Nintendo’s newest console, the Switch, is the company’s most powerful device yet. With great power, however, comes great battery drainage. On the go, the Switch can provide between 2.5 and 6 hours of play time, with intensive titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild hovering around three hours. The Switch’s battery can probably handle your daily commute, but for times when you’re away from an outlet for an extended period of time, you may want to pick up an external battery pack, which will let play more games for longer.
Since the Switch hit stores, we’ve been testing external battery packs of all shapes, sizes, and specifications to find out which works best with the console. What we found was very strange. Battery packs that theoretically should have charged the Switch more efficiently often worked at near identical or even lower performance. In other words, even veteran, tech-saavy shoppers may need a little extra help reading between the lines and finding a right battery pack for keeping their Switches alive. Luckily, we’re here to help.
Here’s what we’ve learned, along with a few recommendations.
How battery packs work… most of the time
Battery pack efficiency is measured by voltage and amperage. Voltage is the amount of electrical force a pack outputs. Amperage, or amps, measures the strength at which the electrical force travels to the device. Multiply voltage and amperage, and you find the wattage, or power, of the battery pack. During our tests, however, the total power of a battery pack didn’t necessarily correlate with quicker charge times in sleep mode or while playing the Switch. Even though the results weren’t expected, we were able to find a baseline voltage/amperage to look out for when shopping for a battery pack specifically for your Switch.
On the back panel of the console, the Switch’s power supply is marked as 15V/2.6A, which, when combined, equal up to 39 watts. The dock, however, said the console has an “input power” of 15V/2.6A, and an output power of 15V/1.2A (18 watts) is actually what we should be concerned with. What does this mean? It’s safe to say that the Switch draws the extra juice to power the display on your TV screen when docked, but that the battery repletes with the 15V/1.2A when docked. That’s what the console is using to charge the console when its docked in sleep mode, which charges the Switch in roughly three hours.
Voltage, amperage, and wattage
When picking a battery pack, the Switch’s on-board specifications matter — but not as much as you may think. Some battery packs feature a “quick charge” feature, which can be useful for smartphones and certain tablets. Typically, a quick charge designation features double-digit voltages. From our tests, the Switch is not quick-charge compatible, so a high-level voltage doesn’t necessarily guarantee faster charging.
There’s been a bit of confusion about what specifications will actually work with the Switch. Shortly before launch, Ars Technica tested the 5V/3A Jackery Titan S, and received only a percentage of juice every six minutes, and not enough to sustain the system’s life while playing. We also tested the Jackery Titan S and it worked fine for us, charging the pack fully in roughly three hours. We aren’t sure what factors, if any, could have contributed to the change in performance. For now, it’s conceivable that you and your friend could buy the same pack and see different results.
We recommend battery packs that output at least 5V/2.1A (10.5 watts). Our tests revealed this as the the baseline wattage necessary to charge your Switch, and can do so in 3-4 hours while the console is in sleep mode. Why 10.5 watts? We found that many packs outputting below that threshold, particularly those with multiple outputs, did not charge the console effectively.
As it turns out, hitting that charging threshold is really the only thing you need to worry about. Packs outputting above 5V/2.1A — thus greater than 10.5-watt — did not boost charging speed or efficiency, so buying a better, more powerful battery pack won’t make an impact for the Switch.
Bottom line: Any pack that supports 5V/2.1A should fully charge your Switch in under four hours while in sleep mode.