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Nintendo Switch battery life: everything we know and what we should expect

Our best guess at how long you can play on the go

Nintendo Switch gallery
There’s a battery in there somewhere

Nintendo revealed its hybrid console the Nintendo Switch yesterday, and we finally got a few concrete answers. We know the name of the console, its form factor and a sense of its size, and we were even given a brief glimpse of how it operates. But there are still some big questions yet to be answered.

One of those questions revolves around the battery inside the Switch’s portable "tablet" element. Nintendo hasn't given any answers on how long the expected battery life is. When asked about the battery life, a representative for the company told Polygon, "We will announce more hardware details later, but we are developing Nintendo Switch so that consumers can comfortably enjoy games away from home." Without a list of detailed specs, it's hard to know any kind of concrete range; however, we can make a few educated guesses based off the information we do have and images that we've seen.

The first thing to note is the GPU powering the Switch. Nvidia confirmed yesterday that the console would have a "custom Tegra processor" chip, but didn't provide a name or description of what the chip would be. We know that it's a new, custom-built chip specifically for the Switch, and, according to reports, the Switch development kits are running Nvidia's Tegra X1 chip. The Tegra X1 is best known for running Nvidia's set-top box, the Shield. The Shield, which runs on Android software, may be the best device to showcase what the chip can do.

As a set-top box, the Shield doesn't give much indication as to how the Switch will perform as a mobile device. Luckily, the Shield isn't the only device using the Tegra X1 chip; Google's Pixel C tablet uses it too. The tablet, which runs on Android Marshmallow, has a reported average battery life of about eight hours. Tests conducted by various outlets mostly consisted of HD video playback on loop, so direct comparisons remain difficult. The Pixel C also runs at a resolution of 2560 by 1800, five times the Switch’s rumored 1280x720 tablet resolution, which is harder on a mobile device battery.

Nintendo hasn't confirmed support for streaming services like Netflix on the Switch, but considering its a feature on both the Wii U and the 3DS, it seems pretty likely. If the Switch is just being used for streaming, it's a reasonable assumption that battery life will be longer than if it's being used solely for gaming.

Again, Nintendo’s refusal thus far to release the Switch’s final hardware specs make it difficult to gauge just how strong the system is going to be. We do know that the Tegra X1 chip features a, "265-core Maxwell GPU, an 8-core 64-bit ARM CPU and can handle 60fps 4K UHD video playback in either H.265 or VP9 coding," according to a report from Tech Crunch. If the Switch utilizes the rumored "X2" chip, it should be more capable.

One of the most important clues we've gotten about the Switch’s internals are what appear to be air vents at the top of the device. Vents are a standard design feature on home electronics to allow heat to be diverted from internal components. These aren’t present on most portable consoles, including Nintendo’s own 3DS or Sony’s PlayStation Vita, though Nvidia’s Shield handheld does feature venting. The presence of a vent on the Switch suggests it will run hot enough — and higher performance tends to result in more heat — to need one.

Worth noting: a more powerful machine is good for gaming performance, but isn't necessarily great news for battery life.

Nintendo Switch - plugging in headphones
That looks like an air vent next to the headphone jack

This is where it's important to look at Nvidia's history of portable machines.

The Nvidia Shield tablet ran on a K1 chip and suffered from battery life problems, falling between the four and six hour range on a full charge when tested by different outlets. This pales in comparison to Samsung tablets and the various iPad models. The X2 chip might make a bit of a difference, but if it's running at the higher-performance levels rumored, there's a good chance Nintendo’s Switch might fall within the same range. Let's not forget, either, that Nintendo claimed prior to the consoles’ respective launches that both the Wii U GamePad and 3DS would run for about five hours on a single charge.

There are a couple of reports that hint at Nintendo trying different power-saving methods, including that the built-in screen for the Switch will only run at 720p when being used as a portable console, and then outputting 1080p when its back in the dock and being used as a regular console. Based on rumored specs from dev kits, this would let the processor clock downward, using less power than it would at 1080p, conserving some of the battery when playing on the go.

We'll know more for certain once Nintendo releases the official specs. More information is expected to be released in the next coming months. The Nintendo Switch will be available in March 2017, but the company hasn't released a specific release date or price for the console at this time.