Safely Charging the Nintendo Switch
It is safe to charge the Nintendo Switch with a good quality, third party USB charger or power bank. There has been no rash of reports involving third party chargers causing issues. There have been problems with third party docks. But those have not involved the chargers being used. Rare, self-reported cases of Switch bricking come up. But they as often mention only the official charger as they do a third party charger.
There are best practices you should follow. And I rate the “safety levels” of chargers and power banks. Find the level you’re the most comfortable using.
- Third Party Accessories
- Nintendo On Third Party Chargers
- Nintendo Licensing
- USB-IF Certification
- Switch Charger Safety Ratings
- USB-C Cables
- The Switch is Not USB-C Compliant
- Concerns with >3A Chargers
Third Party Accessories
In electronics a third party accessory is from a company who is independent of the device’s producer. In this case an accessory that works with the Nintendo Switch but is not made or licensed by Nintendo.
Third party accessories are common across all electronics. They enhance and fill niches users want. Generally they are safe to use, with more concerns of poor performance than damage. But there is the occasional bad apple. It is standard for the primary manufacturer to not support or recommend third party accessories. Their warranty only covers their own products. They don’t spend resources testing “compatible” products on the market. And some of the third party accessories compete against their own products.
Nintendo On Third Party Chargers
Nintendo’s position on using third party chargers varies across their different regions. The universal message is that unlicensed accessories are not guaranteed by Nintendo. As said when Nintendo of America released this statement during the third party dock bricking scare:
Unlicensed products and accessories do not undergo Nintendo’s testing and evaluation process. They might not work at all with our game systems, and they could have compatibility problems with certain games, the Nintendo Switch system itself, and other licensed accessories and peripherals.
Nintendo Co., Ltd. (parent company, covers East Asia) has support Q&As for Japan and Hong Kong. They go over using a USB-A power bank with the Switch. They do “not guarantee the operation,” but they do go over getting the best results. Nintendo recommends using the cable included with the Pro Controller and Joy-Con Charging Grip. Or use a third party USB-C to USB-A cable with a 56k Ohm resistor.
Nintendo of America’s Switch support site discusses using the included AC adapter. They make no mention of other charging options.
An episode of Nintendo Minute featured travel tips for the Switch. In it they suggest having power banks for long flights. They showed off unreleased MimoPowerDecks with Nintendo licensed designs, which are USB-A power banks.
Nintendo licensing means Nintendo has tested a product and guarantees its compatibility and performance with their own product. In our case for use with the Nintendo Switch. Licensed by Nintendo products offer Switch owners a way to use an accessory not made by Nintendo. But still remain under Nintendo’s support umbrella.
Nintendo has licensed USB-C car chargers made by Hori and PowerA for use with the Switch. They have also licensed two Anker power banks for the Switch. There are no licensed, third party wall chargers.
The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) is a non-profit organization formed by Agere Systems, Apple, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and NEC. It promotes and markets USB. It also maintains USB specifications and a standards compliance program. They offer certification (USB-IF certified) for USB-C products that meet their strict compliance. To gain certification a product must pass their USB-IF Compliance Program. And the producing company must be a dues paying member of the USB-IF.
USB-IF certification is a strong indicator of a good product. But lack of certification is not a strong indicator of anything. In some cases certification is forgone to support extra standards. For example, Quick Charge 3.0 is not allowed on a USB-C port under USB-IF standards. But some such devices exist, without any bad reports. Certifications started in late 2017. Products which pre-date that often don’t get submitted for certification. Some companies choose not to pay for USB-IF membership, such as RAVPower and Inateck. Others are members but ignore certification, such as Apple and HP.
I categorize potential Nintendo Switch chargers into one of five safety ratings. This rating scale takes into account all the topics found on this page. It also reflects the risk tolerance levels of the Switch community.
My ratings are not an endorsement or review. They are a reflection of the device’s specs in comparison to known factors of charging a Switch.
In the first couple of years USB-C was on the market there were problems with poor quality USB-C cables. Some damaged smaller electronics. Luckily most occurred before the Switch’s release. Amazon has taken efforts to remove known bad cables from their listings. But you should remain vigilant when buying cables. Especially from an unknown brand with few reviews.
USB-C to USB-C Cables
- USB-IF certified cables have proven they meet USB specifications and safety requirements
- Major charger brands (Anker, RAVPower) usually have good cables, if not certified
- Nylon-braided cables have more durable exteriors, but their internal components are the same
USB-C to USB-A Cables
USB-A doesn’t support the communication line USB-C uses to “negotiate” power transfer. As a result it is possible a USB-C device could attempt to draw 3A from a USB-A power source. Most USB-A power sources cannot handle 3A. This results in an overdraw which could damage the power source. In rare cases it could also damage the Switch.
