The Nintendo Switch’s gimmick is the ability to “switch” between playing on your television and handheld mode. The Nintendo Switch Lite is a cheaper but no less impressive console focused exclusively on portable fun. I enjoyed a hands-on demo in New York and walked away much more impressed than I expected to be.
Viewed from a cynical perspective, the $200 Nintendo Switch Lite, available on September 20, ditches most of what makes the Switch unique. It is a handheld-only alternative to Nintendo’s current-generation console, whose iconic and snappy ability to swap between your TV and a portable mode is a major selling point. The promise of the Nintendo Switch is that it can do a little bit of everything. You can have Smash Bros. tournaments on your big screen, you can plop it down on a bar table for some shenanigans on a patio, and you can take it with you on a plane. The Joy-Con controllers, detachable and featuring HD rumble and motion controls, offer a new tactile experience for playing games.
The Switch Lite discards these features in favor of a form factor that offers a single play configuration: handheld portablility. Playing a Switch Lite feels more like playing the Nintendo 3DS than anything else. The console is lighter in the hands than a standard Switch. It’s also one single piece: no kickstand, no detachable controllers, just a reliable handheld device. I worried that the Switch Lite would feel like a kids’ toy, with some of the same Fisher-Price flimsiness that dogged the Wii U’s GamePad controller. Instead, I found it just hefty enough to avoid feeling like a plaything. In fact, one of the most surprising things was how damn comfortable it was to play. The Lite somehow feels cozier than its larger sibling, fitting into your hands with a comfy grip and playful delicacy. It might be cheaper than the standard Switch, but it certainly doesn’t feel cheaper.
The Lite has a few differences from the original Switch. The screen is 5.5 inches diagonally, reduced from the standard model’s 6.2, although the resolution remains 1280x720. While the Lite is the same thickness as the original, there’s a noticeable reduction in its overall size. It’s not as small as a 3DS or Playstation Vita, but it’s enough of a slimming down that the Lite will fit into a few more pockets.
Importantly, none of this feels like a disadvantage. Playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Breath of the Wild on a Switch Lite is the same experience as playing on the original Switch, with a subtle but welcome improvement: There’s now a standard D-pad instead of four separate buttons.
One area in which the Nintendo Switch Lite is a clear winner is battery life. In the roughly three hours that I spent playing the Switch Lite, battery power was never a concern. A comparison page on Nintendo’s official site states that there’s a one- to two-hour improvement in battery life depending on what you’re playing. For instance, three hours of playtime for Breath of the Wild expands to about four hours on the Switch Lite. That’s not a massive increase but for players on the go or snug in their beds, it’s a very welcome change and one of the few areas where the Lite flat out beats its chunkier brother. (Unless, of course, you buy one of the new batches of Switch that also has significant battery improvements.)
Switch Lite also wins the style competition. While the original Switch’s range of options has expanded with differently-colored Joy-Cons and nifty customizations, the Switch Lite has some bright options that really stand out. While there’s a traditional grey model, there are also bold yellow and turquoise versions. An additional version with multiple-color buttons will release alongside Pokemon Sword and Shield.
One of my favorite things about the 3DS is how many different looks there are—I have one with a Lisa Frank-esque galaxy design—and the prospect of a more colorful console is exciting. Nintendo has never shied away from producing variant after variant of its portable machines, so I’d expect much the same for Switch Lite.
I can’t see myself buying a Switch Lite, even if I was impressed. While increased battery life in portable mode is welcome, there’s not a stark difference between the original and the Lite. For players who already have a Switch, and especially those that enjoy playing docked, the Switch Lite might prove unnecessary. This is the sort of thing you give to your kid instead of having to share a family Switch, or else suggest to your girlfriend or boyfriend. This is console meant for traveling, for sitting in the park or flying on a plane. It’s a console you take to conventions or toss into your baggy pockets. The Switch Lite’s ethos is that you pick it up and take it with you, or pass it around on a couch to your kids. To that end, I can see the Switch Lite excelling as a nifty and portable fun machine.
The Switch Lite is a great option for newbies and hardcore fans alike. It’s cozy and perfectly portable, The color options are stylish and it manages to capture the playfulness of the original even without some of the key features. Whatever skepticism I had was washed away with some hands-on time, and it seems like a great, smaller gateway into a fantastic video game library.