So far, there are nearly 8 million people worldwide who are enjoying the hybrid functionality of the Nintendo Switch. There’s never been such a versatile home system; having the ability to take full console experiences on-the-go is still mind-blowing. But, some have criticized the system, claiming that it still falls far behind that of a gaming laptop. As someone who owns a gaming laptop, I can say I’ve had a few out-of-the-house gaming sessions thanks to it. So, here’s the question: which one of these portable gaming machines offers the best experience?
Let’s get something out of the way one time: the Switch is a tablet. Well, technically. Nintendo and Nvidia somehow managed to cram the power of a decent home system into a slightly chunky tablet-like design. With this being the case, it’s already leaps and bounds more portable than even the leanest gaming laptops. After all, tablets were created to be more portable alternatives to laptops.
Here’s a good example to demonstrate this: playing on an airplane. In the Switch announcement trailer, one of the scenarios that were used to show how portable the system is involved a guy taking his Switch on a flight. He sat comfortably in the notoriously small airplane seat and was able to play just fine. I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to be able to comfortably use my gaming laptop on a plane ride. The food tray that you have to place it on is just so tiny, and the overall space is so cramped I can’t even tilt the screen back to see it properly. Not to mention the brightness level you’d have to keep it at would no doubt be distracting the person next to you, especially on an evening flight.
This is a very specific scenario, but it shows just how much more versatile the Switch is. You can take a laptop just about anywhere, but you can’t necessarily use it (or use it comfortably) everywhere. With the Switch, the odds are much more in your favor.
That brings us to the next area:
Another criticism I’ve seen brought against the Switch a lot is that it has “poor battery life”. I wrote an article months ago talking about why this isn’t really the case, but let’s cut to the chase: the Switch’s battery life, like any other portable device, depends on usage. If you turn on Airplane Mode and keep the screen brightness at a modest level, you can maximize your battery usage. The power draw also depends on the game (this applies to other devices as well), ranging from about three to six hours. Of course, a simple 2D game like one of the NeoGeo classics is going to use a lot fewer system resources than an intensive 3D title like Rocket League, so this makes sense.
Gaming laptops vary in battery capacity, but most last a similar amount of time as the Switch does when gaming. But considering that laptops are more complex machines, it really won’t be long before you’re looking for an outlet. I’ve only seen one person game on a laptop in public while not plugged in; it’s doable, but the time will fly away rather quickly. Not to mention that most laptops usually sacrifice performance when in battery mode to conserve energy. This can be disabled, but it results in more power drain.
Even if you can get a decent gaming session in on just battery power, there isn’t much you can do when you’re out of juice completely. The Switch’s battery is compact enough that you can easily carry around a battery bank to keep the system going. The same definitely can’t be said for most gaming laptops, as their monstrous components require voltage levels that most battery banks can’t dish out.
Now for every (overzealous) gamer’s favorite topic to argue about, hardware capabilities:
One of the most repeated advantages I see PC gaming fans bring up against the Switch is that it’s graphical capabilities are a lot poorer than even a mid-range gaming laptop. Well, this can be said about basically all of the other consoles as well (minus the Xbox One X which does have quite a bit of power). This is true, as the Switch is the weakest of all the current systems. Yet, even so, it has just enough power to run modern titles rather well despite its tiny size. In fact, that tiny size is kind of an advantage, as the small 7-inch touchscreen does a great job at making the more modest visuals really pop.
While we’re on the topic of graphical capabilities, there’s something we need to remember here: consoles and PCs can never be directly compared from a tech standpoint. Consoles are closed systems, so developers can fully optimize their games to run on the specific components that each console has. On PC, you have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of different hardware configurations, all of which have different capabilities. So, basically, everyone on PC fundamentally has a different gaming experience.
To get the most out of any PC, it’s going to require a bit of an investment. This is especially true for gaming laptops, as they tend to be quite expensive due to engineers having to cram all that power into a portable form factor; something that isn’t easy to do, even for veteran PC builders. This leads to the last area I want to consider:
The whole reason why consoles exist is that they offer a simple, affordable gateway into gaming. This is why it doesn’t really make sense to directly compare any console to a PC. This is especially true when it comes to pricing. Right now, you can find Xbox One S and PS4 Slims for about $200. That’s the price of just some PC graphics card—which of course is only part of the whole hardware configuration. With the Switch being $300, please, show me any gaming PC that can match its performance at that price point? Here’s an even better challenge, find me a gaming laptop at that price point that can match the Switch’s performance.
Here’s a good example (albeit, an unfortunate one) of how costly gaming laptops are. I’m currently on a trip, and as soon as I got to my destination, I opened up my backpack to grab my laptop only to find that a portion of the screen had been cracked. It’s usable but needs to be replaced. How much will it cost? For a genuine replacement part, the cheapest I’ve seen so far is just shy of $200. Reminder: this is just the screen (well, it’s the touch screen assembly, but still)—again, a single component. The fact of the matter is, PCs, gaming laptops especially, can definitely burn a hole in your wallet. This is really the one area where there’s virtually no comparison whatsoever between gaming laptops and the Switch because it’s basically two different spectrums.
AND THE WINNER IS…
They’re both great.
So, which is the best? You might think that with the way I worded this article, I’d say “obviously the Nintendo Switch”. But, that’s not necessarily the case.
Ultimately, the answer is subjective. If you’re someone that typically games at home but would like to be able to carry your rig around (something that’s important to me as I’ve been traveling a lot this past year), then a gaming laptop would definitely suit your needs (you just need to have the cash for it). They can be very pricey, but they do offer a solid gaming experience without the bulk of a full-size desktop, as well as the other perks that come with it being a PC (multimedia, editing, etc.) The Switch mainly satisfies not just home console fans, but of course, also people who like to game on the go and aren’t big on mobile titles and want a richer experience than what the 3DS and Vita can offer.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each side, which is why you need to analyze your own situation to see which is the best fit for you. If you want the most portable experience, then definitely go for the Switch. But, if power and functionality are what you’re really looking for, then a gaming laptop would be better. Nevertheless, they’re both great in their own ways!