Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: which should you buy?

A product shot of both consoles to show the Nintendo Switch vs Switch lite
(Image credit: Future/Nintendo)

If you're looking at getting a new console but aren't familiar with the Nintendo range, luckily choosing between the Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Switch Lite is pretty easy. Both are excellent games consoles that (mostly) do the same thing, but there are a few major differences that warrant some research before you buy. Our below guide will go into detail about the major differences between the two in order to help you choose a console best suited for you.

So what's the main difference between the two consoles? The original Nintendo Switch has detachable Joy-Cons, meaning it can be placed into a dock and played in both tabletop and TV mode, where as the Switch Lite is a solid, smaller unit that will only play in hand-held mode. Being a lot smaller than the normal Switch, it's a lot more travel-friendly and is therefore a great starter console for kids or gamers on the go. There are very few games that aren't playable on the Switch Lite too, so you don't need to worry too much about missing out on the best titles! If you're wanting to get the biggest and best Switch console available, there is of course the new Nintendo Switch OLED (we have a detailed breakdown of the original Nintendo Switch VS the Switch OLED If you want to know more about that). We also have reviews of both the Nintendo Switch and the Switch Lite if you want to know our hands-on thoughts about both of these consoles!

For now, this guide will solely focus on the original Nintendo Switch (launched in 2017 and then revised in 2019) vs the the Nintendo Switch Lite (originally launched in 2019). We'll compare the key elements you need to know about both consoles to help you choose between the two as well as include live widgets showing the best prices wherever you're based! If you're looking for more gaming inspiration, check out our guides to the best Nintendo Switch games and the best Nintendo Switch accessories to get the most out of your console. 

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: design

Nintendo Switch review

(Image credit: Future)

Both Switches look pretty much the same from a distance, but the Switch Lite (see our best Switch Lite deals for today's best prices) is notably smaller and, appropriately, lighter. It measures 3.6 x 8.2 x 0.55 inches (91.1 x 208 x 13.9mm) and weighs 9.76 ounces (275g) according to Nintendo's specs. The standard Switch is 4 x 9.4 x 0.55 inches (102 x 239 x 13.9mm) and 14.08 ounces (398g), with the Joy-Cons attached.

The two versions have slightly different color options too. The base Switch (see today's top Nintendo Switch deals) comes with a black body and either grey or red and blue Joy-Con controllers (but there are plenty of other colour options available to buy seperately). The Switch Lite comes with an all-over paint job, your options consisting of turquoise, pink, yellow and grey. There are also a few limited edition consoles themed after franchises like Pokemon and Splatoon.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: display

A full shot of the Nintendo Switch Lite in the shade 'Grey'

(Image credit: Future)

The size difference applies to the screen too. The Switch Lite sports a 5.5-inch display, while the normal Switch uses a 6.2-inch one. The two panels share the same underlying LCD technology and 1280 x 720 resolution though. These are both touch screens too, which isn't a major feature in most Switch games but makes navigating the home menu a bit easier.

It comes with the territory that the Switch Lite's smaller screen can make some game's visuals feels compressed and hard-to-read, but this isn't a major issue for the most part. 

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: battery life

A product shot of 2 varying Switch boxes

(Image credit: Future/Nintendo )

The battery life of the Switch and Switch Lite vary significantly, and that's made more complicated by the two versions of the base Switch having different battery longevity also.

The Switch Lite is the most straightforward. It will last you between three and seven hours depending on what you're doing according to Nintendo's official estimates.
The first Nintendo Switch, the one from 2017, can survive between two and a half to 6 and a half hours. The revised Switch, available since 2019 and packaged in a different, all-red box, lasts a more impressive four and a half to nine hours away from the charger. So the Lite model just beats the original Switch, but can't match up to the newer one.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: dock/compatibility

Nintendo Switch review

(Image credit: Future)

Out of the two consoles we're looking at, only the base Switch works in either handheld or through a separate TV or display via the dock and an HDMI cable. The Switch Lite works exclusively in handheld mode. 

The standard Switch dock provides a convenient charging stand for the Switch, but also lets you plug in an extra USB-A accessory or charging cable that you wouldn't otherwise be able to do. It's also through here that you attach the HDMI cable from your screen of choice. 

The basic dock comes in the Switch's box as standard. However you can also buy the new Switch OLED dock as a separate accessory. It still works with the original Switch and does all the same things as before, but adds a built-in ethernet port to allow for a more stable internet connection.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: controllers

Nintendo Switch review

(Image credit: Future)

Both the Switch and the Switch Lite offer the same basic controller layout with two analog sticks, four d-pad buttons, four letter buttons, four shoulder buttons, a home button, a share button and Plus and Minus buttons for various menu options. The only slight difference is that the original Switch uses four separate buttons for the directional inputs on the left controller, while the Switch Lite has an all-in-one d-pad.

The main difference whether these controls are removable or not. On the original Switch, the controls are split across two removable Joy-Cons. These clip onto either side of the display when you want to play in handheld mode, or can be removed when the Switch is docked. The two halves can also be used as two separate controllers for certain games, allowing instant multiplayer capabilities out of the box. You can always buy more pairs of Joy-Cons or third-party Bluetooth controllers to give you different or additional inputs.

As we've mentioned prior, you can't remove the controls from the Switch Lite: the all-in-one design doesn't allow for it. However there's nothing stopping you from picking up extra Joy-Cons or third-party controllers to expand the number of players you can have at one time like with the standard Switch.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: price 

The back of the Nintendo Switch Lite console

(Image credit: Future)

You can pick up the basic Nintendo Switch for $299, a fair bit less than other current games consoles. You'll be hard pressed to find this or the Switch Lite on sale, but some retailers often bundle a game or two in for free, so it's worthwhile researching the best Nintendo Switch deals.

The Switch Lite costs $199, making it the better budget choice. However as we've gone through above, you lose a fair bit of functionality for the discount, even if you can still play all the same games.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: games

Nintendo Switch review

(Image credit: Future)

Both the Switch models we're looking at take the same Game Card physical media for games, but you also have 32GB storage on-board for downloading titles. The same games, including Nintendo all-star franchises like Mario, Legend of Zelda, Metroid and more, work with any Switch. However there's a small thing to look out for if you're using a Switch Lite.

Since it's a handheld-only console, the Switch Lite can't support games that require the use of TV mode, and requires separate controllers if you want to play in tabletop mode. Games that only work in these ways are pretty rare fortunately, but it's worth checking a game's details on the store page or the back of the box before you buy just in case. 

If you need some ideas of what to play, make sure to check out our best Nintendo Switch games recommendations.

Should you buy the Nintendo Switch or the Nintendo Switch Lite?

Chances are you know instinctively which Switch will work best for your needs, as it all comes down to where you picture yourself wanting to play games on it the most.

If you want a handheld console that's more convenient to carry around, the Switch Lite is likely the one for you. That is unless its smaller battery life or inability to connect to a TV at all concerns you, in which case you may be better off going for the normal Switch.

The regular Switch excels at being ready for any gaming situation, whether you're at home or away, playing alone or with another person. The slightly larger display means you can better appreciate the games you're playing. You do have to pay another $100 for the privilege though, so if your budget is tight, go for the Lite.

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Richard Priday

Richard is a tech journalist and writer. He is Staff Writer at Tom's Guide and has a passion for smartphones, gaming and audio. 

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