Entertainment

Is It Worth Buying the Switch Lite, Nintendo's Latest Handheld Video Game Console?

switch lite
Nintendo

For better or for worse, the new Nintendo Switch Lite is coming out this September. It's part of a perplexing strategy for Nintendo, especially as it's right in the middle of stealthily ending support for the 3DS, the dual-screen handheld that pioneered so many other aspects of its booming console business. As Nintendo announced the Lite in mid-June, it also essentially broadcast one very clear message to its users: The 3DS is old news; the Switch Lite is what you need. 

For the last year, rumors have abounded about a new Switch model -- a powerful new edition with a larger screen, better battery life, or a revamped shell, perhaps -- but instead of the decked-out Switch Pro everyone thought we would get, Nintendo introduced this odd, slightly slimmed-down device. Whether or not it's worth buying a Switch Lite is a lot more subjective than, say, the upgrade from an Xbox One to an Xbox One X, given that the difference in hardware here is far more slight. Essentially, you're taking away existing features in lieu of easier portability when you go from the original Switch to the Lite version. 

For some players, the Switch Lite is the lower-cost gateway they've been waiting for to jump on the Nintendo bandwagon for lauded Switch-exclusive games like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For others, the Switch Lite is a significant downgrade. But depending on your own needs, it might not be such a bad compromise. We've run down the highlights (and lowlights) of the upcoming Nintendo device; decide on your own whether it's worth a pre-order or if you should skip it and shell out for the original.

It's $100 cheaper than the original Nintendo Switch model.

Why it matters: The biggest attraction the Switch Lite has to offer is that it's a third cheaper than a regular Switch. If you're primarily a portable player or don't want to spend that extra hundo to finally gain the ability to play Switch games, then the Switch Lite is made for you. The lower cost will allow players who otherwise couldn't afford a Switch to get a current-generation console for much less than an original Switch or any models Sony or Microsoft, like the PlayStation 4 Pro ($399) or Xbox One X ($499), are offering.

The Switch Lite also makes an attractive proposition as a dedicated portable console. Keeping a $300 Switch with you on the go can be a bit nerve-wracking, especially if you travel without a case. However, carrying a $200 handheld means the hit to your wallet will be that much less if it's stolen or damaged. Also, the Switch Lite's price point brings it more in line with past handhelds, and it makes the new model's shortcomings less glaring.

The bottom line: The Switch Lite is cheaper than the original Switch. Who doesn't want to save a hundred bucks? 

nintendo switch lite
Nintendo

It loses the feature that gives the platform its name.

Why it matters: The Switch is called as much because you can use it in two ways: either plugged into your TV through a dock, or as a handheld device. Nintendo also references a third "tabletop mode," but that's really just a secondary portable mode with the console propped up via kickstand. The whole ability to "switch" between being a standard console and a handheld is the hardware's gimmick, and its versatility plays a big part in its popularity.

Unfortunately, the Switch Lite could just be called the Nintendo Go, because that's all you can do with it. The upcoming handheld cannot use the standard Switch dock, nor is it getting its own new port, so you can't play it on your TV. The controls are integrated into the central unit, so you also lose the ability to use Joy-Cons, and there's no HD rumble.

Unfortunately, this also means that if you happen to experience any issues with your Joy-Con controllers -- such as the dreaded "Joy-Con Drift," a phenomenon where your Joy-Con controllers begin moving in one direction when you're not touching the directional pad or analog stick -- you won't simply be able to pop them off of the unit and replace them with new ones. Should this be a recurring problem for the Switch Lite as well, you'd have to replace the entire unit, at $199 a pop.

Nintendo has yet to offer official commentary on what causes this issue, nor has the company acknowledged it as a problem that's worthy of concern. However, it does appear that Nintendo has begun replacing and refunding users plagued by the very real issue. 

Could this nuisance be resolved by simply eradicating Joy-Con tech as we know it? The answer isn't clear -- but it's a risk you'd have to be willing to take if you decided to take the plunge with a Switch Lite, especially as Nintendo hasn't clearly outlined a policy that makes sense with the upcoming all-in-one unit as of yet. 

The bottom line: The Switch Lite doesn't really let you "switch," which is one of the major perks of the platforms. But giving up that ability might take away some of the Switch's biggest headaches, namely Joy-Con trouble -- if it doesn't follow you to the Lite.

nintendo switch lite
Nintendo

It's basically the same Nintendo Switch you're used to, with a few caveats.

Why it matters: Worried you're going to have to get used to some new, weird version of the Switch with a different menu interface or other changes you're not so keen on? Don't worry -- not a lot is actually changing from one model to the other. 

The Nintendo Switch Lite will still offer most of the same features you've come to expect from the system, but sized down considerably to a cute, handheld size that ends up shaving off about half-an-inch of screen space versus the original. For one thing, it will still support amiibo by way of near-field communication (NFC), wireless play, and Bluetooth connectivity. It's made to be portable, so everything that helps make it be just that is still included.

It also comes in some particularly adorable colors: yellow, blue, and gray, which are interesting pastels that Nintendo hasn't really experimented with in the past. There's also an attractive Pokémon Sword and Shield version that features cyan and magenta face buttons with Legendary Pokémon emblazoned across the back of the unit that will be available in November. No more boring black units for you, or having to match Joy-Cons to each other for a decent color combination. 

There are some drawbacks, though. Since you can't detach the Joy-Con or use a kickstand, some games and game modes are off-limits, like the multiplayer game 1-2-Switch. You won't have the HD Rumble necessary to communicate useful information in that particular title, but as far as the list of incompatible games goes, it's pretty short. 

Unfortunately, that also means you can't use it with the fun, cardboard-centric building kits that come with the Nintendo Labo software sets. These often require you to detach the Joy-Con controllers to use the screen/Switch base unit to drop into cardboard goggles or "toys" that can be used with everyday objects like rubber bands or reflective tape. Since you can't remove the controllers, you won't be able to do this. It's a bummer, for sure, especially if you enjoy DIY gaming projects. 

Part of the trade-off is better battery life, though, which should offset some of the drawbacks that come with being unable to play certain games. You'll get anywhere from 3 to 7 hours of battery life, depending on which games you play, which is longer than the traditional Switch's 2.5 to 6.5 hours. It's still nothing like the lengthy battery life of the Nintendo 3DS, but it's definitely getting there. 

The bottom line: You get the tried-and-true Switch functionality with funky colors, better portability, and better battery life at a lower price, even if there are some titles you can't play. 

nintendo switch lite
Nintendo

So, should you buy the Nintendo Switch Lite?

With the pros and cons above, there's basically one conclusion that makes sense. The Nintendo Switch Lite is obviously targeted towards buyers who don't already have a Switch. Besides a battery life that's slightly better, the Lite is functionally inferior to the base Switch in every way. If you already own a Switch, you won't get anything new out of the Switch Lite.

If you've been on the fence about getting a Switch, you need to look at how you like to game before you consider buying the Switch Lite. Even though the Lite is $100 less than a regular Switch, you only have the ability to play in portable mode. If the Lite could be docked, the choice would be a no-brainer, as losing the Joy-Cons isn't nearly as big of a deal. However, unless you want to play games exclusively in portable mode, you're better off getting a standard Switch.

The Nintendo Switch Lite is best for people who want to move up from the 3DS or don't ever want to play Switch games on their TV. It's a relatively niche product, but the lower price might be enough to win more casual gamers over.

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Brittany Vincent is a contributor to Thrillist.