With every new games console comes a whole ecosystem of third-party accessories, but most of them aren't as necessary as they'd have you believe. Thankfully, that's not the case with the SwitchCharge, a beefy battery pack for the Nintendo Switch. After a few weeks with the device, we're happy to report that it actively solves some of Nintendo's niggles, earning its place in our bag basically every time we leave the house with the Switch.
We've been singing the Nintendo Switch's praises ever since it launched over a year ago, but it's not perfect by any means. Anything that's portable will inevitably have battery woes, and topping it up on the go means crawling behind your TV, unplugging the power cord and bringing it with you. Of course, you can buy a second cable, but then you can't charge while playing in tabletop mode, since the port is on the bottom of the console.
In one fell swoop, the SwitchCharge solves all those problems. Crowdfunded into existence last year by London-based start-up InDemand Design, the device wraps neatly around your Switch, and boosts the battery life with a generous 10,000-mAh lithium polymer (LiPo) cell. That massively extends your portable playtime, and means you can leave the power cable at home, where it belongs.
Playing in tabletop mode is also less of a game of Russian Roulette now, too. The Switch's flimsy, lopsided kickstand has been replaced with one that stretches the whole width of the device, so it won't topple over in a whisper of wind. While there are a range of angles it can be set to, the locking mechanism is a little loose, so sometimes it just slides all the way open anyway. Still, it gives more options than the basic Switch can.
As well as kicking the kickstand up a notch, the SwitchCharge fixes another problem of tabletop mode: namely, being able to charge while playing. To top it all off, the device packs in a couple of nice little bonuses, like a pair of slots for extra game cards and a USB port to siphon off some of that juice to your phone.
But first things first – how much extra battery life does the SwitchCharge actually give you?
To test the device, we fully charged and drained the SwitchCharge twice, playing a mix of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and the eerie indie puzzler Little Nightmares. On our first run, we squeezed nine and a bit hours out of it, and the second time we managed close to 10 hours.
Considering the Switch alone has a battery life of about three to four hours, that's an extension of about 2.5 to three times the norm. In both runs, we played the Switch alone until its battery died (3.5 to 4 hours), then hooked it up to the SwitchCharge and played while it was charging (2 hours or so), and then had another 3.5 to 4 hours of play on the console's newly-fully-charged battery.
That 10 hours sounds like it falls short of InDemand's projected "up to 12 hours," but there's a few things to consider here. Zelda and Donkey Kong are pretty heavy-duty games – you could probably wring out more time playing less demanding titles, like the indie darlings popping up all over the Nintendo eShop.
Plus, it takes more power to charge the console while playing it. You might be able to stretch it to fill the battery twice over by charging from empty to full without playing in the meantime.
Either way, we're excited by the prospect of longer Switch sessions – especially with a six-hour flight coming up. The naked Switch would last a bit over half that trip, but with the SwitchCharge we could get there and halfway back again.
Given that the Switch is powered by a regular old USB-C port, it could be argued that cheaper, general-use battery packs will do the same job as the SwitchCharge. But trust us on this – it's way better to have a charger specially designed for the console. Others don't always have the grunt to keep up with the console, and in some cases the battery will still drain even while plugged in.
The SwitchCharge just feels better to use, too. For the most part it stays out of the way, clipping around the console rather than dangling awkwardly off the bottom. To say you don't notice it isn't entirely true – the battery definitely adds a bit of bulk and weight to the already-hefty handheld – but it's a tradeoff that's absolutely worth making, given the positives.
Another small niggle is the fact that the extra thickness can make it a little hard to reach the power and volume buttons on the top of the Switch. But again, this is a pretty minor setback.
The device looks like it's seen some changes since the prototype revealed last year ahead of the Indiegogo funding campaign. The kickstand now hinges from near the top, rather than halfway up – most likely to add stability. And there was no previous mention of the ability to also charge phones, so that's a nice little bonus.
But if you've crunched the numbers, you might notice that the SwitchCharge was originally marketed as having a 12,000-mAh battery, while the final product is down to 10,000 mAh. We checked back through the Indiegogo Backer Updates and found that the team swapped it out when the original product didn't deliver the extra hours they wanted. Instead, a 10,000-mAh alternative was found that did – with the added advantage of being thinner and lighter than the old one. And really, the extra hours of playtime are the most important metric here.
It's not often that a third party gaming accessory grabs our attention, but the SwitchCharge is the rare exception, solving several of the built-in shortcomings and quirks of the Nintendo Switch. From now on, anywhere our Switch goes, the SwitchCharge will follow.
The SwitchCharge is available online, starting at US$85.
Product page: SwitchCharge
Update: April 9, 2019: It's come to our attention that many people who backed and ordered the SwitchCharge have yet to receive the device, and the company appears to have gone quiet. Although we did enjoy the product itself, we'd recommend exercising some caution before ordering one now. We've reached out to the company for comment on the matter.
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