If you read my article celebrating the second anniversary of the Nintendo Switch, you know that I’m a huge fan of the console, and that’s in no small part thanks to the versatility of the hardware. The ability to switch between TV mode and handheld mode on the fly has been very convenient over the past couple of years, and tabletop mode, even if I don’t get a ton of chances to use it, lets me enjoy games with my friends anytime, anywhere, in a way that no other platform could do.

But what if you don’t care about TV mode? What if you have a more powerful console there or you don’t have that much time to play on a TV? The Nintendo Switch Lite is the answer to these questions, and at first glance, it goes against the original purpose of the Switch - something I already discussed a couple of weeks ago. But for the purpose it serves, it’s actually a pretty good piece of hardware.

Specs

Dimensions

8.2inx3.6inx0.55in (1.12in from the analog sticks to the ZR/ZL buttons)

Weight

0.61lbs

Display

5.5-inch LCD, 1280x720

Sound

Stereo speakers (bottom-firing), 3.5mm headphone jack

Chipset

Custom Nvidia Tegra chipset

Storage

32GB, microSD expansion up to 2TB

Connectivity Wi-Fi (IEEE 801.11 a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth 4.1
USB Type-C port (charging and data, no video)

Battery

3570mAh

Design

As the name suggests, the Nintendo Switch Lite is a smaller and lighter version of the original Switch. It merges the controls into the main body of the console and reduces the screen size to make an overall much smaller package. In terms of width, it’s about the same as a regular Switch with only one Joy-Con attached, and it’s also not as tall. It’s just as thick, though.

A big difference, though, is in the weight. The Lite really lives up to its name in this regard, and it’s a lot more comfortable to hold than the original Switch. Having the controls built into the console also helps the console feel a little more resilient, since the Joy-Con connector rails have always felt like the weakest point of the hardware to me.

Other design changes include the removal of the kickstand, so the microSD card slot just looks similar to the game card slot. There’s also a slightly different look for the grating for the air vent. Some people have complained that the vents on the original Switch can crack over time, and this should help address that.

Because the hardware is a single unit, it also comes in a wider variety of colors, three at launch, with a special edition for Pokémon Sword and Shield already announced. On the original Switch, the variety is mostly limited to the Joy-Con themselves. I got the turquoise model because it just looks great. It has more of a greenish tone to it than the marketing materials suggest, but it’s beautiful all the same.

Display and sound

To make the Switch Lite more portable, Nintendo reduced the size of the screen, which is now 5.5 inches diagonally rather than 6.2. The resolution is still 720p, which isn’t terribly high, but because the screen is smaller, it has a higher pixel density (267ppi, instead of 237ppi on the original), which can make the image look a little sharper in some games. A concern some people had was that text may be hard to read in games that planned for the bigger screen size, but I haven’t really felt it. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which I believe has the smallest text of any of the games I own, looked just fine, and so did other games like Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and the SNES games available through Nintendo Switch Online.

Otherwise, the display looks very similar to the original Switch, including the horrible plastic cover, which makes touch input feel downright bad. I immediately applied a glass screen protector to mine and it feels immensely better to the touch. The colors seem just a little bit different, with the Switch Lite feeling slightly less aggressive to my eyes. It also feels slightly less bright at full brightness, but that could be because of that slight change in color tones.

Keep in mind, though, that the regular Switch recently got a revision, and that panel is more similar to the one on the Switch Lite. As for external displays, the video output on the Switch Lite is disabled on a hardware level, so you won't be able to connect to a TV at all.

As for sound, the Switch Lite uses down-firing speakers instead of front-facing ones, but I don’t have any big complaints there. They’re not as loud as the original Switch, and the difference is noticeable, but the audio quality is identical, and it’s still very much audible.

Buttons and controls

Another change that’s very noticeable in the Switch Lite is in the controls, both because of the feel of the buttons and the way motion controls work in some games. There are some titles that will obviously be excluded from normal play here, unless you buy separate Joy-Con and accessories. Those include 1-2-Switch!, ARMS, and all the Nintendo Labo cardboard kits.

In my discussion article, one of our readers pointed out that some missions in Super Mario Odyssey require motion controls and that wouldn’t work well here. For this review, I quickly played through the entire game to see if this affected the ability to complete the game, and it’s not as bad as you’d think. Unlike what was suggested by our reader, it’s actually possible to throw Mario’s cap downwards in handheld mode (by pressing X or Y right after landing a ground pound).

There are other issues with motion controls in Super Mario Odyssey, specifically in what regards camera controls in certain situations, but this is more the software’s fault than anything, since Breath of the Wild was a much better experience. The original Switch suffers the same issues, and you can always aim with the right analog stick instead. I also knew there were missions that ask you to shake the controller continuously, and I worried that would be a problem without separate Joy-Con - but the lighter body of the Switch Lite, combined with the unified design, make it much easier to shake the whole console. Beating the game in handheld mode is certainly possible, and only a few moons will be troublesome on the Switch Lite (more on that in a bit).

