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How to Decide Which Nintendo Switch Is Right for You

Hands holding a Nintendo Switch.
leungchopan/Shutterstock

Looking to pick up a new Nintendo Switch? If so, you now have three options to choose from, including the original console, the slightly updated model, and the Switch Lite. Here’s how to pick the best one for your gaming needs and budget.

The Nintendo Switch first made its way to retail stores in March 2017. It was quietly updated in August 2019, followed shortly after by its cheaper, more travel-friendly counterpart, the Nintendo Switch Lite ($199). Nintendo still sells the older model on the Nintendo Shop, and it’s the same price ($299) as the updated model (more on this later).

The Nintendo Switch has accomplished a lot of great things in the world of video games. It was truly a pioneer in making console games available on portable devices, and it has a multitude of multi-player games. Nintendo’s Switch product page does a pretty good job of comparing and contrasting the different models, but which one is right for you?

The “Red Box” Nintendo Switch

A Nintendo Switch red box.
Nintendo

In March 2017, when Nintendo announced the first version of the Switch (the one that came in the white box), it also revealed the release date for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. People were skeptical. A portable gaming device that could handle the graphics of a home console? Absolutely! And it was a hit.

Since then, several console titles, like The Witcher, Super Mario Party, and Skyrim, have been released on Nintendo Switch, and they all play flawlessly. The biggest issue was the short battery life.

Version 2 of the Nintendo Switch (known for its red box) isn’t a new console like the Nintendo Switch Lite (or the rumored Nintendo Switch Pro). Rather, it’s just an updated model. According to Nintendo, this newer Switch includes approximately two extra hours of battery life. This puts the estimated usage between 4.5 and 9 hours. The older Switch has an estimated battery life of between 2.5 and 6.5 hours.

The new model costs $100 more than the Lite, but it features a larger screen and a docking station for your TV. The console’s flexibility allows you to play with the detachable Joy-Con controllers from the comfort of your couch or in handheld mode.

RELATED: 10 Excellent Accessories for Docked Switch Play

It’s important to note the most significant weakness of the Nintendo Switch hardware is its screen. Compared to most of the devices we carry every day (smartphone, tablet, etc.), the Switch has a low refresh rate, and, sometimes, poor color reproduction and contrast. You can avoid these weaknesses when you dock the system and plug it into your TV, though.

The box is the easiest way to tell the difference between the older and newer models. Again, the new, updated Switch comes in a bright-red box (as shown above), and the older version came in a white and red box.

So, what if you’re buying a Switch secondhand and don’t have access to the original packaging? In that case, flip the system over and check its model number (it will be in small, white print).

Compare it to the model numbers listed below:

  • Old Switch: HAC-001; Serial Number begins with “XA”
  • New Switch: HAC-001-01; Serial Number begins with “XK”

Nintendo’s Switch source page also has a photo guide that thoroughly explains how you can spot the difference and make sure you get the best deal. In short, if you’re getting a Switch, get the one in the red box—it doesn’t cost any more than the older version.

And if you’re still not convinced, Nintendo is releasing an absolutely adorable Limited Edition Switch featuring Animal Crossing. Don’t worry—it’s still the new model, it’s just a different color.

RELATED: Nintendo's Animal Crossing-Themed Switch is Adorable

The Nintendo Switch Lite

Yellow Nintendo Switch Lite
Martina Badini/Shutterstock

Whether to purchase the Nintendo Switch Lite depends a lot on personal preference. Do you want a slightly bulkier machine that will do everything? Or are you constantly on the go and prefer something smaller that will still get the job done? If you’re the latter, the Switch Lite is your best bet.

The standard Nintendo Switch has some pretty sweet pros: it’s portable, has a built-in kickstand, you can dock it and play on your TV, and the Joy-Con controllers are detachable. So, why would you pay $100 less for its “weaker” counterpart?

Well, the Switch Lite makes up for what it lacks in versatility with its truly portable size. It’s smaller and at least 4.3 ounces lighter than the larger version. Plus, the non-detachable Joy-Con controllers make it easier to travel with.

Before you hit the purchase button, though, there are some drawbacks to the Lite model. With the update of the Switch console, the Lite can no longer claim the better battery life. It offers seven hours, while the larger model offers nine. It also features a slightly smaller, lower-quality LCD display.

RELATED: The 5 Best Nintendo Switch Controllers Not Made by Nintendo

Additionally, you can only play games on the Lite that are marked as being supported on handheld mode. Nintendo’s product page has a pretty great guide to help you figure this out, but it’s an important factor when deciding which games to purchase for your Switch Lite. Popular motion titles, like Ring Fit Adventure and Super Mario Party, won’t work on Switch Lite due to this limitation.

However, the Lite does have a bunch of color options, and more bundles than the larger model. Instead of just gray or red/blue Joy-Cons, the Lite is available in turquoise, gray, and yellow.


A Quick Comparison

Nintendo Switch

  • Cost: $299.99
  • LCD: 6.2 inches
  • 32 GB of built-in storage (with microSD expansion)
  • 4 inches high, 9.4 inches long, 0.55 inches deep (with Joy-Con attached)
  • Approximately 0.88 pounds (with Joy-Con attached)
  • Approx. 4.5 to 9 hours of battery life
  • One set of Joy-Cons included
  • Joy-Con controllers include HD Rumble and IR Motion Camera
  • Includes a Nintendo Switch dock and HDMI cable

Nintendo Switch Lite

  • Cost: $199.99
  • LCD: 5.5 inches
  • 32 GB of built-in storage (with microSD expansion)
  • 3.6 inches high, 8.2 inches long, 0.55 inches deep
  • Approximately 0.61 pounds
  • Approximately 3 to 7 hours of battery life
  • One pair of Joy-Con controllers included (not detachable)
  • System doesn’t include HD Rumble or IR Motion Camera
  • Compatible with handheld mode only
  • Not compatible with Nintendo Switch dock; doesn’t support TV output

Both of these consoles have fantastic battery life, but it really comes down to personal preference and lifestyle.

If you’re looking for something to better accommodate a crazy travel schedule, and you don’t mind the limitations, the Switch Lite might be the better option. However, paying $100 more for the improved Switch model certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Joshalynne Finch Joshalynne Finch
Joshalynne is a freelance writer and lifelong learner who always loves studying new things. She enjoys checking out the latest grammar books and writing about video games more than anything else.
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