Switch Charger Ratings Explained

You may of seen my Nintendo Switch charger ratings image posted here or on one of reddit’s Nintendo Switch subs. The image conveys the crucial information needed to value any particular charger. But as it so often is with technology things are a bit more complicated than that. Here I delve deeper into how things work so you can see how the ratings came about. We’ll go over how power output/input numbers work and how chargers interact with the Switch. We’ll also go over what each rating means for you and your Switch. All this applies equality to wall chargers and power banks.

Please note a rating is not a review. Unless I’ve tested a charger myself I can’t speak to its overall quality. I look up its output connection type and power profiles, then report on how well it is expected to work for the Switch.

Different USB-C devices want different power profiles. A charger great for the Switch may or may not be great for your other USB-C devices. You can take what you learn below and apply it to your other devices to make a better decision for an all-in-one solution.

Charger Specs – Volts, Amps, and Watt

We deal with the volts (V) and amperage (A) when looking at a charger’s specs. Sometimes watts (W) are also listed in the product’s name or description.

Volts are the unit for electric potential. Difference devices need various volts. A charger must match at least one of those volt requirements to be compatible (else damage can occur). In handheld mode the Switch works with 5V, 9V, 12V, or 15V. A charger only needs to match one of these volt profiles.

This is not to be confused with a charger’s own input specs. A wall charger may show a 100-240V input. That determines which country’s wall outlets it is compatible with and doesn’t impact the connection to the Switch when compatible.

Amperage aka amps are the electrical current. Unlike volts, the number of amps a charger offers doesn’t need to exactly match a device’s preferences. In fact the amperage fluctuates during a normal charging process. The charger can offer more amps than needed, the device will only draw what it requires. But it is generally a bad idea to use a charger that doesn’t offer enough amps. It will work (with a slower charge) but it can damage the battery, reducing capacity.

With power banks don’t confuse the output amperage and the input amperage. Output charges the Switch, input charges the power bank. The input capabilities of a power bank does matter, as it determines recharge time of the power bank. This can get upwards of 12+ hours with a huge capacity and low input.

Watts are a unit of power. You can calculate the watts of any charger: V * A = W. Watts = time, the more you can transfer the faster you’ll charge. With USB chargers a watt listing can indicate its volt and amp profiles, but always check the specs to be sure. Some chargers don’t follow USB power standards (like the Switch’s own AC adapter).

Charger Specifications & Marketing Terms

There are a lot of capitalized terms when looking over the listing for a charger or power bank. They all mean something, but they don’t all mean something for the Switch.

USB What?
USB-C aka USB Type-C is the type of connector the Switch takes, the port on its bottom edge. It is not USB 3.1; that is a data transfer specification and not a connector. USB-C may use USB 3.1 for data transfer, but it isn’t required. USB-C offers greater power transfer standards than USB-A.

For the Switch USB-C is always the ideal connector.

USB-A aka USB standard A is the type of connector you think of when someone says USB.  It is not USB 1.0/2.0/3.0; those are data transfer specifications and not connectors. A USB-A port or cable may be compatible with USB 3.0 (and thus backwards compatible) or only USB 1.0. USB-A has much more limited power transfer capabilities.

For the Switch USB-A can work using a USB-A to USB-C cable or adapter, but it reduces the power transfer to USB-A limits.

USB Power Delivery aka USB PD is a power transfer specification. USB PD 1.0 works with USB-A generation connectors. USB PD 2.0 and 3.0 works with USB-C, but it is not required for USB-C (all PD 2.0 are USB-C, but not all USB-C are PD 2.0).

Power Delivery 2.0/3.0 protocols use four voltage levels (5V, 9V, 15V, and 20V). A specific number of amps is used for each voltage level, depending on the total number of watts desired. Under the specification a single charger could range from 0.5W (10% of what your phone needs) to 100W (run a 15-inch MacBook Pro with power to spare).

For the Switch any Power Delivery 2.0/3.0 charger should meet its greatest draw capacity in handheld mode. In other words, USB Power Delivery is “great.” There is no difference between Power Delivery 2.0 and 3.0 so far as the Switch is concerned.

Quick Charge
Quick Charge is technology found in some phones and computers. It manages power delivery over USB, offering more power than normal USB specifications. As such devices charge faster.

The Switch does not support Quick Charge, so it offers no benefit. It also isn’t harmful to the Switch.

PowerIQ, iSmart, and Other Marketing Terms
Anker’s PowerIQ, RAVPower’s iSmart, and similar “smart power” is fast charging tech. Their chargers attempt to offer more power than the USB specification, if the device allows. You can also identify them by their USB-A output specs: 5V/2.0 and 5V/2.4A (standard is 5V/1.5A).

In most cases the Switch does not take advantage of this technology. The only 5V/2.4A charger I know can charge the Switch faster is Apple’s 12W USB Power Adapter. It can recharge the Switch at 5V/2A (10W), making it the only “Good” rated USB-A charger known. A high quality USB-A to USB-C cable is required.

Chargers & the Switch

The Switch draws less power than a compatible charger may offer. This makes judging a charger by its max watts inaccurate. How much it draws depends on the type of charger and cable it detects. When a charger connects to a USB device there is a negotiation done. The charger says what power profiles (volt/amp combinations) it offers. The device requests a particular profile, then charging begins.

