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Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad - Gaming tablet vs tablet that does gaming

Apples and oranges?
Product: Nintendo Switch | Publisher: Nintendo | Format: Switch
Have you bought yourself a Switch yet? We're massively impressed by Nintendo's new hybrid console, but we can understand why some may still be sitting on the fence.

Right now the Switch is at its most expensive and its library at its most threadbare. If you're not a complete Nintendo nut with £300 or more to burn, you might well be holding off.

In order to help you make a purchasing decision, we've been making a few comparisons with other handheld gaming systems on the market. We've already covered the most obvious contenders in the PS Vita and the 3DS. But what about Apple iPad family?

You might not think of the iPad as a direct rival to the Switch. For one thing, there are five distinct models in the current roster. For another, Apple isn't a games company and its tablet is no dedicated games machine.

But these devices overlap in function, and are competing for the same limited money that most of us have to hand these days. How do they stack up?

Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad - Design

Any view that the Switch and the iPad range have nothing in common takes a bit of a dent when you remove the Nintendo console's Joy-Con controllers. What are you left with other than a tablet?

Of course, as pure tablets go the iPad is a much slicker piece of design. Regardless of which of the five current models you choose - there are two iPad minis, the iPad Air 2, and two iPad Pros - you're getting a sleek, unadorned slab of sculpted metal and glass that's pretty much all screen.

Several of these tablet models are just 6.1mm thick, which is less than half the thickness of the 13.9mm Nintendo Switch. Add in the Switch's functional plastic build and Joy-Con runners, and there's a clear winner in the looks department.

None of these devices are what we'd call light, though. The iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro 9.7 - which I'd call the 'standard' models in the range - weigh a chunky 437g, while the iPad mini 4 (which is most similar to the Switch in screen size) weighs a not inconsiderable 299g.

The Switch, meanwhile, weighs 398g with both Joy-Con controllers attached and 297g without. All of these devices need a good bag to lug them around in.

Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad - Controls

We mentioned removing the Joy-Con controllers from the Switch, but of course the only reason you'd do that would be to use those controllers remotely. They're an integral part of the Switch package, which is one of the key differences to the iPad.

Despite their unusual shapes, these Joy-Con controllers provide a fairly traditional console experience, with twin analogue sticks, eight main control buttons, and a D-pad of sorts that doubles for an extra set of four buttons.

Split those those Joy-Con components and you have a pair of simple horizontal joypads for multiplayer gaming.

The iPad family, meanwhile, is all about its capacitive touchscreen. Sure, some games enable you to use a third party control pad to operate them, but that's always optional. Gaming on the iPad is an entirely touch and motion-driven affair.

Of course, the Nintendo Switch has those capacitive touchscreen and motion-sensitive controls also, and should prove perfectly adept at hosting the kind of games you can get on the iPad. Yep, the Switch is the control king.

Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad - Display

As we've already discussed there are five models in the current iPad family, but they're split between three basic screen configurations - 7.9-inch, 9.7-inch, and 12.9-inch. All except the super-sized iPad Pro boast 2048 x 1536 resolutions (the Pro's is 2732 x 2048).

Regardless of the differences, the general point to take from the iPad family display is that it's much bigger and much sharper than the Switch's.

The Nintendo Switch display is a comparatively diddly 6.2-inches and 1280 x 720.

All of these are bright, modern LCD displays that do their content justice. But there's no denying that Apple's tablets are the best.

One noteworthy difference here is in aspect ratio. The iPad family has a curiously square 4:3 aspect ratio, as it's designed to be usably in both portrait and landscape orientations. Nintendo's console sticks with a 16:9, which matches that of your average TV for a more traditional 'widescreen' experience.

Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad - Power

This is a tough comparison to make, as there are four different CPU's found across the five current iPad models. All are custom 64-bit Apple AX chips, however, from the iPad mini 2's A7 to the iPad Pro's A9X.

The Nintendo Switch has a a custom Nvidia Tegra chip based on the Tegra X1.

It's tough to make a direct comparison at this point, but we would point to one of the other device's that runs on the Tegra X1 chip. Google's current flagship Android tablet, the Pixel C, launched just a few months ahead of the iPad Pro 9.7 as a similarly pitched 'pro' 10-inch tablet.

