Not content with releasing just one version of its incredibly popular Switch console, Nintendo (NTDOY) is preparing to launch a more portable iteration called the Switch Lite later this month. Available Sept. 20, the Switch Lite, which will retail for $199, $100 less than the standard Switch, is a new kind of take on the classic handheld formula that Nintendo helped birth with the original Gameboy.
I got to try out the Switch Lite ahead of the console's launch, and it looks like the perfect option for gamers who are looking for something more lightweight and easier on the wallet. There are some trade-offs, but for gamers on the go, the Switch Lite has the makings of a winner.
A lighter Nintendo Switch
The standard Nintendo Switch is designed to be used both at home via its included TV dock that lets you play on your big screen, and on the go. I've been using mine since the system launched in 2017, and I regularly take the console to work for quick play sessions during my commute, before dropping it back into its dock and playing on my TV at home.
It's frustrating that all consoles don't offer the same level of functionality and flexibility, but then, the Switch's portability also means that it can't offer the same kind of graphics performance as Sony's (SNE) PlayStation 4 or Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox One.
The key difference between the Switch and Switch Lite is that the Switch Lite is meant to be used solely as a portable console. You can't drop the Lite into the Switch TV dock, so don't expect to play games on your big screen. The Lite's Joy-Con controllers are permanently attached to the console, so you can't swap them out for another pair like you can with the standard Switch.
Those Joy-Cons also lack the IR camera found on the standard Switch's Joy-Cons, as well as the controllers' rumble feature. And since the Switch Lite is meant to be used as a handheld console, it also lacks the built-in kickstand found on the standard Switch, so you won't be able to play games in tablet-top mode, either.
Taking out those functions, as well as the mechanism needed to connect the Joy-Cons to the Switch itself, helps save on the overall weight of the Switch Lite. According to Nintendo, the Switch Lite weighs just 0.61 pounds compared to the standard Switch's 0.88 pounds.
That doesn't look like much of a difference on paper, but when I picked up the Switch Lite, it genuinely felt a good deal lighter than the Switch I've been using for the past 2 years.
The Switch Lite, however, also has a smaller screen than the standard model, 5.5 inches versus the larger unit's 6.2 inches. I wasn't put off by the smaller display, though could see it being an issue in games that are heavy on text such as the recently released "Fire Emblem: Three Houses."
Less can be more
Despite how much Nintendo has stripped from the Switch Lite, it still offers the same level of performance as the standard model, thanks to its Nvidia (NVDA) processor, which means you'll be able to play every Switch game out there on either system.
For games that don't support handheld mode, and there are a few out there, Switch Lite players will have to connect a pair of separate Joy-Cons to the Lite. I'm still not exactly sure how that will work, though, since the Switch Lite doesn't have a kickstand that would let you set the console on a table to play without holding it.
Since the Switch Lite is meant to be a portable console, battery life will be of the utmost importance. After all, no one wants a handheld that dies on them 30 minutes after unplugging it.
According to Nintendo, the Switch Lite will last between 3 hours and 7 hours on a single charge. That, however, depends on the title you're playing. "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," for example, will run down the battery in 4 hours.
That's better than the original version of the Switch, which lasted between 2.5 hours and 6.5 hours, with "Breath of the Wild” lasting 3 hours. But Nintendo has also released an updated version of the standard Switch that lasts longer than both the original and the Switch Lite.
That iteration gets 4.5 hours to 9 hours on a single charge, with "Breath of the Wild" running for 5.5 hours.
What about Nintendo's DS
It's clear the Switch Lite is meant to serve as Nintendo's flagship handheld console of the future. At $199, it's not too pricey, and can handle all of the latest games released for the standard Switch. Which leaves the question of what happens to Nintendo's other handheld, the Nintendo 3DS line? The company has already taken the 3DS off of its site, and now only lists the less expensive New 2DS XL, which retails for $149 and the 2DS, which costs $79.
Nintendo says it will continue to offer the New 3DS and 2DS, as they are seen as a means to attract younger gamers. And with a vast library of games already available, the handhelds certainly still have plenty to provide gamers.
But the writing is more or less on the wall for the handhelds. The Pokemon Company has already announced that it isn't releasing any new main "Pokemon" titles for the 3DS family, and is set to launch two new titles in November for the Switch.
I've already got a standard Switch, and I'll likely purchase the Switch Lite, too. That's because my wife and I both play games. While ponying up $299 for another standard Switch with another TV dock feels excessive, buying the more portable Switch Lite so we can play our own games in the same room doesn't.
Now we'll just have to figure out who gets to play on the TV and who gets the handheld.
More from Dan:
Email Daniel Howley at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.