Hands-on: Switch Lite is now the only handheld in town

Nintendo has undoubtedly had success with Switch, appealing to a huge portion of the gamer populace, but at a $300 price point it’s just out of the range of impulse buy for more casual gaming enthusiasts. Not content to let this market go untapped, Nintendo produced Switch Lite, a cheaper Switch developed for portability that sacrifices features for convenience.

Switch has always been portable but never conveniently so. It never easily fit into a pocket and you needed a large bag or backpack if you were going to take it on any long trips. Switch Lite is smaller, but not by much. It’s about an inch more compact in width which is enough to allow it to fit in smaller purses or deep pockets, but tightly so. It is lighter which goes a long way toward making it feel like a “handheld” rather than a home console, but I wouldn’t say it is much more convenient to transport than Switch’s full model.

Controls and screen

Switch Lite doesn’t have JoyCons. Instead its controls are built in to the console. This includes a d-pad replacing the four directional buttons of the standard left Switch JoyCon. This is by far the best feature of Switch Lite. Nintendo knows how to make a good d-pad, and this one is as high quality as ever. You’ll love using it to control characters in 2D platformers or tapping it to scroll through menus in RPGs. You’d be surprised how much not having that gap in between the directional buttons matters in terms of comfort.

One thing to consider when purchasing a Switch Lite is that Nintendo used the same analog sticks as they did on the normal Switch. This means that there is a high chance that you will eventually experience JoyCon drift except the Switch Lite has no JoyCons. That means it will be difficult or impossible to open up your Switch Lite and repair the analog sticks yourself. The most you can do is send it back to Nintendo and ask them to repair it, which will likely come with its own fees and frustrations.

Switch Lite’s screen looks stretched and rectangular, but it’s really just an optical illusion. There is far less of a vertical border around it compared to the original Switch, and this just makes it look stretched out. You’ll get used to it.

On the plus side Switch Lite does look a little bit sharper than the original Switch. This likely isn’t due to any hardware change. Rather, it’s because the same resolution screen is being compressed into a smaller space, which makes it harder to see the pixelated edges of some models.

Performance and battery

In terms of performance, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference. Switch Lite operates exactly like Switch does in handheld mode. If a game suffers from handheld mode problems, it will still suffer from those problems on Switch Lite. Unfortunately that means you can expect quite a bit of slowdown on a few games in Switch’s library while playing on Lite.

On paper, Switch Lite has better battery performance than Switch, lasting about a half hour longer according to official Nintendo specs. In practice, it has about the same battery life no matter what you do. You’ll be playing a variety of games each of which will drain Switch Lite’s battery at a variety of rates and end up having to charge about once every four hours or so, so long as you aren’t playing at full brightness. On the upside, any portable battery pack that works with a normal Switch will work with a Switch Lite, and users are reporting that it even charges faster on a battery pack. That will go a long way toward making it playable on long trips.

Much of what Switch Lite offers is identical to the standard Switch. The OS is the same and there’s nothing to tell you what games aren’t supported or are only partially supported by Switch Lite. On the upside this does mean you can connect external controllers to your Switch Lite. On the downside, Switch Lite has no stand and no way to connect to a TV. Yes, you can’t even use third party adapters. Switch Lite simply does not have the hardware needed to output video to a TV.

Is Switch Lite for you?

If you are the type of gamer that likes to play games on a big screen at home, then there’s really no reason to purchase a Switch Lite aside from its $100 discount. You’ll get the same portability along with TV compatibility with a normal Switch, and you’ll be getting pretty much the same functionality from OS to Battery life.

The thing is, most people who want a Switch as a home console have already purchased one. If, however, you are someone who used to have a 3DS and is looking for the next handheld upgrade, then Switch Lite is perfect. Yes, it’s certainly chunkier than any other Nintendo handheld to date, but it is ostensibly playing console games which is a huge step up from the 3DS’s tech. You could call it the most powerful handheld ever created because it’s essentially condensing the Switch’s console power into a handheld form, though it’s also worth remembering that Switch is the weakest console on the market.

Surprisingly, there’s a bit of a market for people who already own a Switch as well. Switch Lite just feels better on the go than the standard Switch. You can actually fit Switch Lite in a deep enough pocket (albeit uncomfortably) while Switch definitely requires a bag or carrying case. There’s also a psychological aspect that plays into this. Lose your Switch and you’ve lost a $300 home console. Lose a Switch Lite and you have lost a $200 handheld which is much easier to replace.

Nintendo has recently opened up game libraries to cloud sharing. One primary console can play your game library anytime while several secondary consoles can play your game library while connected to the internet. Oddly and counterintuitively, this means that anyone who owns both a Switch and a Switch Lite should make Switch Lite their primary console. This allows your Switch Lite to remain portable while your Switch stays at home connected to your Wi-Fi.

In the end Switch Lite is just a Switch that is stuck in portable mode with a $100 discount. However, that’s all a lot of people need. Nintendo has cornered the handheld market year after year with their GameBoy and DS lines, and honestly this is going to corner the handheld market again… as much as there is one. Being that Switch Lite’s library is no different than the Switch’s, it is arguable that handheld gaming has died and now there is only mobile and console gaming left. Still, Switch Lite is the only “handheld” on the market, and it’s a powerful one with a great library of games. It’s sure to draw in any 3DS owner that hasn’t already purchased a Switch for their living room.