When Nintendo launched the Switch in March 2017, it couldn't have been better timed. Not only did it put to rest any lingering thoughts that the company might be withdrawing from the home console market, after the disastrous sales of the Wii U, it offered an excellent portable alternative to the departing DS series. A two-in-one, portable and home console didn't just turn out to be a good idea, it turned into a goldmine.

However, its one major caveat, for us at least, is that while it is a great device for portable gaming around the home, when someone else is hogging the TV, it's not so much on a Tube. Or a plane, train or other form of transport. Slightly on the too heavy side, clunky and lacking in battery power for extended play sessions, it was begging a refresh and a Slim Fast shake or two.

That's where the Nintendo Switch Lite comes in. Cheaper, thinner, lighter and more suitable to chuck into a backpack, it represents a great entry-point to Switch gaming for some, an upgrade to a Nintendo 3DS for others. And, all the while providing an access point to the same, superb library of Switch games that have grown from strength to strength over the last two years.

The Lite is not a Switch replacement, as it doesn't match some of its older sibling's most significant features, but is a splendid device with its own merits.

Build and specs
  • Weighs: 275g total
  • Custom Nvidia Tegra processor, 4GB RAM
  • Colour options: Grey, Turquoise or Yellow
  • 3,570mAh battery, USB-C port for charging
  • 3.5mm headphone port / Bluetooth wireless
  • 32GB storage - upgradeable by microSD card

For all intents and purposes, the Nintendo Switch Lite is the standard Switch in a smaller body. The specifications are almost identical.

The Lite runs on a similar custom Nvidia Tegra chipset, for both computing and graphics, and 4GB of RAM. It also supports dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC and has a USB-C port for charging.

Sadly, it also matches the larger model when it comes to on-board storage. You get a measly 32GB again, only enough to hold around two or three of the bigger games – such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Even a cartridge game, which you plug into a dedicated port under a flap at the top, requires significant storage space to install parts onto.

So, you are well advised to also budget for a decent microSD card if you plump for the Lite. It has a slot that allows for cards up to 2TB in size, so you can greatly increase your storage capacity depending on how much you want to spend. And, to be honest, seeing as you can get a 128GB card for under £20 these days, it won't break the bank for a reasonable amount of space.

There are stereo speakers housed in the bottom of the device and a 3.5mm port if you want to connect wired headphones. Wireless headphones work well too, when connected via Bluetooth. None are included in the box, however.

The build quality is excellent, with a different feel to the conventional Switch. Whether you opt for the grey, turquoise or yellow version, it has a brushed matte aspect to the plastic, rather than shiny. We think it actually looks a tad classier and more expensive, therefore, even though it probably isn't.

At 275g, it is lighter than the original to the tune of more than 100g and that is very tangible when in the hand. It is more comfortable to play with for longer periods we have found. And, its battery, while smaller capacity, lasts considerably longer than the first-gen Switch.

Nintendo recently improved power management in a newly-issued version of the Switch, which offers more charge than the Lite even, but the former model used to conk out around three hours for us – sooner even, when playing graphically intensive games. The company claims that the Switch Lite should last for more than six hours generally and easily four on the more demanding titles. We've so far seen nothing to dispute that claim and haven't found ourselves having to recharge it as much as we did before.

Display and Joy-Cons
  • 5.5-inch touchscreen LCD (1280 x 720 resolution)
  • Built-in Joy-Cons with d-pad on left-hand side (rather than buttons)

Part of the reason why the smaller battery in the Lite stretches further is that the screen is smaller and, thus, less power hungry. You get a 5.5-inch touchscreen display in comparison to the 6.2-inch equivalent on the larger console. That might not seem much different numerically, but it's definitely noticeable to the naked eye.

We've previously moaned about text size on the other Switch, for example, so it's even harder to read subtitles and menu text here. Some games really don't take that into account during the design phase, it must be said. But younger eyes will likely not care one jot and it must be said that the 720p screen resolution (that is capable of running at 60fps) looks even crisper here due to a smaller pixel size.

One other thing we did notice when putting our usual Switch alongside the Lite is that the latter's screen is more yellow in look, even at maximum brightness. That occurs often when a manufacturer switches (no pun intended) its LCD panel supplier and, to be fair, really doesn't matter much. In fact, some say that white light with a more blueish tinge is slightly worse for your eyes, especially at night. That could also explain the change.

The last physical part of the hardware itself concerns the Joy-Cons – they cannot be detached in this design. Because of which, the direction buttons on the left-hand controller have been replaced by a more conventional d-pad. That's because they do not have to double as fire buttons, etc, when a Joy-Con is held as a separate controller. Other than that, they work the same as any other kind of Joy-Con and feel robust enough for many a play session.

Gaming on the go
  • Compatible with all Nintendo Switch games that use handheld mode
  • Gyroscopic sensor allows for some motion in games

What you don't get is a kickstand to play games using the Switch Lite as a portable TV, nor any kind of video output. According to tear-downs, there is no sign of the tech inside required to output a video signal through the USB-C port. This truly is a portable console only.

There is no shame in that though. It is, by far and away, the best portable games machine yet and for one simple reason: it plays Switch games.

There are no compromises in quality either. You play Zelda: Breath of the Wild on it and you get the full experience, with its exceptional graphical style and open-world gameplay. Or how about Skyrim, Doom or the forthcoming The Witcher 3? Each of these are full, home console experiences you can take with you anywhere.

Equivalent portable games machines in the past have cut corners when it comes to graphical fidelity or gameplay depth. Even the mighty PS Vita (god rest its soul) presented diminished versions of PlayStation gaming greats, in order to fit the form factor or for technical restrictions. Not so here: the Switch Lite in its name refers to its size, weight and a few features, not its gameplaying prowess.

There is one exception, however. Motion games and anything that requires a second screen experience will not be playable (easily, at least). Nor can you play two player games on the one screen without investing in additional Joy-Cons (that can be connected wirelessly) and propping up the console in an awkward fashion. Local multiplayer is fine if there's another Switch in the vicinity, plus online play of course, but if you plan for family sessions, you really need its bigger brother.

It's also worth noting that the Switch Lite is not suitable for use with Nintendo Labo kits, nor the company's VR headset construction. However, it does have its own gyroscopic sensor, so some games that require a little movement will work by tilting the whole device. And, quite frankly, we'll happily trade motion-gaming and Labo support for the best gaming portable on the planet.

Date: 
Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 8:00am