Nintendo Switch Lite Review - Hard To Resist
The smaller Switch makes a strong case for itself, but missing features also highlight the brilliance of the original design.
The recent arrival of Switch Lite marks a turning point in the Nintendo Switch story. Nintendo, a company known for revamping and restyling portable systems, went beyond a simple redesign for the Switch Lite, stripping it of key features in order to keep costs and size down. Many of us love the standard Switch because it's a convertible console, which, with a simple drop-in-or-out, can be either a portable handheld or a TV-connected device. With the Switch Lite on shelves at $200, Nintendo is both undercutting the standard Switch's $300 price and the ability to connect to a TV. It is, in effect, a direct challenge to the platform's identity.
Despite lacking the iconic Switch feature, Switch Lite still makes a very strong case for itself. The improved portability alone is enticing, and having now used the Lite exclusively for the better part of a week, my initial misgivings are admittedly subsiding. Where at first I found the lack of convertibility to be a dealbreaker, I now find myself wondering if I should add a Switch Lite to my shopping list. It may not be the Switch we've grown to love, but it's still a very good portable gaming device.
Before unloading a flood of opinions, it's worth glancing over this handy comparison chart that runs through the various measurements and specs of Switch Lite, the revamped standard Switch, and the original launch model.
Nintendo Switch vs. Nintendo Switch Lite
|Specification||Original Switch (old)||Original Switch (new)||Switch Lite|
|Screen Size||6.2 inches||6.2 inches||5.5 inches|
|Resolution||720p (undocked)||720p (undocked)*||720p|
|Dimensions (H x W x D)||4" x 9.4" x 0.55"||4" x 9.4" x 0.55"||3.6" x 8.2" x 0.55"|
|Weight||0.88 lbs / 399 g"||0.88 lbs / 399 g*||0.61 lbs / 277 g|
|Battery Life Range||2.5 - 6.5 hours||4.5 - 9 hours||3 - 7 hours|
|Graphics Processor||Custom Nvidia Tegra GPU||Custom Nvidia Tegra GPU||Custom Nvidia Tegra GPU|
|Internal Memory||32 GB||32 GB||32 GB|
|TV Mode / Docking||Yes||Yes||No|
It's clear that there are a significant number of changes present in the Switch Lite. But what does it all add up to? That answer is complicated, and it will largely depend on--you guessed it--your dedication to portable gaming.
Fit And Finish
Individual results will vary, but for my medium-sized mitts, the Switch Lite feels better than the original model. The reduced weight makes it slightly easier to keep the device raised towards my face, which is admittedly more necessary than usual when dealing with the Lite's smaller screen. And now that the Joy-Cons are gone and the controls are fused to the body, I've enjoyed not having to coddle the controls when getting into a game that requires a bit of intensity. Switch Lite is a svelte and lightweight portable system that feels more durable than it looks, and the unibody design is a big part of that.
We reviewed the Switch Lite using a turquoise review sample provided by Nintendo, which is better looking than photos let on. It also shows fewer fingerprints than the original gray model, which is a very welcome change. Cosmetics are likely the last thing on someone's list when it comes time to shop for a gaming system, but the Switch Lite gets some credit for being easy on the eyes.
So much of what makes the Switch a joy to own is the library of games, of which there are many excellent options to choose from. I've put many of them to the test on Switch Lite, including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Rocket League, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, and Celeste, among others.
The experience at first blush, as an established Switch owner, was that the Switch Lite's smaller form factor made the controls feel slightly cramped. They are not, in fact: If you hold the right or left side of the Lite next to the standard system, the controls are of the same size and have the same vertical spacing. That cramped feeling comes from the Switch Light having a shorter vertical profile--0.4 inches less than the standard Switch, measured from the bottom. This impacts where your palms rest, and thus how you're able to flex while gripping the system and adjusting between button input and analog stick duties.
After a couple days of using the Switch Lite on and off, my hands grew accustomed to the new dimensions, and I was finally able to fully appreciate one of the smallest but most exciting changes introduced for Switch Lite: the dedicated d-pad. The standard Switch's d-pad stand-in is just a collection of four distinct buttons in a diamond-shaped arrangement, and this is a viable solution, but not a preferable one. It makes sense why the original design is different, with the ability to remove Joy-Cons to be used as standalone controllers, but the Switch Lite's proper d-pad is a fair trade-off when you consider that the Switch Lite is designed to be a single-player device. The improved control while playing fighting games and platformers is immediately apparent, but generally speaking the d-pad just feels better than the previous design, giving the Switch Lite an immediate advantage in this small-but-meaningful way. It's good to see that Nintendo went back to basics for the Lite. Never underestimate the importance of a reliable d-pad.
