Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Wasabi review

Wasabi is an interestingly named and relatively new entrant in the cloud storage market, and according to the company's marketing blurb, it's "on a mission to make cloud storage a simple commodity and utility, just like electricity" – which we can get on board with.

Rather than being a direct competitor to the likes of Dropbox, Google Drive, or even something like Backblaze, Wasabi is challenging Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure head on, and it's important to bear that in mind as we go through its features and applications.

Wasabi features

From the outset it's important to realize that you're buying cloud storage from Wasabi and very little else – you don't get the user-friendly web interface and desktop syncing apps that you do with most other offerings on the market. Wasabi will provide fast and cheap space in the cloud, and it's up to you what you do with it.

After you've created an account, you are invited to create a 'Bucket' – that's the Wasabi term for a controlled data space where files are stored. You can make as many Buckets as you like, control access to them as required, and partition off sections for different purposes or with different security settings. Once you've created a Bucket, you can upload files and folders to them, and control access.

Versioning and logging are supported inside your Buckets, but to a large extent the features of the Wasabi service are determined by the applications that you choose to use (or build for yourself) – see here for an approved list from Wasabi itself. From within the Wasabi app on the web, you can set read and write access for each Bucket, manage groups and users and so on, and then the programs that you use will tap into those blocks of storage with the settings that you've specified.

Wasabi does offer simple desktop clients for Windows and macOS, but there's not much to them – they're basic tools for transferring files to and from your cloud storage, and there isn't much difference between using them and just using the browser app, unless you've got a huge number of files to move over. There aren't any mobile apps available.

Wasabi

(Image credit: Future)

Wasabi interface

Apart from any third-party apps you decide to run on top of Wasabi, you'll be spending most of your time in the web interface. It's clean and tidy, and simple to use, but you don't get the user-facing features you do with the likes of Dropbox, Google Drive and so on – this is a place for storing your files and not much else. The desktop clients that Wasabi provides for Windows and macOS are similarly bare bones.

Everything that is included in the web app is easy to find and configure, from compliance tools to group and policy management options. There's a commendable amount of flexibility here when it comes to managing access to files and keeping certain piles of data separate from one another, even if options for viewing and editing files on the web are pretty much non-existent.

Some users are going to want a more capable set of features included from the off, but for others this kind of flexibility will be exactly what they're looking for. It's taking on the likes of Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure directly, and you should bear that in mind when comparing it against other cloud storage services.

Uploading and downloading was fine in our testing, on a par with the other cloud storage services we've been testing – in other words, limited by our home network connection rather than anything else. It took us around half an hour to upload a terabyte of data, but of course your connection to the web will be different to ours. As far as we can tell, Wasabi keeps its promise of speedy cloud storage access.

Wasabi

(Image credit: Future)

Wasabi security

Security is another of the strengths of Wasabi, from two-factor authentication, to data compliance management, to support for user profiles and highly configurable file access. Multiple redundancies and tight physical security on its data centers are used to make sure your data stays safe, and the company promises 99.9% uptime for its servers – a claim we've got no reason to doubt having used the service.

To some extent the data security protections depend on the programs you're plugging into Wasabi, but end-to-end encryption is available if you want to minimize the chance of your data being read (and you're confident you'll never forget your encryption key). As far as security for your files goes, you don't get many better cloud storage deals than the one you get from Wasabi.

Wasabi pricing

The pricing packages that Wasabi has put together are certainly enough to make you take notice: there's a pay-as-you go approach, with cloud storage offered at $5.99 (about £4.85) per TB per month, which is very good indeed when you compare it with Wasabi's direct competition. There are no extra charges for data downloads or API requests either, and a 30-day free trial is available if you want to take advantage.

If you sign up long term – for one, three or five years – then you can get a reduction on that price, but you have to buy at least 50GB from Wasabi if you're going to take that route. Considering some of the expensive and convoluted pricing plans we've seen elsewhere in the cloud storage market, as far as we're concerned it's refreshing to have something as simple as this to turn to.

Wasabi

(Image credit: Future)

Wasabi verdict

As we said at the start, you really need to see Wasabi for what it is – a supplier of the fundamental commodity that is cloud storage, in direct competition with Microsoft Azure, Amazon S3 and others. If you come looking for a complete cloud backup and sync service that interfaces neatly with Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, then you're going to come away feeling disappointed.

The price, the speed and the ease of use are where Wasabi excels, though you won't find much in the way of user-facing features beyond the essential Bucket and user management. To complete the circle of connectivity you are forced to install additional apps, and rely on their support for Wasabi to do things that other services offer inherently. Once you’ve got over those hurdles, this is a rapid, secure and highly affordable solution that will appeal to many.

Betternet Premium VPN

Canadian-based Betternet is one of several VPNs owned by Pango (formerly known as AnchorFree), along with Hotspot Shield, Touch VPN, VPN In Touch and VPN360.

The service is best known for its largely unrestricted free plan. This has no limits on bandwidth, no need to register or hand over your email address, you can just download a client – Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Firefox or Chrome extension – and start right away.

Too good to be true? Well, maybe. The free version provides US servers only. The clients have no significant features beyond the Connect button, and there's very little support to help out if you run into problems.

The free plan inserts ads into websites, too, perhaps allowing advertisers to find out more you.

In this review, we'll be taking a look at Betternet's Premium plan. This drops the ads, offers improved performance, and gets you access to locations across 70 countries, including 27 cities in the US.

Betternet Premium's one-month pricing seems high at $11.99, but pay for a year upfront and this plummets to an effective $2.99. There's also a welcome bonus in a free seven-day trial, although you must hand over your payment details first (only cards are supported), and if you forget to cancel your subscription, it renews at the most expensive $11.99 a month rate.

Beware, too, if you pay with a credit card, it's not possible to cancel the subscription yourself. Instead you must contact support and wait for up to 24 hours, so if you've left it until the last minute, it's possible the subscription will renew anyway. That's poor service, but you can avoid it by signing up via Google Play or the App Store, which then allows you to instantly cancel your plan in the usual way.

Privacy

Betternet does not record your activities online in any way that can be tied back to you though it does record some information such as your IP address when you connect (Image credit: Betternet)

Privacy

VPN privacy policies vary hugely in their detail and quality, but Betternet's is better than most, probably because it uses the same comprehensive document as the other VPNs in the Pango group (Hotspot Shield, Betternet, Hexatech, VPN360, and VPN in Touch.)

The policy explains that it 'does not record your VPN browsing activities in any way that can be associated back to you.' Or to get more specific, 'When you use a VPN connection, we do not store any information that identifies what you browse, view, or do online via that VPN connection.'

It 'does not inspect or record the contents of what you are browsing, viewing, or doing through them', either.

The system records your IP address when you connect, but this is hashed, and deleted at the end of the session.

Touch VPN logs the domains accessed by users, but only the domains, not the full URLs, and data is anonymized to ensure the company can't associate a domain access to a specific user, time or session.

There's another concern in Betternet's ability to 'identify devices and associate them with other data we collect... such as for measuring bandwidth use, providing support, understanding how you interact with our VPN, and other analytics and marketing purposes.' 

As the document also says it can log 'your approximate geographic location', that might allow it to build a record of when and where this device connected to the service, the length of each session, the data transferred, and more.

That still can't tie the device to a particular internet activity, but it may be too intrusive for some.

Apps

Betternet has apps for both mobile and desktop (Image credit: Betternet)

Apps

Betternet's Windows app is just about as simple as VPNs get. Hit the big Connect button and you're connected to your nearest server in a few seconds. Or find a better location in the list, and connect to that one instead.

