Nintendo Switch Lite Review

Nintendo revamps their latest console for more portability

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Nintendo Switch Lite

Nintendo Switch Lite

Lifewire / Zach Sweat

What We Like
  • Great price

  • Ultra portable size

  • True D-pad rather than buttons

What We Don't Like
  • Only offers 720p

  • No motion controls

  • No TV hookup option

Despite removing some of the unique features on the larger Switch, the Lite version is a superb little console for those who like to game on the go.

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Nintendo Switch Lite

Nintendo Switch Lite

Lifewire / Zach Sweat

Nintendo's newest console, the Switch, has been a massive comeback for the Japanese video game giant after the Wii U failed to draw much interest. The Switch is one of Nintendo's best-selling devices ever, despite hardware that lags behind the competition in terms of power. The Switch Lite builds on that success with similar hardware, complete compatibility, and an even more portable form factor.

Where the original Switch is a hybrid portable console, the Switch Lite is a more traditional handheld gaming device. It still provides most of the best features of the full-sized Switch, but it's also Nintendo's only pure portable since the discontinuation of the 3DS family of handhelds.

Although I appreciate what Nintendo has done here with the Lite, a few key missing features might not make it the optimal choice for everyone.

Nintendo Switch Lite
Lifewire / Zach Sweat

Design: Cute and compact

It's hard not to swoon at the sight of the Switch Lite. The handheld console is cute and compact, featuring unique color options, bright white buttons, and joysticks wrapped around a downsized screen. The whole unit is about the size of a beefy phablet. The screen alone is about the size of an iPhone SE.

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. The reduction in size and weight doesn't make it challenging 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 is slimmer by roughly the size of an entire Joy-Con on one side.

The smaller size is because the regular Switch has removable controllers, and the Lite does not. The compromise on its size is that 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 I appreciate what Nintendo has done here with the Lite, a few key missing features might not make it the optimal choice for everyone.

Aside from the lack of removable controllers, the Lite features the same layout as the Joy-Con inputs, down to the spacing and functions. On the left 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 distinction 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 usually 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 kickstand was flimsy anyway, so you likely won’t miss it.

There’s still the issue 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, the Lite does not fit into the dock that came with a Switch. If you want to charge it, you have to plug it directly into the included USB-C charger or the one on a regular Switch, as they’re the same.

Nintendo Switch Lite
Lifewire / Zach Sweat

Setup Process: Hit the switch

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-Cons.

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. Setup starts with pushing the power button on the top and is facilitated by an on-screen guide that helps you set up the usual stuff like Wi-Fi, account creation (or login), etc. When complete, either pop in a game card or download one digitally to begin gaming.

Things get trickier if you have an existing Nintendo account that you want to use with both the Switch Lite and an older Switch. The good news is that you can, but the bad news is that Nintendo doesn’t make it super convenient.

When you link your Nintendo account during setup, you can choose which Switch you want to be your primary system and which will be your secondary. That means that Nintendo essentially makes you decide to set up the Switch Lite as a secondary system that can only play your games while logged in and connected to Wi-Fi, or you can transfer the old Switch’s data to the new one.

Things get trickier if you have an existing Nintendo account that you want to use with both the Switch Lite and an older Switch. 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, I decided to make my 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 it forces you to choose. Other systems, like Xbox, only allow one "home" console to play your games without being logged in, but it's less of an issue since those consoles aren't portable.

Another thorn in the side here is that your saved data is local, and if you want to save data to the cloud, you will 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 other consoles and PC platforms like Steam, your saved data syncs to the cloud automatically, allowing you to play wherever you want without worrying about losing progress.

There's yet another issue if you have 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 set the Switch Lite as your primary system, nobody can play games you've bought and downloaded on your home Switch unless they log into your account. You could always keep that other Switch as your primary, but then your Switch Lite will need Wi-Fi to access titles. It's easy to see the problem there, but apparently, Nintendo doesn't.

Nintendo Switch Lite
Lifewire / Zach Sweat

Performance: Decent for mobile gaming, but no FHD

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. 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. Since you can't use the Switch Lite with a dock, there's no way to play in 1080p.

Although the screen is reduced from 6.2 inches to 5.5 inches on the Lite, I didn't notice a big difference. The Lite's display packs more pixels per inch (PPI) at 267 PPI compared to the original Switch's 236 PPI. The display looks sharper, but with such a marginal difference, most won't notice much.

I've played many games on the Switch Lite, including modern classics like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pokémon Let's Go, and Shovel Knight. All these had a solid performance from the console, with no considerable dips in frames, hiccups, or freezes.

Like its predecessor's mobile mode, the Switch Lite is unfortunately capped at 30 FPS for many titles (though it can hit 60 in some single-player games). Unlike the Switch, which you can dock to boost performance, you're stuck with the handheld specs on the Lite.

A quick example is that single-player Mario Kart 8 Deluxe runs at a smooth 60 FPS in 1080p on a docked Switch but 720p at 60 FPS in the handheld mode. Adding more players reduces your frames to 30 FPS, which is also true for Smash Bros. The Switch Lite isn't designed for single-device multiplayer, though, and you're unlikely to get three or more players all crouched behind the 5.5-inch screen anyway.

These somewhat disappointing performance numbers look bad compared to a home console but remember that this is a handheld console that you can play for hours on end without needing a power cable.

