Which Console should you choose for portable gaming?

Why consoles? They are purpose-built for gaming.

The eternal question – what is the best gaming platform? The right question, as always, is what is the best gaming platform for you. Game exclusives are a thing on consoles more than PC, but they are a thing. If you have your heart set on playing Halo, you need an Xbox. Marvel’s Spider-Man? PlayStation. Mario/Zelda games? Switch.

This exclusives situation is partly why a lot of console gamers have a ‘big’ console and a portable. Or in other words, a PS4 or Xbox and a Switch.

Console gaming isn’t cheap, but it is less expensive than PC gaming. The cost of two consoles is comparable to a low to mid tier PC setup in terms of price. I am not recommending that you need to buy two consoles, but this is why a lot of the gamers you see on YouTube and the like have this kind of setup.

But that is what works for them – what about you? Did you decide on where you want to game?

Initially, I was going to do all of the consoles today in one piece. That was going to be a long read again, and I want to avoid that. So today, I am concentrating on the first type of console gaming – portable gaming.

Gaming on the go – The Nintendo Switch

Without playing on your phone or investing in some niche products, the Switch is the best console to take your games with you for playing anywhere.

Sure, technically there you can play on a gaming laptop, but they aren’t as portable as a Switch. Can you imagine setting up your computer on the bus?

The Switch eShop has a heap of PC indie games that are finally getting recognition on the Switch. There is also the first party Nintendo line up. A lot of people have complained that a lot of the Switch releases are ports of the Wii U games, and there is validity in that. But as the Wii U sold so badly comparatively speaking, a lot of great games just never got played.

Switch on a plane
My Switch has helped with many a plane flight, both during and before! Image Source: Nintendo

There are a couple of downsides to gaming on the Switch though. The first is the price. Nintendo games, especially first-party titles, rarely drop in price. Breath of the Wild is about $10-15 less now three years after it’s initial release. Compare this to games on PC, PS4 and Xbox, and you can all but bank on the game being 2/3rds to half the original release price!

The beautiful thing about the Switch is playing in handheld mode, the game runs the same on the Switch or the Switch Lite, as they are the same hardware. 

But aren’t the graphics on the Switch only 720p? Why would I want such a bad resolution?

This is where you shouldn’t always look just at the numbers. The Switch doesn’t have the same graphical or computational power as the PS4 or the Xbox. Even most lower end PC Graphics Cards can do better than the Switch Graphics. This isn’t really the point of the Switch though.

You won’t see Ray Tracing on the Switch anytime soon. Photorealistic graphics don’t run as smoothly on Switch as it’s more highly powered bretheren. That doesn’t mean that the Switch has bad graphics though.

I usually trip up ‘graphics snobs’ on YouTube with a simple search. What do I look for? Check out how much fun they have with Minecraft. If you ever wanted to watch people have fun with ‘basic’ graphics, there is a stellar example.

Asphalt 9
OK, it's no Gran Turismo. But Asphalt 9 still looks amazing, even on a 1080p screen.

A trick that Nintendo uses in their games is the art style. By not trying for realistic hair and fabric movement, they don’t need as much horsepower as other consoles. The graphical presenation of games like Breath of the Wild isn’t purely an aesthetics choice – it helps performance as well.

The 720p limit is also mainly imposed on handheld mode. How much detail can you actually see on a 6″ screen? When playing docked, most games are played at 1080p. Why can you only play 1080p in docked mode?

Battery life mainly. By not having to push as many pixels, the Switch doesn’t need as much power. This means that in handheld mode, it doesn’t run as physically hot or need as much power as in docked mode.

Luigis Mansion 3
Lower the scale, improve the quality. The reflections in Luigi's Mansion are an integral mechanic.

AAA games with photorealistic (or close to it) look amazing. I am not trying to say they don’t. But I have played a heap of graphically amazing games that are boring. It comes down to one simple question.

What’s more important – a great game, or great graphics? Of course we want both ideally. But if you look at games like Fez, Papers Please, Dead Cells or Celeste, you can’t tell me they are graphically impressive.

So it’s a case of picking your target. Yes, if a game is on PC, PS4, Xbox and Switch, the Switch will look graphically ‘poorer’ – but as long as it plays well, how important is it to you? This is where if you need better and smoother graphics, you need to sacrifice portability. At least today. Improvements continue all of the time, so better will always be around the corner.

After all that, there are two choices with the Switch – the Switch and the Switch Lite. It’s that simple. Both have the same game-playing hardware but differ in accessories and what they can (and can’t) do.

