The Nintendo Switch has been selling like hotcakes since its initial debut a couple years ago, once again reaffirming the forgotten notion that “a good gaming experience isn’t limited to technical benchmarks”. It’s like a breath of fresh air as a wave of AAA titles somehow made it on the platform while being unconventionally innovative and practical due to its hybrid console/handheld design. Everybody lauded Nintendo’s effort then, and now the hardware got a diversified midcycle update across the board.
Enter the Switch Lite, a further downsized, portable-only variant of the revered hybrid console. And no, that wasn’t a typo—this is solely meant for gaming on the go without the “burden” of optional big screen entertainment. While you lose some multimedia functionality you also save a hundred bucks in the process, but are these unsavory tradeoffs worth saving a Benjamin for?
TL;DR A Switch for Everyone
Let’s get to it; if you already own or have played with the original Switch then much of the experience on the Switch Lite will remain largely the same, albeit with some changes and omissions that couldn’t be avoided by design. The Switch Lite plays nearly everything the “OG” Switch can (which is how I’ll be referring to the original variant) in reasonable capacity.
As Popzara reviewed the original Switch upon launch, a good portion of those impressions remain relevant and still worth reading.
Holding the Switch Lite feels just right, comfortably sitting in your hands without overcompensating with unnecessary molding and curves. A reminder that Nintendo has pretty much dominated this form factor for thirty years now, and they obviously know what works.
Honestly, there’s not much of a stylistic difference between the standard Switch and this Lite variant. It’s basically a flat slate with rounded grips that provide the essential grip like before, just smaller. The build quality is also much the same with a plastic matte body designed to take minor abuse when traveling or just out and about (allegedly, the Switch is popular in bars). The slimmer dimensions measure in at around 3.6 x 8.2 x 0.6 inches, and weighs 0.61lbs (9.8oz), which is a 0.7 ounces lighter than the OG Switch.
You can also express yourself with three colors to choose from: gray, yellow and turquoise that’ll make your Lite stand out more. I chose yellow because it reminded me of a canary and, honestly, just looks adorable.
Down to the Handheld Bone
First are the obvious negatives: there’s no way to dock the Switch Lite to an external display. Nintendo made sure those GPU components were physically removed, so you’re limited to playing on the Lite’s smaller 5.5″ 720p (1280 x 720) screen—down from the OG Switch’s larger 6.2″ display of the same resolution. Another feature that’s been excluded by default is “HD Rumble” feedback, which makes sense given the compact nature and focus of the Lite’s singular design.
Joy-Con controllers are naturally absent as you’ll be playing in a more traditional horizontal position all the time. Still, the overall button placement and design is largely the same but molded in a single unit. Those dual analog sticks appear to have been carried over from the original Joy-Cons, which could mean the issues with directional drift and dead zones may reappear at some point.
The tabletop kickstand is also gone, so you’ll have to improvise if you plan on using the Switch Lite with full-sized controllers or other wired accessories. A little bit of creative will be necessary for makeshift orientations.
Fortunately, everything else spec-wise about the Switch Lite is retained or somewhat better than the original OG Switch. Features like gyroscopic sensors, Bluetooth 4.1 (for proprietary controller pairing only), Wi-Fi 802.11ac, USB-C port, and NFC communication compatibility are here, while the MicroSDXC and game card slots are also present.
Actual improvements are limited to an slightly updated NVIDIA Tegra X1 SoC processor (“Mariko” ODNX10-A1) while the internal battery is a smaller capacity (13.6W-h @ 3570mA-h) yet holds a longer charge of 4-7 hours compared to the OG Switch due to both its size and excluded TV output. Utilization of 4GB LPDDR4 memory is unchanged between all Switch models.
Familiar Feel, Longer Charge
Playing the Switch Lite is nearly identical to playing the standard Switch undocked, at least in overall performance. Everything looked the same, albeit on a slightly smaller display, though I found the newer panel has cooler hues where whites are better presented instead of the OG Switch’s warmer tints. This difference was immediate as everything just looks a bit more vibrant and with slightly better viewing angles. Touchscreen accuracy is still accurate and responsive, though if you’re used to the larger Switch screen there may be an short adjustment period to get acquainted.
Battery life is another selling point, and I found the Switch Lite generally delivers. My go-to choice was none other than Nintendo’s own Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, an ideal benchmark choice for battery-heavy endurance tests. I experienced a nice 1.3 hour gain (3:05 hours/OG vs 4:18 hours/Lite) when starting from a full charge, in which I had brightness and volume at maximum. This is pretty good now that you can feasibly game without pause on a nonstop coast-to-coast flight, as long as you manage the power settings beforehand.
Return of the D-Pad
How does the Lite actually play? Quite nice, especially if you prefer your gaming solely in portable mode and nothing else.
The functional changes are relatively minor with softer and longer button travel and the ZL/ZR triggers don’t have as much snap to them. The return of the D-pad is something I wanted to praise since most people thought that the separate directional buttons on the OG Switch were afterthoughs, however, I have to say that it really didn’t make as much of a difference as I hoped.
Do you remember how tiny the Nintendo 3DS D-pad is? That’s essentially what the Switch Lite has; a crosspad whose usefulness is equally negated by its diminutive size. And if you’re someone with bigger hands like myself, things becomes annoying quick. Big palmed gamers should expect cramps after longer sessions, a real problem that can only be fixed by using an external controller – which almost defeats the purpose of having a smaller Switch in the first place.
Pro Controller Recommended
But you’ll appreciate the use of optional gamepads, since the biggest caveat with the Switch Lite is game compatibility. Nearly everything that plays on the original console will play here, albeit with issues made unavoidable by the Lite’s design described earlier. There’s bound to be the odd title that doesn’t function properly out of the box due to the loss of Joy-Cons and HD Rumble support, but they’re not completely omitted.
Luckily, the Switch Lite operates just fine with the wireless Switch Pro Controller, and you’ll definitely want to pick one up this time. You can even use wired USB controllers if you don’t mind the hassle of USB-C dongles strung everywhere, but at least it’s an option. Apart from that and even standard Joy-Cons from Nintendo, there’s a huge selection of official third-party wireless controllers from PowerA, Hori and others, so you’re not hurting for choice if you want to play Super Mario Odyssey to the fullest.
Also, the same workarounds apply for wired USB gaming headsets and other accessories like the Poké Ball Plus. So no worries about not catching ’em all or chatting over Fortnite either.
Conclusion: A “Lite” Touch
Where does Nintendo’s $199, handheld-only Switch Lite stand for consumers? A lot more choice, especially for people who don’t care about docking games onto a bigger display. Those who can’t imagine not playing SSBU or BOTW on their TVs aren’t the intended audience for it. But if you’re looking for a cheaper point of entry into an very impressive game lineup, or just want a travel-friendly substitute, the Lite could make sense. This will not be a replacement of the $299 version, but the omissions are sensible enough.
It’s a good everyday companion, but you’ll probably want to get some protection from the inevitable scuffs and dings portable consoles seem to attract. Be prepared and invest in a carrying case if you plan on playing out in the elements.