Here’s a wild report from Android Police’s David Ruddock: Qualcomm plans to build an Android-powered Nintendo Switch clone. This device is said to be a gaming-focused tablet with serious cooling and detachable side controllers. The Switch is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra SoC and Nintendo’s top game designers, while this Qualcomm… game console (?) would be powered by a Snapdragon chip and run Play Store games. Qualcomm apparently plans to launch this thing in Q1 2022.
According to the report, the device would aim to “show the company’s Snapdragon chipsets in a less traditional form factor”. This new form factor is said to be thicker than a normal smartphone and come with a 6000 mAh battery. Ruddock says that “the company believes the extra thermal headroom that a thicker design provides will make the processor run faster and significantly more efficiently than a modern ultra-thin smartphone.”
The report says Qualcomm uses “a premium vendor” to produce the Joy-Con-style controllers, and that the device, like a Switch, supports video-out for gaming on a TV. An SD slot will reportedly allow you to pack the device with games, and the system will run Android 12, Google’s suite of apps and a custom launcher. As a Qualcomm device, it will of course have the latest 5G connectivity, but the report says, “We don’t believe any version of the console will function as a standalone mobile handset (ie with telephony features).”
The strangest line in the report claims that Qualcomm will be offering this product directly to consumers, which would mean a change in the way the company usually conducts business. Qualcomm is a chip supplier and while it regularly makes reference designs of phones (and sometimes even XR headsets), they are not consumer products. According to the report, Qualcomm doesn’t expect to move many units and hopes to inspire partners to build similar devices. The report goes on to say, “The company’s target price is $300, but we’re not sure at the moment whether that price includes the detachable gamepads or the aforementioned 5G.”
XDA’s Mishaal Rahman Confirms
XDA Developers Mishal Rahman agreed to the report after it was published, saying he heard Qualcomm is also building a Switch clone, but it wasn’t clear whether it was a consumer device or not. Rahman says the device has a Snapdragon 888, a 6.65-inch Full HD+ display and a 6000 mAh battery. He points to work on a fan controller in Qualcomm’s repo. Rahman says the device has the model number “GRD8350P,” which he speculates would stand for “Gaming Reference Device,” meaning it wasn’t a product for sale. Even if the device eventually becomes a reference device, there’s a good chance someone will pick up the idea from Qualcomm and ship a real product, especially if Qualcomm does a lot of the design work.
The two reports are not necessarily talking about the same device. Qualcomm could have built a reference device before moving to a cheaper consumer device. It certainly doesn’t look like Qualcomm can sell a Snapdragon 888 device for $300. The idea of Qualcomm, a chip maker, sending a year-old chip in its consumer device also seems odd. If you wanted to build a reference device by piecing it together from a Snapdragon 888 you had laying around, that certainly seems plausible.
$300 sounds like a far too aggressive price overall. Nintendo charges so much for a Switch, but a Switch has really old hardware (the Tegra X1 came out in 2015). Nintendo operates the Switch platform, so a sale usually leads to increased revenue from Nintendo game sales, third-party cartridge licenses, presumably a reduction in Switch Store sales, and sales of Switch accessories such as more Joy-Cons. Qualcomm does not get any of these additional revenue streams.
If you want an idea of what Qualcomm’s device would look like, you can already run Android on the Nintendo Switch today; you just have to be willing to root the console via a security exploit. We did the same in 2019 and found a surprisingly capable Android handheld. It’s up to you whether you’re interested in mobile games or not, but beyond that there are a ton of classic games on the Play Store, allowing you to build the Virtual Console that Nintendo refuses to put on the Switch.
Sega has Sonic 1, 2, and CD on the Play Store, along with a bunch of other classics like Super Monkey Ball, Streets of angerand Beyond Oasis. Square Enix has most of the Final Fantasy and dragon quest series there, along with Chrono trigger and The world ends with you. Capcom delivers a lot mega men games, along with ace lawyer and even a harbor of Street Fighter IV. SNK has a lot Metal Slug and king of fighters spell. Rockstar has Grand Theft Auto III, San Andreas, Vice Cityand Max Payne. The Android Police report also notes that Qualcomm hopes to bring Fortnite to the device when it launches, via the Epic Games store. You could also use the system to run cloud-based gaming services like Stadia (if Stadia already exists in Q1 2022) and Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming, although it’s hard to imagine a chip company like Qualcomm not putting an emphasis on instead local computers.
The Play Store also houses every emulator known to man, if you’re into that sort of thing. If this device ever comes out, it would probably be one of the best emulation boxes out there. Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine that such a thing will get off the ground. We’ve already tried Android game consoles with the Ouya, and it didn’t go well.