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Nintendo Switch Lite vs. Nintendo Switch: what should you buy?

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The buying decision for potential Switch owners just got complicated, as Nintendo has introduced a new, handheld-only version of its hit console. So, when it comes down to the decision of the Nintendo Switch Lite versus the standard Nintendo Switch, which one is right for you? 

We're expecting significant Nintendo Switch Black Friday deals on both versions of the Switch, but you should weigh the pros and cons of the Switch and the Switch Lite before you take the plunge. Here's how the two versions of Nintendo's flagship console stack up.

Nintendo Switch Lite vs Switch: Specs

Nintendo Switch Lite Nintendo Switch
Starting Price
$199$299
Processor/GPUNVIDIA Custom Tegra processorNVIDIA Custom Tegra processor
Screen5.5" (1280 x 720) LCD Screen6.2-inch (1280 x 720) LCD Screen
Battery Life (ratings)3 – 7 hours2017 Switch: 2.5 - 6.5 hours | Mid-2019 Switch: 4.5 - 9 hours
Weight9.8 ounces14.1 ounces
Dimensions8.2 x 3.6 x 0.6 inches9.4 x 4 x 0.6 inches
GamesSwitch games that support Handheld ModeAll Switch Games
ColorsYellow, gray, turquoise, plus Pokemon Sword and Shield editionsGray or Red and Blue Joy-Cons; multiple options available

Design

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Switch Lite earns its name by shedding inches and ounces (and a key feature) off of the classic Switch design. First off, you'll notice that the buttons are permanently attached to the Switch's body, unlike the detachable Joy-Cons found on the standard Switch.

And while the Switch has long been a portable console, it was likely a bit too large for some pockets and pouches. So, it makes sense that the Switch Lite (8.2 x 3.6 x 0.6 inches) takes up less space than the Switch (9.4 x 4 x 0.6 inches). And at 9.8 ounces, the Switch Lite is 30% lighter than the 14.1-ounce Switch.

Reviews compliment the Switch Lite's sleeker design and that its D-Pad is a welcome improvement. The console's matte finish isn't a fingerprint magnet, in case you were worried.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

And while this might not be crucial for you, the Switch Lite replaces the four directional buttons on the left Joy-Con for a traditional D-pad (which Nintendo calls the Control Pad+). In our Switch Lite review, we found the D-pad to be dependable for basic platformers such as Super Mario World, but a bit to small for harder 2D action games and fighting games that demand pinpoint precision. 

Display

(Image credit: Future / Tom's Guide)

The Switch Lite's shrinking size also applies to its screen. The Switch's little brother  rocks a 5.5-inch touch screen that's trimmed down from the 6.2-inch touch panel in its predecessor. Both LCD displays sport a 1280 x 720 resolution.

Despite its smaller size, the Switch Lite's display is comparable to that of the Switch in terms of color and brightness. And thanks to the Lite's thinner bezels and more uniform design, the screen is even a bit more seamless and immersive. 

Games 

If you get a Switch Lite as a present, but expected a Switch, don't worry: most of the same games play on both. That means that you'll be able to enjoy top titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Super Mario Maker 2 regardless of whether you buy the Switch or Switch Lite.

The Switch Lite technically doesn't support games that are built for TV or tabletop mode. Fortunately, there's a workaround for this. You can easily pair your Joy-Cons or Pro Controller with the Switch Lite, allowing you to enjoy local multiplayer so long as you have a means of propping the Lite up. 

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Play modes

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

While the Switch's dock allows you to switch between TV mode and handheld mode, and even detach the Joy-Con controllers to hold them separately while the Switch is on a tabletop, the Switch Lite isn't playing that game.

Instead, the Switch Lite is one non-detachable brick whose controllers are permanently connected, making it playable in handheld mode only. It doesn't work with Nintendo's dock, either.

Battery life

The Switch Lite is rated for 3 to 7 hours, which is better than the original Switch (approx. 2.5 to 6.5 hours) from 2017.

In our Switch Lite battery test (which consisted of a continuous 8-player Super Smash Bros Ultimate battle), the handheld console lasted for 3 hours and 50 minutes of continuous play. That's an hour better than the result we got from the 2017 launch Switch (2:45), but an hour under our result from the 2019 Nintendo Switch refresh (4:50).

Price and value

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Switch Lite definitely appeals to price-conscious gamers (as well as the price conscious parents of gamers). At $199, the Switch Lite is two-thirds the price of the original, and as we've noted above, there's little that it can't do in terms of playing most games in the Switch library. However, $299 offers more ways to play for the extra $100, so you'll need to weigh which play modes are most important to you.

Our recommendation

As you might guess, the Switch Lite is best for gamers on the go. It's also $100 cheaper, but its $199 price tag is still not something I'd classify as a cheap impulse buy. 

The Switch Lite is lighter and smaller, but all of its tradeoffs will make it a tough sell for gamers who prefer to play on a TV (or want to be able to easily get a tabletop play session going). The Lite's battery life is longer than that of the launch Switch, but the 2019 Switch refresh has the best runtime of them all.

So, if you play games on your TV, you'll probably want to stick with the standard Nintendo Switch. But as far as dedicated handhelds go, the Switch Lite is Nintendo's best so far.