Hands-on: Nintendo Switch Lite
The Nintendo Switch Lite is an interesting product. Had it launched on its own, ahead of the original Switch, it's hard to see it enjoying anywhere near the success that the original Switch console has enjoyed. After all, most people thought that handheld consoles were effectively dead given the rise of casual gaming on smartphones. However, for those that still love dedicated handheld consoles, the Nintendo Switch Lite could be something of a godsend as it delivers a portable handheld experience similar to a mobile phone but with the all-important physical joysticks to give you definitive control in games. Touchscreen only gaming with virtual software controls can work, but it is often not as satisfying.
Of course, there are some excellent gaming controllers out there for smartphones like the Razer Raiju Mobile controller for Android, but game support varies wildly making the whole experience rather frustrating and limiting. Apple, ironically, appears to be leading the charge with bring controller support to more smartphone/tablet games with the built-in support for Xbox and PS controllers in iOS 13 arriving just in time for the launch of its Apple Arcade mobile gaming subscription service. While that is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, the success of the original Switch means there are far more genuine AAA console ports on the platform than Apple Arcade might ever see. This also makes it potentially appealing to fans of Sony's discontinued PS Vita.
The Switch Lite is also more powerful than the Sony PS Vita, but it is well short of the graphics capabilities found in even the latest iOS and Android devices. However, that does not mean that it is any slug. It uses a slightly updated custom variant of Nvidia's ageing Tegra X1 chip that has been improved by moving it to a newer process node. This gives it much better battery efficiency without necessitating any architectural design changes and might even give it a slight lift in performance, although Nintendo has indicated that publicly. This newer chip has also made into latest batches of the original Switch design. Nintendo promises 4 hours of gaming on the go with the Switch Lite and up to 5.5 hours gaming on the go with the revised Switch, up from 3 hours.
The Switch Lite, of course, is a completely self-contained handheld console, unlike the original and larger Switch which is a clever hybrid works in multiple modes including being docked to a TV. So, the Switch Lite makes do without any of the original Switch consoles tricks, including even rumble support, which is probably the only perplexing omission. However, as a standalone self-contained handheld console, it is a far more satisfying experience than the original Switch. The original is much bulkier in comparison and doesn't feel as solid in the hand thanks to the detachability of its Joy-Con controllers. With everything integrated into the Switch Lite design, it is now the perfect size for a dedicated handheld console. It will work with all games that support handheld mode, and even those needing Joy-Cons over Bluetooth, but the latter will necessitate a separate purchase and defeats buying the Switch Lite in the first place.
The Switch Lite has a smaller 5.5-inch screen that the 6-inch of the original but is still 720p capable and because it is actually slightly smaller it packs a slightly sharper pixel density of 267 ppi versus 236 ppi. However, text in some games that would look fine on a TV display like Diablo III remains very difficult to read on the smaller display and remains a minor niggle. That said, 720p gaming still looks fabulous and not for one moment do you wish Nintendo had included a 1080p screen in this device even though it could have powered it. Both Switch models in this regard have absolutely got the balance right between resolution, performance and battery life (coupled with pricing, of course).
I never personally warmed to the original Switch. In handheld mode, it always felt like a compromise even if the hybrid desktop console idea remains clever and well-executed. The Switch Lite, however, is pretty darn close to being the perfect handheld console. And thanks to the success of the original, there is a wealth of great titles out there to play on it from day one that might never have existed if Nintendo hadn't released such an innovative platform in the first place. So, while there is nothing especially innovative about the Switch Lite, it didn't need to be. But what it does is take the slightly less-than-perfect the handheld experience of the original Switch and perfects it.