Nintendo Switch Lite review – CNET


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The Switch Lite, in all three colors. It’s handheld-only, but it feels great.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The doorway to Animal Crossing is through the Nintendo Switch. The three-year-old game console is impossible to find in stores right now — unless you want to pay a huge premium over its $299 list price — leading many to consider the lower-cost, handheld-only Switch Lite. Which is what I’m playing right now. And my wife, too. And friends. The $199 Switch Lite seems to be everywhere.

Like

  • Lower price than the original Switch.
  • More sturdy construction.
  • Plays tons of great Switch games.
  • D-pad helps with retro games.

Don’t Like

  • No TV docking.
  • Controllers don’t detach.
  • No rumble/vibration.
  • Nintendo’s family account design makes game sharing hard.

Read more: Where to find the Switch Lite

Nintendo has always made great gaming handhelds. But the company’s fusion of console and handheld together in the Switch changed the equation, and the Nintendo 3DS has slowly disappeared from the picture. The Switch platform is your one choice, even if the Lite version is the only one that’s easy to buy right now. 

If you just want a great handheld system that can play tons of games, well, really, you’re fine with the Switch Lite. It’s great. And it’s at least a port in a storm during an extremely tough 2020.

That doesn’t mean I’m happy with everything.

Read more: Why I regret buying my Nintendo Switch Lite

When the Switch Lite arrived last year, I thought it was a great, more affordable ($200, £199, AU$294), compact, even better-constructed version of the Switch hardware. But you have to give up all the Switch-unique parts, like connecting to a TV, or detaching and replacing the wireless controllers.

It turns out that those versatile Switch extras mean more to me than ever right now. TV docking means multiplayer games with the kids can happen. Removable controllers mean two-player multiplayer on the Switch, or allowing fitness games like Ring Fit Adventure to work. Remove those pieces from the puzzle and the Switch Lite is basically just a great gaming handheld.

That’s OK, though. It costs less, and that’s already a plus right now. And it works well, is compact and fine and fun. I’ve ended up playing on it most of the time. It’s comfy and convenient. 

What still bugs me is how hard it is to share purchased games with families. Digital games are locked down to a single Nintendo account, and second Switches can only play those games while on Wi-Fi. Getting physical game cartridges skips those problems, because you can just eject and swap. Games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons (if you’re playing with multiple people) are even more annoying because they generate just one game island per Switch system, which means you’ll need another copy of Animal Crossing to play across two Switches. Assuming, of course, that you have two Switches. Because, with Switch Lite, it’s really a solo experience.

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Once upon a time, I used a Switch Lite on a train.


Scott Stein/CNET

And the battery life on a Switch Lite is… OK. Not great. After a few hours, I’m already at 50% or lower. The larger Switch (in its updated V2 version) has considerably better battery life. I like not sitting near a charger. It’s fine. It can be a reminder to move on to other things, like cooking, or taking a walk. 

My favorite games right now (at least those that aren’t VR) are on Switch. Nintendo keeps turning out an impressive run of games, and most of them perfect for kids. That’s my favorite part of what the Switch does, and that Xbox and PlayStation platforms are so comparatively bad at. This is a system I can let the kids dive into.

You could take turns playing a Switch Lite, but that also means it’s not the same thing as a TV-connected Switch. You could also pair several controllers over Bluetooth and huddle together in front of it. But again, not the same. That doesn’t lessen how good the Switch’s game library is, and how many fun online games there are.

But it does mean that I think it’s a shame that the more versatile, truly family-friendly larger Switch is still so hard to find. But if you’re on your own, or don’t care about TV-connected gaming, or just want to save money (or, maybe, want to buy a second Switch for the kids so you can have yours to yourself), the Lite is still a pretty great second option.

Below are additional thoughts to consider (from my original review-in-progress of the Switch Lite back in August 2019, which still hold true).

Read more on GameSpot: Nintendo Switch Lite is hard to resist

What still strikes me as great about the Switch Lite

The lower price. $100 less matters when you’re considering paying $200 instead of $300. (It’s £199 versus £279 in the UK, or AU$294 versus AU$449 in Australia.) It’s the least expensive Nintendo Switch ($445 at Amazon) system available. That’s a key price difference, although sometimes the original Switch ends up being available in specially priced hardware bundles ($340 at Walmart) that could be tempting.

