Nintendo’s questionable supply chain strategies mean there are still gamers trying to get their hands on a Switch, two months after its release. But why bother trying to hunt down another console when the smartphone in your pocket can already do almost everything the Switch can—with a few upgrades.
You probably occasionally use your smartphone as a portable gaming machine, although limited to just quick rounds of Candy Crush as you ride the subway every day. But a modern smartphone, with a beefy processor and a decent-sized display, can do almost everything the Nintendo Switch can (sadly Breath of the Wild will still be out of your reach).
In fact, your smartphone might actually offer a few upgrades over the Switch! There are far more games available, including emulators that let you play classic titles from almost any console. Though you’ll need to put in a little effort if you want to play old Zelda games on your iPhone.
Besides games, your phone almost certainly offers a better visual experience than the Switch does. Nintendo chose to use an LCD display limited to a resolution of just 1280x720 pixels and many smartphones are capable of at least full 1920x1080 HD resolutions with color saturation and fidelity that far outperform the Switch’s screen.
But having access to thousands of great titles on a beautiful screen means nothing when trying to play action games using a touchscreen. Ask anyone who’s tried, it is an act of absolute frustration.
So the first upgrade you’ll need to turn your smartphone into a Switch are some better controls. After all, touchscreens suck when it comes to playing games that require more than just tapping the screen. With the right accessories you can almost perfectly emulate the Switch’s handheld gaming experience, or connect multiple wireless controllers for some mobile multiplayer.
Switch Style Controllers
Gamevice Controller (iOS)
The closest you’ll get to recreating the Nintendo Switch’s form factor is the $100 Gamevice that wraps your smartphone in a pair of halved controllers featuring analog joysticks, a directional pad, and a set of four action buttons. You’ll at least need an iPhone 6 to use it, but it connects to the device’s Lightning port without the need for battery-sucking Bluetooth.
MOGA Ace Power Controller (iOS)
It’s essentially the same product as the Gamevice, but the MOGA Ace Power packs a rechargeable battery to help keep your smartphone running longer. You can find it online for as cheap as $20, but it’s only compatible with older iPhones. Anything larger than the iPhone 5s will be too big for the MOGA Ace Power to wrap around.
8Bitdo Zero Controller (iOS & Android)
The Switch’s two controllers handily slide off either end of the console to be used for multiplayer experiences, and if you want a similarly super tiny controller for your iOS or Android device than maybe you should consider the $17 8Bitdo Zero. It works with any device that can wirelessly connect to Bluetooth peripherals and offers basic controls including shoulder buttons, a directional pad, and four action buttons.
Switch Pro Style Controllers
SteelSeries Stratus XL Controller (Android)
We’re a big fan of SteelSeries, so while the $60 the SteelSeries Stratus XL isn’t ideal for traveling, we still think it’s a good choice for when your smartphone’s connected to a TV for big-screen gaming. It’s not as cool as a Switch controller but its a comparable alternative to the Nintendo Switch’s Pro Controller. And while it doesn’t have any force feedback features, it does promise 40 hours of gameplay on a single pair of AA batteries.
SteelSeries Nimbus Controller (iOS)
The $50 SteelSeries Nimbus wireless controller is the iOS equivalent of the company’s Stratus XL, giving you essentially the same experience as the full-size Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. With a few bonuses: It can be charged using the same Lightning cable you plug your iPhone into every night, and it features a dedicated menu button for navigating iOS or your Apple TV.
8Bitdo Wireless NES & SNES Controllers (iOS & Android)
The Nintendo Switch will inevitably get access to the company’s Virtual Console, letting you play your favorite classic games. But with a smartphone running an emulator you can play them all now. And with 8Bitdo’s $35 NES and SNES Bluetooth controllers, near-perfect recreations of the originals, you might feel like you’re back in your parent’s basement, slamming Capri Suns while playing Super Mario World.
One of the Nintendo Switch’s most unique features is its ability to transform from a handheld gaming system to a part of your entertainment center so you can play your games on a big screen TV. The Switch relies on a cumbersome dock to do this, but there are more elegant ways to connect your smartphone to a TV, including going wireless.
There are pros and cons to each approach, however, so you’ll need to decide what works best for you. Going wireless means you don’t have to deal with your smartphone being tethered to a long HDMI cable. But it might mean some costly hardware upgrades if you don’t already have a reliable wireless network in your home, or a TV setup that facilitates streaming from a mobile device.
