Given its penchant for iterating and refreshing its hardware, the arrival of Nintendo's Switch Lite feels inevitable rather than surprising. What's perhaps a little more unexpected is how this new machine gleefully jettisons the key element that the original console was arguably sold on – its ability to 'switch' between a home console and a portable.
Sure, Nintendo has pulled similar tricks in the past – a 3DS without 3D, for example – but can a Switch that doesn't switch really be a success? We're about to find out.
Nintendo Switch Lite: What's In The Box
Call to mind the rather large box you got your existing Nintendo Switch in; it felt weighty and packed with content, right? There was the base console, the two Joy-Con, the Joy-Con rails, the power supply and – of course – that all-important dock, along with its HDMI connection to your television set. You felt like you really were getting a home console, yet one with a portable form factor.
The packaging for the Switch Lite is definitely at the other end of the scale; the diminutive box measures just 250 x 114 x 85mm – the console inside is 208mm at its longest point, so that gives you an idea of how little wasted space there is inside this box.
Alongside the Switch Lite, you get a power brick with a USB-C connection and a small instruction sheet – and that's your lot.
Nintendo Switch Lite: Design
If you're used to the original Switch – and, if you're reading this site, there's a good chance that's the case – then the Switch Lite will definitely feel like a significant change in terms of size and weight. It measures 91.1mm x 208mm x 13.9mm and tips the scales at 275g. In contrast, the original 2017 Switch measures 102mm x 239mm x 13.9mm and weighs 297g.
The disparity between those statistics might not seem all that massive, but the Lite certainly feels more compact, more portable, and more… dinky. That's perhaps not the best word to describe such a device (especially when you consider it's still somewhat large when compared to something like the PS Vita), but it really does feel that way the first time you scoop it up and shift it around in your hands.
As we already know, there are no detachable Joy-Con on the Switch Lite; the controls are fused to the bodywork of the device. Despite this, things are very much the same; the analogue sticks appear to be identical to those on the original Joy-Con (what that means for Switch Lite systems which develop 'Joy-Con Drift' is anyone's guess), and the face button cluster is the same size – although, on the Switch lite, the A, B, X and Y letters are embossed into the buttons, rather than printed on.
The screenshot and Home buttons are the same size and in the same location, but left-hand face button cluster has been replaced by a more traditional D-Pad, which is fantastic news for those hardcore Street Fighter and Tetris players out there. It sits a little lower than the one seen on the Switch Pro Controller but is still brilliant to use. As for the other interface elements – such as the shoulder buttons, 'plus' and 'minus' keys, volume rocker and power button – they're all pretty much the same as they were before. The game card flap is in the same location, too, and the main vent for the internal fan has remained in largely the same place. The stereo speakers are on the bottom edge now, and, to our ears, they sound a little harsher than those on the original model.
With the Switch Lite's focus being totally portable, Nintendo has removed the kick-stand which also served as the MicroSD card slot cover. Because of this, the MicroSD slot has its own dedicated flap now (you still only get 32GB of storage, too). We actually think this is a shame, because the Switch Lite could still have been used in tabletop mode without any issue.
Oh, and the plastic used on the body of the Switch Lite feels more grippy and 'matte' than the original. The back of the device is one complete panel of plastic, and the vents over the fan feel sturdier, too. Time will tell if the Switch Lite is as susceptible to cracking as its older sibling, but the unit certainly feels more robust to us.
It's also worth noting that games designed to play in 'TATE' mode are still viable, as long as you have a decent stand to place the console in. However, the amazing Flip Grip accessory is, of course, no longer feasible.
The unit we've been sent for review is the Turquoise variant, but you can also pick up the Switch Lite in Yellow, Grey, and – for all you Pokémon fans out there – in a Zacian and Zamazenta-themed edition, to mark the upcoming release of Pokémon Sword & Shield.
Nintendo Switch Lite: Screen
A smaller body naturally means a smaller screen, and the Switch Lite has a 5.5-inch LCD panel which is a slight drop down from the 6.2-inch display on the original model. Both screens have the exact same resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, though.
When you consider that some games had text that was hard to parse on the 2017 original, the smaller screen on the Switch Lite can create some problems. It's perhaps not as dramatic as you think, but we did find ourselves occasionally squinting at text in certain titles – perhaps because our ageing eyeballs were more accustomed to viewing said letters on a roomier 6.2-inch panel. What we hope to see in the future is developers creating their software with the smaller screen of the Switch Lite in mind.
When Nintendo launched the revised version of the original Switch recently, some buyers complained of 'improved' screens which actually delivered a slightly warmer, yellow-ish image. We can confirm that – on our review unit, at least – the Lite seems to have received the same slightly-yellow panel. It's not immediately noticeable, but when placed alongside a 2017 Switch, you can see a slight difference.
It's also worth noting that the Switch Lite lacks the ambient light sensor present at the bottom of the screen on the original, so there's no option to enable 'automatic brightness' in the settings. We found the unit quite hard to use in bright sunlight, but the same can be said of the original model.
Nintendo Switch Lite: Getting Down To Gaming
Cosmetic changes aside, the Switch Lite is – as you might expect – very much like a Switch once you get down to the act of playing video games on it. It's comfortable to use – perhaps more so than the 2017 model, if you ask us and our tiny, hobbit-sized hands – and the grippy, rounded plastic edges mean it sits comfortably in your palms. That D-Pad is also a complete and utter godsend for 'old school' games that were designed around digital input.