If you're looking for features, though, it's going to seem very basic. 

Windows App

This is the user interface of Betternet's Windows app (Image credit: Betternet)

The location list is just that, for instance, a list of names, with no ping times, sorting, search box, Favorites system or anything else.

The app doesn't use notifications to tell you when the VPN is active, or when it drops. You must check the app window to find out.

Settings

Betternet's Windows app only provides you with a few settings (Image credit: Betternet)

There are only a handful of settings, too.

'Reconnect Automatically' and 'Prevent IP Leak' are enabled by default, and you should probably leave them that way.

You can also set up the app to connect automatically when you access insecure or other network types, though, conveniently. 

An unusual Exclude Domains feature (a sort-of split tunneling system) enables defining domains which won't be routed through the tunnel. If your favorite local streaming site blocks IPs from outside your country, add its domain here and it'll use your regular internet connection in future.

That's it; that's all you get. No chance to change protocol, for instance; Betternet only supports Hotspot Shield's Catapult Hydra to make its connections. There are worse choices - Catapult Hydra can be very, very fast - but anyone looking for flexibility or control might be left a little disappointed.

Betternet doesn't claim to have a kill switch to protect you if the connection drops, but we ran our regular tests, anyway, just to see how it behaved.

The good news is that when we manually closed the VPN, the app interface updated immediately to show the loss of connection, then reconnected within seconds.

The bad news is that there was no desktop notification to alert users, and for a very brief period, perhaps a fraction of a second, our real IP address was visible to the outside world. The client does offer some protection if the VPN drops, and it's better than many, but it's not up to the standard of a full kill switch or firewall.

New Speedtest Image

We use several different speed tests to determine the performance of each VPN we review (Image credit: Ookla)

Performance

The Betternet website doesn't make big claims about unblocking every single streaming site in the world, and our tests showed why: it failed with US Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+. 

We had success with US YouTube and some smaller sites, but these can be unblocked by just about every VPN in the business.

Betternet Premium wins out for performance, though, no great surprise as it's using Hotspot Shield's speedy servers and efficient Catapult Hydra protocol. UK servers gave us up to 70Mbps, as much as we would expect to see without a VPN. Near European and US servers were little different, and even the less well-connected locations - Vietnam, Cambodia - hit 50Mbps and more. Betternet may cut corners in a lot of areas, but speed isn't one of them.

The positive note continued with our final privacy tests. We checked the service with IPLeak, DoILeak and other sites, but our Windows system had no issues with DNS, WebRTC or other leaks.

Final verdict

Betternet is a fast VPN and very easy to use, but the lack of features, multiple privacy concerns and poor unblocking results are real problems. It might just about work for simple tasks, but if you're doing anything serious then we'd look elsewhere.

Tenta Browser

Tenta Browser is a free Android browser with a strong focus on security and privacy, and a built-in VPN with unlimited data.

A clever Zones feature enables having different locations at the same time for any or all your browser tabs. No need to manually switch servers any more, as Tenta tabs can each be set to any of the VPN's eleven locations (North America, UK, Amsterdam, Lithuania, Tokyo, Singapore, Australia.)

Tenta's own built-in secure DNS system ensures your ISP (and other snoopers) won't be able to spy on your browsing. And unlike many VPN providers, you don't have to take the company's word about what it's doing. The system is powered by open-source software and you can set up and use Tenta's DNS servers on your other devices, whether you use the browser or not.

There are stacks of security features, including integrated AdBlock and HTTPS Everywhere, support for privacy-first search engines including DuckDuckGo and StartPage, an encrypted vault for media, fine-tuned control over your browsing history, a built-in QR Code reader and PIN code and fingerprint locks to keep snoopers at bay.

The major restriction with the free Tenta Browser VPN is you can't choose your location, as it's automatically set to your nearest server. It's essentially just a proxy, too, where the VPN only protects the browser tabs. 

Upgrading to Tenta Pro gets you a device-wide VPN, where your app traffic will also be protected by the tunnel, and access to all 21 locations. There are also some worthwhile privacy extras, including Tenta's ad and tracker blocking.

Tenta Pro is priced at $5 a month, dropping to a tiny $1 if you pay for a year up-front. That's not quite as an amazing deal as it looks, because it only covers a single device (most VPN plans cover at least 5), but if that's all you need, it could save you a lot of cash.

If you're interested, trying out the free plan gives you a basic idea of how the service works, and a seven-day free Tenta Pro trial enables testing the full product for yourself.

Website

Tenta does not keep logs on its users' activity online though it does collect some information to monitor how its service is used (Image credit: Tenta)

Privacy and logging

The Tenta website makes a clear up-front statement on its VPN logging policy: "Tenta does not log traffic. We do not store your data or the content of any communications on our servers."

That's good, but it's also much the same as you'll hear from everybody else, and it doesn't specifically rule out session and other forms of logging.

Head off to the Privacy Policy, though, and you'll find a clear and well-written document which provides many more details.

The company explains that it does collect some information to monitor service use, for instance, but these are aggregated figures and unrelated to individuals. For example, it records the total number of connected users per minute, and the total of incoming and outgoing traffic for all users, but no IP addresses or other user-specific data.

As Tenta is a browser, it can hold a lot of personal information - browsing and search history, bookmarks, downloaded data, emails and other contact information from an address book - but the policy states that none of this is collected or stored by the company.

Even the data stored on your local device is encrypted using a private key generated by your custom PIN code, also unknown to Tenta. Without the PIN, even someone with access to your device will struggle to break in.

Apps

Tenta installed without issue and didn't ask for our email address or any other personal information. 

On launch, it asks us questions about how we wanted to use the browser, what we cared about most (privacy, security or speed), what we knew about VPNs, how often we watched streaming apps, and more. There are a lot of questions and they don't all feel very relevant - would you really expect a new browser to ask 'how many times a year do you usually travel internationally?' - but you only go through this once, and apparently Tenta uses your answers to choose sensible browser settings.

Android App

This is the user interface of Tenta Browser (Image credit: Tenta)

The interface is familiar and looks much like many other browsers. There's an address bar at the top of the screen, a Speed Dial underneath with buttons for your favorite sites, and panels with various other tools and options.

Tapping an icon to the left of the address bar displays your default VPN location (usually set to your nearest server) and connection status. You can choose an alternative location from a list, but it's all very basic, with no sort or filtering options and no information on server load or ping times.

What's interesting about Tenta is your chosen location applies to groups of tabs called Zones, and you can have as many Zones with as many locations as you need. You might have a London Zone, another for US sites, a third with tabs which aren't using the VPN at all, whatever you like. Once you're set up, there may be no need to switch servers any more, as every browser tab is already using your chosen location.

That's just the start. Each Zone also has its own privacy settings, giving you very fine-tuned control over how Tenta works. You can choose your preferred DNS servers, for instance. Whether you want to block ads, or trackers. There's a choice of search engines. And if you're after strong privacy on your device, you can have cookies and browser history wiped whenever you turn the VPN on or off, and delete all tabs when the browser closes.

You don't have to use all these features in connection with the VPN, of course, but they do give you some extra options. 

You could have a Work Zone which doesn't use the VPN, for instance, has tabs for all your key work sites, and preserves them between sessions. 

Meanwhile, a Secret Zone could have tabs for streaming sites or anything else you need, but be set up to close all the tabs and wipe browser history when Tenta closes, leaving no trace of your activity.

