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How to prep a Nintendo Switch for gifting

The holidays are for gaming, not waiting. Here's how to gift a Nintendo Switch

If you’re giving a loved one a Nintendo Switch this holiday season, you may want to do some of the legwork to ensure that they will be able to play it right away. Setting up a new video game console isn’t accomplished by simply hooking it up to the TV like in the ’90s and 2000s; now you have to contend with downloading system updates, digital games, and a lengthy series of setup screens to get everything up an running. Add in the fact that holidays, particularly Christmas, bog down servers to a crawl, and it makes sense to prepare beforehand.

Here’s how to prep a Nintendo Switch for gifting, so your loved one can start using their new console almost immediately.

Go through the initial setup

Every aspect of the prep process requires you to unbox the Nintendo Switch. It goes without saying, but be very careful doing this. While the goal isn’t to trick your loved one into thinking you never opened it (they’ll know), you want it to look brand new still. With the Switch, you don’t need to unbox everything though. You only need the tablet, Joy-Con (both controllers), and the AC adapter.

The Switch should have some charge out of the box, but it won’t be fully charged. Plug the adapter into a wall, connect it to the Switch, and slide the Joy-Con into place on each side of the tablet. Power the console on by pressing the button on the top-left of the tablet.

From here, you’ll have to set up the console. To start, you’ll choose the system language, connect to your Wi-Fi network, and pick your time zone. It will ask if you want to connect your Switch to your TV next. Choose “Later” to skip this step. Then you’re tasked with choosing a nickname and icon for the console. You can change both the nickname and icon at any time, so we suggest just going with the person’s first name and any icon.

You’ll arrive on the home screen. The first thing you want to do here is navigate to the circle icon with an orange bag. This opens the eShop. A system update is required to enter the eShop. Download the update and the console will restart.

Link the console to a Nintendo Account

This is where things get a bit tricky. To download games to the Switch, the console needs to be linked to a Nintendo Account. How do you do this without the recipient knowing? Well, it doesn’t need to be the same Nintendo Account that they may already have for Wii U or 3DS. In fact, since purchases don’t carry over, it’s not necessary at all.

Create a new Nintendo account and make sure to set up the account with your email address so that the recipient doesn’t receive an email. They can change the email address to their own later. The trickiest part of this process is choosing a nickname.

While you probably won’t pick the name they would’ve picked, the Switch uses your user profile nickname, not your Nintendo Network ID, in online sessions. Essentially, it doesn’t matter if you pick an embarrassing name like ILuvMom&Dad.

After you’re finished setting up the account, navigate to System Settings on the Switch, choose User, and click on the Avatar. Select “Link to a Nintendo Account” and enter your credentials.

Download digital games

If you bought a Switch this holiday season, there’s a good chance you received a digital voucher for a game inside the box. Whether it’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, or Splatoon 2, you’ll want to redeem that code on the eShop.

Enter the eShop and scroll to the bottom to “Enter Code.” Type in the 16-digit code to redeem and start the download process.

If the person you bought the Switch for also asked for games that are only available digitally, such as Stardew Valley, now’s your chance to purchase and download those. If you’re more comfortable adding eShop money to the account instead, you can purchase a pre-paid code from just about any retailer that sells games and enter that code to give them some spending money.

Purchase a Nintendo Switch Online subscription

To play multiplayer games online, you need a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. So if you just got finished installing any of the games listed above, they’ll need this subscription to play online with friends. A subscription costs $20 per year. You can purchase this straight from the eShop. The option is located right above the “Enter Code” field we just discussed.

After purchasing the subscription, you will probably want to turn automatic renewal off (unless you want to support their multiplayer habit forever). To do so, click Membership Options and turn automatic renewal off.

The Nintendo Switch Online subscription also comes with an application that grants access to more than two dozen classic NES games. So, now you can say you bought them more than 20 games to play on their Switch.

You may want to get a microSD card

The Switch comes with 32GB of onboard storage. Downloading games eats away at that storage space quickly. If you bought a console that already came with a digital game, half or more of that storage space may already be used up. That’s where microSD cards come into play.

The Switch supports both microSDHC cards and microSDXC formats up to 2TB. How much storage space they’ll actually need depends on how many digital games they’ll wind up buying. In short, there’s no way to really know what the right size will be, but you can find high capacity microSD cards for fairly cheap now. If you purchase a 128GB or 256GB, chances are they’ll never need to upgrade.

If you decide to purchase a microSD card, you can install it by flipping the kickstand on the back of the console. Simply pop it in while the system is off, turn the system back on, and you should be good to go.

Consider an external battery pack

Nintendo Switch

The Switch holds a charge for 2.5 to six hours depending on the game. Since the Switch doubles as a home console and handheld gaming system, battery life can be a concern. If you know the person you’re giving the console to is traveling this holiday season, an external battery pack may be a good add-on gift.

The Switch has a 4,310mAh lithium ion battery. You’ll need a pack with at least that much juice to fully charge the Switch. We’ve tested a handful of battery packs with the Switch, and found that it’s fairly challenging to go wrong as long as you meet that threshold. Keep in mind that you’ll need a USB to USB-C cable to charge the Switch using a battery pack. Also, make sure to fully charge the battery pack before gifting it (battery packs are slow chargers).

Apply a screen protector

The Switch has a plastic screen which makes it less susceptible to cracking when dropped. That’s good and all, but the plastic screen makes it highly susceptible to scratches. You can even scratch the screen by simply placing it into the dock.

To save a holiday catastrophe involving a brand new Switch getting scratched, consider buying and applying a screen protector before re-boxing the Switch. We recommend this tempered glass two-pack from Amazon. Tempered glass screen protectors are resistant to scratches.

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