Update 9/24/19: We’ve updated the text and score of this review with our final thoughts on the Nintendo Switch Lite
, but the video above is still from our review in progress impressions. We’ll be replacing it with a final video review in the coming days.
The original Nintendo Switch no longer feels like a proper portable device now that I’ve used the Switch Lite. This new slimmed-down version reminds me of the Game Boy Advance in look and feel, offering a cheaper and more attractive way to play the Switch’s incredible library on the go. Of course, it comes at the cost of its signature ability to dock and play on a TV, sacrificing a whole lot of flexibility in how you play. But while the Lite can’t actually “switch,” it certainly does the mode it’s stuck in well enough to satisfy anybody looking to replace their aging Nintendo 3DS. In fact, if I’m playing a game in handheld mode anyway, I’d rather do so on a Switch Lite than on a full-fledged Switch.
I was impressed from the first moment I took this lovely yellow Switch Lite out of its box (it’s also currently available in gray and turquoise), and have grown even more in love with its little tweaks and improvements as I’ve used it more over the last week. The clean matte finish and surprisingly light weight (9.7oz down from the original 14oz) feels great in my hands, to the point where the clunkier patchwork body of my regular Switch and its attached Joy-Con is suddenly much more obvious than it was just a couple of weeks ago.
Watch our unboxing of the Nintendo Switch Lite in the video below:
While the Lite’s screen is certainly smaller (5.5 inches, down from the original’s 6.2-inch screen), it doesn’t really feel that way while playing. I got used to it right away and barely noticed; instead when I went back to my regular Switch, its screen suddenly felt noticeably large. That’s a small distinction, but it means the Lite’s size quickly appears natural, not reduced. And even though games that already have a problem with hard-to-read text like Fire Emblem: Three Houses or Dragon Quest Builders 2 certainly still have that issue, the Lite doesn’t make it worse in the way I feared it might.
The LCD screen is lovely, too. From what I can tell, games seem to play pretty much the same here as on the original performance-wise, with the graphics even looking marginally improved at times due to the slightly higher pixel density that comes from having the same 720p resolution crammed into a smaller space. I appreciated that the bezel around the Lite’s screen is slightly slimmer too, thanks in part to the absence of the Joy-Con tracks on each side.
However, one drawback of that slim body that I’ve already encountered comes from its speakers. They sound comparable enough to those in the original in quality, but having the volume at higher levels can cause certain music or in-game audio to vibrate the entire device like a ringing phone – which is a little ironic because the Lite doesn’t have built-in controller rumble. It’s not a huge issue, and obviously it goes away entirely if you’re using headphones, but it can be genuinely annoying to have my fingertips constantly buzzing while playing a small subset of games.
On the topic of headphones, it’s little aggravating that the Lite – a portable device released in 2019 – does not support Bluetooth headphones without an adapter. That was an odd omission when the Switch came out two years ago, but it’s even more confusing with this mobile-focused iteration. You can certainly buy a third-party USB-C dongle for anywhere from $30 to $50 that lets you pair to any headset (I tried one built for the original Switch and it worked fine here too), but the fact that you’re still forced to seems like a poor choice.
Will the Lite be your first Switch? Here are our favorite games for it:
IGN’s Top 25 Nintendo Switch Games
In the plus column, the buttons built into the Lite are a tangible improvement over regular Joy-Con. The joysticks and shoulder buttons are near-identical, but the face buttons have sharper edges and depress a little farther in, making them more satisfyingly tactile to use. The all-new D-pad that replaces the left Joy-Con’s directional buttons is also a fantastic addition – it doesn’t have the clickiness of other D-pads like the Xbox One Controller or Switch Pro Controller, but it’s far better than any third-party Switch option I’ve tried and let my thumb roll easily between directions in a precision platformer like Celeste. The Lite may not be an upgrade to the original in terms of power, but it is in construction.
The only controls that don’t hold up well are motion controls. They still work fine for smaller movements like aiming a bow in Breath of the Wild, but not having Joy-Con to detach means activities like shaking them to roll faster in Super Mario Odyssey or Zelda’s already annoying motion-control shrine puzzles totally suck to do. Shaking the whole system or physically turning it sideways so you can’t even see the screen makes parts of these games borderline unplayable.
You can, of course, sync up separately purchased wireless controllers (whether they be Joy-Con, Pro Controllers, or other third-party options) for a far more usable setup, but without a built-in kickstand you’ll still need to prop up the Lite’s screen in some other way while you hold that controller in your hands. Similarly, the Lite’s inability to dock to a TV makes co-op games on a single system a struggle. You can theoretically still play them on a single Lite, but I’m not sure I’ll ever want to play things like Overcooked, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with four people crowding around an even smaller screen.
Obviously, that’s not what this spin-off system was designed for. Without the hybrid nature of the original, the Lite is a proper handheld and should be treated as such. Just because certain games can run on this new model doesn’t necessarily mean you should be playing them here. That’s made doubly apparent with Joy-Con-centric games like Super Mario Party and Snipperclips, both of which have you using a lone sideways Joy-Con to play. (For context, buying an $80 pair of Joy-Con on top of the $200 Lite would nearly equal the $300 price of regular Switch.) Meanwhile, the cardboard Labo accessories are entirely incompatible with the Lite.
Here’s a pre-release video breaking down five games that could have problems on the Lite:
Still, the idea that a $200 device legitimately small enough to fit into my pocket (my condolences to those of you cursed with the tiny pockets of women’s pants) is able to play massive games like Breath of the Wild, Skyrim, Doom, and soon even The Witcher 3 is incredible. It may be a dedicated handheld, but it’s one with access to an amazing game library stretching far beyond what we’d previously thought possible for a device like this. Sure, their performance or playability may vary compared to more powerful consoles, but it can be done.
There are other missing features here and there, things like rumble and auto-brightness adjustment, but they are largely just minor annoyances. Battery life is slightly better than a launch Switch but disappointingly shorter than the newly revised version that recently replaced it, a decent but unremarkable three to seven hours, depending on the game. But those little drawbacks don’t outweigh all of the improvements that have been made, and ultimately if I’m playing in handheld mode then I’d rather be doing it on a Lite – you just have to sacrifice TV mode entirely for that benefit.
It is worth noting, however, that the Lite doesn’t solve (but also doesn’t make worse) a few of the base model’s lingering annoyances. Considering how cheap memory is these days, I wish there had been a version with more than 32GB of built-in storage – though you can easily use an SD card to expand it, as usual. It also gets fairly (but not worryingly) warm at times like the original, and still lacks basic console features like an internet browser, a Netflix app, or a way to manually organize the games on your home screen – those first two are far less egregious on a handheld-only device, but still a strange oversight nowadays.
On top of that is the looming threat of the Switch’s now-notorious joystick drift. While I haven’t experienced it with our Lite, there have already been a small number of reports that some folks have seen their Lite’s joysticks start drifting slightly to one side in the same way the joysticks on the Joy-Con have been known to. It’s a real concern, one Nintendo has thankfully been good about fixing for free since it became a widely known issue, but shipping your whole system off for repair is a lot less convenient than doing so for a single Joy-Con, free or not. The idea that Nintendo potentially didn’t take the Lite as an opportunity for a more permanent fix to this problem is, frankly, baffling.