The Nintendo Switch has been enjoying a surge of success ever since it launched last March. It has managed to take the world by storm with its hybrid functionality. The feature is loved not only because it is cool, but also because it is quite useful. Portability has helped the Switch stand out from the other systems on the market, arguably allowing it to stand in a category all its own. But, there is something brewing in another part of the gadget world which could potentially steal the system’s thunder: gaming-oriented mobile phones.
Mobile gaming has been a thing for several years now. It has been rather remarkable seeing how the market has grown in such a relatively short period of time. Ever since mobile devices became mainstream, tech companies have been working around the clock trying to out-do each other with one hardware advancement after another. The rapid boost in capabilities is a big contributing factor in the growth of the mobile gaming market. As the devices have gotten more powerful, developers have been able to make more advanced games, which in turn attracts more people, thus pushing companies to continue their advancement, and so on. We see this cycle continue to play out each and every year, and the results cannot be understated.
We’ve gotten to the point where game engines like Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 have been scalable enough to power games on not just high-end PCs, but even mobile phones. Now, things are getting even more serious. Last year, the Razer Phone hit the market, formally introducing the world to the “gaming phone” category. Now, Asus, a very popular brand in the PC gaming world, has kicked it up a notch with the recent announcement of its upcoming ROG Phone.
Powered by Android, the ROG Phone has 8GB of RAM, an Adreno 630 GPU 2.96GHz Snapdragon octa-core processor, and a 90Hz screen with HDR. Its accessories include a dual-screen handheld dock to mimic a dual-screen PC set-up, and for a real PC-like experience, there’s even a desktop dock that turns the phone into a mini computer, with ports for a mouse, keyboard, audio and video output. The phone also has a dedicated gaming mode that streamlines the OS to keep the action focused on the game session. There’s also an attachment that has a fan to keep the phone cool to further boost gaming performance. Indeed, the ROG Phone is no toy. Asus is treating it pretty much the same way as all of its other gaming machinery, hence the reason why it sports the ‘Republic of Gamers’ branding in the first place. But, is it enough to take on the Switch?
The New Asus ROG Phone has quite the spec sheet. But, power isn’t everything.
On paper, the ROG Phone is packing quite a punch. The aforementioned specs definitely put it way up there in the mobile phone realm. To an extent, it makes more sense to draw a comparison between it and the Switch more-so than it is to compare the Switch to the PS4/Xbox One. That’s due to the fact that the Switch is also powered by mobile components, including a Tegra X1 GPU with 4GB of RAM and a quad-core ARM processor. The ROG Phone does actually outpace it in terms of raw processor speed and RAM. So, that’s it then, right? The Switch is doomed—it’s been outdone by a mere phone! Well, no, it’s not quite that simple.
Truth be told, the Switch is in an interesting position. As stated before, due to the mobile market constantly getting fresh new devices, hardware advancements are being made quickly. Meanwhile, the Switch will remain outfitted with its current specs until the end of its lifecycle. Even so, the Switch has one big advantage up its sleeve: it’s a dedicated gaming machine.
Even with the arrival of devices like the Razer Phone and ROG Phone, it is not as though every developer is going to now try and port all of their games over to mobiles. There are a few studios that try to rework their games into mobile titles, but these mobile editions are very rarely functionally on-par with the console versions. On top of that, the biggest point to take into consideration is that there is a massive amount of fragmentation in the mobile market. Leaving iOS out of the equation, the Android ecosystem is a beautiful mess. There are billions of devices out there, but so many of them are either old or budget-focused. Thus, the specs simply are not up-to-snuff to run demanding titles. Devices like the Razer and ROG phones are impressive, but they lack mainstream appeal. This is mostly due to the high price tag, on top of not having the same brand power as names like Samsung, Apple, Google, etc. Also, these are still phones after all. Most people that buy a phone buy one as a general purpose device. So, raw performance is not high on the priority list of most consumers. The Razer and ROG phones of the world are dedicated to a small, niche audience. The Switch, on the other hand, is completely opposite in almost every way.
The one advantage the Switch will always have over any mobile device is that it’s a dedicated gaming machine.
Although it has been built with mobile components, the Switch is still considered to be a game console. Thus, it has been designed for the very purpose of playing games. We have heard on multiple occasions that the dev tools are rather simple, so most studios have had a pretty straightforward time bringing their games over. The icing on the cake is that, unlike the Razer and ROG phones, the Switch has mainstream appeal since it has the brand power behind the Nintendo name, along with a very attractive price tag. Sales have been high, and as long that continues to be the case, this will inspire developers to keep their support rolling, thus leading to more attention from consumers. If this cycle continues to play out for the next few years, things should be smooth sailing for the Switch.
While I am still very impressed to see devices like the ROG Phone coming out, I cannot help but wonder if it is even worth it. There are some high-quality mobile titles out there, but the vast majority lack the depth and complexity of “real” games on “real” consoles.
Again, these devices only appeal to a very small niche, so that’s not going to inspire developers to dedicate resources to take full advantage of these high-powered devices. So, ultimately, I do not see the arrival of these devices having too much of an effect on the Switch. If anything, maybe it will allow developers to learn some new techniques for working with mobile hardware that can probably also be applied to the Switch.