Using a video adapter physically connected to your TV means you’ll have to wrangle HDMI and charging cables while you play. Yet it also guarantees smooth frame rates at all times, and the ability to enjoy your games on a friend’s TV, or a TV in a hotel room, where you can’t easily connect to a reliable (or secure) wireless network.
The Wireless Options
Apple TV (iOS)
If you want to wirelessly connect your iPhone to your TV using AirPlay, the Apple TV is your easiest solution. However, at $149 it’s half the price of a Nintendo Switch, and you’ll need to ensure your wireless router is up to the task of streaming video to your TV without dropping frames, which can ruin the gaming experience.
Google Chromecast (Android)
Chromcast can with iPhones games streamed to the TV too, but the experience isn’t always pleasant. Yet, for mirroring the gaming action on your Android smartphone to a TV, using a Google Chromecast is the way to go. Its small and unobtrusive and is only $35. That’s a downright bargain—as long as you can live with resolutions that top out at 1920x1080 HD.
Google Chromecast Ultra (Android)
Can the Nintendo Switch do 4K? Nope. But your Android smartphone probably can when connected to your TV via the Google Chromecast Plus. It goes $69—just ten dollars more than a Switch game, and it has an ethernet port for connecting directly to your router. That should help take some of the load off of your wireless network to ensure solid frame rates when streaming your favorite games.
The Wired Options
Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter (iOS)
Reliable wired options for iOS devices are few and far between. If you’re using an iPhone your best bet is to shell out a few more bucks to Apple and buy the $49 official Lightning to HDMI adapter. Fortunately it also includes an additional USB-C port so you can power your device while it’s connected to a TV using its Lightning port.
Slimport MicroUSB to HDMI Adapter (Android)
If you’re using an older Android device that doesn’t have a USB-C connection, you’ll need this Slimport microUSB to HDMI adapter. You probably won’t be able to push 4K resolution games to your TV, but at $7 it’s a cheap and compact solution.
Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter (Android)
The iPhone doesn’t support USB-C just yet, but most of the Android smartphones released in the past year do. As do many laptops. So Apple’s USB-C to HDMI adapter might be worth the $69 investment. When you’re not using it to connect an Android smartphone to your TV for gaming, it also has a USB-A port for connecting older peripherals to your fancy new laptop.
Monoprice USB-C to HDMI & USB-C Dual Port Adapter (Android)
If you’d rather not pay a premium for Apple’s products (that’s fair), and only ever intend to use your adapter with a smartphone, Monoprice’s USB-C solution gives you the important basics, including an HDMI port, and an extra USB-C port for charging, for just $20.
This is where your makeshift smartphone Switch can run laps around Nintendo’s console—at least in terms of selection. At the moment, the best reasons to buy a Nintendo Switch are Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. That’s just two games. They both happen to be very good games, but the iTunes App Store and the Google Play store both have thousands of titles you can download, and plenty that are actually good.
But which platform offers the better gaming experience? Apple’s walled garden approach to its app store means you’re less likely to get fooled buying a knock-off game. Its MFi certification program also ensures that if a controller says ‘Made for iPhone’ on the packaging, it’s guaranteed to connect and work with your phone right out of the box. Not all iOS games will work with a MFi-approved controller, however, and using a generic Bluetooth gamepad with your iPhone is hit and miss.
Android smartphones, on the other hand, have access to the Google Play store, which is like the wild west when it comes to content. Anything and everything goes, and you can probably find exactly what you need if you know where to look. That includes games, apps for remapping the buttons on a Bluetooth controller so it works flawlessly with any title, and emulators.
Part of the appeal of recent Nintendo consoles has been the company’s Virtual Console which allows you to play classic NES, SNES, and Game Boy games on modern hardware. But with the right emulator, Android smartphones can play classic games from countless different consoles, including the Atari 2600, Playstation, Game Boy Advance, PSP, PS2, and even the Game Cube. As for finding those games (commonly referred to as ROMs) that’s between you and a strategic Google search.
Can you play games like Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on your smartphone yet? No. So the Nintendo Switch will always be able to hold that over your smartphone FrankenSwitch. But you just saved yourself $300+, and having to wait in yet another line hoping that Best Buy has restocked enough of them.