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Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: which should you buy?

A split image showing the Nintendo Switch in its dock beside its Neon red and blue Joy-Con controllers, and the Nintendo Switch Lite in yellow
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Choosing between the Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Switch Lite is a choice that's hard to get wrong. Whether you need some first-hand insight into the design of some of the most successful games franchises in the world, want to take some cues from Nintendo's friendly and intuitive design philosophy or need to just unwind after work, you'll get plenty of fun out of either Switch. Just don't forget about the differences between the two.

You can read our Switch review and Switch Lite review for more in-depth evaluations of both consoles, but in essence both are the same console. The Lite offers almost the same selection of games in a smaller, self-contained package, but the Switch gives you a larger built-in display and longer battery life, plus additional versatility with its TV mode and removable controllers.

There's also the Nintendo Switch OLED, which builds on the standard Switch by upping the display size and quality and boosting the battery life. That may also be worth your attention if you decide you prefer the style of the basic Switch but don't mind paying extra for these enhanced features. 

In this guide though, we will focus on the original Nintendo Switch (launched in 2017 and revised in 2019), and the Nintendo Switch Lite (launched in 2019), comparing all the key things you need to know about them so you can decide which one will fit in with your aims for work or play. While you're sussing out exactly which Switch you need, you might also want to check out our best Nintendo Switch games and best Nintendo Switch accessories.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: design

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.

Nintendo Switch review

(Image credit: Future)

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. The Switch Lite comes with an all-over paint job, your options consisting of turquoise, pink, yellow and grey.

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

(Image credit: Future)

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: display

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, if you'd rather navigate the menus that way.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch Lite: battery life

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

The back of the Nintendo Switch Lite console

(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. 

Nintendo Switch review

(Image credit: Future)

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

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.

Nintendo Switch review

(Image credit: Future)

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 

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

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.

Nintendo Switch review

(Image credit: Future)

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.

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.