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Nintendo’s Switch Lite is the most comfortable handheld gaming device ever created

The new Switch Lite is more friendly for mobile gaming than its console predecessor. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

To see the Lite is to touch it.

It hits you immediately when you first pick it up. The matte finish feels just crispy enough under your fingertips. Your index fingers nestle into a slightly deeper scoop on the trigger buttons. Like resting your hands in slime, it’s tactile bliss, ASMR for the grabbers.

Both airy and sturdy, the discounted ($199), handheld-only “Lite” model of Nintendo’s hit console Switch is the most comfortable mobile gaming device ever made. The more comfortable on-the-go experience is so good that, even if you already own the mobile-capable Switch, you should consider picking up a “Lite.” And the price is right.

I’ve played every iteration of Nintendo’s handhelds, even the Game and Watch series (my first video game ever was “Greenhouse”). All of them, even the beloved DS series, were never known for their comfort. Devices would be too thick, too thin, too tall, too heavy. The dual screens of the DS made them feel top heavy. Hand cramps became an acceptable strain. Only two other devices even approached this level of comfort: the Game Boy Advance and Sony’s PlayStation Vita, but neither knows the human hand as well as the Switch Lite.

As a reference point for comfort, I am 6 feet tall and have fairly large hands. As a guitar player for more than two decades, my fingers can comfortably stretch across a fret board.

After the Wii U, Nintendo’s failed first attempt at a hybrid tablet-console machine, the Switch was Apollo 2. Nintendo beat the skeptics in 2017, quickly selling as fast and sometimes faster than Sony’s more powerful PlayStation 4. The Switch Lite, which releases Friday, is not only just another iteration of the Switch, but also a successor to its DS series.

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The Switch entered the market as a console, but since then has been accepted and considered by many as a handheld device, especially considering roughly half of Switch users play in handheld fashion (vs. “docked” and tethered to your TV). With the Lite, there’s no “switch” to connect to a TV. The detachable controllers are gone (though you can connect them to the device for more players).

This time, the directional pad makes its official triumphant return, feeling about as good as Nintendo’s already excellent Pro Controller for the Switch. The other buttons mimic that feeling: a stronger but quieter click. More travel time for the buttons gives you more confidence with each press.

Nintendo wisely matched the bezel of the screen to each of the system’s three color offerings: gray, turquoise and yellow. Even though the screen is smaller (5.5 inches vs. the 6.2 on a normal console), the bezel doesn’t overshadow it. The old Switch looks like a flat-screen CRT compared to the Lite.

The 720p output is same resolution as the handheld version of the Switch. But because of the smaller screen, more pixel density results in a crisper looking image, even if it’s the same thing. One thing to look out for: Be wary of games with heavy reading. Text was already a struggle to read on the Switch’s handheld mode, and it’s worse on the smaller screen. Most developers have been designing fonts optimized for a smaller screen, but older games not updated will suffer.

Also be wary of the speakers, which are now mostly located at the bottom of the system, as opposed to only the back. Covering the bottom — by, say, resting the unit on your stomach — will muffle sound. But because the Switch Lite weighs at a sprite 0.66 lbs., you probably won’t be covering the speakers with the bottom of your palms. You could lie in bed and hold the system for hours without tiring. The built-in speakers sound a bit lighter than the original console, but you’re better off using headphones anyway.

It’s also become far more sensible as a pocket device. We still wouldn’t recommend it, but the option is there. It actually looks like it makes sense in a back pocket.

The Switch’s kickstand is also gone, which is good since it was the biggest design flaw in the original system. I’ve also never seen it used outside of my own home.

Linking accounts is easy. Just punch in your Nintendo ID account and password, and you could access your downloaded games, backed-up save data from the cloud and all your original options.

An important note for people buying their second Switch: Only the “primary” Switch for the account can play games without the Internet. Every additional Switch needs to check in online before starting up a game. It makes sense, then, for multiple Switch owners to designate the Lite as their primary. Keep your console in its dock at home, bathed in WiFi. Nintendo has guides online on how to link your accounts, and deregister the primary console to make the, ahem, switch.

Each system only comes with 32 gigabytes of storage, same as the old system, so if you’re going to be downloading games, you’ll need a micro SD card to bolster your capacity. It’s a shame the console doesn’t come with more storage, but Nintendo seems more eager to get both Switches in people’s hands at an affordable price. Still, options would be nice.

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Nintendo says you’ll get about half an hour more in battery life than the original 2.5 to 6.5 hours, and our testing shows that tracks. I played graphics- and CPU-intensive games like Fortnite, and Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. After about two hours, I was down to 50% battery life, which I would usually hit at about an hour and a half in my regular launch console. You’ll still need to keep a charger handy if you’re going to be away for a long stretch.

Playing Fortnite and Wolfenstein also helped me realize this is a far more viable way to play more intense games on handheld than the old Switch. Because of the detachable controllers, I always felt I was one game away from breaking the thing apart. But with the Lite, it feels as sturdy as an iPad. The form factor is taut, with fewer screws and a more unifying design.

That’s another thing the Lite reveals: Remove the “gimmick” of the Switch and you’re left with pound for pound one of the best gaming consoles ever released. Stacked with titles like Doom, Dark Souls and, soon, The Witcher 3, along with its own first-party Mario and Zelda titles, Nintendo can proudly boast an S-tier library early in the system’s life.

So who is this for? There are the Switch holdouts, for whom the original $300 price tag might’ve been too much for a system that’s not nearly as powerful as Microsoft and Sony’s platforms. Nintendo is among the stingiest corporations when it comes to depreciating its own products’ prices, so a $100 drop is a rare concession. Handheld enthusiasts will need this milestone in mobile design.

Nintendo nerds will naturally eat this up, including myself. Curiously, the colors aren’t exactly crowd pleasers. Some folks might hold out for more nostalgic colors (where is Game Boy Advance purple?!), while other skeptics might wait for inevitable future updates. Nintendo and Apple share similar tactics when it comes to updating their devices, and don’t be surprised if some ludicrously named Switch Lite XL Pro is released in a few years.

For now, we’ll just have to settle for Nintendo’s second consecutive hardware home run.

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