The first major revision of the Nintendo Switch has one goal in mind: to go entirely mobile.
The Switch Lite, which is out on Sept. 20, does away with the console portion of Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrid. It’s essentially a successor to the 3DS and the DS before it, and the next spiritual heir to the original Game Boy. It’s a fully portable handheld device that can’t connect to a TV, and if that doesn’t matter to you, then we can heartily recommend it—assuming you don’t already have a Switch. It has most of the strengths of the Switch, with only a few drawbacks, and is easily the best purely handheld gaming system we’ve seen yet. We wouldn’t recommend it over the original Switch, though, unless you absolutely do not care about playing on a TV.
Here’s what we like about the Switch Lite. The biggest upgrade over the Switch is probably its battery life. If you’ve ever whipped the Switch out on a long-distance flight or car trip, you’ve probably been annoyed by how quickly the battery wears down. The Switch Lite lasts, on average, a couple of hours longer than the Switch. It’s not perfect by any means, but the difference between, say, six hours and three hours is a huge one when you’re talking about travel. The Switch Lite is also a little bit smaller and lighter, naturally, which makes it a bit more convenient to lug around than the original. Also, the reconfigured controls restore the classic Nintendo D-pad, which doesn’t just feel more nostalgic than the four-button layout of the Joy-Con, but also just feel sturdier and more precise. The whole unit feels sturdier, largely because you no longer have to deal with detachable Joy-Cons attached precariously to the sides of the screen. And since it’s the exact same hardware, just in a new form factor, it plays the same game library available on the Switch, with only a few exceptions. It can play both cartridges and games downloaded from the eShop, and has an SD card slot to expand memory. It also has a standard headphone jack, with none of that obnoxious proprietary jive that Apple has pulled with its headphones. Again, if you don’t own a Switch, and are exclusively looking for a way to play games on the go, without any desire to plug it into a TV, the newer, smaller, cheaper Switch Lite should be your Nintendo system of choice today.
It’s not perfect, of course. Some Switch games will be difficult, if not impossible, to play on the Switch Lite. For many of those games—such as ones that require motion controls, or that can’t be played outside of TV mode—you’ll have to buy a pair of Joy-Cons (along with a separate device to charge them) and sync them to your Switch Lite. This impacts the Just Dance series, the new Super Mario Party, and the tech demo comp 1-2-Switch, but will also make it harder to play Nintendo’s fun boxing game Arms. The lack of detachable Joy-Cons also makes the Switch Lite incompatible with Labo and Labo VR, Nintendo’s series of immersive cardboard peripherals. There’s also no HD rumble, so you’ll be missing that kind of feedback if you’re not playing with a paired set of Joy-Cons.
So yes, unsurprisingly there are trade-offs when going with the more affordable model. Still, if none of that matters to you, and you’re just interested in the cheapest way to buy in to the current Nintendo generation—or only care about purely handheld gaming, without docking to a TV—it’s hard to argue against the Switch Lite. It’s a solid $100 cheaper than the original Switch, and you’ll be able to dive right into Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey with little complication. The Switch Lite is a triumphant new part of Nintendo’s legacy of dedicated handheld systems.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.