Local multiplayer gaming will require you to make an additional investment that practically kills the point of going Lite in the first place, and you'd be confined to playing on the small screen.
Looking towards the 5.5-inch screen, there are other trade-offs to consider. The Lite's display is noticeably smaller than the standard Switch's 6.2-inch screen, which gives it a higher pixel density: 267 PPI vs 236 PPI. This also means that you can expect games with jagged polygon edges (from a lack of antialiasing) to look a little less rough when played on the Switch Lite.
The primary disadvantage to shrinking the screen down is that games with notoriously small text are even more difficult to play than before--Fire Emblem: Three Houses being the most recent example. The ability for most Switch games to work either handheld or docked to a larger screen is likely the root cause of the seemingly ill-conceived font sizes, but given the Lite's portable-only design, it's a bit disappointing that there isn't a software-based solution for games with small text.
Perhaps less critical, but worth noting, is that Nintendo has completely removed feedback, HD Rumble or otherwise, from Switch Lite. Rumble is rarely the star of the show, but it does play a helpful role in many Switch games. For something like 1-2 Switch, you can't even play without Joy-Cons and HD Rumble. The answer to this problem is to use external Joy-Cons, but once you purchase them (and a charge grip accessory to keep them charged up over time) you've effectively raised the price of your overall investment to around $300--the same cost as the beefier, feature-full Switch.
It's a scenario like this where the Switch Lite's limitations start to stick out like a sore thumb. It's affordably priced, but you really have to think about what you're missing out on to get that $100 savings. You won't be able to use the system on your TV. Local multiplayer gaming will require you to make an additional investment that practically kills the point of going Lite in the first place, and you'd be confined to playing on the small screen. You can't use many existing accessories, such as the Flip Grip, which is designed to hold the Switch vertically while playing supported arcade ports. You can't easily prop the Switch Lite up at an angle because the kickstand has been removed--frustrating when you consider it's a passive feature which greatly enhances usability. You also can't make use of Nintendo's Labo kits due to the redesign--we tried with the VR kit, and even after chopping up some cardboard to make things "fit," it wasn't viable.
With a vast selection of games to choose from, perhaps situations like these aren't going to be disqualifiers, but they are important to be aware of. Check out our Nintendo Switch Lite Compatibility Guide for a comprehensive list of problematic and incompatible games.
Power Efficiency and Battery Life
As noted in the table above, and in our own tests, Switch Lite is a fairly energy efficient device. With the reduced size comes reduced power capacity, but it still manages to outperform the original Switch. Rather than draining its battery at a noticeable rate, I was surprised by how well the Lite held up on standby, with sporadic bouts of downloading and playing games from the Eshop--for roughly three days, which was very encouraging. When it came time to push the battery all at once, I managed to play just over four hours of Rocket League before the Lite crapped out. Most impressive of all, 45 minutes of that came after the low battery warning.
Rocket League is a pretty demanding Switch game, and this was evident by the fact that the back of the Switch Lite was heating up after just a few matches. This caused the fan to kick into high gear as well. Neither the heat nor the fan noise was intolerable, feeling similar to the original Switch at its hottest. This excited state, however, occurs far less often with the Switch Lite than I was accustomed to, indicating improved energy efficiency under the hood.
My time with the Switch Lite is over, for now. It's a device that's grown on me after a somewhat rocky start, and I genuinely will miss having it as my go-to Switch in the days ahead. Does that mean I would ever replace my full-sized Switch for the lighter model? No way! I may like what Nintendo's done with the Lite, but it doesn't supersede my love for the Switch's convertible design. Much like the 2DS was a smart alternative for potential 3DS buyers, the Switch Lite gives people options. It's a bit worrying to think about how the split feature set among Switch models will impact how developers make use of things like HD Rumble down the road, but right now, there's no reason to be alarmed by what the Lite might mean for Switch at large.
If anything, I hope the Switch Lite is an indication of where Nintendo might go with its theoretical upgraded Switch model in the future. I don't remember the last time I detached my Joy-Cons, and I constantly gripe over the fake d-pad whenever I have to use it. And after playing with the Switch Lite for an extended period of time, I now look at my standard Switch as being more fragile than ever. The Switch Lite has almost everything I'm looking for in a Switch--I just wished it lived up to its name.