The Nintendo Switch is amazing. It can work as a gaming handheld by snapping its Joy-Con controllers onto its sides and holding it in your hands, or as a home console by putting it in its dock and connecting it to your TV, and it can switch between these modes in seconds. The Nintendo Switch Lite does half of that. It’s purely a handheld system, so arguably the “Switch” part of its name doesn’t really apply. It’s still an excellent system that offers the same portable gaming experience as the Switch, in a slightly smaller form factor, with a classic direction pad instead of direction buttons. And at $199.99, it’s $100 less than the Switch. If handheld gaming is all you’re looking for, the Switch Lite is an ideal system and our Editors’ Choice.
Slim and Solid
The Switch Lite looks like a Nintendo Switch in handheld mode with both Joy-Cons attached, but in a slightly smaller and slimmer design measuring 3.6 by 8.2 by 0.6 inches (HWD) and weighing 9.8 ounces. That’s nearly an ounce lighter than just the Switch tablet itself, and five ounces lighter than the Switch with two Joy-Cons attached. The system’s matte plastic shell feels very solid in the hand despite its lower weight, since it’s a single device with no seams between the screen and controls and no rails designed to let its different components come apart.
The layout of the Switch Lite is nearly identical to that of the standard Switch in handheld mode, and reminiscent of the PlayStation Vita. The center is dominated by a 5.5-inch touch LCD, with physical controls on wide grips on either side. The left side holds an analog stick, a minus button, a capture button, a bumper, a trigger, and direction controls in the form of a conventional plus-shaped pad. The right side holds another analog stick, A/B/X/Y face buttons, a plus button, a home button, a bumper, and a trigger.
The direction pad on the left side is a significant change from the Switch, since it replaces a cluster of four direction buttons on the left Joy-Con designed to provide the same controls while physically matching the face buttons on the right side. The Joy-Con buttons are functional, but many fans of classic games bemoan their feel and responsiveness for precise control in 2D games. The Switch Lite offers a welcome tweak, since the mirrored face/direction buttons were designed to let two people play with one Switch tablet and two Joy-Cons, a setup that isn’t particularly comfortable on its own and slightly downgrades the single-player experience.
The top edge of the Switch Lite features a game card slot, a headphone jack, a power button, and a volume rocker, along with a small ventilation grille. The grille has thicker teeth than the one on the regular Switch, which is a good sign; after a year or two of banging around in my bag, my Switch’s grille teeth broke off to expose the metal underneath. The plastic here feels less likely to snap.
The bottom edge of the Switch Lite has a microSD card slot behind a plastic door and a USB-C port for charging. The port is for charging only, and you can’t dock the system to output to a TV. There is no kickstand like there is on the Switch, and I don’t miss it. The kickstand on the Switch is flimsy, prone to popping off, leaves the microSD card slot uncovered when open, and doesn’t even hold the Switch up on a table very well. And you will want to use a microSD card; the Switch Lite has the same 32GB of storage as the Switch, and that space fills up fast.
There is one potential hiccup with the Switch Lite, and it’s one we can’t predict until we see it happen or not happen after months of use. The Switch’s Joy-Cons occasionally suffer from control drifting, where the analog sticks start to send directional inputs to the system when they aren’t being touched. Nintendo has been offering free repairs, and the detachable design of the Joy-Cons mean you can also just get a new set for your Switch. Since the controls on the Switch Lite are part of the system itself, you can’t simply replace them if they start to experience drift. Of course, drift might not become an issue for the Switch Lite and it could be limited specifically to Joy-Cons. This was the case with the original Nintendo DS Lite and its hinge which was prone to cracking; later DS and 3DS versions didn’t experience that problem to nearly the same extent.
Screen and Power
The Switch Lite’s 5.5-inch screen is half an inch smaller than the Switch’s LCD, but offers a slightly sharper picture since it has the same 1,280-by-720 resolution for a higher pixel density. It’s also bright and colorful, like the regular Switch’s screen.
