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Nintendo is repairing left Joy-Cons with ... a piece of foam?

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Foam on the range

Nintendo Switch - blue left Joy-Con with wrist strap
It’s a left Joy-Con!
Samit Sarkar/Polygon

While Nintendo remains mostly mum on the issue of some left Joy-Con controllers becoming desynced from the Switch console, it appears it has a solution for those affected. No, it’s not avoidance of aquariums or all other wireless devices; instead, it’s apparently as simple as a foam sticker placed in the right spot.

Early reviews and, later, actual retail units of the Nintendo Switch highlighted an apparent hardware flaw in the design of the left Joy-Con controller. In certain scenarios — like when played some distance from the console using the Joy-Con Grip — some left Joy-Cons could lose sync and players would find themselves unable to accurately control what’s happening on the screen. While a day one console update fixed this issue for some, it’s remained for others and Nintendo has done little to assuage would-be consumers that it’s solved the issue for good.

But, a Joy-Con sent in for repair by CNET’s Sean Hollister was returned with one small enhancement a week later and — lo and behold — it works. That enhancement: A small piece of conductive foam. (You’ll have to go to CNET to see the images; they won’t let us share them here).

Hollister spotted the foam because he had taken pictures of the insides before he sent his Joy-Con in. And while some industrious types have tried repairing the sync issue by soldering an antenna extension inside the controller, Hollister was surprised to see Nintendo’s solution was as simple as a piece of foam.

I spoke to Bill Detwiler, managing editor (and teardown guru) for our sister site TechRepublic, and he explained that it's likely a piece of conductive foam, which is foam that's been specially treated with nickel, copper or both so it can shield electronics from RF interference. (It's often used in portable electronics when there isn't space for a traditional shield.)

Unless we're totally mistaken, this piece of foam is sitting directly on top of the Joy-Con's antenna traces, too, which suggests that it's protecting the antenna from interference.

I even tried removing the foam, and sure enough: The controller stops working properly when it's not there. Seems like an open-and-shut case.

Of course, not all left Joy-Cons exhibit the sync issue and a replacement Joy-Con that Hollister purchased — nobody’s waiting a week to play Zelda, c’mon — didn’t exhibit the issue and, notably, didn’t have the foam installed. Has Nintendo fixed the problem in newer runs of the controller? It’s hard to say. One of the more frustrating aspects of Nintendo’s taciturn approach to both press and consumers is that it’s not clear even when Nintendo has answers.

Nintendo issued Polygon the following statement today:

There is no design issue with the Joy-Con controllers, and no widespread proactive repair or replacement effort is underway. A manufacturing variation has resulted in wireless interference with a small number of the left Joy-Con. Moving forward this will not be an issue, as the manufacturing variation has been addressed and corrected at the factory level.

We have determined a simple fix can be made to any affected Joy-Con to improve connectivity.

There are other reasons consumers may be experiencing wireless interference. We are asking consumers to contact our customer support team so we can help them determine if a repair is necessary. If it is, consumers can send their controller directly to Nintendo for the adjustment, free of charge, with an anticipated quick return of less than a week. Repair timing may vary by region. For help with any hardware or software questions, please visit http://support.nintendo.com.

When asked if this simple repair could be performed at home, instead of needing to be sans Joy-Con for a week or two, Nintendo said:

We do not recommend that people attempt an at-home fix, as opening or otherwise trying to alter any Nintendo device could result in voiding the product warranty and further support. There are other reasons a consumer may be experiencing wireless interference.

It also clarified this additional detail with BGR:

The number is not significant. The total number of repair or replacement requests for Nintendo Switch, including for Joy-Con, is consistent with what we’ve seen for any new hardware Nintendo has launched.

While that doesn’t explain what the engineering problem was with some of these early (and review) controllers was, it does suggest Nintendo has the issue under control. But if you’re having issues with yours, and if Hollister’s scenario is any indication, Nintendo has a plan for your busted Joy-Con. Take their advice and go to http://support.nintendo.com or just call customer support directly at 800-255-3700.

Update: Added additional statements from Nintendo.

Update 2: We’ve removed the images of the repair, following a cease and desist from CNET.


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