Let’s look at the Switch

The Switch comes with two detachable Joy-Cons, which you can use in a lot of games to play multiplayer with one Joy-Con each. 

The Joy-Cons also give you the benefit of motion controls and the rumble feature. Now for a lot of games, this is a pretty optional (some say gimmicky) feature. For many games, this isn’t a problem. But if you want to play Mario Party, prepare to shell out for some extra controllers to play the game at all!

It also comes with a Dock, meaning you can connect up your Switch to your TV and play in 1080p – the same base resolution as PS4 and Xbox.

So you can sit and play Breath of the Wild or The Witcher 3 (or any game!) on your couch on your big screen. When you have to go somewhere, pick up your Switch and keep playing on the go. It’s that simple. No syncing saves via Nintendo Online, no changing graphical settings, it just works.

Nintendo Switch
All the basics are included in the box

Now let’s compare the Switch Lite

The benefits of the Switch Lite are pretty simple. First off is the price – the Switch Lite is about AUD$150 cheaper. You also have almost everything you need in a smaller package, more comfortable to carry around with you. Battery life is even better on the Switch Lite.

There are drawbacks, though. Want to play on the TV? Sorry, you can’t just buy a dock and expect it to plug straight in. The functionality isn’t built-in.

The lack of Joy-Cons also means that you can’t just hand a friend a controller for some spontaneous Mario Kart. Some games, like Mario Odysee, also shine with motion controls – in my opinion anyway. You can remedy this by buying Joy-Cons, but that starts getting expensive as we will look at in a minute.

Nintendo Switch Lite
The console. For portable gaming, it's all you need.

Must have accessories (Both Systems)

An SD card. The Switch comes with 32ish GB of intenral storage you can use, but a lot of games will eat through this storage very quickly.

Don’t get sucked in to the ‘Switch’ branded memory cards though. They work well, and are a safe buy, but you are buying a standard SanDisk SD card with Nintendo’s licensing markup included.

If you want a safe buy, stick with SanDisk SDXC cards. You should be looking at about AUD$80 for 128 GB models. You can save some money and get smaller cards, but they will hold fewer games.

Nintendo cartridges are doing a bit of a sneaky. The cartridge has some of the game on them, but get you to download the rest of the game. There is no cost to do this other than internet use, but many people expect the game to be on the cartridge.

You can switch SD cards as well, so if you end up with a lot of games you can use this function for managing your storage.

Swith Memory Card
Retailing for AUD$59, you can get the same capacity Samsung Evo Plus for AUD$30

If you are playing portably, I would also recommend a screen protector and a case – just like your mobile phone.

I would suggest a budget of about AUD$60 for both a screen protector and a case, but this amount will change depending on the case you want to get. Bottom line is almost all cases are fine and will do the job, it’s a personal choice for the look you want. I only advise against cases that are fully soft (you can scuinch it up in your hand), as this reduced the protection for your Switch. Again, this is a personal choice though – a soft case might fit nicely in a pocket in your backpack.

The good news is you can’t really go wrong here. If the case holds everything you need, and you like the looks, it’s the right case. You can just protect your console, or get messenger bags dedicated to carrying all of your equipment. There are even lots of choices in between.

Switch Dock Case
You can get cases to take your entire setup, or just the console itself. It all depends on what you need to carry with you.

So which should I buy?

If you only play games on your own or online and don’t mind not being able to play games on your TV, then have a good look at the Switch Lite. If you have smaller hands and the portability is important, the smaller sized Switch Lite will probably be better for you to carry around. Also, if you want to play on longer trips a lot, the better battery life can’t be underestimated.

As a general recommendation, I would say stick to Switch. Why? The flexibility and included experience you get all included. And in total, it works out pretty cheap in comparison.

Yes, battery life isn’t as good – don’t forget that catch. But I like playing on my TV, and I can only do that with the Switch. I am a taller guy, so the larger Switch is still pretty easy for me to carry and play on.

There is also to me the Switch’s better value. Yes, it’s $150 more expensive, so saying it’s good value seems counterintuitive. But if you add Joycons to play multiplayer and motion control games with, that’s an additional AUD$120 you are looking to add. All of a sudden, it only costs you $30 to play on the TV! Playing Mario Kart multiplayer is a lot easier on 40″+ screens than the Switch’s 6ish” screen (depending on Lite/Switch).

Switch TV Frame
You don't need to go to this extreme, but I still think it looks amazing! Image Source: geekologie.com

Even if the dock did work with the Switch Lite, a dock by itself is also AUD$120, so in total that would be an extra $90 over just buying the Switch.