As for the actual buttons on the Switch Lite, the feel is radically different, but it didn’t take long to get used to. The buttons on the regular Switch are pretty stiff and produce a very clear click whenever you press a button, with a well-defined clicking point. The Switch Lite buttons are much softer, not only compared to the Switch but also previous Nintendo handheld consoles. The closest comparison I could draw, in my personal experience, was to the Xbox One controller, which has pretty soft buttons, too. The analog sticks and shoulder buttons (L and R) feel pretty much the same as the regular Switch.

The directional buttons on the Switch have also been replaced by a traditional D-Pad, and again, it’s much softer, though it offers a bit more resistance than the rest of the buttons. In general, despite the big difference, I don’t actually have a clear favorite in terms of button feel. The softer buttons on the Switch Lite are easy to press repeatedly and feel really nice, but the precise click of the Joy-Con is also good.

Hardware changes and battery life

Both the Switch revision announced in July and the Switch Lite comes with the same notable change, which is a new chipset powering the experience. In terms of performance, it’s the same, so don’t expect to see any games run better on the new models, but it is more power-efficient, which means the Switch Lite has better battery life than the original Switch (but it’s still far behind the revised Switch model). It also doesn’t get as warm during more intensive games like Astral Chain, though, again, this is only in comparison to the original Switch. The revised model has the same chipset and possibly better cooling, since one of the air intake vents on the Switch Lite is actually completely blocked off from the inside.

Nintendo claims between 3 and 7.5 hours of battery life for the Switch Lite, depending on the game you’re playing and other settings. Testing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I got three hours and 21 minutes of play time - at around 45% brightness and volume - between starting at 100% battery and getting the low battery warning at 15%. This isn't far from the four hours Nintendo claims for this game. Playing The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening at 20% brightness and 45% volume, I got three hours and 52 minutes of play time before I saw the warning.

I think it’s important to mention that while four hours may not seem like a lot, a console doesn’t get as much use as something like a smartphone. In both of the situations above, the play sessions were a lot longer than I would otherwise go for, because I was really trying to get a good measurement. In day-to-day life, I never really needed to charge the Switch Lite in the middle of the day unless I forgot to do it overnight.

Rumble is required to find the moon hidden in here

There’s another big hardware change, though, and that’s the lack of rumble. When Nintendo said the Switch Lite wouldn’t have HD rumble, I thought there would be a simpler, less capable rumble motor, but there’s no rumble at all. That has some impact in games like Super Mario Odyssey, where some moons are hidden under the floor and require the player to feel the intensity of the vibration to find them. Some of those also have visual indicators, so they’re not all lost, but a few will be absolutely impossible to find without this capability. Again, this won’t stop you from finishing the game, but it will prevent you from collecting every moon. Other games may also suffer from this limitation.

Software and online

The software and online experience on the Switch Lite are exactly the same as on the original Switch, with all the good and bad that comes with. The OS is simple and straightforward, but it’s fast and responsive, and the online service has some shortcomings, but it is much cheaper than the competition, and it comes with perks such as NES and SNES games you can play at no additional cost, Tetris 99, and save data cloud backups.

I want to touch on that last point a bit more though. I wouldn’t expect anyone to buy a Switch Lite to use alongside a regular Switch, but if you’re planning to, you’ll need to be aware of some things. Nintendo offers cloud backups for save data with the Switch Online subscription, but the process isn’t really automatic. Your new Switch won’t automatically download any save data, so if you’re not careful to do it manually, you may start the game over and end up with two separate save data files. You shouldn’t lose either since they’re also stored locally on each console, but it’s something you need to pay attention to.

If you don’t have Switch Online, it’s even worse, and you’ll need to manually transfer data from one console to the other as you need it. This also applies to any games that don’t support cloud saves, such as Splatoon 2 and Pokémon Let’s Go, or if you’re buying a Switch Lite to replace your current Switch. Though, you do get the option to transfer the save data for all your games at once if you’re doing this.

That brings up even more problems, since you can only really transfer save data from one console to the other. Games themselves don’t move, and what’s worse, if you have a microSD card, you can’t just move it between consoles. Each card is assigned to a specific console unless you format it, so you may end up needing two microSD cards. Despite how troublesome this is, I don’t consider it a major issue, since I don’t think most people will own a Switch Lite alongside another Switch.

Conclusion

All in all, I ended up loving the Switch Lite more than I expected. I was surprised by how light and portable it is, and I really like the soft feel of the buttons. Playing on it is much more comfortable than the regular Switch in handheld mode, which is to be expected. Otherwise, the experience is almost as good in every other way, from the sound to the display.

The biggest issues only really arise if you’re buying a Switch Lite to use alongside another Switch or even to replace it. It’s not that it’s horribly complicated to set things up, but it’s certainly more troublesome than it should be, especially during the initial setup. However, as I mentioned before, I think the number of people buying a Switch Lite to use alongside another Switch should be pretty low, and most prospective buyers shouldn’t have concerns in that regard.

Ultimately, as I've said before, whether you should buy the Switch Lite depends on the type of experience you're looking for. If you only care about portable mode, the $100 you'll save with the Switch Lite don't come with many sacrifices, and the quality of the experience is still great. Of course, if you already have or are considering a regular Switch, this will be a downgrade in many ways.


This review was conducted using a Switch Lite bought from Fnac in Portugal. You can also buy it on Amazon.

 

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