At $100 cheaper than the flagship model and lacking key features, you may assume Nintendo Switch Lite is the sort of no-frills redesign aimed at capturing the Pokémon market we’ve seen before with Nintendo 2DS and 2DS XL, which admittedly it’s timed exactly right to do.
However, hold a unit in your hands and it’s immediately clear this is no cheap downgrade. In fact, Switch Lite feels high quality in ways the original model does not; there are no rattling Joy-Cons as you grasp it or gigantic bezel around that distinctly-off-the-shelf tablet display.
Unshackled by the hybrid requirements of its older sibling, Switch Lite feels like a credible, custom-built handheld games console – and it’s won us over.
In brief, the Lite is a smaller, lighter Switch system that can’t be connected to a TV. It will launch on September 20 for $199/£199 and will be available in three colours: yellow, grey and turquoise. A limited edition Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield Switch Lite console will also be released in November, to attract that family audience we mentioned earlier.
Switch Lite can play all Switch games that support handheld mode, while separate Joy-Con controllers can be used with the portable console to play games like 1-2 Switch and Super Mario Party in tabletop mode. However, unlike the flagship Switch, the portable console doesn’t include a built-in kickstand.
Both systems feature a capacitive touchscreen with 1280×720 resolution, but the Lite model’s LCD screen is smaller, measuring 5.5 inches versus the original Switch’s 6.2 inches, so games actually look a little sharper than on the original model.
Essentially, if you’re somebody who mostly plays Nintendo Switch away from the television, Switch Lite is overall a better experience. The matte plastic finish feels great to hold and the console’s size and weight (91.1mm x 208mm x 13.9mm and 275g) make it just about small enough to fit into a jacket pocket and take it on the go, something that wasn’t realistic with the comparatively bulky original.
“For existing Switch owners, setting up a secondary Switch Lite system is simple – as long as you subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, that is.”
The features that are missing (HD rumble and the IR motion camera) are outweighed by the aesthetic upgrade along with the long, long overdue addition of a d-pad, which is as significant an addition as you can imagine. Even HD Rumble, which is used to excellent effect in some Switch titles, can still be experienced by pairing separate Joy-Cons or a Pro Controller, if you’re happy to prop the console up somehow.
The ability to snap off Joy-Cons for impromptu multiplayer games away from home is of course impossible with the Lite, but the importance of that omission will depend on how often you held spontaneous multiplayer sessions in the first place.
For existing Switch owners, setting up a secondary Switch Lite system is simple and painless – as long as you subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, that is. At start-up users are asked if they’d like to link an existing Nintendo Online ID, which will grant access to all of your previous digital purchases via the Nintendo eShop.
Cloud game saves are available only for those who subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, which means your commitment (or lack of) to that service is a significant factor when deciding whether having two Switch consoles on the go is a viable prospect.
For those that do subscribe, cloud saves can either be automatically or manually downloaded onto your console. However, it’s important to note that not all games support this feature including some first-party titles such as Splatoon 2 and the upcoming Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Adopting a dual-console setup, with the vanilla Switch docked to the TV and the Lite packed in your bag for travel, feels far more convenient and compelling than we expected. However, there are some kinks: first of all, the Lite will have to be reconfigured in your account settings so that it is the ‘primary’ Switch console, otherwise you will have to be online to boot up your digital games. This has the repercussion of making digital games you own only playable by your profile on the secondary ‘home’ console.
It’s also not possible to play the same title simultaneously on both consoles: if you attempt to play a game that’s already being played on the other Switch, an error message will appear and close the software.
“Nintendo’s marketing is positioning Switch Lite as a companion to the flagship Switch console, but we were still surprised how literally that translated to our home use.”
In terms of battery life, the Switch Lite holds a very small advantage over the original model, with game time lasting between 3 to 7 hours, compared to the original model’s 2.5 to 6.5 (and 4.5 to 9 for the new original Switch SKU). Annoyingly, the Switch Lite is not able to detect brightness, so you’ll have to manually adjust the brightness of the screen if you want to get the maximum battery life from your console.
Nintendo’s marketing is positioning Switch Lite as a companion to the flagship Switch console, but we were still surprised how literally that translated to our home use. Nintendo still has some issues to sort out in terms of which games support cloud saves and how family game sharing works, but it still feels totally viable to live a dual-Switch life.
For those purchasing a Switch for the first time, which version to choose totally depends on how much you value television play. Because otherwise, the Lite is overall a more convenient, higher quality and cheaper console compared to its predecessor.
Switch Lite feels high quality in ways the original model does not. This comes at the expense of features, but only television play will be missed for first-time buyers.
- Feels high quality compared to the flagship Switch model
- Works well as a companion console... if you have Switch Online
- The d-pad makes a huge difference
- Television play is a big miss for first-time Switch buyers