Nintendo has long tried to do something different with its game consoles. Rather than compete with Microsoft and Sony on raw power, it designs game systems with distinctive features and gameplay mechanics. For example, the Wii’s revolutionary motion controllers, circa 2007. The Switch is a hybrid console that can plug into a TV or operate as a handheld device. Naturally, Switch fans wondered if it would be possible to run the Android mobile operating system on the device, and it finally is. The first release is impressive, but don’t expect the “full” Android experience.
You can’t just run to the store and buy a new Nintendo Switch to run Android — only consoles from 2017 and early 2018 will work. The Android port is only possible because of a flaw in the console’s Nvidia Tegra X1 ARM processor. It’s actually a vulnerability that allows programs to run unsigned code on the system, so Nintendo fixed that in all new consoles from that point. Naturally, the flaw allowed people to play pirated games on the Switch, but it’s also what allows Android to run.
The other thing you’ll need is a microSD card, which is where Android lives. It won’t touch the core Nintendo software at all, which limits the likelihood of damaging your console. The Android build, known as Switchroot LineageOS 15.1, is a version of Android 8.1 based on the popular Lineage OS ROM.
Like all versions of Lineage, there are no Google apps included with the download. However, you can download and flash the so-called Gapps package after loading Android onto your SD card. That gives you access to all the apps and games in Google’s ecosystem. There’s also an optional Nvidia Shield package you can install that lets the Switch run Nvidia’s Shield-exclusive content.
The Switch’s hardware is surprisingly well-supported for a first release. The Joy-Cons work natively and should function in almost any game that has controller support. The device also works in both handheld and docked mode. Wi-Fi mostly works, but it’s prone to freezing. A reboot fixes that. You also won’t want to leave the Switch idle for too long while running Android. There’s no deep sleep support, so the battery drains rapidly. As an unofficial port, the software doesn’t have proper security keys. Therefore, apps like Netflix won’t stream in HD resolution.
Future revisions of Switchroot will address some of these shortcomings, but it’ll probably never be a perfect Android experience. Still, it makes the Switch a much more capable piece of hardware.