Nintendo will launch its Switch Lite system on September 20. This is the first variant of the Switch console to be released since its 2017 debut model, so naturally, people have questions: What makes the Switch Lite different? Is the Switch Lite right for me? What are the pros, cons, and hard facts about this new device?
A Different Kind of Switch
The Switch Lite is Nintendo's $200 variant of the standard Nintendo Switch, which typically retails for $300. While the standard Switch can function as either a portable handheld system or as a home console that you connect to your television, the Switch Lite will work only as a portable handheld device. It eschews its predecessor's hybrid nature in favor of an exclusively mobile experience.
The Lite will not come with a dock or be compatible with existing docks, nor will it support output to TVs, according to Nintendo. Even if you wanted to set it in a standard Switch dock for ease of storage, it won't fit properly; the Switch Lite is 3.6 inches tall and 8.2 inches long with a 5.5-inch screen, so it's a fair bit smaller than the standard Switch, which is 4 inches tall and 9.4 inches long with a 6.2-inch screen.
The standard Switch allows players to detach the two Joy-Con controllers from the system. These detachable Joy-Cons can be used for motion-control functions (like the original Wii Remotes) as well as serve as a pair of mini controllers that two people can use to play certain cooperative games together.
The Lite will not have removable Joy-Cons. Instead, its buttons will be built into the system itself, much like Nintendo's other handhelds. This means you won't be able to play games with a friend right out of the box like you would with the regular Switch, nor will you be able to natively play any games that require motion controls. The Lite will be able to sync with the full-featured Joy-Cons, if you choose to purchase those separately, but it won't have a kickstand to prop itself up.
Lite Gaming Restrictions
Nintendo's announcement video revealed that any existing and future Switch games that support handheld mode will be playable on the Lite. While that sounds like a good deal on the surface, since most Switch games are handheld-compatible, there are a lot more factors at play.
If you don't want to buy any accessories and are intent on gaming with what's included in the base Lite package, a lot of games are going to have restrictions; most notably, any motion controls in games will be off-limits. That means you won't be able to swoosh your arm to swing a sword in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or aim a bow with your full body in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Super Mario Odyssey is more fun to play with Joy-Cons, as well.
These particular games offer button-based alternatives for their motion controls, so they'll still be totally playable with the Lite, but not all titles are as flexible with their control schemes. And even the aforementioned fully-compatible titles won't play quite the same, since the Lite lacks the rumble feature of the Switch's Joy-Cons, meaning you won't feel satisfying vibrations in your hands while performing in-game actions. Some of the best Switch games available will have limitations.
You also won't be able to properly utilize Nintendo Labo kits, since quite a few require motion controls and are only optimized for the original Switch's physical dimensions. The VR kit, for example, will be completely out of bounds to Lite owners, while other kits won't work unless you pony up for accessories to connect to the Lite.
As for full-fledged games that won't work with the Lite by itself, here are some of the most noteworthy titles not natively compatible with the system: Super Mario Party, 1-2-Switch, ARMS, and the Just Dance series. The Lite's lack of motion controls, rumble feedback, and detachable Joy-Cons don't bode well for its chances of being fully, or even partially, compatible with upcoming party games like Mario & Sonic at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, so consider the potential long-term impact of choosing a Lite.
You should also keep in mind that since the Lite won't include two detachable controllers right out of the box like the standard Switch does, the cost of making co-op happen will be higher than the initial $200 price suggests.
The True Price Gap
The Lite's $100 price difference disappears the second you consider any major accessories (these are our favorites). A set of Joy-Cons costs $65-$80 and you'll need to charge them because they can't charge on your Switch. A $35 battery pack, $30 charging grip, or a third-party charging cradle are needed for power. So if you're interested in games like Super Mario Party, you'll need to buy these additions for your Lite, which brings the actual cost of entry close to the Switch's $300 tag, if not more than that. And you still do not have the option to connect the handheld to your TV.
The Lite is smaller than the standard Switch, but it's battery life isn't much better. The Lite offers 3 to 7 hours of battery in comparison to the Switch's 2.5 to 6.5. Given the minimal difference, the Lite's biggest advantage over its more expensive older brother is its price tag—specifically for those who aren't interested in motion-controlled games, Labo, or co-op play.
In addition to its price and more compact size, there are also the visual benefits of the hardware to consider. The Lite will launch in three striking colors: yellow, gray, and turquoise. There'll be a special edition Pokemon Sword and Shield Lite as well, for fans of the world's most beloved pocket monsters.
3DS in Disguise
Nintendo could be positioning the Lite to take the place of the aging Nintendo 3DS, which is slowly fading into the sunset of gaming history. In that sense, the Lite's price, focused features, and smaller size make sense.
Minus a few key features, the Lite's relative parity with the Switch makes it an interesting potential flagship handheld, since it'll be able to play most multiplayer games with its hybrid-home-console sibling system. Such a degree of crossover potential and community unity between a company's handheld and console user bases would be a noteworthy achievement. If this is Nintendo's endgame, it's definitely encouraging for the future of both systems.
Naturally, we don't know everything about the Switch Lite yet, and Nintendo undoubtedly has plans to dish out additional details as the months roll on, such as giving some concrete info on how—or if—you'll be able to transfer saved games between Switches and Switch Lites. Until the handheld launches in mid-September, it's too soon to make a firm recommendation one way or the other. All that can be said now is that though the Lite will cost less up front, it sure seems like the standard Switch's benefits more than justify its higher $300 price.
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