Nintendo Switch Lite Offers Sleeker Handheld Experience

The new portable-only version of the popular Nintendo console launches Sept. 20.

The first thing that hits you upon seeing the upcoming Nintendo Switch Lite isn't its smaller size or lighter weight, but the device's striking color options. At a recent Nintendo press event, where select media were invited to put the platform through its paces, all three of the gadget's launch-day hues — gray, yellow and turquoise — were available to test.

Get past the rainbow-rivaling colors, and the Lite's other features begin to reveal themselves. The smaller unit doesn't feel dramatically different from the standard Switch, at least initially. Put it back down and heft its beefier predecessor, however, and the differences become far more apparent.

By comparison, the standard Switch can feel like a chunky slab of plastic. Not to disparage the original's innovative, hybrid design, but it's unquestionably disappointing to go back to playing it in handheld mode after having enjoyed even just a few minutes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the compact Lite.

The new platform's reduced dimensions (3.6 inches high, 8.2 inches long, 0.55 inches deep) could have easily made it feel like little more than a miniature version of its predecessor (which clocks in at 4 inches high, 9.4 inches long and 0.55 inches deep). Rather than a dumbed-down Switch, however, the Lite feels like a dedicated handheld gaming device.

The layout of its various inputs, slots and buttons deserve some of the credit. Everything, from the game card slot and USB-C port to the volume controls and MicroSD compartment, remain essentially the same. The reduced real estate hasn't forced any of these functions to be awkwardly squished together, but rather ergonomically positioned in a way that further lends itself to the Lite's handheld focus and feel.

Longtime fans of Nintendo's Game Boy and DS family of platforms will also appreciate the inclusion of  a +Control Pad (or D-pad) on the Lite. The classic interface — which dates all the way back to Nintendo's early-'80s Game & Watch portables — replaces the Switch's four separate directional arrows located on its left Joy-Con. It's a small tweak but, again, one that speaks to the Lite being more of a dedicated mobile device than diminutive Switch.

Additional, subtler features that won’t be found listed on the back of the Lite's box include its far click-ier ZL and ZR triggers, as well as a slightly sharper screen. The former delivers a super-satisfying response with each input (making the original Switch's corresponding controls feel mushy by comparison), while the latter is the result of the Lite's 720p-capable screen packing its pixels a bit tighter. 

Still, the Lite loses more than it gains, including HD rumble, IR camera functionality, detachable Joy-Cons and, most notably, the ability to dock the console and output its signal to a television. Some previous features, like motion-sensing controls, can be retained by syncing the Lite with additional Joy-Cons, but this misses the point of the Lite's intended purpose.

The console’s most enticing feature is its price point, $100 cheaper than the original Switch, that could lure on-the-fencers into the fold. Existing Switch owners who prefer playing in handheld mode don't necessarily need a Lite, but they may have trouble returning to the original platform once they’ve gotten their hands on its sleek, new successor.