The results of various benchmark tests at the time suggest that the top iPad chip beats the X1 for pure processing power, but that the X1 has the edge in all-round graphical performance thanks to its desktop PC-like GPU.

Only the top iPad Pro 12.9 model matches the Nintendo Switch on 4GB of RAM, which is another hint of the Switch's laser focus on gaming performance.

And that really is the key point here. The Switch has been customised and honed with gaming performance in mind, whereas Apple builds its iPads as general purpose machines.

iPads are meant to serve as media players, web browsers, email and messaging tools all rolled into one. They also have to run the company's hefty iOS operating system with all of its background processes and notifications, which demands a fair amount of system resources. The Switch gives the vast majority of its power over to one thing only - games - and it's a more capable gaming machine than any iPad as a result.

Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad - Special features

What's special about an iPad? These days, it's tough to pick any one thing out. But don't forget that it pretty much defined the whole tablet market that has at least partly come to define the Nintendo Switch's design.

The iPad offers a large screen experience that's nevertheless highly portable. It provides much of the capability of a laptop in a significantly smaller form factor. What's more, it offers access to a library of thousands and thousands of games that tend to cost - at most - a couple of pounds each.

Of course, none of that is as eye catching as the Nintendo Switch. It's got removable controllers which can be split and used for two-player games. It has a screen than can stand on its own as a display, or can be slotted into a dock and outputted to your TV with added pixels.

In terms of headline features, the iPad has become part of the furniture, while the Switch jumps up and down and begs you to pick it up.

Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad - Battery life

Apple generally aims for 10 hours of multimedia usage on a single charge for its iPad family. That reflects the fact that they tend to come with whopping great batteries.

The smallest battery in the range is the 5124 mAh unit belonging to the iPad mini 2. The largest is the 10,307 mAh unit of the iPad Pro 12.9.

Compare that to the 4310 mAh battery of the Nintendo Switch, and realise what a difference there is here. Of course, as we've discussed, the use case for these devices is quite different. The iPad is designed to be used frequently yet intermittently for a variety of tasks, whereas the Switch is built for intensive spells of high-grade gaming.

To that end, Nintendo's Battery life of between three and six hours - depending on the intensity of the game - isn't so bad.

Nintendo Switch vs Apple iPad - Price

Apple's iPad range has expanded massively since its debut, to the point where it covers a wide range of prices. The iPad mini 2 starts from just £239, while at the opposite end of the spectrum the iPad Pro 12.9 will set you back at least £729.

The Nintendo Switch sits near the bottom end of that scale, then, at £280. You're getting a far less multifunctional device, of course - you can't even watch or stream video content on the Switch as yet - but if literally all you want from your tablet device is games, the Switch looks like a bargain in this company.

Of course, hardware is only half the story. Nintendo Switch games are infamously expensive, with physical releases tending to cost between £40 and £60 at this early point. Equivalent digital releases cost a similar amount, though the smaller and dare I say more tablet-like Snipperclips costs £18.

That's still a lot more expensive than the vast majority of games available on the iOS App Store. Many are free and either ad or IAP funded, but even the so-called premium games on iOS only tend to cost between £2 and £3 - with the odd £15-20 splurge for a hardcore JRPG or PC game conversion.

Of course, most of these games (though not exclusively) are lighter efforts. But one thing iOS has that Sony and Microsoft would kill for is Nintendo making games for it.


Some would argue that comparing the Switch to the iPad is a case of apples and oranges, and to a large extend we'd agree. Buying a tablet is as much about buying a couch-based web browsing tool or a portable media player as it is a gaming machine.

But on the other hand, these two platforms are competing for the same money in the same loose field of 'portable entertainment devices'. For many people, a choice will need to be made.

It comes down to this, then - how important are games to you? Very? If so, are you happy using your smartphone for general media and web stuff? Yes? Then the Switch is almost certainly the machine for you.

If you're after a more general, flexible media and communication device that also happens to be a pretty great gaming machine in its own right, then the iPad is the better choice. In that case, all we'd say is to give the iPad mini 2 a miss, as it's pretty long in the tooth now. Otherwise, you can buy with confidence. 

Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy 9 March 2017
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