If you're like me 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. I'd even argue that this is perhaps the ideal way you should use it.

Another thorn in the side here is that your saved data is local, and if you want to save data to the cloud, you will have to pay for Nintendo's online service (thankfully, it's cheap).

Since the Switch Lite doesn't have detachable Joy-Cons, you'll need to bring an extra controller if you want to play local multiplayer games on the go. 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 the Switch for you if you want to do local multiplayer.

Online multiplayer does, however, work pretty 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 Nintendo Switch Online.

This service is inexpensive at just $20 a year (or $35 a year 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 cool perks, like access to a growing library of NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, and Sega Genesis games, the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app, Save Data Cloud, and special offers for members.

Once again, there's no Ethernet port, 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 have worked well for me, despite needing to rely on Wi-Fi. However, 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 if your Wi-Fi isn't great.

Frustrations like the lack of in-game chat cripple the Nintendo Switch Online, and Nintendo has done little to address these issues. Many functions still require you to use the app on your smartphone (like online voice chat), and while Xbox and PlayStation users get free games for their consoles as part of their subscription services, Switch users only get older virtual console games.

All said and done, the performance is excellent for single-player experiences on the Switch Lite, with online multiplayer trailing behind but perfectly functional. Local multiplayer is easily one of the biggest strengths of the original Switch and our favorite aspect. However, the methods used to create a more portable console with the Lite also severely hurt its viability. 

Nintendo Switch Lite
Lifewire / Zach Sweat 

Software: Still a bit drab, but smooth and snappy

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.

While the overall UI is quick and navigable, it feels drab. There are still no themes to swap 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 be that you can use the touchscreen for most functions outside of games. Navigating the screen by tapping elements 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. 

Nintendo Switch Lite
Lifewire / Zach Sweat

Battery Life: Slightly better, but not the best

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. It eventually received a bigger battery in a minor hardware revision, which helped. The Switch Lite has a slightly smaller battery than the revised Switch but also has lower power needs due to its small screen.

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 extensive range exists because some activities on the console are far less demanding than others.

This slight bump in battery life is primarily due to the Switch Lite's smaller screen, which needs less juice. Charging the battery takes about three hours, but only if you drain it completely. Using it occasionally instead of for extended gaming sessions, I've found that I don't need to charge it that often and that it charges fast when I do.

Demanding titles like Breath of the Wild will still place you on the shorter end of that battery life spectrum, but I could log about 3.5-4 hours even with Zelda. Indie games and others that are less power-hungry can get you up to 5 hours and above. Note that you can tweak settings like brightness, Wi-Fi, and airplane mode to give even more screen time.

A portable charger is still one of the best accessories you can pick up for the Switch, and there are many quality options out that are approved by Nintendo. I recommend picking one up, but be careful which one you choose. I've stuck with reputable brands and haven't had any trouble, but I have heard horror stories from people who have bricked their consoles with unsupported options.

Lastly, the battery is internal, so you can't easily pop in a new one when it starts to degrade. While I haven't seen any degradation with mine, it'll happen at some point. When it does, sending it to Nintendo for repair is the only real option.

Price: Inexpensive console gaming in your hands

It’s no surprise that since Nintendo removed many features from the Switch to create the Lite model, the price has also decreased considerably. The Switch is already at a pretty sweet price of $300, so how does the Lite stack up?

The Switch Lite has an MSRP of $200, which is a pretty good value. It plays all the same games as the original Switch at a significantly lower price and is much more portable. You do lose the ability to dock it; for some people, that feature will be worth the extra $100.

Nintendo Switch Lite
Lifewire / Zach Sweat 

Nintendo Switch Lite vs. Nintendo Switch

The biggest competitor to the Switch Lite is the original Switch. Nintendo has done an excellent job with both of these devices, but they each have some strengths and weaknesses you should consider before buying.

The first thing to consider is whether you want to play couch co-op or versus with your friends. If you plan to use your Switch primarily for playing Mario Party or Smash Bros. with a bunch of your friends on the couch—get the regular Switch. You need the original Switch to play on a larger screen, and it also comes with two Joy-Cons that you can use as separate controllers.

Even if you wanted to play with one other person locally on your Switch Lite, you'd need to spend about $60-70 on some Joy-Cons or a Pro Controller, 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.

If you feel like you'll use your Switch away from home, or you're primarily a solo player who plans to 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 the better bet.

The Switch Lite also makes a great companion device if you already have a Switch. If you have both, you get the best of both worlds—the Lite's portability and the regular Switch's extra features.

Final Verdict

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. It features an extensive library of exclusives that are perfect for a highly mobile system like Animal Crossing—and it’s hard to argue with the price.

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Specs

  • Product Name Switch Lite
  • Product Brand Nintendo
  • UPC 070004640519
  • Price $199.99
  • Weight 9.7 oz.
  • Product Dimensions 3.6 x 8.2 x 0.55 in.
  • Warranty 1-year warranty
  • CPU Nvidia Custom Tegra X1
  • GPU Nvidia Custom Tegra X1
  • RAM 4GB
  • Storage 32GB internal, one micro SD slot (up to 2TB)
  • Ports USB-C, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Screen Multi-touch capacitive touchscreen / 5.5-inch LCD Screen / 1280 x 720
  • Battery Lithium-ion battery/3570mAh
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