The Nintendo Switch is my favorite game console right now, no contest. But which Switch is my favorite Switch? Here's the problem: At the moment, Nintendo has two game consoles that are called Switch, but they do different things. And after a month living with both the Switch Lite and the original Switch, switching back and forth, it's made me want something that's… neither. Or maybe both.
First of all, let me be clear: Nintendo's newest iteration of the Switch is maybe the best $200 (£199, AU$294) gaming portable I've ever used, and it already has a giant library of games.
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Should you buy one, though? That depends on whether you're fine just using the Switch as a handheld, like the Nintendo 3DS and all the gaming handhelds Nintendo made before this, or whether you want it to connect to a TV. The Switch Lite can't switch between TV and handheld mode. And if you try to live with two Nintendo Switches in your home, you'll soon realize that Nintendo's ornery game-sharing rules make your gaming life more frustrating than it should be.
Let me explain.
A month on the Switch Lite: Travel joy, home sadness
When the Nintendo Switch Lite first arrived in our office, I loved picking it up. It's a lighter, more colorful and weirdly better-feeling version of the first Switch. Everything about it feels streamlined, easy. It's like a gaming Kindle.
I've been using it to travel and play with: on planes, on trains, in my backpack. It's easy to tuck away. The better battery life (still only about 4 hours, realistically) feels notable compared with the original Switch.
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I'm sitting in my regular New Jersey Transit train seat, playing Zelda: Link's Awakening, a game that feels made for the yellow Switch Lite in my hands. It's a familiar feeling. I've played the Nintendo 3DS for years on this commute. The Switch Lite feels exactly like those handhelds: lightweight and wonderfully made. Plastic, yes, but comfy. It's Nintendo. I love that the original Switch's noisy vent is gone. It's quieter now, though it still vents some heat out of the top. It's easier to tuck in a bag.
At home, it's a different story. It's a personal device now. The Switch Lite can't connect to my TV, and unless I paired other controllers and we all somehow huddled over this 5.5-inch screen, multiplayer on one device is out of the question. I feel a little sad. I miss the bigger Switch. I give it to my 6-year-old son to play, and of course he loves it. He asks me, “Can we connect it to the TV?” I say no. He asks, “Why?”
So I set up the original Switch to play games from my account, too. But there's a catch.
Two Switches, one account… some headaches
Nintendo makes you choose: Either set up a secondary Switch as a system that can only play games while connected to Wi-Fi, or move your stuff off one Switch and onto another. The latter option is a relatively quick but anxiety-inducing process. I felt like I was moving out of an old, familiar house into a new apartment.
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The larger Switch now requires a Wi-Fi connection any time I play a game from my downloaded library. And if I save games on one Switch, I need to make sure the save data is uploaded to the cloud if I pay for Nintendo Online, which I do. Then I need to go into Settings on the other Switch and look in Data Management for cloud save data and download the newer file to the other Switch. None of this happens automatically.
And then there's my 11-year-old's account.
He has a profile to play games and go online on his own, which I created for Fortnite. But that account can only play my downloaded games on the “primary” Switch… which is the one that can play offline… which is the Switch Lite in my bag… which can't connect to a TV. Fortnite is free, so I can redownload it under his account. But if this happened with other games, I'd have to pay again or use a game card. I explain this to my son. He just feels disappointed.
It feels like Nintendo has taken a half-step to a future of modern app management, like what Apple or Google do on multiple devices, and hobbled it in a bizarre (but very Nintendo) way. It kills the joy of using a Switch Lite and Switch in one household.
I miss weird games like Ring Fit Adventure
I just reviewed Nintendo's Ring Fit Adventure, which is meant to be played on an original Switch that can connect to a TV and has the detachable controllers needed for the Ring Fit accessories. I was able to connect to the other Switch that's connected to my TV, but on the Switch Lite I'd need Joy-Cons… and I'd have to lean over the small Lite screen.
No thank you.
I still want to play these games, too. Or, heck, even Labo. My youngest son asked me if he could play Labo VR again and try shooting pictures with the little cardboard camera we folded a few months ago. I had to transfer save data to the other larger Switch and find the game card. He was happy.
The original Switch is a better bet
Giving up the TV connection, the rumble vibration and the extra controller flexibility, means losing some of the wild magic that the Switch was all about. What you have left in the Switch Lite is still a superior gaming handheld… one of the last true gaming portables, now that Sony no longer makes the Vita, and the 3DS feels like it has one foot in the grave. Your options are either this, or a phone or tablet.
The Switch Lite has everything you'd need to play Switch games, including a microSD card slot to store more games, Bluetooth (but not for headphones) and USB-C charging that also works with wired controller accessories. At $200, it's a great price for a system with a fantastic library.
The age of Apple Arcade is upon us, and so are plenty of great games on mobile devices. The Switch is still my favorite hardware and platform for family games, but I hope Nintendo finds a way to make the Switch family work better with game sharing. I'd also like to see it evolve the next Switch to be more portable and still have video-out and multiplayer.
Consider your other options: Nintendo has just updated the larger, more versatile Switch to include better battery life. We call that version the Switch V2. (Yes, it can get confusing – here's how to tell the difference between the Switches.) Also, consider that Nintendo's method of transferring games and saves between systems is really not fun.
If you want the latest and most affordable Nintendo game system and don't care that it doesn't connect to a TV, the Switch Lite is for you. But if you want flexibility and are thinking about playing two-player games a lot, I'd get the V2 version of the regular Switch instead. If you already own a Switch, and wanted a second one for your family or kids, this is the obvious choice.
But be ready for game-sharing frustrations. And I hope you don't end up like me: I no longer feel that either Switch is the perfect choice. I want the best of both worlds, but right now, we're going to have to end up choosing. Unless you're dead-set on portability, make it easier on yourself and get the original Switch instead.
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Editors' note: This is an ongoing review. The original review, published Aug. 27, follows.
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 system available. That's a key price difference, although sometimes the original Switch ends up being available in specially priced hardware bundles that could be tempting.
The smaller size feels great: I 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 bits of Super Mario Maker 2, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario Odyssey on it, and so far, so good. The more compact size is also great. The Switch Lite isn't as small as a Nintendo 3DS, 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. I haven't had to squint (yet).
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.
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. (Nintendo sent me the yellow to try, and it's growing on me.)
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…
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.
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. Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser seemed to suggest that a better solution was coming when I spoke to him earlier this summer, but it turns out, much to my frustration, that no better fix is happening after all.
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 (using physical game cards) is OK. 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.