This Tiny Portable Dock Got Me Playing My Nintendo Switch on My TV

Illustration for article titled This Tiny Portable Dock Got Me Playing My Nintendo Switch on My TV
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Long story short, before this weekend, I had never once used the Nintendo Switch Dock to play my video games on the TV. When I first got my Switch, it was because my roommates had stuffed our communal TV’s four HDMI ports with their shit and I was not about to dive into that Medusa nest of dusty cords. Fast forward a year, I moved in with my partner and my dock suddenly became his dock when his original one broke. I was dockless.

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So when my colleague Andrew Liszewski asked who wanted to review the Genki Covert Dock from Human Things, a small plug that’s meant to act as a tiny portable Switch dock and charger, I may have had ulterior motives.

The Genki Covert Dock was appealing because this nifty little gadget looked like it could solve several of my problems at once. First, it was tiny. It measures 2.3 by 1.73 by 1.3 inches, which is no larger than some of the converter plugs I’ve used when traveling internationally. As I’ve written many times before, I live in a shoebox. Space in my teeny studio apartment comes at a premium, but especially with regard to anything TV-related. As two independent nerds, my partner and I decided that in our tiny space we both absolutely needed our own TV to keep the peace. Except my TV sits atop a dresser, leaving barely any room for anything else, including a Switch dock. That’s one major reason I haven’t even bothered buying a replacement dock for myself.

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Second, my partner’s Switch also has gotten wonky over time. It’s perfectly fine when not in the Dock, but sometimes it just refuses to output to the TV, regardless of what order the cables are plugged in. We’re not totally sure if it’s his Switch’s USB-C port or the USB-C connector on the dock that’s to blame—though my hunch is the latter. To get it working, you have to jiggle his Switch in the dock a few times just so. This is not only annoying, it also isn’t a permanent solution.

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Given the Genki Covert Dock was compact and connects to a Switch via the USB-C, this seemed like an easy solution to at least one of these two problems.

The device itself is fairly straight forward. Included in the box is the Covert Dock, a 6-foot USB-C 3.1 cable, and a bunch of adaptors for different international outlets. The Covert Dock itself also sports a USB-C port, an HDMI 1.4 port, and a USB-A port. (Note: It doesn’t come with an HDMI cable, so you’ll have to supply one of your own.) You stick the USB-C cable into the Switch and the HDMI cable into your TV and... that’s it. If you want, you can also charge a third device via the USB-A port, but it’s not necessary if you don’t feel like it.

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You got 3 ports: USB-C, USB-A, and one HDMI. It fits nicely into a wall outlet, but my HDMI cord wasn’t long enough to reach from here to my TV.
You got 3 ports: USB-C, USB-A, and one HDMI. It fits nicely into a wall outlet, but my HDMI cord wasn’t long enough to reach from here to my TV.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

But while it was easy to figure out, that didn’t mean setting things up went entirely without a hitch. The Covert Dock is essentially a plug. That means your cords have to be long enough to reach your TV’s ports from the wall. This might sound like a “Well, duh” thing, but even my 10-foot HDMI cord wasn’t quite long enough for my layout. I had to fish out a spare extension cord—not a huge deal but a bit of an eyesore in terms of cord management. If you’re thinking about using the Covert Dock while traveling—whenever it is that travel is a thing again—it’s probably a good idea to pack either the longest HDMI cord possible (though be warned longer cables can come with their own issues) or an extension cord. You’d think a hotel room would have plentiful outlets and at least one within a few feet of the TV, but I’ve been to plenty to know that’s not always the case.

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Once my cords were all set up, it was time to plug my Switch in. I did... and all I got was a big fat message saying the TV couldn’t detect an input signal. I re-checked that everything was connected correctly. It was. I then unplugged and replugged everything multiple times. Still nothing. I went to good old Google to troubleshoot, and after reading this Nintendo support forum, tried plugging in the HDMI cable before my Switch. It worked! I didn’t have this issue after the initial time, so I can’t say if this is a regular problem. That said, you might have to use the very scientific method of unplugging and replugging a few times if, for some reason, nothing is showing up.

