Nintendo Switch vs. Switch Lite: Does portability compete with versatility?

How does the upcoming Switch Lite stack up against the original Nintendo Switch?

nintendo switch lite design specs price editions release date 1

If you haven’t picked up the Nintendo Switch yet, you now have two distinct options to choose from. There’s the original system, which offers portability and docked television play alongside removable Joy-Con controllers, and there’s the recently-announced Nintendo Switch Lite, the smaller, cheaper alternative.

The Switch Lite is similar to the original handheld but features some significant design changes that might pique or quell your interest. Both are considerable choices but determining which is the best for you depends on what you’re looking for. We’ve broken down how each console differs to make your decision easier.

Specs

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo Switch Lite

Dimensions 10 x 4.2 x .55 inches 8.2 x 3.6 x 0.55 inches
Weight 0.66 pounds without controllers, 0.88 pounds with controllers 0.61 pounds
Processor GPU/CPU: “Nvidia customized Tegra” Likely GPU/CPU: “Nvidia customized Tegra,” designated “VALI”
RAM 4GB Likely 4GB
Storage 32GB of flash storage, expandable through microSD Likely 32GB of flash storage, expandable through microSD
A/V output HDMI out No
I/O Output 1 USB-C, USB 3.0, USB 2.o X 2 1 USB-C
Communication Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 Wi-Fi, likely Bluetooth 4.1
Controller Joy-Con or Pro Controller Built into system
Screen size and resolution 6.2 inches, 720p 5.5 inches, 720p
Battery life Up to 6.5 hours for old model, 9 hours for new model Up to 7 hours
Physical media Proprietary cartridge Proprietary cartridge
Availability September 20
DT review 4/5 stars Coming soon

Design and features

Nintendo Switch with Rocket League
Ahmad Mohammed/Unsplash

The standard Nintendo Switch is a hybrid console. It can be played as a handheld system or in “tabletop” mode with its included kickstand, and as a home console when placed in its dock. Its power isn’t its biggest selling point, falling somewhere between the Wii U and the standard Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. But what makes the Switch special is the many ways it can be used.

Outside of its dock, the Switch functions as a typical handheld system. A Joy-Con controller is locked onto either side with the same button layout and sticks you’d expect on a standard gamepad. At any time, however, you can remove the Joy-Con controllers and place the system in its dock and begin playing the system as a home console. This “switch” happens instantly, and you can remove the console from the dock to play as a handheld system just as swiftly.

The Switch Lite doesn’t have many of the features that make the Switch unique, and this is reflected in its reduced price-point. The system doesn’t come with a dock, nor is there any way to connect it to a television.

The controls on either side resemble the Joy-Con controllers, but they are a permanent part of the system. Its weight and screen size have both been reduced, with the latter shrinking from 6.2 inches to 5.5 inches. Both systems have a 720p-capable screen.

According to Nintendo, a more efficient chip layout in the Switch Lite has resulted in slightly increased battery life, jumping from a maximum of 6.5 hours to 7 hours. It’s not a huge boost, but seeing as you cannot place the system into a dock and continue playing while it charges, this little bit helps. However, if you are willing to pick up the new Nintendo Switch standard model, instead, your battery life will be a maximum of 9 hours, and according to Digital Foundry, the system can also run slightly cooler than the first model. The Switch Lite actually features a slightly smaller battery than the original Switch.

Cloud saves are supported on the Switch so long as you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, so you’ll likely be able to access your game progress across both systems in that way. There is a selection of games like Pokémon: Let’s Go, however, that don’t have cloud saving enabled.

As for the ability to transfer data between the two devices, President of Nintendo of America Doug Bowser told CNET, “Yes, you will have the ability to transfer between devices, your gameplay experiences. More to come on there, but that is the intention.”

Controller

Amazon earth day used Nintendo Switch Pro Controller

The original Nintendo Switch comes with two Joy-Con controllers in the basic package, as well as the Joy-Con grip. When attached to the Switch, the Joy-Con controllers function identically to how the controls work on the Switch Lite. When detached, however, you have far more options.

Turned sideways, one Joy-Con controller can be used on its own, much like a classic NES gamepad, and buttons inside the rail portion can be raised with the included Joy-Con straps. This lets you essentially play a two-player game wherever you are, such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe.

If you place both Joy-Con controllers in the Joy-Con grip, they resemble the look and feel of a traditional gamepad, and this is the primary way to play games while docked unless you purchase a Pro Controller.

Though the Switch Lite does support these controllers via Bluetooth connection, its own controls are not detachable. As such, you will need to purchase at least one Joy-Con controller to play the system with a friend, as well as a stand to place it down since the kickstand found on the standard Switch has been removed from the Switch Lite.

Still, the fixed controls do mean the Switch Lite gets a full-fledged directional pad. For certain platforming games that demand precise jumps, this could make the Switch Lite the preferred option, at least among those who do not want to play their games on a TV.

One type of controller that will apparently not be supported by the Switch Lite at all is the GameCube controller. An adapter is available to use this controller on the standard Switch, but it connects via a USB port on the dock rather than directly to the console.

Games

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The Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Switch Lite play almost the same library of games, and with the proper accessories, you can achieve complete parity between the two systems. Out of the box, however, there are a few titles you cannot enjoy on the Switch Lite.

Super Mario Party can only be played in either tabletop or docked mode because it makes heavy use of the Joy-Con controllers’ unique motion features. The same is true for launch title 1-2 Switch, which utilizes “HD Rumble” for some of its mini-games.

Without buying a few Joy-Con controllers (and a Grip to keep them charged), these games will not work on Switch Lite. Certain modes also will be inaccessible in other games. You won’t be able to use motion controllers to flick your Poké Ball in Pokémon: Let’s Go, for instance.

Accessories

nintendo labo vr kit
Felicia Miranda/Digital Trends

The other major incompatibility with Switch Lite is Nintendo Labo. All the sets are designed to fit the original Switch and make use of the Joy-Con controllers, so you will not be able to use the Switch Lite with them. That means the VR modes added to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey won’t be available to Switch Lite owners.

We’ve already seen a few companies announce and leak accessories built specifically for the Nintendo Switch Lite. We expect to see cases, skins, and screen protectors designed for its smaller size. However, the standard Nintendo Switch currently supports a huge number of accessories, and many of those simply won’t work with the Switch Lite. Cases, screen protectors, and protective shells will all be too big. Certain items, such as control stick caps, should still work, as should headsets using a 3.5mm input.

Price and release date

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The standard Nintendo Switch system is available now, and typically retails for $300. This price will occasionally dip lower, particularly during busy sales periods such as Prime Day and Black Friday. The standard system is available in either a dark gray configuration or neon red and blue, with special edition consoles also releasing.

The Switch Lite will release on September 20 for $200 and will be available in gray, turquoise, and yellow. A special edition for Pokémon Sword and Shield will also be available this holiday season. You can pre-order all four variants right now.

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