VPN Widget

The Tenta VPN widget is a great choice if you want to use the service's VPN but not its browser (Image credit: Tenta)

Alternatively, if you're happy with your existing browser and only really interested in Tenta for the VPN, you could just install the Tenta VPN widget. That enables connecting to the VPN from your Home screen in a couple of clicks, without having to get involved with the browser at all.

New Speedtest Image

We use a number of different speed tests to determine the performance of each VPN we review (Image credit: Ookla)

Performance

Tenta is designed with privacy as its top priority, and the company doesn't make any big claims about its website unblocking abilities.

We tried to access BBC iPlayer from the London server, anyway, but had no success. The site just displayed its usual warning that the content wasn't available in our location.

There was better luck with US-only Netflix content, YouTube too, but the service failed with Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

Our speed tests showed Tenta averaging a decent 55-60Mbps on a 75Mbps connection when using our nearest UK server. Top VPNs might do 10-15Mbps, but in most situations you're unlikely to notice.

Tenta delivered solid results from its other servers, too, with even long-distance UK-Australia connections managing 20-25Mbps.

Final verdict

Tenta is an interesting Android browser with a pile of privacy-related features. Its VPN is very basic by comparison, but unlimited free VPN bandwidth is always appealing, even with a single location, and if you're only looking to protect a device or two, it looks like a real bargain. Go check it out immediately.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital is a Fintech business that advises consumers on how best to invest their money and offers a portfolio of products that help to automate the process. Using their supporting app it’s possible to quickly consolidate many different accounts covering everything from investments through to retirement savings. 

Having been around since 2009 the personal finance software is both free and easy to use. It’s essentially a combination of a finance-tracking tool that can help you keep tabs of spending via your bank accounts and credit cards while also incorporating tools for monitoring investments. 

Personal Capital gets a further boost from the paid-for financial advisory services that it offers. It's also possible to use various Personal Capital tools, including a Retirement Readiness Score, Recession Simulator and a Fee Analyzer to complete your financial housekeeping.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital offers a full suite of finance management tools (Image credit: Personal Capital)

Pricing

There’s no charge for using the Personal Capital software, which means that you can exploit all of the tools within the app without spending anything at all. However, Personal Capital does offer advisory services relating to your finances and these do come with fees attached. 

Personal Capital suggests calling one of their advisors to get an overview on what they might be able to offer you as they have packages that relate to investment services, wealth management and private client options. 

The latter is based around a fully customized investment plan to help you get the most from your money. Therefore, with such a personalized service, there don't appear to be any off-the-shelf pricing guidelines.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital's app is a really useful addition for your smartphone (Image credit: Personal Capital)

Features

When it comes to features, Personal Capital has three core categories that showcase its best options. There’s wealth management, cash management and financial tools. Wealth management is the part of the business that lets you have a dialog with human members of staff, although the online service backs that up with lots of automated functionality. 

Cash management lets you keep all of your money interests in one place and everything can be managed either via the web or using Personal Capital’s powerful app. 

The Financial Tools aspect is particularly useful as it features a suite of applications and services that help you get a better overview of your money. For example, you’ll be able to quickly get stats on your net worth, carry out budgeting chores, keep track of your cash flow and even plan for your retirement.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital provides numerous tools for organizing your financial affairs (Image credit: Personal Capital)

Performance

Personal Capital works on a variety of devices and turns in a solid performance if you install the app on the Apple Watch, which allows you to quickly check spending by a quick date search. The app is available for both iOS and Android devices, while the desktop edition of Personal Capital is just that; a website without quite the same level of pep as witnessed on the mobile editions.

Personal Capital

The Apple Watch edition of the Personal Capital app is also noteworthy (Image credit: Personal Capital)

Ease of use

There are plenty of useful tools to be found inside the Personal Capital workspace and most, if not all, are easy to get the hang of. With a little bit of investigation you can organize all of your current or checking accounts, savings, mortgages and credit cards, along with retirement monies and investment accounts into one handy location. 

Linking these to Personal Capital when you set up an account initially can be done within minutes. Getting started is similarly easy with just the need to sign up and create an account profile. Once you’ve got your log in sorted you’re basically in business.

Personal Capital

Signing up for the free part of Personal Capital takes no time at all (Image credit: Personal Capital)

Support

Support from Personal Capital is on hand in several different ways, with 24/7-phone availability and email being the main sources of contact. The website has a comprehensive range of help articles too, which cover all of the main areas of the software and associated services, plus a few other topics that might help you out when you’re using Personal Capital. 

Another handy option for getting in touch is a chat tool, which appears on the bottom right-hand corner of the page in the browser edition. The Known Issues feature found within the support hub is a great timesaving tool that flags up any current problems that might be affecting the service.

Personal Capital

Support for Personal Capital services includes an impressive help hub (Image credit: Personal Capital)

Final verdict

Personal Capital sells itself as the smart way to track and manage your personal finance and that’s essentially right on the money. Having the capacity to showcase all of your accounts, retirement funds and investments too within the confines of a web site and app combination makes it hugely useful. 

The built-in accessories such as the Retirement Planner and interactive cash flow tools are practical additions. Meanwhile, the extra appeal is provided by having real advisors to talk things over with if you’ve got a good grasp of your finances but aren’t quite sure what to do next. 

Granted, you’ll need to pay for the extra advice, but Personal Capital gets you up and running even if you just start out by investigating the free app.

VPN Shield

VPN Shield is a Polish VPN service which offers a basic set of features for what looks like a good price.

The company offers only 11 locations, but they're reasonably well spread across Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, UK and USA. (There are no city-level locations, you can choose by country only.)

VPN Shield has its own apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, even Amazon Kindle, making it easy to set up, and you can connect up to five of these devices simultaneously.

While this sounds sort-of normal, the underlying tech is weak. The Windows apps don't support OpenVPN, for instance. The desktop app can at least use L2TP and IKEv2, but the Windows 10 app only supports PPTP, so outdated and insecure that many VPNs dropped it long ago. There are no other interesting features on offer.

VPN Shield is at least cheap, with prices starting at $2.99 for a week, $5.99 billed monthly, $3.33 on the annual plan or just $2.78 if you pay for three years up-front (that's a total of $99.99.)

Payments are accepted via card and PayPal, and there's a 1-day free trial for everything but the Windows 7/8 desktop application (Windows 10 users can install an app from the Windows 10 Store, instead), extending to 3-days if you ‘like’ VPN Shield's page on Facebook.

Website

VPN Shield claims to not collect data on its users' browsing activity online but there is a lot of session logging though (Image credit: Defendemus)

Privacy

VPN Shield's privacy policy gives you the good news first, explaining how the company 'is committed to your privacy and it does not collect or log traffic data or browsing activity from users connected to the VPN Shield Service.'

The policy goes on to list a lot of session logging, though: 'connection times to the VPN Shield Service, device type, choice of server location, technical details of the connection (connection result, protocol, ports, etc.), the total amount of data transferred per day, and the purchase history.'

'Technical details of the connection' is a very broad term, and could easily include incoming and outgoing IP addresses.

There's more vagueness in this clause: 'The VPN Shield Service may send diagnostic data to a third-party analytics provider for the purpose of identifying connection errors and possible bugs in the application.' What 'diagnostic data', what might that include? VPN Shield doesn't want to say.

This caught our eye, too: 'Defendemus does not as a matter of ordinary practice actively monitor user sessions for inappropriate behavior, nor does it maintain direct logs of customers' Internet activities. However, Defendemus reserves the right to investigate matters it considers to be violations of these Terms.' 

