The Nintendo Switch can now run Android, giving the hybrid game console access to Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, Twitch, a wide array of Android apps, and loads of classic game emulators, of course. Specifically, it’s an unofficial port of LineageOS 15.1 based on Nvidia’s own builds for the Nvidia Shield TV set-top-box, meaning you can play Nvidia exclusives like Portal, Half-Life 2, and try Nvidia’s own GeForce Now cloud gaming service.
That’s right: six years after Nvidia tried to ape Nintendo by releasing a handheld Android game console, you can now load Android onto Nintendo’s own Nvidia-based portable. We’re coming full circle.
Not everything works flawlessly, according to XDA-developers, whose members contributed to the port and whose writers have been documenting it over the past month. While the Joy-Con controllers work natively, you can dock the Switch, and even connect a Bluetooth headset — something Nintendo still doesn’t support! — XDA reports that joysticks aren’t being detected correctly in apps like Dolphin Emulator or the Steam Link game streaming app, the two biggest reasons I’d want Android on this platform.
Here’s a shortlist of other notable limitations:
The Joy-Cons only connect via Bluetooth, so they’ll always in wireless mode even if they’re physically connected
Bluetooth headsets are limited to older, less power-efficient and lower-quality profiles
There’s no video DRM, so Netflix won’t let you stream at HD resolutions
The Switch doesn’t have a camera, mic, or GPS, so lots of Android apps are off-limits
While the USB ports let you plug in mice, keyboards and controllers, there’s no USB external storage support
No deep sleep mode, “so battery life is not great.”
“WiFi may randomly stop working. If this happens just reboot.”
Like most such hacks, this isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s often possible to brick a device if you don’t know what you’re doing, and there’s a valid fear that Nintendo might somehow discover your tampering and ban you from online services or worse. Plus, not every Nintendo Switch can necessarily run a custom ROM anyhow — this one requires the Hekate bootloader, and depending on your Switch and its software version, the tricks you’d normally use to install that might not work.
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On the plus side, if you can get it working, XDA reports that it won’t replace your Nintendo software and games — as long as you’ve got a spare SD card that’s big enough, you could theoretically swap between Android and the stock Nintendo OS whenever you like.
It makes me wonder whether Nvidia might build such a device again, years after the Switch likely spurred it to cancel its own second-gen portable.