Qualcomm is reportedly building a Nintendo Switch clone, powered by Android

Android on the Nintendo Switch. Just think of all the Nintendo apps you're missing out on.
Enlarge / Android on the Nintendo Switch. Just think of all the Nintendo apps you’re missing out on.
Ron Amadeo

Here’s a wild report from Android Police‘s David Ruddock: Qualcomm is planning to build an Android-powered Nintendo Switch clone. This device would 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-flight 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 attempt to “showcase the company’s Snapdragon chipsets in a less traditional form factor.” This new form factor would be thicker than a normal smartphone and come with a 6000 mAh battery. Ruddock says that “the company believes that the added thermal headroom a thicker design affords will make its processor run faster and significantly more efficiently than a modern ultra-thin smartphone.”

The report says Qualcomm is using “a premium supplier” to manufacture the Joy-Con-style controllers, and that, like a Switch, the device will support video-out for gaming on a TV. An SD slot will reportedly let you 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, feature the latest 5G connectivity, but the report says, “We do not believe any version of the console will function as a standalone mobile handset (i.e., have telephony features).”

The oddest line in the report claims that Qualcomm will offer this product directly to consumers, which would mark a change in the way the company usually does business. Qualcomm is a chip supplier, and while it regularly builds reference designs of phones (and sometimes even XR headsets), they aren’t consumer products. The report says Qualcomm doesn’t expect to move a ton of units, and it hopes to inspire partners to build similar devices. The report goes on to say, “The company’s targeted price point is $300, but we’re not currently sure if that price includes the detachable gamepads or the aforementioned 5G.”

XDA’s Mishaal Rahman corroborates

XDA Developers’ Mishaal Rahman chimed in on the report after it was published, saying he has heard that Qualcomm is building a Switch clone, too, but it wasn’t clear if 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 a model number of “GRD8350P,” which he speculates would stand for “Gaming Reference Device,” meaning something that was not a for-sale product. Even if the device does end up being a reference device, there’s a good chance someone picks up Qualcomm’s idea and ships a real product, especially if Qualcomm is doing much of the design work.

The two reports aren’t necessarily talking about the same device. Qualcomm could have built a reference device before moving on to a cheaper consumer device. It certainly does not seem like Qualcomm could sell a Snapdragon 888 device for $300. The idea of Qualcomm, a chip company, shipping a year-old chip in its consumer device also seems strange. If you wanted to build a reference device by cobbling it together out of a Snapdragon 888 you had lying around, that certainly seems plausible.

$300 sounds like way too aggressive of a price point in general. Nintendo charges that much for a Switch, but a Switch is sporting really old hardware (the Tegra X1 came out in 2015). Nintendo controls the Switch platform, so a sale usually leads to more revenue from the sale of Nintendo games, third-party cartridge licensing, presumably a cut of Switch Store sales, and the sale of Switch accessories like more Joy-Cons. Qualcomm doesn’t get any of these additional revenue streams.

If you want an idea of what Qualcomm’s device would be like, you can actually already run Android on the Nintendo Switch today; you just have to be willing to root the console via a security exploit. We did as much back in 2019 and found a surprisingly capable Android handheld. It’s up to you if you’re interested in mobile games or not, but besides those, there are a ton of classic games on the Play Store, allowing you to sort of 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 ton of other classics like Super Monkey Ball, Streets of Rage, and Beyond OasisSquare Enix has most of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series on there, along with Chrono Trigger and The World Ends With You. Capcom is supplying many Mega Men games, along with Ace Attorney and even a port of Street Fighter IVSNK has a bunch of Metal Slug and King of Fighters games. Rockstar has Grand Theft Auto III, San Andreas, Vice City, and Max Payne. Android Police’s 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 game services like Stadia (if Stadia is even around in Q1 2022) and Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming, though it’s hard to imagine a chip company like Qualcomm not emphasizing local compute instead.

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. Beyond that, it’s hard to imagine something like this taking off. We already tried Android game consoles with the Ouya, and that did not go well.