VPN Shield doesn't 'matter of ordinary practice' monitor users, but it's hinting that it could; it doesn't 'maintain direct logs of customers' Internet activities', but maybe there are some indirect ones.

Reassured yet? No, we're not, either.

Apps

VPN Shield is one of very few providers to offer a native Windows 10 app, so we were keen to try it out. Installation was hassle-free, we quickly created an account from the app, and a countdown showed our 24-hour trial had begun.

Windows apps generally try to be a little more visually polished than their old-style cousins, but VPN Shield's offering is probably worse. There's no simple connect screen, no colorful list of flags, no world map, no clever graphical touches at all, just a sidebar, some status information and a few text panels of options.

Windows 10 App

This is the user interface of VPN Shield's Windows 10 app (Image credit: Defendemus)

The app has very little functionality. The location picker is a plain text list of countries, with no ping time, server load figures, Favorites system, 'Recent Connections' list or anything else. The app only supports the outdated and insecure PPTP protocol. And the Settings dialog is particularly sparse, with only an 'Autostart VPN on insecure wifi networks' checkbox and a panel explaining how to manually set up a connection on other PCs.

Connection times were slow at up to 10 seconds; we'd expect more like 2-4 for PPTP.

The sidebar has spaces to display your new location and IP, and a 'progress' indicator suggested the app is trying to do this, but it never worked, our location details were never displayed.

The app doesn't use notifications to tell you when it connects and disconnects. That's important, because it won't tell you if the VPN connection drops, either. When we forcibly closed our connection, the app continued to show its status as 'Connected.' If the app windows were minimized while you worked on something else, you'd have no clear way of knowing the VPN had died and your traffic was no longer protected.

Maybe VPN Shield will fix some of this, one day? Don't put your money on it; the Microsoft Store page dates this release at 22nd January 2017. VPN Shield hasn't even been maintaining the app, let alone improving it.

The regular Windows 7/8 desktop app has an even worse interface, forcing you to select countries by right clicking the system tray icon.

Protocols

You can change protocols by going to VPN Shield's advanced settings tab (Image credit: Defendemus)

It does at least have better protocol support, including IKEv2 and L2TP as well as PPTP.

A 'reconnect automatically if connection is dropped' sounds like it should help if the VPN goes down, but our tests showed otherwise. When we forcibly closed our connection, the app tried to reconnect, but always failed. It updated its system tray icon to show this, but if the icon isn't visible, once again you'd have no way to know that your traffic was unprotected.

As the app is also dated 2017, like the Windows 10 edition, it doesn't look like these issues will be fixed in a hurry.

Mobile Apps

VPN Shield has mobile apps for Android and iOS (Image credit: Defendemus)

There's better news with the Android app; the last release was 'only' 10 months old at review time, positively fresh.

The interface looks and feels very similar to the Windows 10 app; choose one of the 11 locations from the list, tap a switch to connect, tap again to disconnect.

You do at least get a choice of protocol, though: OpenVPN or Cisco. Cisco? It could be this means some variation of Cisco's OpenConnect, but the app doesn't say, and there's no information on the support site. Still, we don't mind; it has OpenVPN, and that's a major improvement on PPTP.

A handful of settings enables connecting the VPN automatically when you access insecure, secured and/ or mobile networks, and reconnecting automatically if the VPN drops.

This is still relatively limited, presented in the most basic way, and not even close to the quality of most top VPN apps. But hey, it's still vastly better than VPN Shield's Windows offering, and for that, we have to be grateful.

New Speedtest Image

We use several different speed tests to determine the performance of each VPN we review (Image credit: Ookla)

Performance

VPN Shield's issues so far didn't leave us with much hope for our unblocking tests, and sure enough, the service couldn't get us into BBC iPlayer, US Netflix or Disney+. 

There was one welcome success, though, when we managed to stream Amazon Prime Video content, and we found it worked with US YouTube and the less well defended sites, too.

The positive note continued with our speed tests. Whatever else we might say about VPN Shield, it proved a decent performer, hitting 66-67Mbps on our 75Mbps UK line, a very similar 60Mbps when connecting from the UK to near European locations, and a still reasonable 30Mbps on UK-US connections.

Unfortunately, the problems returned in our final privacy tests, with multiple sites showing a DNS leak with the Windows apps.

Final verdict

VPN Shield's Windows apps are horribly limited, with virtually no features, and even the few basic functions you get don't work quite as they should. We wouldn't recommend the service, even if it were free - go for something better like ExpressVPN

Nintendo Switch review

The Nintendo Switch is a console that does a lot of things all at once. Like the motion controls of the Wii, or the glasses-free 3D of the Nintendo 3DS, or the experimental second screen of the Wii U, the Switch's innovative hybrid design has helped Nintendo to continue to blaze its own trail and do something different. 

In the three years since its launch, the Nintendo Switch has become a true gaming hit—every holiday season it's one of the most popular devices around, and as social distancing rules have taken effect during the coronavirus pandemic it's become a firm favorite with gamers and non-gamers alike.

A large part of the Nintendo Switch's success is its hybrid design which has allowed it to bridge the gap between handheld console and home console in a totally unique way.

The way that the Nintendo Switch combines gaming on-the-go and gaming at home, making each a delight in its own way, is a credit to Nintendo's team. With its ever-growing library of exclusive first-party games and top-tier third-party titles, the Nintendo Switch is a better proposition than ever.

Whether you've already made your purchase or not, you have to agree that the Nintendo Switch is a fine idea, mixing together some of what made the Wii and Wii U appealing for gamers (even if developers had a harder time figuring out how to make the most of the latter device).

The Nintendo Switch brings with it a central idea that can benefit literally every game, not just the select few that can use motion control or a second screen. Who hasn't at one time wanted to pack up their console and take it with them?

Largely, the Switch delivers very well on this hybrid idea. You'll find it a solid, premium-feeling handheld, which can then flip into docked mode and work more or less as you'd expect a home console to, if and when needed.

At the same time, the Nintendo Switch certainly isn't perfect: most of the issues it has are a consequence of the way that it dares to try and do everything at once, and it doesn't always get the compromise right.

Those who aren't sold on its hybridity and just want that classic Nintendo handheld experience will no doubt be interest in the compact, lighter alternative: the Nintendo Switch Lite, which offers a solely handheld Switch gaming experience.

UPDATE: During the coronavirus lockdown, the Nintendo Switch has proved to be the most popular gaming console of choice in many countries. Or at least that seems to be the case given it's out of stock almost everywhere. If you want to get in on the Animal Crossing craze or you've heard that Breath of the Wild 2 is coming and you want to be ready, we're tracking all the latest Nintendo Switch deals and sales right here on TechRadar, but if you're struggling to find more stock you'll want to check out our guide on where to buy a Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo Switch: price and release date

  • What is it? Nintendo's hybrid console
  • When did it come out? March 3, 2017
  • What does it cost? $299.99 in the US, £279.99 in the UK, $469.95 in Australia, R6,999 in South Africa

Nintendo Switch: design

  • Three form factors: handheld, console (docked) and tabletop
  • Lots of accessories, which are at risk of being misplaced

In the box with your shiny new Nintendo Switch you get the main console, two detachable controller sides (Joy-Cons), a grip which enables you to combine these controller portions into a more traditional gamepad, two straps which can make them into two individual controllers, and a dock for plugging the console into your television. 