The smaller size feels great — I (usually) prefer it. Even with a smaller 5.5-inch screen, I haven’t seen a game that doesn’t look good on it. I’ve played Super Mario Maker 2, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8, Super Mario Odyssey ($55 at Amazon) and of course Animal Crossing: New Horizons on it, and they’re all good. The more compact size is also great. The Switch Lite isn’t as small as a Nintendo 3DS ($132 at Amazon), but it feels a lot more portable — it’s about one Joy-Con width shorter, and not as wide. The display ends up looking better, too, since the identical 720p resolution on a smaller screen means higher pixel density. Occasionally, some smaller text makes me squint.

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Holding both side by side.


Sarah Tew/CNET

In fact, this feels sturdier and better than the original Switch. Playing games, mashing buttons, holding it while standing… the Switch Lite feels like the superior hardware. I’d rather play games on this in handheld mode than the bulkier-looking, slightly creakier Switch. After more than six months, it’s held up well.

The D-pad on the side is new, and good. I prefer having a real cross-shaped D-pad on the left side of the Switch Lite than the four round buttons that the Switch has. It makes games like Super Mario Maker and Tetris 99 feel so much better.

Hey, I also like the colors. Blue is my favorite, but yellow and gray are nice, too. It just looks more Nintendo-ish than the black original Switch. 


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Trying out the Nintendo Switch Lite actually surprised…



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What’s not great, though

You can’t dock this into a TV. Losing video-out through USB-C, which the regular Switch has, means it’s not a TV console at all. That not only means no big-screen couch gaming, but it effectively kills multiplayer without buying another Switch. My favorite Switch games are multiplayer ones (Mario Kart, Smash Bros. and some old-school NES and SNES games). You could gather around a Switch Lite’s smaller screen and pair other controllers, technically, but that sounds terrible, because the Switch Lite lacks a kickstand, and…

Its controllers can’t be detached. The Switch is awesome because its Joy-Con controllers can pop off and be swapped if they wear out, or they can each be used as mini controllers for two-player games. The Switch Lite ditches that for fixed controls, like other 3DS/2DS game handhelds. The problem is, Nintendo has been having some Joy-Con drift issues for some people. Will those issues continue on the Switch Lite? At least, on the Switch, problematic controllers can be swapped out. This also means…


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Nintendo Switch Lite: 1 month later



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You’ll miss out on Nintendo’s weirdest experiences. Nintendo’s folding-cardboard Labo sets are bizarre works of brilliance, and the upcoming Ring Fit Adventure is like a fitness game with a hoop thing you play in front of your TV. If you want Weird Nintendo, you’ll want the original Switch, with its detaching controllers (one of which has an IR camera). The Switch Lite can technically have Joy-Con controllers paired to it to play Ring Fit Adventure, but you’d need to buy more controllers and sit in front of the little Switch Lite screen. Labo’s cardboard parts mostly won’t fit the Switch Lite and needs those Joy-Cons, too. Short answer in this case: Just get the regular TV-dockable Switch.

I miss the rumble. The Lite doesn’t vibrate. Some games use the rumble effect heavily in games as a notification, or an extra sense. I wish I could have it back. Some games like Luigi’s Mansion 3 lean on vibration heavily (or, when going fishing in Animal Crossing).

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The length difference between Switch and Switch Lite (also, those controls can’t be removed on the Lite).


Sarah Tew/CNET

Nintendo has a game-sharing problem. If you thought you’d easily swap games between a Switch and Switch Lite, I have bad news for you. While physical game cards are no problem, Nintendo still hasn’t solved digital game family sharing. 

There are ways to share digital games between systems if you either transfer your system data completely from one Switch to another (Nintendo’s support page for transferring account data is here). Or, you could make one Switch a “primary” system and one a “secondary” system, but then one Switch would be able to play games anywhere, while the other would require online authentication every time a game was played. (Read Nintendo’s support page for an explanation of what that means — good luck.)

It means that anyone considering a Switch Lite as a second household Switch should think about whether or not this awkward setup would work for them, or whether a workaround (i.e. using physical game cards) is acceptable. Also note that transferring either your entire user account or an individual game’s save data will cause that same data to disappear on the original console. You could keep going back and forth like this, but it would get annoying fast.

That last sticking point is what makes me think the Lite is really just an option for players who were only interested in handheld. Yes, it’s basically the same as a Switch in most other ways, as far as gaming and memory card support (and USB-C charging). But until Nintendo lets its family of Switch hardware share game libraries as easily as Apple or Google do with tablets, phones and Chromebooks (Apple Arcade handles multiple devices with ease and I’d love to see Nintendo do the same), the Switch Lite won’t be the perfect choice for as many people as you might think. Unless you plan on owning mostly physical game cards. 



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