When the Switch Lite was officially announced most people already had an idea of what it looked like thanks to several rumors and leaks suggested early on by WSJ and Nikkei, just to get you up to speed, these are the main benefits:
- $100 cheaper ($199 MSRP)
- Smaller form factor, roughly 20% smaller and 20% lighter
- Directional pad on the left side (hurray!)
- About an hour more battery life
- New colors
If A, then B, so we can save on C, D, and E
It’s almost a direct play from the Apple playbook, make a slightly smaller version with less features and add a bunch of playful colors. In exchange for the benefits you lose Joy-Cons and all their magical features like HD Rumble and IR sensors (though you could still buy/use them), but more importantly you lose the ability to “switch” into tabletop mode or TV mode(!). This had led to people calling it the “Nintendon’t Switch.” Almost every earlier rumor suggested it would still maintain the ability to dock – but why can’t it exactly?
Let’s Get Physical
Okay the most practical reason Nintendo would say it doesn’t dock is because it doesn’t actually physically fit into the current Nintendo dock. It’s also a great way to justify not giving a bunch of features like the chunky dock, a quality HDMI cable, or a built in controversial kickstand. This is extra peculiar because the back of the Switch Lite looks like it has all the guide rails to basically have the same smooth docking experience as the OG Switch. Sure, it can be used with the charging stand but with controller now embedded it actually doesn’t make much sense to use it that way except for say the rare instances where you use the touchscreen.
Don't worry, it was starting to drift anyway
You can quickly see why this is a problem by removing one Joy-Con on your Switch to sort of match the width of the Switch Lite and trying to center it into the dock. The analog sticks and the rear Z-buttons get jammed preventing your Switch from reaching its precious USB-C head. So if it’s just physical does this give us hope to Nintendo launching a more portable dock or what about third party docks?
Is the Lite Powerful Enough to Dock?
Nintendo has confirmed there is no performance differences with the flagship Switch and new the Switch Lite, but there is a more power-efficient chip layout. This kind of debunks the idea that the console doesn’t dock because it underperforms the existing Switch. Through our thorough testing we didn’t see any noticeable power consumption difference between docking mode and portable mode, which means the power used to drive the display *may* be transitioned to clocking the system faster for the 1080p. People do report louder fan noise when docked but it’s also more likely it's due to poor ventilation in the existing dock design.
Maybe it’s Just Market Segmentation?
If it was true that the hardware performance is the same, it would seem natural that it was a conscious decision to turn off the docking ability to prevent cannibalization of its older brother. This totally makes sense from a business perspective and Nintendo’s stock did pop up a bit as this should accelerate the dream of putting multiple Switch in every household at higher margins (here’s to hoping link play/sharing becomes more popular).
But What is Actually Needed to dock?
This is where we have to dive a bit deeper. The Switch uses an obscure extension of the DisplayPort connectivity standard called MyDP which is the reason why many existing USB-C to HDMI display converters don’t work on the Nintendo Switch. If this isn’t present then docking won’t really work.
Two little pieces make the Switch a Switch
At a minimum for docking to work, the Switch Lite needs to have something that at least functions similar to the two chips above. The first basic requirement is USB 3.0 capability to even display PD (the Pericom Semiconductor on the right). The second is to have the infamous M92T36 chip that triggers the docking alternative display and is notorious for being the reasons Switch’s brick. For the Switch Lite these two pieces can be removed to save on cost and replaced with a simple PD controller (that is more PD compliant perhaps).
So What Does this all Mean?
The Switch Lite is a fantastic portable console that will likely drive more Nintendo console sales in the household but left out one important feature – docking. There are several theories out there and hopefully this shines some light on what we can expect come September 20th.