With last week’s release of the Nintendo Switch Lite, there’s now a brand new way to experience your favorite Switch games. Sacrificing the TV connectivity and detachable Joy-Con functionality of the original Switch in favor of a more easily portable footprint, the Switch Lite is simply the latest example of Nintendo’s long tradition of stellar handheld gaming systems.
However, if you’re thinking of buying a Switch Lite—particularly as we head into the holiday shopping season—here are a few things to consider.
The Price Is Right
Out of the gate, the Switch Lite has one undeniable advantage over its best-selling big brother: price.
At $199.99, it’s a cool $100 less than the original Switch. Nintendo accomplished this by compromising a bit on its overall feature set. Obviously missing is the television-connected charging dock—and thus, the titular “switch” mechanic—and with it the popular TV mode. The system’s also missing the kickstand used for the shared on-the-go Tabletop mode.
What’s left, then, is Handheld mode.
Unlike the older Switch, the Switch Lite isn’t a home console that you can take with you; it’s a dedicated portable gaming system, just like the Game Boy, GBA, Nintendo DS, and 3DS.
Joy-Cons Not Included
While the Switch is designed modularly, with the core tablet and detachable Joy-Con controllers, the Switch Lite opts for a simpler all-in-one design. This means its controls are permanently attached.
You’ll still find nicely snappy dual analog sticks, A, B, X, and Y face buttons, + and – menu buttons, four shoulder buttons, and dedicated Home and Screenshot buttons. The secondary directional buttons located beneath the Left Joy-Con’s control stick, however, have been nicely updated for the Switch Lite.
Instead, you’ll find an excellent traditional D-pad interface. This is something fans have been clamoring for since the original Switch’s launch, and an entire industry has seemingly grown up around third-party Left Joy-Con solutions featuring D-pads, spanning everything from Hori’s inexpensive analogs to custom Joy-Con shells.
I’ve found the D-pad particularly responsive, and a veritable godsend for playing modern retro-style titles as well as the classic NES and SNES originals available with the Nintendo Online subscription service.
However, just because Joy-Cons don’t ship with the Switch Lite doesn’t mean the system lacks support for the controllers. Existing Joy-Cons (as well as Pro Controllers and 3rd-party options) can still be paired with your Switch Lite using the Controllers option from the Home screen.
You’ll Hardly Notice the Smaller Screen
Another sacrifice made in the name of dedicated portable play is the Switch Lite’s touchscreen. Just like the bigger Switch, it still sports a capacitive multi-touch interface, but the Switch Lite‘s is slightly smaller: 5.5 inches versus 6.2 inches. But since it still runs as 1280×720 resolution, you’re not losing any visual fidelity.
Over the weekend, I tested 20+ games and failed to find any situations where the overall graphics weren’t easily on par with that of the Switch’s screen. The only possible exception is with regard to onscreen text. The already miniscule text in games like Diablo 3 were slightly harder to see, but this is nothing that couldn’t be remedied with a font-size option in an upcoming update.
To my surprise, I found other particularly text-heavy selections, like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, already had a font size option.
You’ll Definitely Notice the Weight Reduction
The smaller screen and non-detachable controllers help reduce the overall weight of the Switch Lite. While this doesn’t sound like much on paper—it weighs .61 lbs. compared to the .88 lbs. of the original—it does make a difference in-hand.
During marathon Handheld play sessions with my Nintendo Switch, I’d often find my wrists and palms quickly fatigued. The Switch Lite, on the other… hand, sits more naturally and allowed me to play longer without having to change positions or take a break to fan my tired fingers.
It’s Surprisingly Loud
While the old Switch has its speakers seated behind the touchscreen, the Switch Lite has relocated them. You’ll notice a pair of thin downward-pointing speaker ports on the bottom of the system.
I assumed this would result in a quieter play experience, and I was wrong. These little suckers are loud! They’re also surprisingly clear with very solid stereo sound.
Games You Can Play
With TV and Tabletop modes eliminated, the Switch Lite is limited to only games that offer Handheld mode gameplay. Thankfully, that accounts for the vast majority of the existing Switch library.
Does your favorite game support Handheld mode? I mean, yeah, probably. But to know for sure, just look for the appropriate icon.