As always, it depends on your use scenario. The Switch Lite is excellent, and I can see why it works well for some people. If you are looking at it from a particular perspective, it makes a lot of sense. But hopefully, now you can see how the cheaper console isn’t always the most economical choice.

Wait, so the Switch is my only choice? What about the retro handheld consoles, or the 3DS? 

2DS XL
The last generation of 3DS ditched the 3D, but plays 99% of all the games
Evercade
This is one such Retro Handheld that has caught a lot of attention

So why I am not talking about the 3DS is simple – it’s an all but dead system. I am not saying they are bad consoles; just they are becoming a niche purchase.

Right now, if you can find a new 3DS on the shelves, you will probably be looking at only a little lower cost than a Switch. People aren’t releasing new games for the console anymore, not really.

Not only are the consoles hard to find, but games are a mixed bag as well. There is a heap of cheap DS games at my local EB Games, for example, but I don’t want to play many of them. All of the DS games I want to play I already own, and I still intend to make my way through the games I haven’t finished.

Some games though I am putting off for the Switch rerelease. One such game is Xenoblade Chronicles. I enjoyed what I played of it, but I was nowhere near finishing it! I can play the new streamlined and visually upgraded version on the Switch, on a much bigger screen – even if I don’t play it on my TV!

Retro handheld consoles are also a mixed bag, both in experience and legality. I am not trying to say that such consoles are illegal, but many of the more popular ones come with some undoubtedly illegal game versions.

These retro consoles also tend to require a lot of user tweaking for the best experience. A lot of the retro consoles I would recommend are locked to only a few titles, and this is done so you can pick a game and play. These offer the most hands-off experience, but only for certain older games.

Playing these older games have their place in what people want to play, and if you have any interest, I encourage you to give them a try. Seeing where elements of game design started, and how much we still owe to ‘old’ games is eye-opening.

Retro gaming is great, but for the majority of people aren’t what people are talking about when talking gaming. Besides, if you look through the Switch eStore, you will see a lot of these retro games designed to work well on the Switch as well! And if you are into modding and other ‘advanced’ tricks (and have the time to research the pros and cons), you can get the same emulators running on the Switch as well. That I will leave to others to explain.

Questions?

Hopefully, that helped you work out which Switch Console works for you. If you have any other questions, drop me a comment below or on Facebook. I have tried to keep everything pretty general, but if enough specific issues come up I am happy to look at particular situations!

Thursday I will be looking at the ‘big two’ – PlayStation vs Xbox, and if you need to spend the extra on the Pro or X versions.

Until tomorrow and the Yeti hunt,

JohnHQLD

The next big video gaming choice: Where do you want to play?

Switch on a plane

It’s not quite time to be talking hardware – there are other things to keep in mind still

Welcome back! So now you know we will be looking at the first step of hardware choices. Where do you want to play?

Most people will be saying “At home”. The gaming den is the dream of gamers everywhere. But this isn’t always the case. Spend a lot of time on public transport? That time could be spent gaming! Or maybe you catch up with friends for a LAN party regularly? Some people even need to move on short notice, and large gaming desktops computers do not like being transported easily.

This goes with your mindset. This is probably the most significant overlooked criteria I see when people look at what they want to do. It’s great to know you want total immersion, but if most of your free time is when you are out and about gaming on a desktop is all but out.

Switch on a plane
My Switch has helped with many a plane flight, both during and before! Image Source: Nintendo

There is no right answer here, it’s all about the right solution for you. So let’s have a look at some starting choices we will be building on as Talking Tech continues.

Some solid starting choices

Looking at all of the available games is daunting. Knowing what you want to play is even worse. Different people have different tastes. I love RPGs, and I am lucky that I can play them on almost anything. But how do you know what you want to play? 

Unfortunately, it’s like movies, books, music, or even cars – until you try them, you don’t know for sure. And you can’t try them until you make an investment. Of course, if you know someone that plays games and can try them out on their machines, it helps. But it’s not always that easy.

So if you are looking at playing a wide range of games, below I have some reliable starting places that you can look at as a safe starting choice. 

These aren’t recommendations – don’t look at them as such. But these will let you look at some options and the costs involved to get started from scratch and a feel for budgets, and we can build from here going forward.

At home gaming only

Bang for buck starting out, I would suggest an Xbox One S and Game Pass subscription. You can play hundreds of games for $15 a month (for ultimate), keep some freebies and try lots of different types of games.

Why do I recommend Ultimate Game Pass? It comes with Gold, which gives you free games each month for the extra $5. Plus right now, I can crossplay games with my desktop!