Despite losing the power to dock with your TV and the ability to remove the controllers, the Switch Lite can still connect to other Joy-Con, as well as any other supported wireless controller. Taking this into account, we feel it's necessary to reiterate how dumb it is of Nintendo to remove the kick-stand from the back of the unit; the Switch Lite could still have been perfectly serviceable in tabletop mode, even if that smaller screen would be harder to crowd four people around.
It goes without saying that the Switch Lite will only provide the same gameplay experience you'd get when playing an original Switch in handheld mode. That means any titles which see a performance or visual benefit from being docked won't get that improvement here. That might sound obvious, but if you're one of those people who plays both handheld and docked equally, then it's going to feel like you're missing out on 50% of the experience. Battery life is roughly the same as the original Switch; you're looking at between three and seven hours, depending on the game you're playing, the brightness of your screen and the volume level you use.
Given its robust design, lower retail price and smaller form factor – and taking into account the increasing irrelevance of the 3DS line of consoles – it's not difficult to guess who Nintendo is aiming the Switch Lite at. If you've got kids then this is the ideal gaming system, but if you're looking to pick one up as your 'second console', the argument for buying a Switch Lite becomes a little more complicated.
The first complexity is that, if you already own a Switch, you'll presumably want to share your games and save data between the two of them. Nintendo has made this a heck of a lot easier in recent months thanks to the ability to sign into multiple machines at once (and download your games to them), as well as the opportunity to back up save data in the cloud via your Nintendo Switch Online sub, and then download that data to all of the Switch consoles you're signed into. in theory, this means your progress should be tracked on all of the console's you're signed into.
On paper, it works – but in reality, it's not quite as elegant as you might expect. You see, even when you're signed into more than one Switch, you have select one of those machines to be your primary system. On this system, you can play all of your games without issue. However, on any secondary console, a constant internet connection is required to access those titles – because Nintendo's servers are constantly checking to see if anyone is playing software on your primary account. If that's the case, you will be unceremoniously booted out of your secondary machine until they log out.
If you're the only person who uses your Switch (or Switches), then this won't be a problem – you can game on your TV with your original console and then take the more travel-friendly Switch Lite out of the house with you, because there will be zero overlap (although it's worth noting that using the system in this way means you'll have to make the Switch Lite your primary console, otherwise you won't be able to play it when you're away from an internet connection). However, as we've discovered here at Nintendo Life, there are scenarios that occur – through fault rather than design – which make this setup messier than it should be.
For example, one of our secondary Switches has a family member's Fortnite progression saved to it – and this data is tied to our primary account, as they began playing it before we had a second Switch in the house. That means they're playing on our 'primary' account – the same one that is shared with the Switch Lite and has the vast majority of our games associated with it. Now, when we take the (secondary) Switch Lite to the office, we're locked out of many of the games we want to play if that same family member happens to be at home shootin' up noobs in Epic's popular online title.
One way around this issue is to make the Switch Lite the 'primary' console and simply stick it in flight mode when playing a game that doesn't require online connectivity, but it's hardly ideal. Another option is to create a second user account and associate the Fortnite data with that one, thereby avoiding any clashes – but Epic's rather vague warning about not being able to re-connect Epic Accounts with new Nintendo IDs means we're too scared to risk losing over 350 hours of progress. Likewise, we have a massive number of paid-for games associated with our primary account, but our younger family member can't play any of those if we happen to be playing on your Switch Lite at the same time, using the same primary account.
Now, not all of this is strictly Nintendo's fault. Of course the company is going to want to ensure that people can't sign into multiple Switches and share their game collection with a wide circle of friends, but equally, the lock-out mechanic seems rather heavy-handed. Why not limit the number of Switch consoles you can associate with your user account, or simply have a system that doesn't allow you to play the same game on two different consoles at once, thereby avoiding any issues with clashing backup data and accounts?
Still, what we have here is still a million miles better than what Nintendo has had in place in the past, so we should at least be glad that we're able to sign into multiple consoles at all. We just think the whole system needs a bit more tweaking before Nintendo really nails it – and given how many people will be picking up Switch Lites as their secondary consoles, we could see that improvement come sooner rather than later.
Nintendo Switch Lite: The Verdict
While there are still some kinks that need ironing out with the system of using the same account on more than one Switch console, you can't fault Nintendo when it comes to knowing its market. The original Switch has maintained its price point impressively over the past few months, and that means that there's a gap for a lower-cost entry point – which is precisely was the Switch Lite is.
Sure, it's going to be attractive to the average Nintendo fan purely because it's new hardware that looks (and feels) great, but the Switch Lite is all about expanding Nintendo's audience – and that means skewing younger and picking up all those kids that have finally grown bored of their 3DS and 2DS consoles and are eyeing the Switch's amazing library with envious eyes.
For that reason, we can see the Switch Lite being a strong seller this holiday season, and rightly so; younger players are more concerned with portability and are less bothered about hogging the family TV. Still, there's no denying the fact that it only offers half of the 'Switch experience', so if you're someone who prefers playing on the TV or likes the ability to alternate between handheld and docked play, then you're better off waiting for the rumoured 'Switch Pro' – or just sticking with what you already have.
We dare say, though, that most Switch Lite owners will be complete newcomers, and many will be picking up the system to play Pokémon Sword & Shield this Christmas. To them, the lack of docked play will be much less of a deal.
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