You also get a USB Type-C power cable (with a non-detachable power brick) and an HDMI cable for connecting the device to your TV. 

If you think that sounds like a lot of accessories then you'd be right: we suspect a lot of Nintendo Switch owners will have misplaced at least one or two of these within the space of a few months.

We've taken to wrapping our Joy-Con straps around our Joy-Con grip just to keep everything together, but we'd love some way of attaching them to the console so they don't end up getting misplaced.

It's a pretty novel (not to mention somewhat complicated) setup, so it's worth delving into each of the different ways you can use the console.

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: TechRadar)

Nintendo Switch: handheld mode

  • Bigger than traditional handhelds
  • Slightly cramped for the right hand due to right analogue stick
  • Split D-pad on the left side

First in the Nintendo Switch modes is handheld mode, the form factor most like the hardware devices that came before the Switch.

In this configuration you attach the two controller portions (the Joy-Cons) to the left and right edges of the screen, then game much like you could do with the PlayStation Vita.

In fact, the size and shape of the console's analogue sticks make it feel a lot like a modern Vita, though it's not as solid because of the joints that exist between the Joy-Cons and the screen. 

Along the top of the Nintendo Switch is a slot for game cartridges, a headphone jack (Bluetooth headphones/headsets are currently not supported), a volume rocker and a power button. 

The bottom of the device is less busy. You've got the kickstand for tabletop mode (more on this later), which conceals a small microSD slot for expandable storage. Internal storage on the Nintendo Switch is limited to just 32GB, so if you're planning on downloading games rather than buying them, you'll want to invest in a Nintendo Switch SD card (capacities up to 2TB are theoretically supported).

Check out our unboxing video of the Nintendo Switch below.

The detachable Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons have a lot going on. The right hand side has the classic A, B, X, Y button configuration that Nintendo has used on and off since the SNES, an analogue stick (slightly awkwardly placed underneath the face buttons) and two shoulder buttons.

There's a small plus-shaped button acting as the equivalent of the Wii U's 'Start' button, and a home button for reaching the console's system-level menus. 

Across on the left Joy-Con it's a very similar story, as you would expect. You've got a minus button that acts as the console's 'Select' button, a share button for taking screenshots and video (in selected titles), an analogue stick, two shoulder-buttons, and the most un-Nintendo D-pad we've ever seen. 

Instead of the classic cross D-pad Nintendo has utilized since the NES, the left Joy-Con instead has a set of four circular buttons that are identical in shape to the face buttons on the right Joy-Con. 

This design decision, which appears very odd at first glance, is so the left Joy-Con can be used as an individual controller, with the D-pad acting as face-buttons in this configuration (again, more on this later).

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: TechRadar)

Nintendo Switch: console mode

  • Connects to your TV via an included dock
  • Docking process is seamless, and can be done mid-game

The second Nintendo Switch form-factor is console mode. You place the main portion in the included dock, which connects the device to your television – you're then free to detach the Joy-Cons to control the Switch from a distance.

The way the console transfers the viewing experience from its own screen to the television is as seamless as it could possibly be, and you don't even have to pause your game. Everything happens in real time. 

Detaching the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons can be a little fiddly, admittedly: it's done by holding small buttons on their backs and sliding the controllers up.

The TV dock is roughly the same size as the Nintendo Switch's middle portion. Around the back you've got a USB Type-C port to provide the console with power, an HDMI port to connect it to your television, and a USB Type-A port. 

On the left-hand side of the console are a further two USB ports, mainly used for charging your Switch controllers as you play wirelessly (more on this in a moment).

If you want to use the Nintendo Switch with multiple televisions throughout your home, you can buy additional docks, which make it easy to transition from one screen to another, plug-and-play style.

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: TechRadar)

Nintendo Switch: tabletop mode

  • Screen can also be detached and propped up on a table
  • Great for two-player gaming, but four players on the console's small screen is a push

The final form factor for the Nintendo Switch is what Nintendo calls 'tabletop mode'. Using the kickstand that's attached to the back of the screen, you can prop the console up on a table and then detach the Joy-Cons for some semi-portable gaming. 

In theory, this is perfect for long journeys on public transport where you have a tray table to place the console on; in reality, we found it a bit of a mixed experience. 

We do like being able to use the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons in the grip rather than having them attached to the console – the grip provides just enough extra plastic to make the controllers much more comfortable in the hands, and having the console a little further away means your sitting posture can be a lot more natural. 

Tabletop mode is also great for multiplayer on the Switch. Detaching both Joy-Cons to allow two people to play against one another is a pleasure: it makes the Nintendo Switch perfect for whipping out at small gatherings where you'll already have everything you need for a multiplayer session.

However, there are a couple of issues that prevent the console from fully capitalizing on this rather intriguing tabletop mode.

First is the kickstand. Although it's rubberized, which means that the Switch doesn't slide around, it only supports the console at a single height: if your tray table is a little closer to you then there's no ability to prop the console up so that it's facing you more directly, and instead you'll be stuck with the screen pointing at your chest rather than your face. 

Second is the Nintendo Switch charging port, which is inaccessible when you're using it in tabletop mode. During a recent train journey this meant that although we were in the perfect situation to use tabletop mode, we ended up using the console as a handheld so that we could charge it up. 

Finally, for multiplayer gaming the NIntendo Switch screen is just a little too small for more than two players. Four-player Mario Kart is almost impossible due to the size and resolution of the display (we found ourselves putting our faces inches from the console to be able to make out distant details). 

Overall, tabletop mode on the Switch feels better suited to short periods of use, which is a shame when it feels like it should be the de facto way to use the Nintendo Switch over long periods. 

Nintendo Switch: set-up

  • Set-up is simple enough
  • Console needs to be told whether Joy-Cons are being used together or separately

Setting up a brand new Nintendo Switch is refreshingly simple, you'll be pleased to learn.

If you're using the device as a handheld, simply attach the Joy-Cons, press the power button, and... er... that's it.

If you want to play Nintendo Switch games on your TV, you need to plug the dock into the TV via HDMI, then hook it up to some power via the included USB Type-C power lead. The console then easily slips into the dock. 

Pairing the controllers is a little more complicated than with other devices because of the fact that they can either be paired or used separately. The way you tell the Switch which controllers you're using is to press both the L and R shoulder buttons in whichever configuration you've opted for.

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: TechRadar)

So if you're using the Joy-Cons individually, you press the buttons on the Joy-Con straps to indicate that this is the case. 

On the software side, the console asks for the standard combination of Wi-Fi details and user account set-up info. These details are a doddle to input on the console's touchscreen – the keyboard isn't quite as good as a phone's but it's much better than a typical console experience.

After that's taken care, games can be played off a cartridge or the Nintendo Switch's internal memory.

Let's not forget Nintendo has designed some absolutely classic controllers in its time – the original NES controller wrote the blueprint that console controllers have followed ever since, the N64 was the first console to have a controller with an analogue thumb-stick, and the Wii (for better or for worse) introduced the world to motion-controlled gaming.

With the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo has attempted the seemingly impossible in creating a system that's simultaneously one whole controller and two separate controllers, while also functioning as controllers in the handheld mode.

Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons: general impressions

  • By trying to do many things at once the Joy-Cons don't do anything perfectly
  • HD Rumble tech is impressive – but developers need to find a use for it

Ultimately these multiple roles mean the Nintendo Switch controllers end up being jacks of all trades and masters of none. None of the controller configurations are unusable, but we've used more comfortable controllers in the past that have had the advantage of only having to do one job very well. 

