There’s an argument to be made that the $199 Nintendo Switch Lite is the best dedicated handheld ever made. It’s compact, comfortable and adorable. It lasts fairly long on the road. And it has access to what’s already one of the best game libraries of all time, complete with essentials like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as well as tons of third-party ports, indie games and retro titles.
If you want access to the best Nintendo Switch games and don’t mind being limited to handheld mode, the Switch Lite is a no-brainer. But some of the magic of the standard $299 Switch gets sacrificed in favor of the Lite’s smaller size, and a few physical drawbacks mean that folks with bigger hands should try before they buy.
Nintendo Switch Lite price and availability
The Switch Lite is available now for $199 US (£199.99 UK /$329.95 AU) and comes in three color options: turquoise, yellow and gray.
On Nov. 8, Nintendo will release the Zacian and Zamazenta Edition of the Switch Lite, which is inspired by the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield and sports a sleek light gray design with cyan and magenta buttons.
Nintendo Switch Lite design
I fell in love with the Switch Lite the moment I picked it up — it’s just that adorable. Nintendo’s miniature Switch is one of the most comfortable and attractive handheld consoles I’ve ever touched, with a compact 8.2 x 3.6-inch design that feels more travel-friendly than the standard 9.4 x 4-inch Switch.
The Lite’s white buttons pop nicely in contrast to the system’s trio of gorgeous color options — I’m especially fond of our turquoise model, but the system also looks great in yellow and gray. The console’s matte finish adds some nice extra grip, and seems to be far less prone to fingerprints than the glossy, smudge-prone tablet on the standard model.
Despite being the smaller, cheaper Switch, the Switch Lite feels more well made than its bigger brother. The OG Switch has a lot of moving parts with its detachable Joy-Cons and large tablet display, and you can feel everything wiggle a bit when you’re holding the system in handheld mode. But the Switch Lite is a single, sturdy chunk of plastic, making it feel like a true handheld rather than a display with two controllers strapped to the sides of it.
The benefits of the Switch Lite’s smaller design really became apparent when I started using it on my daily commute. I felt far less conspicuous than usual when I whipped out the smaller Switch to play some SNES games on the subway, and found myself continuing to play it as I stood on the platform in between train transfers. That’s something I’d never do on my old Switch, which already feels massive after a few days with the Lite. The Switch Lite even fits into most of my shorts pockets, though I probably wouldn’t throw it in there without a protective case.
While the Switch Lite is explicitly designed to be a dedicated handheld, it’s hard not to miss the ability to, well, Switch. You won’t be connecting this system to a TV, and while you can technically connect wireless controllers to the Switch Lite for some tabletop multiplayer action, the system’s lack of a kickstand means you’ll have to buy a dedicated stand to make that feasible. Still, I find the Lite to be a nearly perfect personal device in terms of size and comfort, whether I’m cozying up on the couch with it while watching TV or taking it out on my way to the bar.
Nintendo Switch Lite controls: The joys and cons
The Switch Lite’s buttons feel a bit different than those of its bigger brother, and mostly in a good way. The A, B, X and Y face buttons are less snappy but offer a softer, satisfyingly longer travel, while the ZL and ZR triggers feel like they have just a bit more give to them. The Lite has the same gyroscope as its bigger brother, which allowed me to move the system around to steer in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and aim in Splatoon 2 with precision.
Of course, the biggest change to the Switch Lite’s inputs is the +Control Pad directional pad, which trades in the separate directional buttons on the left Joy-Con for the kind of proper d-pad you’d expect on a portable console. It’s both one of my favorite things about the Switch Lite, and one of the things I find most frustrating.
The Lite’s d-pad was a worthy companion for navigating basic platformers such as Super Mario World and Mega Man 11, and held up well as I frantically dropped blocks in Tetris 99. But I found it way too small for more intense titles that demand pinpoint precision, as I learned the hard way while struggling to do even the most basic special moves in the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection.
I fared better performing my usual combos in Mortal Kombat 11 thanks to the game’s more straightforward inputs, but I still struggled to move Sub-Zero around as precisely as I wanted. Maybe I just have huge thumbs, but as a fighting game fanatic spoiled by the excellent Hori D-Pad on my regular Switch, I find the tiny Control Pad to be disappointing.
The system’s more compact button layout felt especially crowded as I carefully attempted to clear the death-trap-laden courses of Celeste and Super Mario Maker 2 — there were even several times when my thumb knocked against the right analog stick when trying to push the face buttons. The Switch’s smaller d-pad and condensed layout is fine for more deliberate titles such as Fire Emblem: Three Houses and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, but players with large hands might find themselves cramping up during games that demand a lot of dexterity.
There’s also some potential long-term concern in regards to the Lite’s analog sticks. Many Switch Joy-Cons have been plagued by Joy-Con drift, in which the Switch will register slight movements even when you’re not touching the sticks. Joy-Cons that drift can simply be replaced by a new pair, but if the Switch Lite’s analog sticks end up acting up similarly (and a recent teardown suggests they may), then you may have to end up replacing your entire system.
Nintendo Switch Lite display
The Switch Lite doesn’t make too big of a compromise with its 720p touch display, which has been shrunken down to 5.5 inches compared to the standard Switch’s 6.2 inches (it also happens to be nearly the same exact size of the screen on my iPhone 8 Plus, if you need a good frame of reference).
Whether I was slicing up demons in the purple-hued underworlds of Bayonetta 2 or exploring the sunny Great Plateau in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, everything on the Switch Lite’s display looked comparably bright and vibrant to the standard Switch. In fact, I find that games look a bit more immersive on the Switch Lite, due to the thinner bezels and uniform chassis that doesn’t distract from what’s on screen. And touch controls work just as well as they do on the original model, as I discovered while doodling some level ideas with my finger in Super Mario Maker 2.
Nintendo Switch Lite battery life
The Switch Lite is rated for 3 to 7 hours of battery life — a little better than the OG Switch, but not quite as good as the up to 9 hours that the 2019 Nintendo Switch refresh promises.
We ran the Lite through our Super Smash Bros. Ultimate battery test (which consists of continuous 8-player CPU Smash with all items turned to the max), and it lasted a solid 3 hours and 50 minutes. That’s over an hour longer than what we got from the 2017 Switch (2:45), but an hour under than the 4:50 that the 2019 Switch turned in. In day-to-day use, I rarely had to plug the system in throughout a few days of on-and-off play.
Folks upgrading from the launch Switch will enjoy longer battery life, but we still recommend getting a portable charger for longer trips.
As a Switch owner, I have no need for Nintendo’s $199, handheld-only version of its wildly popular console. But the system’s compact, adorable design is nearly impossible to resist. It’s the perfect companion for subway trips, plane rides and just hanging on the couch, and if you’re looking for the cheapest entry point into the Switch’s great game library, the Lite is the one to get.
Still, there is a certain magic to docking a regular Switch and instantly resuming your handheld game session on a TV, or to sliding off your Switch’s Joy-Cons and passing one to a friend for instant tabletop Smash sessions. If that part of the Switch experience is important to you, you’re better off with the standard $299 Nintendo Switch. But if all you’re looking for is a dedicated handheld that plays great games on the go, the Switch Lite does that better than any portable Nintendo device before it.