The new Nintendo Switch Lite has been out for a few weeks now, it being the newest handheld console to hit the market. While it might have the Switch name the Lite is arguably more of a successor to the massively popular DS line-up of handhelds. Personally I don’t own a Nintendo Switch but I have been waiting for a new, modern handheld console that I can play on the train, in a plane or just when I’m curled up in a bean bag and can’t be bothered moving.
But just because I don’t own a regular Switch doesn’t mean we don’t need to chat about the differences between the two models. Retailing at around £200 the Switch Lite is £100 cheaper than its big brother so there have been some major cutbacks. The biggest and most important is that the Switch Lite can’t be docked, meaning it cannot be hooked up to a TV or monitor in order to play games on a big screen like its big brother can. In fact, it doesn’t have any form of external output capability, so you can’t even jerry-rig anything. In other words, the Switch Lite can’t actually switch. It’s the Static Lite.
The screen is also smaller. On the regular Switch the handheld mode offers a 6.2-inch touch-screen display with a 720p resolution. The Switch Lite drops the display size down to 5.5-inches for a smaller form factor, but you do still get the same 720p resolution which means the Switch Lite actually has a slightly sharper screen. It’s not a huge difference but it helps combat the fact that on the smaller display text can sometimes be tricky to read in-games. Luckily just like the regular Switch the Switch Lite has a zoom function built in. Touch-screen functionality is also present.
As for the controls they can’t be detached from the console itself. On the Lite they are firmly built into the device, which should offer a little more durability and far less chance of a Joy Con getting accidentally lost. You can, however, still buy Joy Cons and connect them wirelessly to the Switch Lite in order to enjoy local multiplayer in certain games, although I’m not sure the 5.5-inch screen is very appealing in that regard. I’ve not yet felt the urge to huddle a few friends around the tiny screen in order to enjoy some Mario Kart 8.
All of this equates to a 8.2 x 3.6-inch package that is quite a bit smaller than the regular Switch’s 9.4 x 4-inch. When you pick it up it fits nicely into the hands and it feels sturdy. The plastic shell doesn’t exactly scream premium product but it feels and looks nice, so that’s not much of an issue. It doesn’t fit into pockets very easily, mind you, which is always a bit of a bummer with portable consoles. But at just 275g it does feel rather lite (sorry) in the hands which is great for those longer sessions and also makes it easier to hold in one hand while using the touch screen.
As for colour choice you currently only get the Switch Lite in three basic hues: a grey model, turquoise and pale yellow. I’m honestly not a fan of any of them but eventually opted for the yellow which looks decent enough in real life. I’d still like to see some more colours available, though.
Another minor difference is that you don’t get an inbuilt kickstand. It’s not exactly a huge problem but if you do feel like watching some Youtube videos or something then awkwardly propping the Lite up is a bit of pain in the buttocks. The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller can also be connected to the Lite, so again no kickstand is a real shame. I’m sure some of the third-party accessories will solve this, though.
Finally, the Lite has absolutely no rumble built in. I assume this was ditched to help cut down cost and save on battery, and I can’t say it’s a feature I missed, though it could certainly have helped with immersion.
With the major differences out of the way let’s jump into the Lite in more detail. The obvious advantage of the Switch Lite is that nearly the entire Switch library of games is available to play on it. The only limitation is the game has to support handheld mode (indicated on the box) but since the vast majority of Switch games do that’s hardly a problem. This means you’ve got access to a wealth of amazing games right from the get go, from the likes of Breath of the Wild and the new Link’s Awakening remake to Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 and so much more. It’s an impressive library of titles to choose from that Nintendo has constructed over the past few years and the Lite gets instant access to them.
The downside to all these awesome exclusive games is that they are pricey. Games on Nintendo platforms, especially first-party titles like Mario and Zelda, tend to hold their price and so stuff like Mario Kart 8 and Breath of the Wild still retail for about £40-50 and even pre-owned versions still sit at about £30-40. For example, a quick scour on Ebay revealed that Mario Kart 8, which is actually a port of the Wii U game, can be picked up for £32 provided you don’t mind getting the cartridge only.
