The Switch Lite is kind of cute. Sat next to its bigger brother, it’s more compact, and its unibody design has taken the playfulness of the Joy-Con colouring to heart with some attractive full-body colours. It’s like a mini-Switch wearing a yellow, turquoise or grey onesie. It’s cute!
This is what the Switch would have been if Nintendo hadn’t been worrying about needing to have a presence in the home console market. It’s a pure handheld machine with only a few conceits to the modularity and options of before. You can’t put it in the Switch Dock – the sticks and buttons get in the way – and even if you could, it’d just be for charging, and there’s no kickstand on the back. A lot of people love the Switch for being a handheld console, and the Lite is for that audience and that audience alone.
From that change in focus, Nintendo has been able to improve and refine the design. The MicroSD card slot has a proper cover and not just the kickstand, the more rounded design of the body should be more amenable to a bit of rough and tumble, the vent at the top is less of gaping chasm into the console’s innards and there are no metal railings for the Joy-Con to gradually start creaking and flexing after too many months of being crammed into a bag.
It’s also let Nintendo tweak the buttons that it offers. The left controls no longer need to be dual purpose, so the four distinct buttons have been traded in for a small D-pad. After two and a half years with the original model, it looks a little weird, but it’s a welcome change for games where playing with a D-pad is preferred.
But it’s merely OK. All of the buttons on the Switch Lite have a mushier feel compared to the clickiness of the Joy-Con, and after wracking my brains and comparing it to every controller I own, I figured out what the feel reminded me of: the Wii U Gamepad. There’s an end to the button travel, obviously, but it doesn’t feel quite as definite, and the D-pad feels mushy because of this. I don’t get a full eight directional feel, and there’s a bit too much lateral movement allowed by its cutout. It’s perhaps a missed opportunity, but let’s not forget that this is a cheaper console, a cost-cutting exercise for Nintendo.
Still, one big question mark over the Switch Lite, and one that we won’t be able to answer in this review, is about its durability and build quality. From cracked vents to Joy-Con drift, the original console has a spotty track record when it comes to being completely reliable. We’ll have to wait for teardowns, but it’s one thing to deal with when it’s a £35 Joy-Con you need to replace, and another when it’s a £199 handheld console.
One thing that has definitely been improved is the system’s main innards, reducing the size and power consumption of the Tegra X1 chipset. The console is still noticeably warm after a little bit of gaming, but the fan won’t be spinning as fast, and the back panel doesn’t bulge and expand in the heat. It also seems to run marginally longer than the original model. Playing Divinity: Original Sin 2 for an hour on each with the backlight on full, sound at 50% and Wi-Fi turned on, the Switch Lite landed on 69% compared to the original’s 58%. It’s a healthy step up over the original, right in line with Nintendo’s estimate of 3-7 hours vs. 2.5-6.5 hours, depending on the games. Of course, if you want pure battery life, then the revised original model with the lower power chips would be the go-to console, boasting 4.5-9 hours.
The Switch Lite lives up to its name on the scales, having dropped by my measurements to 274g from the 403g of my original. Yet despite being noticeably smaller, when you first pick it up, the rounded corners, reduced weight and control placement meaning you need to take a lighter grip of it as you play, it’s no less absorbing. After a while playing, I had to stop myself and think whether it actually felt like a smaller device.
I do occasionally notice the thin black frame in the screen’s bezel, though. That looks a bit weird when you can’t see a similar effect on the black-bodied original console. I also feel like the downward-facing speakers aren’t as effective. They have more treble and not quite as rounded a sound. Finally, the removal of HD Rumble doesn’t mean that there’s non-HD Rumble, it means there’s no rumble at all. Even if I had to turn it off for being ridiculously loud and high pitched, I miss the rumble. Cost-cutting be damned.
While the vast majority of games will run perfectly fine, some edge cases don’t support the Switch Lite’s reduced functionality. Games like Super Mario Party or 1-2 Switch require the Joy-Con to play, and other games have specific motion controller modes, like Mario Tennis Aces. You can still connect a Joy-Con and play them, but seriously, that’s not what this console is about.
And I think that’s a real shame. Yes, cost-cutting, yes, handheld purity, but why remove the TV output as an option full stop? Nintendo would make even more cash if they created a Switch Lite TV dock and raked in money from peripherals sales. To me, it doesn’t make sense.