I spent a few hours playing various Switch games on the big screen, and I got to say, I feel kinda stupid not doing this before. Not only was it probably better for my garbage eyes, but it was also kind of nice to see details I’d never really noticed before while squinting at my tiny Switch screen. As for picture quality, the Covert Dock outputs at 1080p at 60Hz—or you know, what you expect from a Switch.

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Excuse the cat hair. In reality, I had to plug this guy into a power strip and extension cord.
Excuse the cat hair. In reality, I had to plug this guy into a power strip and extension cord.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Out of curiosity, I also tried the Covert Dock with my partner’s wonky Switch. It worked, sans any jiggling. A part of me also hoped it might work with the Switch Lite, but alas, it does not—so if you’re a Lite owner wondering if this is a workaround for playing on the TV, I regret to inform you that you’re out of luck. You can, however, use it to charge the Lite.

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No review about a third-party Switch dock would be complete, however, without addressing the possibility of bricking. Starting in early 2018, there were multiple stories of users saying third-party docks—particularly the Nyko dock—had fried their Switch, to the point where many seemed wary of trying any accessory that wasn’t certified. Anecdotally, I can say I have played a few hours with the Genki Covert Dock and so far, my Switch is fine. Sure, the plug gets a ‘lil warm after a long session if I have my phone simultaneously charging... but my Switch is otherwise fine.

Side by side, the size difference is obvious. These two things do the same thing.
Side by side, the size difference is obvious. These two things do the same thing.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo
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For what it’s worth, Human Things’ lead engineer posted a lengthy breakdown on Reddit last year on why some third-party docks were bricking Switch consoles. The post got picked up by tech media outlets, and the gist is that the Switch uses an M92T36 Power Delivery chip, which maxes out at around 6V. Some third-party docks, including Nyko, were then found to lack dedicated PD controllers, leading them to send 9V to the Switch—well over the max voltage. You can take this with a grain of salt, but in general, your chance of bricking appears to be higher if a dock isn’t PD compliant, lacks a dedicated PD controller chip, and cuts corners by using a cheap USB-C connector. Human Things’ site says the Covert Dock “adheres to Nintendo Switch’s energy standards and Power Delivery (PD) 3.0,” as well as includes a “quality power management chip.” Its FAQ states that the Covert Dock will not brick a Switch “any more than the original dock and charger” and that the company would post more test results going forward.

DON’T JUDGE MY CORDS OKAY? I KNOW I NEED LONGER ONES. THIS WAS TEMPORARY FOR TESTING. But also, yay to gaming on my TV.
DON’T JUDGE MY CORDS OKAY? I KNOW I NEED LONGER ONES. THIS WAS TEMPORARY FOR TESTING. But also, yay to gaming on my TV.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo
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At $75, the Covert Dock isn’t what I’d call a cheap accessory—but then the official Nintendo Switch Dock Set retails for $90. (Though, that includes an HDMI cable whereas the Covert Dock does not.) Depending on whether you have an extra HDMI cord lying around, you might not actually be saving much by opting for the Covert Dock—though the Covert Dock is much, much, much more compact and portable. If you’re limited on space or someone who doesn’t mind carrying around an extra HDMI cord while traveling, the Genki Covert Dock is a good option.

As for my partner and I, we are at yet another standstill. I would like to continue using the Covert Dock for my TV. I’ve experienced the glory. There’s no going back. He would like to use it and punt over the bulky, potentially wonky original dock to me. Who will win? I’m not sure.

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(Me. I am most definitely going to win.)

README

  • A tiny, portable third-party Nintendo Switch dock
  • Has a USB-C port, HDMI port, and a USB-A port
  • Can charge an extra device while you’re gaming
  • Did not brick my Switch!
  • Because it’s a plug, you really got to think through your layout and whether you have a long-enough HDMI cord or an extension cable
  • Not cheap at $75... but cheaper than Nintendo’s $90 official dock
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Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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DISCUSSION

So your “partner” breaks their dock, steals yours, and now wants to steal your new one? All while enjoying the better TV setup?

What a nice guy.