Of course, the good news about this high prices is that you get a good re-sale value for your games. Provided you’re willing to sell games you’ve finished you can recoup a good chunk of what you paid for it to put toward the next purchase.
If you prefer going digital then be warned: the Switch Lite comes with a disappointingly low 32GB of in-built storage space. Obviously I’d recommend picking up an SD card to expand that if you tend to download games rather than buy the physical cartridges. A handheld like this really should have come with substantially more storage by default, especially with so many people now swapping to digital gaming over buying physical copies.
The in-built wi-fi on the Switch Lite isn’t great, either. Download speeds tend to be slow, something which users of the regular Switch have suffered from as well. Having slow wi-fi in 2019 is genuinely baffling and that Nintendo didn’t seek to remedy this for the Lite and the new iteration of the Switch is frustrating.
As for the Nintendo E-shop as a whole and the Switch Lite’s software it’s all perfectly okay. There’s really not much more to say about it: it’s simple, functional stuff that runs quickly and lets you navigate easily. There’s a nice Nintendo News button, too, so that you can quickly get updated on sales or new demos and whatever else. You can also browse the web, watch Youtube and do a few other things.
If you want to play some online games then that means paying for Nintendo Online which costs about £3.50 per month or £18.00 for an entire year. There’s also an option for a family membership which includes 8 seperate accounts for £32. Your cash also nets you access to a growing library of NES and SNES games which is great if you’re a fan of retro gaming. Unlike Sony and Microsoft however, you don’t get gifted any games each month, although since the Nintendo service is much cheaper that isn’t surprising.
The main selling point of Nintendo Online is obviously being able to play against people or in co-op, so how does that side of things hold up? Well, not great. One of the hopes was that Nintendo Online would offer dedicated servers for the major first-party games like Mario Kart 8, but that’s not the case so instead you have to rely on peer-to-peer connections which are notoriously iffy. Putting peer-to-peer aside for now the connection across the Nintendo service feels generally less reliable than on other platforms. I encountered quite a lot of problems with lag, players dropping out or even myself losing connection entirely.
Voice chat across multiplayer is handled awkwardly, too. While some third-party titles have native voice-chat functionality the first-party Nintendo games don’t. Instead paying for Nintendo Online gives you access to a smartphone app that you can use to chat to other people. It’s a clumsy workaround.
Finally, Nintendo Online offers Cloud Save which is always handy if you’re running multiple Switch’s or in case one gets damaged. Considering the likes of Microsoft offer Cloud saving for free on the Xbox though, Nintendo asking for money for the feature feels cheap.
And that’s the general impression I get with the whole of Nintendo Online: it’s cheap, both in terms of price and in terms of what you actually get with it. Sony and Microsoft both ask for more money, but in turn you get a much better overall service.
Now let’s chat about comfort and usability. I’ve got relatively small hands and found the Switch Lite to be easy to hold and quite comfy. With that said larger hands might find it a bit cramped at times. The face buttons feel superb with a nice softness to them whilst still having a satisfying feel when they bottom out, and the new d-pad on the left does a good job at handling intense platforming, although it did struggle to keep up during fighting games. With that said if you’re a big fighting game fan I doubt the Switch Lite would be your console of choice anyway.
I thought the 5.5-inch screen might just be a little small for gaming on but to my surprise it wasn’t an issue. I had no problem getting absorbed into whatever I was playing. The little screen is reasonably bright which is handy when you’re out in the sun.Things looked sharp and detailed. I’ve really got no complaints in this area. Everything else though – color, contrast, black levels – all fall squarely into the, “yeah, it’s okay” category. There’s nothing truly wrong with the screen, it just doesn’t impress, either. In 2019 mid-range phones boast beautiful OLED displays, so I can’t help but wish the Lite could have gotten something a little more eye-catching. Still, it’s good and does the job.
Raw performance was always a question mark for me given the smaller size but the Lite seemed more than capable of keeping up with the games I threw at it with the only performance problems being ones that already exist on the regular Switch. For example, Link’s Awakening is a superb remake of a classic game but it suffers from framerate problems on the normal Switch and those are very much present on the Lite. But it seems that the pure performance of the Lite is on par with its bigger brother which is impressive, especially since the Lite manages to stay very cool and quiet.