The left Joy-Con's D-pad sums up the problem in a nutshell: rather than going for the cross D-pad that Nintendo has been using since the NES, the D-pad is instead split into four separate buttons to allow them to be used as face buttons when the Joy-Con is utilized as an individual controller. 

The result is a D-pad that you're not going to want to use for classic games that rely on it a lot, such as Street Fighter.

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: TechRadar)

The Nintendo Switch analogue sticks also feel like a compromise between form factors: too small for a traditional gamepad, yet big enough that we wouldn't want to throw the device too carelessly into a rucksack for fear of one of them snapping off. 

You do have the option of buying separate accessories which don't have these issues (the Pro controller being a prime example), but in this review we're going to limit ourselves to talking about what you get in the box, since this is the primary way most people are going to be using the console – at least initially. 

One part of the Switch controllers that we absolutely love are the face buttons. They're a little smaller than those on other consoles, but they've got a really satisfying click to them that we really appreciate. 

The Joy-Cons feature an interesting form of rumble, which Nintendo has dubbed 'HD Rumble'. From what we've seen so far this isn’t just a marketing gimmick – it genuinely feels like a step forward for rumble tech. 

One mini-game in the launch game 1-2 Switch has you counting the number of (virtual) balls inside a Joy-Con, and it's impressive just how well the HD Rumble creates the impression of there being real balls inside the controller. 

Another mini-game impresses by tasking you to crack a safe by feeling the click of a dial as you turn it. 

Both mini-games have us excited for the possibilities of HD Rumble in the future, but the success of the technology depends on the ability of Switch developers to make use of it – the potential is there, but we're still waiting for a killer app. 

Nintendo made practical use of the feature in the Switch 3.0 OS update – now if you've lost one Joy-Con but the two are still paired, you can make the other vibrate to make it easier to find. 

There were initially reports of connectivity issues with the left Joy-Con on the Nintendo Switch, something which we experienced ourselves. The problem is that sometimes during gameplay, the left Joy-Con's connection just drops out completely.

Fortunately, Nintendo is now offering a repair service for any broken Joy-Cons, so we'd advise sending yours in if you experience connectivity issues of any kind. 

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: TechRadar)

Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons: handheld

  • Handheld controls are a little cramped and awkward
  • Right analogue stick in particular is uncomfortable

It's in the handheld configuration that the Nintendo Switch controller's deficiencies are most apparent. The main problem is the low positioning of the right analogue stick, which we found very difficult to operate comfortably. 

Either you hold the Switch precariously on the tips of your fingers in order to operate the analogue stick with the tip of your right thumb, or you hold the device more tightly and operate the thumbstick with the inside of your thumb knuckle, which feels rather cramped and awkward. 

Looking back, the Vita layout is very similar, but the increased weight of the Nintendo Switch makes it much more difficult to comfortably hold on the fingertips. 

It's a mode that we think works in small bursts, but it's not comfortable over longer periods. If you're gaming on Nintendo Switch on a flight, for example, we'd expect most people to opt to put the console in tabletop mode on the tray table in front of them. 

We are, however, fans of the shoulder buttons, which manage to feel big enough without impacting on the depth of the console too much. 

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: TechRadar)

Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons: grip 

  • Analogue sticks smaller than traditional controllers
  • Overall the controller is comfortable and nice to use
  • Clicky face buttons are especially appealing

The main way we expect people will play with the console when it's docked is by combining the two Joy-Cons together into a single controller. 

This is done by using the included Joy-Con grip, which the two sides slide neatly into. 

We were initially concerned when it was revealed that the Joy-Con grip that comes with the Nintendo Switch is unable to charge the two controllers – this means that if you want to charge your controllers you'll need to plug them back into the console's screen.

The Joy-Cons' battery life is rated at 20 hours, so we'd be surprised if they ever run out of battery mid-game; at the same time, having to dismantle our controllers after every play session is somewhat annoying.

A grip that charges the Joy-Cons is available, but this is sold separately. 

Aside from charging concerns, we were pleasantly surprised with how the Nintendo Switch controller feels when assembled in the grip. 

Although the analogue sticks are a little small, we found them perfectly usable for lengthy Breath of the Wild play sessions, and the addition of a little more plastic massively helps the ergonomics of the controller as a whole. 

It's just a shame that the controller doesn’t have a proper D-pad on its left side: as it stands you're going to need to buy the Pro controller if you want that traditional Nintendo controller feel on the Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: TechRadar)

Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons: individual controllers

  • Oddly positioned buttons due to having to work as a combined controller
  • A nice option to have if you want a friend to join you for multiplayer

Split the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons apart and they can work as individual controllers complete with an analogue stick each, four face buttons, and (if you attach a Joy-Con strap) two shoulder buttons. 

It's this configuration that feels like it's required the biggest compromise in Nintendo's pursuit to make them work in multiple ways. 

On the left Joy-Con the D-pad/face buttons are in the centre of the controller, which means your right thumb is uncomfortably far over, and the same is true of the analogue stick on the right Joy-Con.

The asymmetrical configuration also makes describing controls to another person very difficult, since the control buttons have different names between the two Joy-Cons. 

The lack of hand grips is also prone to causing cramp if you use the controllers over long periods, especially if the game you're playing relies heavily on the Joy-Con's shoulder buttons. 

As a final point, the shoulder buttons can feel a little stiff to press, which adds to the discomfort of using them over long periods. 

So while this configuration might work in a pinch if you want to let a friend join you for a couple of rounds of Mario Kart, we don't see it being something you'll want to spend a lot of time with.

Additionally, you'll need to remember to carry the Joy-Con straps with your Nintendo Switch if you want to use the shoulder buttons, which will be an annoying inconvenience for most people. 

Alternatively, you can use the two Joy-Cons as a single controller while split apart. Here they function identically to when they’re assembled into the Joy-Con grip, although we found it much less comfortable because of how cramped the right analogue stick ends up feeling.

Again, this feels like a compromise, this time for when you've forgotten your Joy-Con grip. We can't see ourselves using this configuration much at all unless a motion-controlled game specifically calls for it in the future.

Nintendo was a little late to the online party. While Microsoft stormed ahead with its Xbox Live service and Sony got to grips with the PlayStation Network, Nintendo was languishing with inconvenient friend codes and limited voice chat options. 

After a lengthy wait, Nintendo Switch online offering is now up and running. As you're probably aware, it brings with it the ability to save games in the cloud, access to a host of classic NES games, and of course online multiplayer. The downside is you have to fork out £3.49 / $3.99 to Nintendo every month.

Nintendo Switch: online multiplayer

  • Basic service has been online for a while
  • Full service finally launched in October 2018

Online multiplayer was available in some games from the launch of the Nintendo Switch, but now it's here in full – if you're willing to pay for it.

We've already had a play around with the console's companion app, which was compatible with Splatoon 2 right away: you could invite friends to matches, and voice chat with them, even if the whole process was rather cumbersome.

Using a separate device isn't ideal, and connectivity usually wasn't perfect. Whether the full Nintendo Switch online service turns out to be a winner remains to be seen.

What we can tell you is that regular updates to the Nintendo Switch companion app and the firmware on the console itself have continued to introduce some very welcome features – such as the ability to add friends directly from your 3DS and Wii U Friend Lists.

Nintendo Switch: local wireless multiplayer

  • Easy to set up and join other players
  • Supports up to eight Switch consoles

Local wireless multiplayer within a game such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe works very well in our experience.

