So the Nintendo Switch has been out for a few weeks now, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s kinda huge. Like “the biggest launch for a console in Nintendo’s history”-huge. But, for all the slavering demand for the Switch, it clearly has its problems. Syncing issues with some controllers, not enough supply (a chronic issue for Nintendo), plastic screens that can get scratched just sliding it into the cradle, framerate issues, etc. I’m sure all of these issues will be sorted out in due time, but for now, these are very real issues which plague the system.
That all said, does this mean the Switch can be beaten at their own game? Specifically, can someone produce a handheld gaming platform, which can easily be connected to a television for playing at home, with wireless controllers? I decided to see what I could find online, in the hopes of building a comparable system to the Switch, hopefully for a lower cost.
Now then, a few caveats before I begin. First of all, this system won’t be a complete replacement for the Switch, because of a few factors: Can’t replicate or replace the Joycons, can’t come up with a system to emulate Switch games that don’t appear on the Wii U, can’t easily replace the docking system, etc. Also, the likelihood of keeping this system under $300-400 is very slim, but I’m going to try.
In short, don’t expect perfection.
The first option I checked was the Nvidia Shield platform. Being a tablet designed to work with a specific controller, coupled with a media center that can stream games to your television, this seemed like the obvious choice. Unfortunately, there are simply too many problems with the Shield to make it work. It runs Android, requires you to have a separate PC using a modern Nvidia video card to be able to stream games, and overall has lower hard drive space and memory than the Switch does (stock).
But that did get the ball rolling, as the Steam forums have lots of people discussing a similar topic: Which tablet should one choose, to be able to play Steam games? Well, the simple fact is that – if one were to try to compete with the Switch – using Steam to provide the games would be the natural choice.
Unfortunately – again – this leads to a variety of options which might work overall, but are all way too expensive to compete head-to-head with the Switch. Most people chose the Microsoft Surface Pro (Model 3), due to the price-point being under $400, larger screen, better stats for RAM and hard drive space, etc. But the simple truth is that the Surface Pro is not a gaming machine. You could get it to play a variety of retro games, but I doubt most Steam games will play on this platform, at least not well. Plus, with a decent controller and HDMI cable, you’re now at or over the $400 price limit for the project.
One option I found intriguing was the Wikipad Gaming Tablet. While this Android-based tablet isn’t a perfect match for the Switch, it is pretty damn close! Yes, the Wikipad is technically smaller, and it technically has half the storage capacity (stock), and technically the controller it uses is not wireless (although you can use any Bluetooth controller to connect to it, while the tablet is connected to your TV via HDMI. And both devices run with Tegra chips, so they should have comparable performance.
Basically, if you want a straight-up competitor to the Switch, the best choice is the Wikipad… assuming you can buy one. They are no longer available in the US or Australia, and those I did find for sale were in Great Britain… Except they can’t be shipped to the US.
So the hunt continues. I believe I might try just adapting my Kindle Fire HDX to the task (it can connect to Bluetooth controllers, and can stream the video to my television, although that might not make for an optimal play experience. But it will play games, for example Blizzard’s “Hearthstone”, and comes in under the price-point I adopted. When I come up with some results, I’ll post again on this subject.