If the game is a Microsoft Game Studios one, you can even play it at launch on Game Pass. Look at spending AUD$400 + Game Pass subscription to get a good starter and excellent gaming experience.

Xbox One S Starter Pack
Xbox has starters and the digital only console. Every saving has some form of extra price.

You would have seen many headlines that PlayStation ‘won’ this console generation. While true in sales, that’s not really the whole story. I prefer PlayStation as a platform (I am a PlayStation fanboy), and it has more exclusive games than Xbox. That alone doesn’t make it the best console out there, but you can’t go wrong either.

PlayStation provides a great gaming experience, and you can usually get deals on the base PS4 and a couple of games for $500. Add $80 a year for PlayStation Plus, and you will get to keep a couple of new games each month as a part of the deal. If you want to dip your toes into VR as well, PlayStation is your console choice.

Today, you get access to some fantastic exclusive titles as well – more about that later.

PS4 Starter Pack
Starter packs are a great way to save a little money, but you still spend more

You can’t really go wrong on either platform unless you must play a title exclusive to one over the other. Have to play Halo? Don’t buy a PS4.

Looking for the Switch? Well, I consider the Switch a portable, even in docked mode. Check out ‘Gaming on the go’ for some Switch thoughts 🙂

For more power, choice and flexibility you would be buying/building a PC. You can get a system with a GTX 1660Ti/RX 5600 graphics card that will rip through games at 1080p for around AUD$2,000. This includes a monitor, keyboard etc. – the computer itself will be around the $1500 – $1600 mark. You can still take advantage of Game Pass, plus have access to Steam Sales and GoG.com which has great titles for much less than the console equivalent. Even Epic gives away a free game a week.

Does a system like that have all RTX this and 4K HDR that? No. But then again, I haven’t talked about the PlayStation Pro or the Xbox One X either. The highest performing graphic cards cost AUD$1400+ by themselves!

Basic Gaming PC
No flashy lights and bling, but works well (once you put the side panel back on :p )

Everything I have outlined here is for what I consider a solid baseline experience – 60 frames per second for smooth gameplay at 1080p (Full HD) resolutions. I wouldn’t look at anything less than these choices for a great experience. There are exceptions, but these are niche situations and should be looked at as such. For example, I would love a multi-game arcade cabinet at home, but I can’t play Resident Evil 3 on it!

Can you do better? Yes, in every single case. But future articles will start explaining these options.

Gaming on the go

If you want something you can take with you, then primarily you are looking at a Nintendo Switch or a Gaming Laptop.

For the Switch, budget about $330 for the Switch Lite (handheld only) or $500 for the version you can plug into your TV for choices. Add $60ish for a case and screen protector – you want to protect your portable! It’s a vague amount because the case you like could be cheaper or more expensive. They all do the job at the end of the day.

Then add about $80 per game you want to buy. Switch Online gives you some classic games, but no new titles like Sony or Microsoft. The Switch is a great platform, and quickly became one of my favourites. The downside is that games for it are expensive compared to every other platform.

The Switcher
Yes, there are compromises playing on a 'weaker' platform. But there are positives as well!

For a Gaming Laptop, I would budget for about $2,000 – $2,500 for similar specs to the gaming desktop I talked about before. It will still rip through games at 1080p and has all the same benefits as the desktop. It won’t be quite as fast performance-wise as the desktop though.

Don’t get put off by this statement – a lot of people talk down about laptop performance, and the hate talk is not justified. The differences in many titles will be within a couple of percent of frames showing per second (think the smoothness of gameplay). This difference is for a bunch of good reasons, and I will be making a comparison between Desktops and Laptops in a couple of weeks.

Asus Gaming Laptop
Looks and size are a big part of the price, but if you want to pick it up and game, laptops are always there

Portable means you can game almost anywhere, you just need power and maybe internet access.

The thing to remember though is if you want portable, you sacrifice computing and graphical power, and pay a premium. The same goes for the Switch compared to PS4 and Xbox by the way!

The trade offs for a Switch vs Xbox/PS4 are pretty obvious, but it’s still a great experience. I know a lot of people (and roll my eyes at lots of comments) that complain the Switch doesn’t have 4K HDR. It could, but you would be carrying around something the size of laptop anyway! It’s all pros and cons.

Another portable console that gets shunned by the general gaming community is your phone. Yes, I said it. Your phone can be an awesome gaming platform!

Will it play the latest games at fast frame rates and have all the bells and whistles? Nope. Mobiles rarely have the newest AAA games released on them. Gaming will eat through your battery as well. But a lot of us have pretty high-end phones we purchased on a contract.

