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Nintendo Switch Lite hands-on: a budget handheld with a premium feel

Refined hardware that’s meant to go on the go

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Nintendo announced the Switch Lite in July, and at a recent event in New York, we got a chance to test it out. The new console is a smaller and cheaper version of the original Switch: its price dropped to $199, but that’s at the expense of its ability to hook up to a TV. Otherwise, it’s still a Switch, which means it’s pretty great.

Despite its smaller size, the Switch Lite is still enjoyable to use to play games. The screen is a 5.5-inch panel (versus the 6.2-inch display on the full-size Switch), but it still runs at the same 720p resolution, which means things look a little crisper on the Switch Lite than they do on the bigger model.

Just because the Switch Lite is smaller than the Switch, doesn’t mean it’s tiny. Compared to an iPhone X or a Game Boy Micro (Nintendo’s smallest landscape form factor console), for example, the Switch Lite isn’t exactly pocketable. But it is meaningfully more compact than the full-size Switch, and it should be easier to stow in a bag and be less of a burden on your back when you do.

The buttons and joysticks are the same as the ones on the original Switch’s Joy-Con controllers (a Nintendo representative confirmed that they use the same hardware), so it still feels like you’re playing on a regular Switch. There are still some motion controls — you’ll still need detachable controllers for games like Pokémon Let’s Go or 1-2 Switch with Wii remote-style gameplay — but the Switch Lite still supports motion aiming for things like the bow in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or paint guns in Splatoon 2.

While the new controls are largely the same, there is one important addition: a proper D-pad for the left side of the controller instead of the full-size Switch’s detached buttons, which were needed for the “removable” aspect of the Joy-Con controllers. It’s a joy to use. Nintendo has always been one of the best companies around when it comes to good controller hardware — the Game Boy helped pioneer the D-pad layout in the first place — and the Switch Lite’s D-pad is no exception.

The connected buttons make the experience of switching between them so much smoother than the separate D-pad buttons, and I honestly cannot wait to use it to play pixel-perfect platformers like Celeste or the grid-heavy Super Mario Maker 2.

The battery life has also been updated: Nintendo says that the Switch Lite should get between three and seven hours of playtime, depending on how hard you push the hardware. That’s a step up from the original Switch’s estimate of two and a half to six and a half hours, but it’s less than the updated Switch model’s four and a half to nine hours. We’ll need more time with the hardware to get a better idea of how that holds up in real life, though.

The overall hardware is excellent, which is expected from a modern Nintendo product. The three colors (yellow, gray, and turquoise) are all vibrant, and the plastic is a similar matte style to what’s used on the Joy-Con controllers, making it pleasant to hold.

All told, the Switch Lite seems like a worthy spinoff of the original Switch that feels more premium than its budget price tag suggests. It’ll be out on September 20th for $199, with a Pokémon-themed model planned for a November 8th release.

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