The system comes with a USB-C wall adapter, and that’s it. There’s no dock because the Switch Lite can’t output to a TV. Nintendo says the Switch Lite can last between three and seven hours before you have to charge it again, which is slightly better than the original Switch’s battery life (2.5 to 6.5 hours). Nintendo released an updated Switch with a bigger battery last August, which boasts a battery life of 4.5 to 9 hours.
The wide range of battery life for the Switch depends on both system features like screen brightness and wireless capability, and the processing power demanded by games; Nintendo uses The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a baseline, running three hours on an original Switch, four hours on a Switch Lite, and 5.5 hours on a new Switch.
The Nintendo Switch Lite has the same graphical capabilities as the standard Switch, and can play all of the same games that work with the Switch in handheld mode. This is the vast majority of Switch titles, though some, like 1, 2, Switch, won’t work. The system also lacks the HD Rumble feature of the Joy-Cons, or any rumble at all for that matter.
If you want to bring your games and saves from your original Switch to the Switch Lite, it’s generally very easy. Nintendo has largely fixed its early issues with account management, so you can simply create a user on the Switch Lite, link it to your Nintendo account, and download any games you own. If you have Nintendo Switch Online, you can then sync most of your files from cloud saves on the service. Nintendo Switch Online doesn’t support cloud saves for all games, though, and some notable titles like Dark Souls Remastered, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee/Pikachu, and Splatoon 2 don’t have cloud save functionality. Fortunately, you can also directly transfer your games and settings from your Switch locally, though there is no way to simply copy save files from the storage or microSD card to another microSD card, or otherwise store or transfer them with your computer.
Because the Switch Lite is designed as a handheld device and has no TV output functionality, it’s much more limited than the Switch in use. While the Switch can be docked and played on TV, and its detachable Joy-Cons and kickstand ensure that at least two players can enjoy it while on the go, the Switch Lite is meant to be used almost solely in your own two hands. The system supports wireless controllers, and you can pair a Switch Pro Controller, 8Bitdo SM30 Pro+, or Joy-Cons to it. Of course, without a stand, you’ll need to devise your own way to hold the system up for multiple players to look at the screen (or get a third-party charging stand).
Whether this limitation is a deal breaker depends on your taste, and, if you already own one, how you use your current Switch. I overwhelmingly use mine in handheld mode, and it’s become a staple of my commute. I rarely use the system docked and because of this, the smaller, lighter, less expensive Switch Lite is very appealing. If you use the Switch for any appreciable amount of time docked to your TV, or if you can see yourself doing so, the Switch Lite won’t cut it.
I played some games on the Switch Lite and, unsurprisingly, it feels nearly identical to playing the same games on the Switch. While the screen is slightly smaller, it’s still big, bright, and sharp enough for me to enjoy using it. The direction pad is a definite improvement, especially for games like Shovel Knight and anything on the Nintendo Switch Online NES or SNES libraries (which is why I replaced my left Joy-Con with a Hori Joy-Con equipped with a direction pad, though only works in handheld mode). River City Girls and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening both look and feel just as good as they do on the full Switch. Comparing handheld modes, you won’t see any negative differences here.
A Near-Perfect Portable
The Nintendo Switch Lite is a fantastic little handheld, even if it isn’t as revolutionary as its older, larger sibling. You can’t switch between using it as a home console connected to your TV and as a portable game system in your hands on a whim, and that definitely limits its flexibility. How much that limitation matters to you depends on how you want to use it. The Switch Lite costs two-thirds the price of the Switch, and if all you want is to play Nintendo’s latest games (and a massive library of excellent indie titles and classic ports) on a handheld, it’s an amazing deal. If you want to play those games on your TV, it isn’t for you.
The Switch Lite is the best Nintendo handheld yet from a company with the greatest and most influential history of portable game systems, and that earns it our Editors’ Choice. It just isn’t a home game console, and you should keep that in mind when making your choice between the Switch Lite and the Switch.