- Use cables which list having a 56k Ohm resistor. The resistor prevents the overdraw issue.
- Nintendo and others recommend using USB-C to USB-A cables with the resistor.
- The cable included with the Pro Controller, Joy-Con Charging Grip, and Poké Ball Plus have the resistor. As does the Nintendo licensed cable made by PowerA.
- A USB-IF certified USB-C to USB-A cable will also have the resistor.
- USB-C to USB-C cables do not need the resistor, as they do not suffer from the overdraw issue.
The Switch is Not USB-C Compliant
Nathan K, a hardware engineer who does reviews of USB-C accessories, tested the Switch in May 2017. He found many issues where the Switch did not behave as it should according to USB-C standards. His posts are the source of warnings the Switch could overdraw by 300%.
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Detailed Writeup
- USB-C Compliance Rant
- Nathan’s comment to his work getting attention on Reddit
The overdraw (mentioned in Part 1) occurs with a docked Switch connected to an Anker USB-C power bank. At the time of the test no Anker power bank had enough output to power a docked Switch. This is before Nathan found a docked Switch will only operate with a specific power profile (15V/2.6A). The Switch requests 15V/0.5A. The power source re-advertised its available options. When it did the Switch improperly shifts to 1.5A (300% increase). It did so without proper negotiation, which is against Power Delivery protocol. A 1.5A draw in and of itself isn’t dangerous to the Switch or USB-C power source. Regardless of no damage, the behavior is not allowed under USB-C PD standards. Should an overdraw have occurred it would of most likely damage the power source.
Nathan specifically notes concerns with power banks, 2+ USB-C chargers, and >3A chargers. The overdraw occurred during a split PDO. A split PDO is when a power source advertises one set of Power Data Objects (PDO), then lists a different set on a second advertisement. At the time of his post those type of chargers tended to use split PDO. It has since become normal behavior for more USB-C PD chargers. It is used to offer a lower, safer power profile at first and figure out the optimal power profile later. For the end user their device starts charging immediately, without signs of delay. For the device it and the charger work out the best power profile to use safely.
Again, the overdraw event Nathan found with the Switch occurred during a split PDO. His concern was the event repeating with more dangerous results, and noted what type of chargers favored using split PDO. He also noted, as has come to pass, that split PDO would become more popular over time.
Nathan also noted the issue could be resolved with a firmware update. Since the test (May 2017) several firmware updates for the Switch have released. Nintendo does not share complete details on these updates. So it is possible the issue is no longer present. Nathan borrowed his test Switch and has not re-visited his work. To date there have been no confirmed issues reported between a Switch and a power bank. In the summer of 2018 Nintendo licensed USB-C power banks from Anker for use with the Switch.
In the Detailed Writeup Nathan sees similar behavior with a handheld Switch. But he doesn’t give the same warning. The Switch requests 0.5A, then moves on to full amperage. The behavior is a function of the Switch. It is against USB-C protocols and causes errors, but it appears to be intentional.
As Nathan also notes, a lot of USB-C products from 2016-2017 are outside of standards. When the Switch was being developed standards were volatile and certification testing unfinished. Because of this many USB-C devices on the market are outside USB compliance.
Nathan’s comment to the Switch community more than a year after his tests were to remain calm. He stands by the data, but it is old and he is a lone tester. The technical information is complicated, as is the USB-C PD protocol.
Concerns with >3A Chargers
A >3A USB-C PD charger can provide more than 60W at 20V. The Switch doesn’t make use of 20V, so in theory these shouldn’t matter. But these charges have to act different from lower output chargers.
The issue is proper USB-C cables. All built to spec USB-C cables can handle up to 3A. But only some USB-C cables can handle up to 5A, which >3A chargers need to output more than 60W. These cables are suppose to have an eMarker which tells the charger how much current they can handle. But by now you should know things aren’t that simple with USB-C PD.
A cable may not have an eMarker. Or the response from the eMarker may be slow. Both are bad on the part of the cable, but the charger still has to deal with it. The charger producers do so in different ways. The ideal way is to advertise up to 60W to the device. The device can take partial power and complain to the power source, asking for more. That should give the cable’s eMarker (if present) time to respond to the charger. If it does the charger then re-advertises (split PDO) its >60W capabilities. Not all chargers follow this behavior. Apple’s 87W USB-C power adapter offers 20V/4.3A. To deal with potentially bad cables it forces the device to 5V/2.4A (12W, way below 60W) until it can verify the cable. This behavior has caused problems (but no damage) with the Switch.
In short, a >3A charger could work with the Switch. But the chargers behave differently to deal with other potential issues. Not to mention >60W is overkill for the Switch’s needs. So it generally isn’t worth the effort to find a >3A charger that won’t cause issues. If you have such a charger for another device always use the included USB-C cable. Other cables may only handle 3A, not the 5A you and the charger want.