But if you just want to check out Fortnite? You probably already have a way sitting in your pocket!

Rog Phone 2
You don't need this phone specifically, but gaming on mobile is fun

For playing on your phone long term, I would probably suggest investing in a Bluetooth controller. The PS4 DualShock works well for about $90. There are lots of different controllers but think of the DualShock as a reliable general choice.

So how do I know what I want to game on?

Really, it comes down to what you want to play. 

If you want to play first-person shooters, adventure games or role-playing games? Good news – you can play on pretty much anything. Real-time strategy? Not many come to console, but they exist. Personally, I prefer PC – keyboard and mouse is still better than controllers. 

The release of the Epic Store has introduced confusion because Epic has paid companies to only release their games on the Epic store. Mostly it’s what is known as a timed exclusive, meaning that you can only buy and play it from Epic for 6-12 months. Want to use your Amazon gift card to buy it? Sorry. You can’t. Well, not for a while at least. And then you have to get it when some other game you want to play is being released. This is a big part of the ‘uproar’ of Epic Games.

This has gone against the industry trend as a whole. Microsoft Game Pass (yes, I keep going on about it) is releasing Xbox games on PC. Older games need work most Xbox games aren’t available. Still, going forward Microsoft has been releasing their games made by Microsoft Studios to work on PC and Xbox. So in a few years, you won’t necessarily need an Xbox to play console games – your ‘gaming PC’ and Game Pass could be all you need for any Microsoft games.

Epic Games Store
Choice is rarely a bad thing, but gamers can be very vocal in their disapproval

Before last year, if a game came out on PC, it used to be on PC. Steam is the defacto PC store, and you could buy it there digitally. You could still buy it from other places though – you didn’t have to buy it only from Steam. Go anywhere that sold physical versions like EB Games, Amazon, JB Hi-Fi and you got the same thing. There are services like EA Origin that only sold their titles. Still, they didn’t have such a significant impact across so many titles. Eventually, such services ended up releasing simultaneously on other platforms such as Steam anyway because sales suffered.

These days, a lot of games come to both PC and consoles across the range. The idea of ‘exclusives’ are both dying off and taking strange turns locking you in, which does make choices confusing for new shoppers.

What are exclusives? Generally, it means a title tied to one platform. If you must play Horizon: Zero Dawn or Marvel’s Spider-Man you need a PS4. Your choice is really between buying a PS4 or PS4 Pro. Want to play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Buy a Switch. It’s not on anything else.

Cyberpunk 2077 Preorder
Apart from First Party (Hardware Makers) titles, it's rare to not be able to play on a lot of platforms these days

Even Sony has started to back down on its exclusives. Death Stranding is coming to PC, and rumours of Horizon Zero Dawn are out there as well. True, this approach isn’t as aggressive as Microsoft, but the fact they are backing down at all is a significant step for them.

Streaming is another factor in all this, but not one you need to worry about today. What streaming means is you can play games from your subscription on almost anything. As I said, for today, don’t worry about it. The tech is still new and not widely available, so while it’s coming don’t be put off by the next big thing. We will get benefits down the line, just not quickly enough you need to prepare for it.

How does this help you pick what you want to game on? If you don’t know what you want to play, you need a platform with the most choices for games.

Project XCloud
Streaming will mean you don't need specific hardware - but it's a ways off yet

As a rule of thumb, PC has the most comprehensive selection of popular games, followed by PlayStation with their exclusives, Xbox, and then Switch. Each platform has strong titles only available on that platform. Unless you need to play that one particular game/series, don’t let it be the only thing that guides you.

But now I am even more confused!

Possibly. And I am sorry about that. There is a lot of information and choices to take in, especially in one go. But what I have outlined today is only a small amount of the possibilities out there. The amount of choice is staggering. Even veterans get confused at this stage. I promise this is the only time I will have so many options laid out like this.

Not every choice is viable for everyone. If you only want portable gaming, then you can see there are only a couple of easy options now. You can get cases with screens for making your PS4 and Xbox portable. You can get small form factor desktops with handles to take with you. There is still more to think about, but if you want quick and easy, hopefully, the choices aren’t as intimidating now. All the other stuff is extras, like getting customisations on your car.

If you only want to game and/or keep costs down, consoles are a great choice. If you have spent a lot on a work desktop system, you can just add a better gaming graphics card. You might be surprised at how many games a ‘work’ laptop can actually play! All of this I will be breaking down in the coming weeks.

We need to know what you really want your experience to be so that you can explore the options that best suit you. Next week, we will take a look at console gaming in more detail.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD