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Lifewire / Zach Sweat
Ultra portable size
True D-pad rather than buttons
Only offers 720p
No motion controls
No TV hookup option
Despite removing of some of the most unique features on the larger Switch, the Lite version remains a superb little console for those who like to game on the go.
Nintendo’s newest console, the Switch, has been a massive comeback for the Japanese video game giant after a blunder known as the Wii U. Since its debut in early 2017, the Switch has become one of the top competitors in the gaming console space, despite its somewhat lackluster hardware. With such a widely regarded console already on the market and selling extremely well, you might be wondering why Nintendo has decided to release another version that no one really asked for.
Thankfully, the new Switch Lite is a solid little device that places emphasis on handheld gaming and portability over traditional console gaming on your TV. While this new foray somewhat competes with the existing Nintendo DS devices, you get (mostly) everything you already know and love about the full-sized Switch in an even more compact unit.
Although we appreciate a lot of what Nintendo has done here with the Lite, there are a few key features missing that might not make it the optimal choice for everyone. Before you decide to drop your hard-earned cash on the scaled-down version of Nintendo’s new console, read our full review here and see if it makes sense based on your plans for the device.
It’s hard not to immediately swoon at the sight of the Switch Lite. The handheld console is cute and compact, featuring unique color options and bright white buttons and joysticks all wrapped around a screen that’s about the same size as your smartphone.
Compared to its larger cousin, this device is light and slim, with a smooth matte surface that spills across the entire unit in a beautiful, uninterrupted fashion. Whereas the regular Switch creates a stark contrast between each Joy-Con and the console, the Lite is one continuous body that creates a sleeker look and sturdier feel.
Looking at both Switches side-by-side, the Lite isn’t massively smaller in comparison, but it seems that way when you swap between the two. Overall, it’s a nice reduction in size and weight without making it difficult to use for those with larger hands.
The screen has been decreased from 6.2 inches to 5.5 inches, still sporting the same plastic overlay above it (meaning you’ll want to get a glass protector to prevent scratches), and the length and height have been trimmed down a good bit. The most obvious change here is the overall length of the Lite, which has been slimmed down by roughly the size of an entire Joy-Con on one side.
This downsize is obviously because the regular Switch has removable controllers and the Lite does not. The Lite is able to shrink considerably thanks to this, but it also means you can’t take your Joy-Cons off and instantly start playing a local multiplayer game. Although that might be disappointing for some, the Lite now feels much better for long handheld gaming sessions when compared to the bulkier model.
Although we appreciate a lot of what Nintendo has done here with the Lite, there are a few key features missing that might not make it the optimal choice for everyone.
Aside from the lack of removable controllers, the Lite features the exact same layout of the Joy-Con inputs, right down to the spacing and functions. On the left, there are two shoulder buttons, a minus button (select), a joystick, a directional pad, and a screenshot button. The right side is mostly the same, with two more shoulders, a plus button (start), four inputs, another joystick, and a home button.
The only real notable difference here is that Nintendo has opted for a traditional D-pad, which is leagues better than the old layout for platformers, fighting games, and pretty much everything else. This is, of course, because you’ll no longer be removing the left controller and requiring it to function as a separate device.
The top is home to the power button and volume toggle, a vent, a 3.5mm jack, and the game card slot, while the bottom holds the USB-C input for power and the addition of a new standalone SD card slot.
Where there’s normally a kickstand on the Switch with a hidden SD card slot, this version drops that option (since you can no longer remove the Joy-Con for tabletop mode) and adds a small door for expanding your storage. The old kickstand was pretty flimsy anyways, so you likely won’t miss it.
There’s still the issue here with the USB-C port sticking straight out of the bottom, making it hard to sit flat against something, but this is somewhat less annoying since you’ll likely be holding it while gaming. Unfortunately, if you do have a dock that came with a Switch, the Lite does not fit into the slot. If you want to charge it, you have to plug it directly into the USB-C charger included or the one on a regular Switch, as they’re the same.
If you’ve set up a previous Switch console in the past, the process here is mostly the same, but it’s even easier since there are no Joy-Con to deal with. That said, getting your Nintendo account to seamlessly mesh between two Switches can be a bit of a pain. We’ll walk you through the whole process here so you can dive right into testing your new Switch Lite.
Since the Lite is exclusively handheld, there’s no dock to worry about here, but make sure your console has enough juice before beginning setup. First things first, hit the power button on the top and follow along with the on-screen guide where you’ll set up the usual stuff like Wi-Fi, account creation (or login), etc. When complete, you can either pop in a game card or download one digitally to begin gaming.
Now for the tricky part. Let’s say you’ve already got an existing Nintendo account and you want to be able to use it on both your Switches. The good news is that you can, but the bad news is that Nintendo doesn’t make it super convenient.
When prompted during setup (or by simply logging in from the home screen after that), select the option to link your Nintendo account. You’ll have the option to log in with either your Nintendo info or an outside account such as Google. Either of these are fine, just make sure you’ve got your info handy. If you’ve got two-step verification setup, you’ll also need your phone to authenticate.
Per usual, there is some annoying Nintendo stuff you’re gonna need to deal with here, primarily the choice of which Switch you want to make your primary, and which will be your secondary. What this means is that Nintendo essentially makes you choose to set up a secondary system that can only play games while connected to Wi-Fi, or you can transfer one Switch’s data to another via Wi-Fi.
Let’s say you’ve already got an existing Nintendo account and you want to be able to use it on both your Switches. The good news is that you can, but the bad news is that Nintendo doesn’t make it super convenient.
If you opt to make your Lite the secondary, you can kiss goodbye to playing any of your digital games on the go unless you have stable Wi-Fi on hand. Because of this, we decided to make our docked Switch the secondary (since it is always at home with Wi-Fi access). While this does solve most of the issues, it’s annoying that you’re forced to choose. In contrast, you can easily and seamlessly use multiple Xbox consoles without this problem.
Another thorn in the side here is that your save data is local, and if you want to save to the cloud to access you’re going to have to pay for Nintendo’s online service (thankfully it’s cheap). However, none of this data migration will happen automatically like other gaming consoles. You’ll need to manually download your saves locally each time and then update them on the console you want to use, even with the cloud option.
Sure, all of this does work, but it’s a pain to do and feels like another shortsighted attempt from Nintendo in a world where other competitors are leagues ahead. With an Xbox, your saved data can instantly be synced with most games and the entire process is a breeze.
There’s yet another issue here if you’ve got kids or multiple accounts on your Switches. Since one Switch is now set as your primary, other users can’t access all your games from a secondary console.
For example, if you make the Lite your primary, now you’ve blocked off many of your titles from someone who wants to play them at home on your secondary device. You could always keep that other Switch as your primary, but now your Lite needs Wi-Fi to access titles. See the problem here? Apparently, Nintendo doesn’t.
Much like the original Switch, the Lite is by no means a powerhouse console sporting top-of-the-line graphics and hardware. That said, it doesn’t necessarily need to be either. For the most part, the Switch Lite performs similarly to its larger counterpart while in handheld mode, but let’s delve into specifics.
Sporting the same custom Tegra X1 from Nvidia, the Switch Lite has plenty of CPU and GPU power for its humble needs. The screen maxes out at a 720p resolution, which isn’t great, but gets the job done on such a small screen (there is no option to use it with a dock, which also means no 1080p).
Although the screen is reduced from 6.2 inches to 5.5 inches on the Lite, we didn’t really notice a big difference. In fact, the Lite’s display packs in a bit more PPI (pixels per inch) at 267ppi, compared to the original Switch's 236ppi. This means the display is a bit sharper, but with such a marginal difference, most won’t notice much.
We tested out the Lite with a number of single-player titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pokémon Let’s Go, and Shovel Knight. All of these had solid performance from the console, with no huge dips in frames, hiccups or freezes.
Much like its predecessor, the Switch Lite is unfortunately capped at 30fps for many titles (though it’ll hit 60 for some single-player games). Unlike the Switch which you can dock to boost performance a bit, you’re stuck with the handheld specs on the Lite.
A quick example of this is that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe when docked gets 1080p/60fps in single-player, but 720p/60fps in handheld. Adding in more players reduces your frames to 30fps, and this is also true for Smash Bros. However, you’re likely not going to get three or more players all crouched behind the 5.5-inch screen either, so it’s less of an issue for multiplayer on the Lite.
These somewhat disappointing performance numbers look bad when compared to something like a PS4 Pro, but keep in mind that this is a handheld console that you can play for hours on end without needing a power cable. To us, it didn’t detract from the majority of the games we tested.
If you’re like us and love to use the previous Switch in handheld mode for single-player games, the Lite will quickly become your go-to Switch for this particular setting. We’d even argue that this is perhaps the ideal way it should be used.
Another thorn in the side here is that your save data is local, and if you want to save to the cloud to access you’re going to have to pay for Nintendo’s online service (thankfully it’s cheap).
Since there are no detachable Joy-Cons found on the Switch Lite, you’ll need to bring them along with you if you want to play any sort of local multiplayer game. It works the same way as the original console, but it’s far less practical on the Lite since you can’t dock it, it doesn’t have a kickstand, you need separate controllers, and the screen is smaller. The option is there if you want, but this isn’t really the Switch for you if you want to do local multiplayer.
Online multiplayer does, however, work fairly well. Boot up a game like Super Mario Party, Super Smash Bros. or your favorite free-to-play shooter and connect to the internet just like you would on the original Switch. For most matchmaking, however, you’ll need to pick up Nintendo’s online subscription service.
This service is inexpensive at just $20 a year (or $35 for a family plan that allows up to eight users, also available at $4 a month), but many remain frustrated with its capabilities. It includes some cool perks though, like access to the NES/SNES virtual consoles, the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app, Save Data Cloud and special offers for members.
Once again, there’s no Ethernet port this time around, so you can stick with Wi-Fi and hope for the best, or grab an aftermarket adapter, which is far less practical on the Lite seeing how it’s handheld only.
Online games worked well for the most part, but Nintendo’s online service is still far behind the likes of Sony or Microsoft, and the lack of a wired connection means you may run into issues with speed and stability.
Frustrations like the lack of in-game chat really cripple the service, and Nintendo has done little to address these issues since release. Many functions still require you to use the app on your smartphone (like online voice chat), and while Xbox and PlayStation users are getting free games for their consoles, Switch users only get NES/SNES games.
All said and done, the performance is great for single-player experiences on the Switch Lite, with online multiplayer trailing behind a bit, but perfectly functional. Local multiplayer is easily one of the biggest strengths of the original Switch, and our favorite aspect, but the methods used to create a more portable console with the Lite also severely hurt its viability in this realm.
If you’ve got an older Switch already or at least spent some time with one, the software found on the Switch Lite is exactly the same. Thankfully, that means it’s clean and snappy, but also a bit boring.
Booting up your Switch takes you to a quick start screen that allows you to either jump back into your recently used game or go straight to the main home screen by pressing the home button. This home screen provides a horizontal scrolling line of tiles for your games and apps, arranged by what you’ve recently used. Moving down to the lower row provides access to stuff like news, the eShop, screenshots, controller settings or the console’s settings.
Although you likely won’t be using Joy-Cons too often with the Lite, the bottom right will display your current controller setup so you know what’s connected. There’s also a handy little guide for what buttons you can use to interact with the options on screen. Up top, your profile and friends list can be accessed alongside a clock, a Wi-Fi meter, and a battery gauge.
Despite being stripped of some of the Switch’s more unique features and strengths, the Switch Lite is a perfect console for gamers on the go or those who prefer handheld.
As we said, this whole UI is quick and navigable, but quite drab. There are still no themes to swap to here aside from a simple light or dark mode, so don’t get too lofty with your customization ideas.
The biggest strength of the UI might just be the fact you can use the touchscreen for most functions outside games (very few games support the touchscreen). Navigating with the screen is even easier than using the controllers, and having an on-screen keyboard means typing out names and info is as easy as texting on your phone.
Battery life on the original Switch was just okay to put it lightly, but typically you were lucky to get anything over 3 hours of screen time with most titles. Not too long ago, Nintendo slightly upgraded that console with a bigger battery to address the issue, and it seems with the Lite they’ve done the same.
Despite having a smaller battery than even the original Switch, the Lite gets nearly the best life between all three, just falling short of the newly updated model. The Lite comes equipped with a 3,570mAh lithium-ion battery (compared to the 4,310mAh on the first Switch) that promises 3 to 7 hours of runtime. That large range comes from what you’re doing with the console, as some activities are far less demanding than others.
This slight bump in battery life is mostly due to the Switch Lite’s smaller screen that needs less juice. Charging the battery should take about three hours or so, but using it occasionally over the course of a few days, we didn’t need to charge it too often.
Demanding titles like Breath of the Wild will still place you on the shorter end of that battery life spectrum, but we could usually hit 3.5-4 hours even with Zelda. Indie games and those that are less power hungry can easily get you up to 5 hours and above, but keep in mind that settings like brightness, Wi-Fi, and airplane mode can be tweaked to give even more screen time.
A portable charger is still one of the best accessories you can pick up for the Switch, and now, there are quality options out that are approved by Nintendo. We recommend picking one up, but be careful which one you go with, as there are several known issues of people bricking their consoles with unsupported options.
Lastly, the battery is internal, so when it starts to inevitably degrade, you can’t easily pop in a new one. All devices like this will eventually wear the battery down over time, so while we didn’t see any degradation with ours, it’ll happen at some point and when it does, sending it to Nintendo for repair is your only real option.
It’s no surprise that since Nintendo has opted to remove a lot of features from the Switch in order to create this new Lite model, the price has also come down considerably. Now the Switch itself is already at a pretty sweet price point of $300, so how does the Lite stack up?
Newly released, you can expect to get the Switch Lite at $200 for most of the foreseeable future. However, it dropped quite a bit during holiday sales (down to as low as $170), and surely it will at least come bundled with some games or accessories, so keep your eye out for deals.
At $200, the value of the Switch Lite is hard to argue against. You get an excellent package for that price, and it’s also the cheapest console on the market right now (aside from older, used versions of the Xbox One or PS4).
The only real thing to keep in mind here is that you need to decide whether those features taken out are worth $100 to you. Check out the section below for help determining which of the two consoles is best for you.
The biggest competitor to the Switch Lite is, well, the Switch. Nintendo has done a good job with both of these devices, but they each have some strengths and weaknesses we need to break down.
First off, if you plan to use your Switch primarily for stuff like playing Mario Party or Smash Bros. with a bunch of your friends on the couch—get the regular Switch. Not only does it solely support the ability to play on a larger screen, but it also includes two separate controllers in the box. Even if you wanted to play with one other person locally on your Switch Lite, you’re gonna have to drop about $60-70 on some Joy-Cons, thus nearly reaching the price of the full-sized console.
If you plan to use your Switch primarily for stuff like playing Mario Party or Smash Bros. with a bunch of your friends on the couch—get the regular Switch.
However, if you’re mostly a solo player who plans to either focus on single-player games or online multiplayer, the Switch Lite is equally good here. The main difference is that the Lite can only be used in handheld mode and takes a slight hit in resolution. The strengths of the Switch Lite are that it’s ultra-compact and portable, so if you mainly want something to take with you from place to place, it’s also a better bet.
The last suggestion we’ll provide between these two choices is that if you’ve already got a Switch, the Switch Lite makes a great companion. If you have both, you get the best of both worlds—the portability of the Lite and the extra features of the regular Switch.
Perfect for gamers who prefer handheld.
Despite being stripped of some of the Switch’s more unique features and strengths, the Switch Lite is a perfect console for gamers on the go or those who prefer handheld—and the price is hard to argue with.
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