One of the Nintendo Switch’s biggest issues is about to get fixed—by Nyko, of all companies.
You read that correctly. The company best known for unofficial gamer accessories like rubbery controller condoms and bulky console carrying cases has emerged with a rare burst of engineering genius: the Portable Docking Kit. It’s basically the Switch Dock, only a lot smaller—maybe a tad smaller than a deck of cards.
Nyko announced this Nintendo Switch accessory during E3, but I wanted to be sure it was worth recommending, so I stopped by the company’s E3 booth and demanded to see it in action. In the process, I regretfully ordered a grown man to dive into a pit full of colored, plastic balls.
Finally, a dock for a messenger bag
Nintendo’s official Switch Dock includes a custom circuit board that regulates power, adds additional USB port support, and enables HDMI-out capabilities. However, despite this circuit board being quite small, its giant plastic shell is nearly triple the physical footprint of a Switch console. If you only see yourself plugging your Switch into a single television, this is fine enough. The oversized official dock is designed to neatly accept your Switch console with a cozy, spring-assisted slot.
But in my early party-play tests, I quickly grew frustrated. I wanted very much to take my Switch and maybe, just maybe, plug it into TVs at bars or other friends’ houses. I needed an entirely different carrying bag on the off-chance that I’d do this, however. I quickly tired of this burden and stopped bothering. It has admittedly reduced how often I take the Switch to people’s houses, since I want to have three- and four-player sessions (and these are more difficult to manage on the 6.2″ screen).
Nintendo has yet to announce any other Switch Dock form factor (and, in fact, the company has struggled to produce enough of its default design to satisfy demand). It also hasn’t licensed the dock’s circuit-board design.
Nyko representatives declined to call their effort “reverse engineering,” but they did confirm that the Docking Kit’s circuit board ticks off three check boxes of the official Switch Dock: to facilitate the amount of current sent to the Switch via USB Type-C (15 volts, 2.6 amps), to successfully shake hands as a “Switch product,” and to push HDMI video out.
The result is a device that fits in my hand, at roughly 3″x4″x0.5″. The Docking Kit contains a single piece of plastic that can be pulled from its bottom and inserted on the top to more carefully support the Switch hardware’s weight in use. (When not in use, this support piece of plastic can then be slipped into the bottom for easier portability.) You don’t get the fully contained, it-just-fits appeal of the official dock, and pushing the Switch into and out of this dock’s USB-C connector requires additional care. But it works.
Ordering men to jump into ball pits
To prove that the Portable Docking Kit worked, I asked Nyko’s staffers to plug a Switch into it and show me some gameplay. However, the first two TV sets this kit was tested on were cheap-o Westinghouse TVs. Colors looked washed out with a harsh emphasis on blue tones.
I said that I wouldn’t leave until they proved to me that their smaller, custom dock could produce a quality image. One Nyko staffer gave me the kind of look you only see on the last day of E3: exhausted and deflated. “There’s another TV,” he said. “But it’s in the ball pit.”
Nyko thought a good way to promote its TV accessories was to let people dive into a colorful ball pit, managed by attractive, modestly dressed booth attendees, and play some Nintendo Switch games in there. The company’s best TV for the booth, with an optimized image and 4K support, was directly up against a wall of the ball pit. I watched as my helpful Nyko staffer carefully goose-stepped for easily 45 seconds to get into position. Then he had to sit in the pit for another two minutes while an E3 attendee finished a game of Mario Kart.
Once the race was over, the staffer pulled the Switch in question out of a Portable Docking Kit and handed it to me. Yep, this thing was working—and because I had to wait for this kid’s race to finish, I was able to confirm apparent visual integrity by counting the 4K screen’s pixels at the other edge of the ball pit.
The Portable Docking Kit’s biggest compromise is its utter lack of USB ports. You can plug it into a wall and plug it into a TV, and that’s it. Nyko says it’s working on a more robust kit that will include multiple USB ports and an integrated Ethernet port, but the company couldn’t confirm whether that will also be a portable-minded dock. (Still, considering Ethernet capability currently only works on Switch as an add-on product, that addition could be a huge boon for anybody eager to take part in Switch LAN parties on the go. First-party games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Arms, and Splatoon 2 all support local LAN.)
For now, Nyko’s option, complete with a custom circuit board, is smaller and sleeker than any homemade “hack your own Switch Dock” project I’ve seen thus far. And at a suggested $44.99 price (which Nyko says could come down to as low as $39.99 before its September launch), the Docking Kit is cheaper than Nintendo’s bonkers $90 charge for an additional dock. Nyko will save you money and space with its model. Good on you, Nyko.