Handheld Switch
Charger’s Specs: USB-A, 5V/2.4A (12W)
Switch’s Draw: 5V/1.5A (7.5W)

Charger’s Specs: USB-C, 5V/3A (15W)
Switch’s Draw: 5V/2A (10W)

Charger’s Specs: USB-C, 9V/3A (27W)
Switch’s Draw: 9V/2A (18W)

Charger’s Specs: USB-C, 15V/3A (45W)
Switch’s Draw: 15V/1.2A (18W)

Dock w/Switch Connected
Charger’s Specs: USB-C, 15V/3A (45W)
Dock’s Draw: 15V/2.6A (39W)

Dock w/o Switch Connected
Charger’s Specs: USB-C, 5V/3A (15W)
Dock’s Draw: 5V/1.5A (7.5W)

Note the dock has two different power profiles. A compatible charger must match both. The smaller profile to maintain charge for connected USB devices, such as the Pro Controller or Joy Con Charging Grip.

How much power the Switch requires to operate varies by settings, game, and even your location in the game. The most power it’ll need is ~8.75W.

You can reduce the power requirements by adjusting some settings. Reduce the screen brightness and turn off Wi-Fi for the best results. Remove the Joy Cons for a small reduction, provided they have a good charge.

The more watts your Switch draws from its charger above 8.75W, the faster the battery will charge while you play.

The less watts your Switch draws from its charger below 8.75W, the more the Switch’s battery will continue to drain. With a 7.5W power input you can expect to play Zelda for ~5 hours longer than you would on the Switch’s battery alone. But that same 7.5W power input will charge the Switch if it is idle, or playing a less demanding game.

Switch Charger Ratings

Now we get into how my Switch charger ratings brings this all together. Let’s review the key facts:

  • The Switch’s maximum power draw, depending on connection type:
    • USB-A: 5V/1.5A (7.5W)
    • USB-C: 5V/2A (10W)
    • USB-C: 9V/2A (18W)
    • USB-C: 12V/1.5A (18W)
    • USB-C: 15V/1.2A (18W)
    • Switch Dock: 15V/2.6A (39W) & 5V/1.5A (7.5W)
  • Stick with USB-C chargers when buying new
  • Ignore marketing terms and labels, focus on the power output specs in volts and amps aka power profiles
  • Volts (V) * Amps (A) = Watts (W)
  • Volts must match at least one of the Switch’s power profiles:
    • 5V, 9V, 12V, 15V
  • Amps should be equal to or greater than the Switch’s power profile you matched:
    • 5V (USB-A): 1.5A or more
    • 5V (USB-C): 2A or more
    • 9V (USB-C): 2A or more
    • 12V (USB-C): 1.5A or more
    • 15V (USB-C): 1.2A or more
  • Amps can be less and you’ll receive a charge, but it will be slow and under powering the charge may affect the Switch’s battery’s lifespan
  • The Switch will use up to ~8.75W of power. Providing more power than that will charge the battery while you play. Providing less power than that will drain the battery while you play, but at a slower rate.

This rating is for chargers with the right power profiles to run the Switch’s official dock. The dock, with a Switch connected, requires 15V/2.6A (39W) of power. The dock also requires 5V/1.5A for when a Switch isn’t connected, but a USB device is charging from the dock.

Some advertised 45W or higher chargers will meet this criteria, as they should provide 15V/3A and 5V/3A. But as stated above, don’t rely on the watt number and check the volt and amps. Apple’s USB-C laptop chargers (61W and 87W) will not power a Switch’s dock, as they don’t have a 15V power profile.

A Superb charger will also charge a Switch in handheld mode at the fastest possible rate.

Charger Cost: $20-30
Power Bank Cost: $70-80

This rating, and the others below it, only deal with the Switch in handheld mode. These chargers have enough power to charge a Switch as fast as possible. They must be USB-C and should be USB-C Power Delivery compliant. They are ideal for charging up the Switch’s battery while you play a high demand game. If you don’t need the fastest charge speed a “Good” charger, especially power banks, will offer a better value.

Charger Cost: $20-30
Power Bank Cost: $70-80

These chargers will meet the Switch’s greatest power usage and give you a little extra to charge the battery. They must be USB-C, but they aren’t Power Delivery compliant. When the Switch is idle you may not notice the difference in charge time. With power banks especially these offer the best bang for you buck.

Charger Cost: $20-25
Power Bank Cost: $35-50

Good Enough
These chargers almost meet the Switch’s greatest power usage. They can keep you going if you lower the brightness and turn off Wi-Fi, or with a less demanding game. Worst case they should extend playtime up to 5 hours. They are most any USB-A power bank you’ve gotten in the last few years. They need a USB-A to USB-C cable to work with the Switch. With a small investment in the right cable a charger you have already might be enough for your needs. Worth trying before you buy something new.

Charger Cost: $25 or less (including cost of USB-A to USB-C cable)
Power Bank Cost: $35 (including cost of USB-A to USB-C cable)

These chargers under power the Switch, you don’t want to deal with them. The charge is too slow to be worth anything. The under amperage can hurt your Switch’s battery’s lifespan. These are the small chargers your regular sized phone came with, or the USB charging port in your car. Spend the $20-30 and get something great.

What’s Next?

Feel ready to buy a new charger or power bank for your Switch? Check out my recommended list. Or do your own research, using this information, and find the best charger for you and your Switch.

You can see the numbers for yourself. Get a USB-C power meter, connect it between your Switch and charger, and see what it says. You’ll see which power profile is being used. Watch the amps fluctuate as the Switch’s power demands change second by second. Test while the Switch’s battery is below 80% and with Joy Cons connected to maximize the power draw.

If you want to learn more about the Switch and USB power feel free to checkout these additional readings.