Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite: is bigger really better?

Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite
Image credit: Nintendo (Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite is a topic worth thinking about if you’re looking to add one of Nintendo’s handheld consoles to your gaming repertoire. However, several features should be considered if you’re comparing the two ahead of your buying decision. And that's what we're here to help with.

The Nintendo Switch is a hard console to beat when compared to the Nintendo Switch Lite. It’s compact, convenient and supports play on both the TV and in your hands. However, the Lite is cheaper and definitively more portable by design; if you find yourself constantly on the go, you may find it to be a more worthwhile companion.

In fact, shortly after the console’s release, it was found that handheld mode was the preferred play style for a large chunk of the Switch's player base. So it surprised no one when Nintendo’s next step was to release the Nintendo Switch Lite to cater to more extroverted folks who may be looking for a portable gaming companion.

Prospective Switch owners currently have multiple options for Nintendo’s latest console (unless the rumored Nintendo Switch Pro becomes official), thanks to the Nintendo Switch OLED's launch in 2021. But if you're still looking at the previous options, which model suits you? Is it the handheld-only Switch Lite? Or the original hybrid?

To help you decide, we’ll take you through the similarities and differences between each console, comparing design, prices and game libraries. Keep reading to settle the Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite battle.

Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite: price

A neon red Joy-Con on a table in the foreground, with a Nintendo Switch screen and blue Joy-Con lying on the table in the background, slightly out of focus

Image credit: Nintendo (Image credit: Enrique Vidal Flores via Unsplash)

The current Nintendo Switch model retails for $259.99 / £259.99 / AU$435, with plenty of bundle options. For that price, you get yourself the console, two Joy-Con controllers, a dock and the associated cables. Bundles tend to include massively popular games like Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, Pokemon Sword and Shield, or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – all of which are great games to get you started.

Meanwhile, the Nintendo Switch Lite retails for the lower price point of $199.99 / £199.99 / AU$329.95 for the console on its own. The console is focused on handheld play, so you don’t get a dock or detachable Joy-Con controllers (more on that later), but bundles with the most popular games can be found at most retailers, with the accompanying games generally adding a little extra onto the cost.

Bundles aside, looking at the prices of the consoles alone shows that the Switch Lite does, as you'd expect, cost less than the original version. If you’re not interested in the Switch's TV output capabilities, then opting for the Switch Lite is money worth saving, as it could be enough to get you another couple of games.

Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite: design

Man holding a Nintendo Switch

Image credit: TechRadar (Image credit: Shutterstock/Niphon Subsri)

Arguably, the Switch’s main selling point is the console’s versatility. It’s instant and feels almost like magic as you transfer your game from the screen to the television and back again. You can use your console to conquer Hyrule in The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild on your morning commute before docking the console once you get home to play with either your detached Joy-Con or the Pro Controller.

Nintendo has opted to forgo this hybrid functionality on the cheaper Nintendo Switch Lite. It has fixed Joy-Con controllers and can’t be docked to a TV – and while this may be a deal breaker for many, we think it could be very attractive to new and existing customers.

For example, the bright colors really help give it a more toy-like feel which younger players will find appealing. Between yellow, gray, coral and turquoise, there’s plenty of room to express yourself – albeit without swapping joy-cons to your heart’s content. 

The lower price is ideal for those looking for a second device for a younger child, too, or simply a console you can take on the go more readily – the more plastic-looking Switch Lite with its fewer moving parts looks a little more durable than its more versatile older brother.

Despite the controllers being fixed, they offer mostly the same buttons as the original Switch – except the A, Y, B, and X buttons have been replaced by a D-Pad – while some functionality has been removed, which we’ll get onto shortly. Both models also allow for wireless connectivity, Bluetooth and MicroSD cards to increase the meager 32GB of console storage.

Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite: display

Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite

Image credit: Nintendo (Image credit: Nintendo)

The Nintendo Switch offers a 6.2-inch LCD display with a maximum resolution of 720p. With PlayStation and Xbox chasing higher and higher pixel counts, 720p feels decidedly unambitious, but the system’s raft of high-quality exclusives belie any technical shortcomings. Of course, you can also dock the console to output at 1080p: it’s not 4K, but it’s crisper when stretched across your TV or monitor.

The Switch Lite’s lower price point means that the system has to make some cutbacks. While the display is still an LCD with capacitive touch functionality (and reaches the same 720p resolution), it’s slightly smaller than on the original Switch, measuring at 5.5 inches. Still, it’ll be ideal for younger siblings to catch fish in Animal Crossing: New Horizons while on the go.

Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite: games

Splatoon 3

Image credit: Nintendo (Image credit: Nintendo)

This is where things arguably get a little bit complex, given the discrepancy between the two console’s feature sets. Because the Switch Lite’s controllers are fixed, they don’t offer HD Rumble, motion controls, or the IR Motion Camera found on the previous model’s Joy-Con. This means any game that requires any of these pieces of kit will need the wireless connection of a pair of extra Joy-Con controllers.

For example, this means Snipperclips (alongside the Plus version) and Mario Tennis Aces require additional controllers for those playing on the Nintendo Switch Lite. That isn’t all, though. Because many games require detached Joy-Con controllers, the following are unsuitable for the Switch Lite: Labo kits, 1-2 Switch and Super Mario Party.

Perhaps the biggest concern is that there is a chance that games will eventually launch that aren’t compatible with the Switch's handheld mode, meaning you’ll be unable to play them on the Switch Lite. It seems unlikely, but consider a world where the next big Mario platformer requires full Joy-Con support, and you might feel like you're missing out.

Also, consider that the Joy-Con charge either via connecting to the Nintendo Switch or by the charging stand. If you’ve only got the Lite, you’ll need to invest in the charging stand.

Nintendo Switch vs Nintendo Switch Lite: software and interface

Green and pink Joy-Con sitting on top of the back of Switch

Image credit: Nintendo Switch (Image credit: Shutterstock/Proxima Studio)

Much easier to explain is the console’s interface. The Switch has offered a clean, arguably barebones UI, which has only seen minor incremental updates over the years, and the Lite provides the same functionality. You can share screenshots, catch up on the latest Nintendo news, and access your settings just as you can on the full-fat Switch. This means you’ll have your friends list, your titles, and the eShop all at a button press away.

You can play multiplayer games like Splatoon 3 with friends regardless of which Switch model you’re using, although a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online is required. This currently costs $3.99 / £3.49 / AU$5.95) a month, $7.99 / £6.99 /  AU$11.95 for 90 days, or $19.99 / £17.99 / AU$29.95 per year – a family plan with eight accounts will set you back $34.99 / £31.49 / AU$54.95.

Whether you have a Nintendo Switch or a Nintendo Switch Lite, you’ll be able to enjoy online play, cloud saves, and exclusive offers for members. The big draw here is the ability to play NES games, while any masochists will also get access to Nintendo’s uniquely awful smartphone app too.

So there you have it, two Switch models to agonize over in preparation for your next holiday. Which will you be jumping into? Thankfully whichever you choose, you’ll be able to play a huge library of excellent games.

If you've just got yourself one of Nintendo's handheld hybrid consoles, you may want to check out our guides to the best Nintendo Switch games and best Nintendo Switch controllers.

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.

With contributions from