Games You Can’t
There are—and I can’t stress this enough—painfully few Switch titles that won’t easily work with the Switch Lite. The biggies are all dedicated TV-docked/Joy-Con motion control or custom accessory-heavy offerings like the Labo/Labo VR series, launch release 1-2 Switch, Just Dance, Fitness Boxing, and Super Mario Party.
That said, there are a number of games that have integrated motion controls, like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS, and Super Mario Odyssey, and the Switch Lite, on its own, doesn’t support motion gaming (or HD Rumble or the IR Motion Camera, as those are components of the Joy-Cons).
For games like this, you can either A) disable motion controls (trust me, I’ve been playing Splatoon 2 without motion aiming since launch) or B) just sync a pair of Joy-Cons to your Switch Lite system.
It Isn’t (Necessarily) a Replacement for Your Existing Nintendo Switch
I own and still often enjoy both Fitness Boxing and Super Mario Party—two of the only games incompatible with the Switch Lite—and I kind of wondered what would become of them once I transferred all my user data from my old Switch to my new Lite.
But here’s the thing; I didn’t have to.
It turns out that you can access your full profile on both a Nintendo Switch and a Nintendo Switch Lite. What does that mean?
Well, most importantly, it means that you can have your downloadable eShop games available on both your Switch and your Lite. This is a big deal because it goes against Nintendo’s long-held doctrine that games are linked to individual systems more so than their users.
But There Are Some Caveats
While this means I can play my new favorite game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, on both my Switch and my Switch Lite since I own it digitally, there is, of course, a catch.
My original Switch remains my account’s “primary system,” meaning it can access and play any of my eShop purchases—full stop. My Switch Lite, on the other hand, is a secondary system; it too can play my eShop purchases, assuming I’m not actively playing them on my other Switch.
— Z. (@hipsterplease) September 21, 2019
This is an important distinction because it means the Switch Lite needs Wi-Fi access to verify I can play my downloadable software. Obviously, Wi-Fi is pretty ubiquitous here in the States, but it does put a bit of a wrinkle in the whole “dedicated portable” slant of the system.
Ideally, it would be my regular Switch, my home system, that needs to double-check playability and not my new traveling companion, and that might be a possibility, but for now, this is the reality of Switch Lite ownership and the digital marketplace.
Oh, and then there’s the matter of game saves. In order to play a big RPG like Fire Emblem on both a Switch and a Switch Lite, you’ll want access to a single shared game save. That’s accomplished easily enough as a perk of the Nintendo Online service, but that does come with an additional annual subscription fee. Plus, you have to remember to download the updated save from the cloud as you move from system to system.
Then there’s the matter of games that don’t support cloud saves at all. For me, the two biggies are Splatoon 2 and the upcoming Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Does this mean I’ll probably just limit Animal Crossing play to my smaller Switch Lite? Probably, but hopefully, Nintendo will institute some sort of workaround by the time it launches next year.
It Truly Feels Portable
So here’s the thing; there are some trade-offs with the Nintendo Switch Lite. TV mode is a no-go and motion gameplay requires acquiring and syncing Joy-Cons. The screen is smaller, and you’ll probably miss that helpful HD Rumble in games like Skyrim.
But in exchange, you get Nintendo’s best handheld gaming system to date, and you get it in earnest. The D-pad is a dream, the smaller form-factor feels great in your hand, and, of yeah, you get a bump in battery life to boot.
For me, the best thing about the Lite is that I didn’t have to decommission my original Switch to enjoy it, but in that regard I am fortunate. Some families don’t already own a Nintendo Switch, and I’m sure many can’t afford to buy two brand new gaming systems.
So, in a nutshell, my advice to existing Switch owners is to buy a Switch Lite. The price point makes it a much more palatable solution for multi-Switch households—either as a dedicated system for another family member or a more travel-friendly extension of your existing Switch game library.
For non-Switch owners, I suggest… well, that you buy a Switch Lite too. Unless TV mode is a deal-breaker, the Switch Lite is more attractively priced and too solidly constructed to turn down. Further, the Switch Lite truly serves as a reminder of how much of that old Game Boy DNA has been inside the Nintendo Switch all along.
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. Dedicated handheld gaming for life!