My only complaint about the comfort is that right analog stick is positioned in such a way that it kept getting in the way of my thumb. I’d find my thumb resting on the stick or sliding across the top of it unless I consciously adjusted the position of my hand. If the stick could have been shifted to the left a little it would have been easier to use and wouldn’t have gotten in the way as much. But it wasn’t a huge issue and obviously keeping the Lite slim and portable is a higher priority. And of course, getting a third-party cover for the Lite that adds controller style grips to the side is always an option.
So, what was the actual gaming like? The answer is that it was superb. I’ve now spent many happy hours on Link’s Awakening, Breath of the Wild, Diablo 3, Stardew Valley and Splatoon 2 and have found the Switch Lite to be a brilliant handheld console, a true successor to the DS. It was light enough and comfortable enough that longer sessions weren’t an issue, and while being able to hook the machine up to a big screen would have been nice it was never something that bothered me. Although it’s a little big to slide into pockets the Lite is still wonderfully portable. I especially loved how quickly you can go from taking it out to playing a game using the sleep function. It makes it so easy to whip the Switch Lite out when you’ve just got five minutes to fill.
There are a couple of smaller things that irked me about the Switch Lite, though. While you do get a 3.5mm audio jack so that you can hook up some headphones in order to ignore the screams of dying people around you, there’s no Bluetooth support for wireless headphones. On a portable console in 2019 like this it feels like an incredibly stupid missed opportunity.
As for the batter life it’s…okay. Nintendo advertised 3.5-7 hours depending on exactly what you’re doing. 7-hours is unrealistic unless you literally just have it sitting on the main menu. In real conditions I was getting around 3.5-6 hours depending on the game, with the likes of Breath of the Wild obviously pushing the system much harder and thus draining the battery quicker. The new iteration of the regular Nintendo Switch boasts slightly better battery life, although in fairness to the Lite the smaller design obviously means less space for a huge battery. All in all, I found the battery life to be acceptable and the included USB-C wall adapter can charge the Lite quite quickly.
The final issue we need to discuss is one I’ve not personally experienced yet: the dreaded drift. If you weren’t away Nintendo are currently facing substantial backlash and even a lawsuit over what has become called “Joy-Con Drift” which is when the analogue sticks register movement even when they aren’t being used. The lawsuit claims that Nintendo are knowlingly continuing to sell the Switch despite being aware of the problem which seems to be affected a lot of people. When the Lite launched there was concern that it might fall prey to drift as well and sadly that does seem to be the case. While I haven’t noticed anything yet many other people have already reported having problems, despite the console only having just launched. Of course, your warranty should cover this, but it’s an ongoing and worrying problem that Nintendo needs to aknowledge properly and remedy quickly.
If you already own a standard Switch I really don’t see any reason to run out and buy a Lite unless you have a lot of spare cash and feel like that little extra portability is worth it. If you happen to have a family though, the Lite might be a good choice for the kids since you can share accounts and games and wouldn’t have to give them the more breakable regular Switch.
If you’re like me and have been looking for a new handheld system, however, then the Switch Lite is brilliant. Arguably it’s much more of a successor to the immensely popular DS line. The fact that it can run full-fledged console titles in your hands is damn impressive, and a great example of just how far technology has come. It’s just the looming shadow of drift that puts a dampener on the Lite. Without any proper aknowledgement from Nintendo and with users already having problems with the device buying one feels like a risk, much like purchasing an Xbox 360 during the dreaded Red Ring of Death escapade.
I’ve not experienced any drift personally though, and so all I can tell you is my own story with the Switch Lite. So far I’ve loved every minute of owning it, and catching up on the amazing library of games that Nintendo offers. It fits nicely into the hands, has a solid screen, good controls and good battery life. We finally have a modern handheld gaming device outside of mobile and it feels terrific. Now if you’ll excuse me, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is bloody massive and I’ve got a lot more exploring in it to do.