mini 4 - and the winner is…
In fact, that’s something that can be said for the console as a whole. If you want a games machine that’ll go anywhere, work on your TV and do other stuff, too - not to mention offer up a lot more games and content - then buy an iPad Mini 4.
If you have to have those Nintendo exclusives, though, and want an experience that can’t be imitated - from the Joy-Cons to the astounding ease of the Dock - there’s no other answer than the Switch.
It’s not perfect - what with that mediocre battery life, limited storage capacity and absent online experience - but the Switch is perhaps Nintendo’s most complete gaming solution to date, which means it’s hard for an iPad to substantively match, even if it’s as good or better on paper.
Winner: Nintendo Switch