We used three Nintendo Switch consoles to have six people playing at once and found the entire process simple to set up, with no lag or connection problems. 

To set up an online multiplayer game using local wireless, players simply start up Mario Kart and select local wireless mode for either one or two players within the game itself. After this, one player will set up a room which the other players then join, and the player who set up the room selects the race rules. 

Each player will be given the chance to vote for their track preference and the game will randomly choose a track from those that players have voted for, much like online play works. 

If you have two players to one console, then the screen will split for each of you to see your place in the race, but you won't see what everyone else is seeing on their screens unless their consoles are in front of you.  

In the specific case of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the maximum number of players that you can have in a single race over local wireless is eight, with one or two players per Switch. 

However, if you don't have multiple consoles then up to four friends can play on a single Nintendo Switch console in TV mode, or in tabletop mode.

Alternatively, if you have a lot of friends and a lot of consoles to hand, up to 12 consoles in TV mode can be connected via LAN Play, with one or two players per connected Nintendo Switch. However with each player required to have their own USB Ethernet adaptor, it's unlikely that many outside of tournaments will end up using their Nintendo Switch consoles in this way.

Nintendo Switch: online service

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review
  • Limited functionality at launch
  • Full service arrived in October 2018

Nintendo’s online service certainly looks better than what it's offered in the past, but it still falls short of what competitors Sony and Microsoft are doing.

The service costs $3.99 / £3.49 / AU$5.95 if you're paying month by month, with the monthly cost dropping slightly if you commit to more months at once.

And remember those are the prices for one user. If you've got a family on your Nintendo Switch then you'll be looking to sign up for the more expensive family plan which costs £31.49 / $34.99 per year. It seems like a fair bit more, but it does allow up to eight accounts across multiple consoles, meaning you get a decent discount if you know a few people with Switch consoles who are willing to split. 

Large parts of the service function through an app on your phone, so you'll have to have it on you if you want to use some of the online functions.

The service also offers its own somewhat limited version of Sony's PlayStation Plus free games and Microsoft's Games with Gold, giving players access to a small library of 20 NES games at launch (with modern features like online multiplayer). Nintendo is promising to add more NES games regularly.

Something a lot of people have been waiting for has also arrived with the online service: cloud saves. Those who subscribe to the online service can finally back up their saves for the games they've plugged hundreds of hours into (though they do have to pay for the privilege).

Though the Switch launched without the popular video streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime we've come to expect from consoles, Nintendo was quick to promise that these services would come to the console 'in time', though we haven't seen much yet.

Hulu is the first of these services to have launched. It's US-only, but we're hoping this is a good sign that other streaming services will be arriving soon. It certainly sounds as though YouTube could be imminent.

Nintendo Switch: eShop online store

  • eShop available at launch with modern games
  • Retro games available through Nintendo Switch Online

Like the Wii U before it, the Nintendo Switch features an online store that will allow you to download games rather than buy them in-store. 

If you're looking to download your games instead of buying them in a physical format, you'll want to invest in a microSD card. The console's internal memory is limited to 32GB, an amount which is already too small for one game, Dragon Quest Heroes.

As for the Virtual Console seen on previous Nintendo devices, that's not coming to the Nintendo Switch. Instead, retro games are available through the online subscription service we've already mentioned.

Although the eShop could do with a few more titles to choose from, we like its minimalist design. Along the left are sections for Recent Releases, Coming Soon and Redeem Code and there's also some search functionality too. 

You can add upcoming games to your Watch List, and there's also a section for downloading previously purchased titles to your Nintendo Switch. Nintendo is clearly planning to continue to add to the store as time goes on, too.

This original review was based on the Nintendo Switch model released at launch. However Nintendo has since updated its standard model to one which boasts a longer battery life.

With the Nintendo Switch having to work as a handheld as well as a home console, we were initially worried that the console's graphical abilities would be limited. 

Internally the Switch is using an Nvidia Tegra X1 chip, which is broadly similar to what was found in the Nvidia Shield. That's not exactly a bad thing considering the Shield is a 4K-capable set-top box, but you have to remember that as a portable device the Switch needs to make compromises to ensure decent battery life. 

At launch, concerns over graphical horsepower appeared to be partly borne out, but we wouldn't call them deal-breakers – we'd say the graphics on the Nintendo Switch appear to be roughly equivalent to the Wii U.

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch: graphical performance

  • Roughly equivalent to Wii U
  • Not on a PS4 or Xbox One level
  • Strength of Nintendo's art direction makes up for technical shortcomings

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for example, runs at a resolution of 720p on the Wii U, while this is boosted to 900p on the Switch when docked and outputting to a Full HD screen (4K output isn't supported). 

On the surface this suggests the Switch has the graphical edge on the Wii U, but we experienced frequent frame rate drops when playing the game on our television. 

Meanwhile, when played on the Switch's own 720p screen, the game maintained a consistent frame rate. 

These observations would suggest that we're looking at a new console with roughly equivalent power to Nintendo’s last-generation system, but we'll see how the situation improves as developers continue to get to grips with the new hardware. 

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo has never been one to push the graphical envelope though. Past games such as the Wii U's Mario Kart 8 have certainly looked good, but this has been more as a result of their distinctive art style than the technical prowess of their graphics. 

We're thankful then that this has tended to be a strong suit of Nintendo's in the past. 

The look of the games (in handheld mode at least) is also helped by the quality of the Switch's screen. Although it's only a 720p resolution, the screen is bright and its colors are vibrant. It's not up there with the best smartphones on the market, but it's definitely a step above Nintendo’s past handhelds. 

We'll have to see what the Nintendo Switch achieves in the graphical department going forward, but this certainly isn't a console to rival the likes of the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.

The games we've played look very good for handheld games, but as console games they don't quite have the same fidelity of current-generation games on other consoles. 

Nintendo Switch: battery life

  • As low as 2.5 hours for graphically intensive games
  • Enough for a commute, but longer journeys might prove problematic
  • Ability to charge over USB allows use of portable battery packs

Much has been made of the Switch's battery life, which Nintendo has claimed will last between 2.5 and 6 hours. 

In our experience this claim has rung true. When actively playing Zelda we got around 2.5 hours, which was enough to cover our commute to and from work in a single day before we charged the Switch overnight. 

If you're looking to use the console for a longer period, such as on a flight, then there are a couple of things you can do to squeeze some more battery life out of the console – turning on airplane mode for example (although this prevents you from detaching the Joy-Cons), and dimming the screen. 

Additionally you're able to use portable battery packs, but this is hardly ideal, and we found that the Nintendo Switch draws so much power that at best they prevented the battery from dropping during play, rather than actively recharging it. 

It's difficult to compare this battery life to previous handheld consoles, as even on the Switch itself this battery life will vary massively between different games, but we've seen a rest-mode comparison that put the Switch ahead of the Vita and PSP, while losing out to the DS and GameBoy Advance. 

The bottom line is that this is a console that should be able to deal with your daily commute, but might struggle with longer journeys.

Update: This page originally covered the games that launched alongside the console. However after two years on sale the number of games on the Nintendo Switch has increased significantly – check out our guide to the best Nintendo Switch games for a constantly-updated list of the games you absolutely need to pick up. 

  • Plenty of good games over the first 12 months
  • Eventual success will rely on third-party developers
  • Lack of graphical parity may harm long-term support

The Nintendo Switch's launch lineup comprised a combination of ports of existing games such as Shovel Knight, World of Goo and I Am Setsuna, new entries in existing franchises like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Bomberman R, and all-new games like Snipperclips, 1-2 Switch and Fast RMX. 

