As someone who bought a Nintendo Switch at launch, I’ve been quite curious about the upcoming Switch Lite. After all, the standard $300 Switch can do everything the Switch Lite can (and more). The $200 Switch Lite loses the ability to output video to a TV or detach the controllers in exchange for a price tag that’s $100 less.
However, after getting a chance to check out the Switch Lite at a Nintendo preview event, I’ve come away with one overarching takeaway: The Switch Lite is sneaky good.
For a lot of people (myself included), one misconception is thinking that the Switch Lite is supposed to be a full-on replacement to the standard model—it’s not. Especially now that new versions of the standard Switch with refreshed guts are hitting stores, for most first-time Switch buyers (particularly people that will use both handheld and docked modes), the regular Switch is still your best choice. So what’s the point of the Switch Lite?
Instead of trying to serve all people, the Switch Lite is a targeted device meant for children or adults looking for a more travel-friendly handheld system, which makes the Switch Lite more of a successor to the Nintendo 3DS/2DS than a true Switch replacement.
By removing the ability to detach its controller components, the Switch Lite has a much sturdier, more substantial feeling body, with none of the flex or creaking that you often get when using a regular Switch in handheld mode.
This lets you feel much more confident about tossing the Switch Lite in a bag without having to worry about it getting damaged, while its smaller dimensions (about 25 percent smaller than the standard model) means it takes up less space too—even though the whole thing still isn’t truly pocket-sized.
But more importantly, because the Switch Lite’s non-detachable Joy-Con don’t have to function as dual-purpose controllers, Nintendo was able to swap out the face buttons on the left for a standard d-pad, which is something I’ve wanted to see since the Switch’s original debut in 2017. Suddenly, fighting games are back on the menu without needing to buy a Pro Controller or arcade stick.
In fact, almost all of the buttons and sticks on the Switch Lite feel better than before. The right face buttons have a deeper, more springy action, while the rear triggers feel less spongy and have a more tactile click at the bottom of a press. Even the Switch Lite’s analog sticks felt tighter, though I admit, that last one could be simply because I was comparing them to the stick on my two-year-old Switch.
There are a bunch of other small differences such as the addition of a standalone microSD card port, as the Switch Lite doesn’t have a kickstand for its microSD slot to hide behind. The Switch Lite also has a smoother, more matte paint job that more doesn’t pick up fingerprints or get quite as greasy as the black plastic on the vanilla Switch.
Two of Switch Lite’s stereo speaker ports have also been moved slightly from below the screen to the bottom of the system, though that didn’t seem to have a major impact on sound quality or volume. And unlike the standard Switch, the Switch Lite doesn’t have an ambient light sensor, so you’ll have to adjust its screen brightness manually.
As for the screen itself, for better or worse, despite being slightly smaller (5.5 inches versus 6.2 inches for the standard Switch), the Switch Lite’s display is practically unchanged. I did notice some slight differences in color temperature—things on the Switch Lite looked warmer, with slightly more pronounced oranges and reds than on the standard Switch. Yet those differences could be small enough to chalk up to variations in manufacturing.
That said, because the Switch Lite has the same 1,280 by 720 resolution packed into a smaller overall display, the Switch Lite actually features a higher pixel density, which can make things like text or animations appear a bit sharper compared to the standard model. Outdoor visibility is also unchanged, which is to say, the screen is still hard to see in direct sunlight.
Now here comes the sneaky part, because in some ways, between the Switch Lite’s portability and its price, it almost eliminates the need for standard Switch, and Nintendo knows it. That why you probably won’t find video out possible on this device any time soon. If the Switch Lite could send video out, for $200, you could buy a Switch Lite, spend $60 to $70 on an extra pair of Joy-Con or a Switch Pro Controller, and get something almost as good as a regular Switch, with $30 to $40 leftover to spend on games. And if you had a dock from a previous system, the Switch Lite’s only real deficiency would be the lack of an IR camera, which is required for some mini-games in titles like 1,2, Switch and various Nintendo Labo sets.
Still, even though it is limited to handheld duties, the Switch Lite feels like it could be a welcome addition to the Switch family, even in households that might already have a normal Switch lying around. You could leave the standard Switch permanently docked so anyone at home has something to play, while the Switch Lite serves as your travel machine. And if you’re someone that primarily games in handheld mode anyways (especially children), the Switch Lite seems like a very intriguing option.
However, there are still some things that require further testing, like the Switch Lite’s claimed battery life of three to seven hours, and how well it handles being connected to additional controllers. So while I haven’t fully decided if a second Switch is something I need, after spending time with the Switch Lite, I do want one way more than I thought I would.