There’s a new Switch on the way, and it’s a whole lot smaller. Today Nintendo revealed the Switch Lite, designed as a less expensive alternative to the original tablet / console hybrid. It comes in at $199 — $100 less than the base unit — and for that price you get a streamlined version of the Switch, but also a few caveats. The Switch Lite is designed explicitly as a handheld: you can’t connect it to your TV, and the Joy-Con controllers are built right in. “The two systems will complement each other and co-exist in the marketplace,” Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser tells The Verge.
There are a number of improvements with the Switch Lite. It’s significantly lighter, for one thing; I played with one for around 20 minutes, and the difference was noticeable, particularly when you pick up an original Switch afterwards. The Switch Lite also feels more sturdy since the Joy-Con controllers are now part of the device. The controller layout is largely identical on the Lite, though the new Switch has a proper d-pad, replacing the not-so-precise directional buttons on the original.“THE TWO SYSTEMS WILL COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER.”
Nintendo says the Lite features “slightly” improved battery life — the company wouldn’t get any more specific than that — due to a more power-efficient chip layout, as well as the lack of additional batteries in the built-in controllers. The Switch Lite also does away with the device’s controversial kickstand.
It’s also just a really nice piece of hardware. The Lite comes in multiple colors at launch — yellow, grey, and turquoise — as well as a special light grey Pokémon Sword and Shieldedition, and they all have a pleasant matte texture that feels great to hold. And while the screen is slightly smaller, it didn’t bother me much during intense battles in Breath of the Wild. (Despite the change in size, the resolution for the Switch Lite’s display remains the same 720p as the original Switch, though it no longer has a brightness sensor, so you can only adjust the screen brightness manually.)
The new device has a 5.5-inch touch display, compared to 6.2-inch for its predecessor. If you take a single Joy-Con off of an original Switch, you’ll have a good idea of the size of the new version. There are some other nice touches as well, like bezels and an air vent that match the color of the hardware, so they blend in better. Overall it’s a solid device, and exactly what you’d expect from this kind of refresh.
The smaller iteration of the Switch has been rumored for some time, along with reports that a more powerful version of the console was on the way. According to Nintendo’s Bowser, the decision to focus on a portable-only option was based on watching how people used the Switch. “It’s more about how we’ve observed them playing,” he says of the console’s audience. “We have the ability to track how people play games and play our titles, so I would say that it’s really an option that offers more choices to people.”
But that new design does come with some tradeoffs. The most notable is the inability to connect to a television; that flexibility has been a large part of the Switch’s appeal. Similarly, the built-in controls and their lack of detachable controllers, HD rumble, and IR sensors creates some small compatibility issues. If you want to use motion controls to catch monsters in Pokémon Let’s Go, or play a game like 1-2 Switch that requires them, you’ll need to purchase an additional pair of Joy-Con separately. Currently, all Switch game packages specify when titles are playable in portable mode, and Nintendo says similar labels will be applied to the digital eShop. If you attempt to purchase a game that’s incompatible with the Switch Lite from the eShop, the company says you’ll receive a warning.
Aside from the new design and those few changes, the Switch Lite and the original Switch are largely identical. Nintendo says there’s no performance difference between the two models, and you can still use the same accessories with the Lite, including Joy-Con controllers, the Switch Pro Controller, and the Poké Ball Plus. The Switch Lite still supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC, and has built-in gyro controls.
Since its debut in March 2017, Nintendo has sold just shy of 35 million Switch units worldwide. Bowser says the timing of the redesigned Switch Lite is meant to capitalize on that initial success, and it should be bolstered by upcoming holiday games like Pokémon Sword and Shield and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.
“We believe the timing is right when we have momentum,” Bowser explains. “This is the perfect opportunity for us to offer more choices, and to bring more consumers into Nintendo Switch in the third year. When you tie that with the software that we just announced at E3, we’ve got a perfect opportunity as we head into the holiday.”
The Nintendo Switch Lite is launching on September 20th — the same day as Link’s Awakening — for $199.99. The Pokémon version will be out on November 8th at the same price.