All in all it wasn't a bad launch lineup, but the first 12 months that the Nintendo Switch was on sale also saw big new releases in the form of Super Mario Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Splatoon 2 and Arms. 

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime has also said in an interview that we could see more of Nintendo's big first party titles come to the console in one form or another (Super Smash Bros has now arrived, for example).

How this will continue to play out isn't fully clear, but Fils-Aime did say that a main Nintendo development philosophy is to have at least one of its classic franchises on every platform. 

In its first year the console also received versions of big existing games like Minecraft and FIFA. Though not exactly new, titles like these will be important for consumers who don't plan on using the Switch as a second console, but will be using it as their primary gaming device. 

The real test in the long term will be how third-party developers (i.e. those not financed by Nintendo directly) embrace the console. Although its graphics are good for a handheld, we worry that a lack of graphical parity with PS4 and Xbox One will prevent developers from easily supporting the console alongside those devices, which may harm the number of game releases it gets in the future. 

So far there have been some positive signs for third-party support on the Nintendo Switch. Rocket League developer Psyonix brought the game to the console, for example, and the release of Snake Pass suggests that games can be brought over to the Switch without too many compromises

Mario and Zelda have always been excellent games, but without the likes of franchises with more regular release schedules like Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed and Far Cry, you might find yourself lacking games to play in the long run. 

We've had the chance to try out a select portion of the console's games at launch, so read on for our thoughts. 

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: Nintendo)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

  • Impressive modernization of a classic franchise

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Nintendo Switch's launch lineup. Although the game also arrived on Nintendo's older Wii U console, the thought of being able to take a full-on, modern Zelda on the go was always going to be a compelling proposition. 

But quite apart from being the best handheld Zelda game ever made, the game is also up there with being one of the best in the series too. It feels fantastically broad and open, with dozens of weapons to find, items to craft, and environments to explore. 

Yes, the game breaks with tradition in so many ways but the experience still ends up feeling quintessentially Zelda, with all the charm that this entails. If you're picking up a Nintendo Switch or have done already, then Breath of the Wild is an absolutely essential purchase.

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: Nintendo)

1-2 Switch

  • An interesting showcase of the hardware, but doesn't quite have the staying power of Wii Sports

Like the Wii before it, the Nintendo Switch introduces new technologies to gaming that haven't been explored before. 

Whereas the Wii had Wii Sports to show off these new concepts, the Switch is banking on 1-2 Switch to demonstrate what the new hardware is capable of. The result is a collection of 28 mini-games, which cover everything from sword-fighting to Wild West gunslinging, while also making some time for cow-milking. 

It's a fun collection of games, but we don't think it has the same 'replayability' as the classic Wii Sports did. 

The games are more about performing in front of your friends than outright winning. For example, one game has you pulling yoga poses and trying to keep as still as possible for as long as you can, but since the Joy-Con is only tracking the movement of one hand, there's nothing forcing you to actually hold the pose specified by the game (aside from drawing the ire of your friends). 

There's also no single-player mode for you to practise with when you're away from a group of pals. Overall the game is a bit of a mixed bag, but it's a fun one to use to show off your new Nintendo Switch to friends. 

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review

Snipperclips

  • A great little co-op indie game

One of the nice surprises of the Switch launch event way back when was Snipperclips, a small puzzle game in which two players solve puzzles by cutting sections out of each other and changing their character's shapes.

It’s a delightful, charming, little game, and with its budget price tag we think it's another essential purchase for anyone who owns a Nintendo Switch.

Just Dance 2017

  • A competent entry in the series

You've almost certainly heard of Just Dance, the dancing series that first premiered on the Wii way back in 2009. 

The game tasks you with completing various dance routines, either on your own or with a friend, and judges your progress based on the movement of a Joy-Con in your hand (unfortunately there doesn't appear to be a way to use two Joy-Cons simultaneously). 

Much like 1-2 Switch, there's little to stop you cheating and not dancing with your whole body, but (also like 1-2 Switch) this is meant as a party game, so social niceties will hopefully stop you from spoiling the fun. 

It's not the most feature-packed or technically advanced game in the world, but if you've enjoyed Just Dance games in the past then this appears to be a very serviceable version for the Nintendo Switch.

By all accounts the Nintendo Switch has had an amazing start to life, with a number of excellent exclusive games and solid sales.

However, the complete package (including Nintendo Switch Online) has only just become available, so we'll have to reserve judgment on that part of the Nintendo Switch experience for the time being.

We liked

When compared with the handheld consoles that have come before it, the Nintendo Switch blows them out of the water with its graphical quality, which comes close to the last generation of consoles. 

This is helped by its impressive screen which is bright, crisp, and colorful. 

Providing the console with a controller that also doubles as two individual controllers is a very neat inclusion, and should mean that you're always able to join a friend for a quick multiplayer game while you're out and about. 

We're pleased to report that the Nintendo Switch docking and undocking process is impressively seamless too, with games that don't even need to be paused before being plugged into a television.

We also like the pattern of regular updates that Nintendo has established: Fortnite has just been added, for example, and the  online service seems set to shake things up once again.

Nintendo Switch review

Nintendo Switch review (Image credit: TechRadar)

We disliked

The phrase "jack of all trades and master of none" may sound negative, but the impression the Nintendo Switch has left us with is that sometimes compromise is necessary and good. 

Yes there are better home consoles out there with controllers that can be good at doing just one thing, and yes there are handhelds out there that have better battery life and a more compact form-factor, but no other piece of gaming hardware has attempted the sheer number of things as the Nintendo Switch does – and then delivered so competently on so many of them. 

The graphics aren't the best around, but they're good enough that they don't feel dated. The controller isn't the most comfortable, but it never feels outright difficult to use. The battery life isn't the best, but it's enough for daily use. 

Final verdict

All of these trade-offs have been born out of compromise and an attempt to make something that works in so many situations, and on that final point the Nintendo Switch is a great success. 

What remains to be seen is if, in the years ahead, its games library can shape up to be something you'll want to play both at home and on the go, and whether its online service can compete with the existing efforts from Sony and Microsoft. 

If both of these play out well, then Nintendo will have found a set of compromises worth making. 

So is the $299.99 / £279.99 / AU$469.95 asking price justified? At this point the answer seems to be a resounding yes. Nintendo has released excellent game after excellent game for the system, and the hardware does a great job of making these games come alive. 

It's also worth mentioning there are often some really good value bundles available across all markets – for more on this check out our guide to the latest Nintendo Switch bundles and deals.

But if you're after a 'complete' console experience, then you might have to wait a while longer to see how Nintendo Switch Online pans out.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Image Credit: Nintendo (Image credit: Nintendo)

Should I wait for the Nintendo Switch Lite?

We highly recommend the Nintendo Switch, but everything has been shaken up by news that the Nintendo Switch Lite is on its way in September 2019. 

According to Nintendo, the Nintendo Switch Lite is a device "dedicated to handheld gameplay", has integrated controls and, unlike its larger predecessor, will not support video output to TV.

That means, so far, what we know is the Lite is, as you probably guessed, a lighter version than the Nintendo Switch. Not only will it cost less, but it's designed to be only handheld rather than syncing up to your TV. Depending on what you need the Switch for, and how you game already, it could be relatively easy to figure out which one you need. 

If you want to know whether you should wait for the Lite version of the console, check out our guide: Nintendo Switch vs. Nintendo Switch Lite: which one is for you? 

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