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Nintendo Switch Lite vs. Apple iPod Touch: Which is the best $200 gaming handheld for kids?

Mobile gaming gets more interesting this fall with the launch of a Nintendo Switch console that doesn't actually switch.

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
5 min read

The Nintendo Switch Lite.


It looks like it's going to be a fun fall for mobile gaming. At Apple's iPhone 11 event on Sept. 10, it showed off some new games for Arcade, its upcoming all-you-can-eat game subscription service, coming later this month, which will run $4.99 per month per family with a one-month free trial. Arcade promises more than 100 new and exclusive games available for on- and offline play that should make the $200 2019 iPod Touch a formidable handheld gaming device for those who don't own an iPhone. 

But for those who want a pure gaming experience, Nintendo's Switch Lite, a $200 simplified version of the gaming giant's Switch system, arrives on Sept. 20. The Lite's smaller, all-in-one design is for handheld gaming only. Unlike the original, the controls are part of the body -- not removable Joy-Cons -- and there's no way to output to a TV, so you're always playing on its 720p-resolution 5.5-inch touchscreen. The more compact body should make it easier for gaming on the go, however, and Nintendo promises more than 6 hours of battery life.

Which device is best for you and your kid's mobile gaming needs is not as straightforward as you might think. Here are a few ways to help you decide.

Watch this: Nintendo Switch Lite first impressions

Built for games! vs. built for games?

Nintendo being Nintendo, the Switch Lite is purpose built for gaming and, more specifically, it's "dedicated to handheld play." Compared to the 6.2-inch Switch display, the 5.5-inch Lite's compact body will no doubt make it easier to manage for smaller hands. It's a lot more jacket-pocket friendly than the regular Switch, too, and with its built-in controls it doesn't flex or creak as much, according to CNET's Scott Stein's hands-on experience with the Lite.

A new true D-pad on the left side replaces a set of four buttons on the Switch's Joy-Con that offered those same functions, which should make it easier to play the older games available with the company's subscription service, Nintendo Online. Plus, if you still want to use a full-size controller or Joy-Cons, you can with the Lite as well (there is no kickstand, though).

The iPod Touch, on the other hand, is even smaller with just a 4-inch touchscreen and, obviously, no physical controls for gaming. It's more pocketable for sure. Though, depending on the game, touch controls can be frustrating. You can buy a third-party Bluetooth controller for the Touch like the GameSir M2 or SteelSeries Nimbus. But along with being an additional expense, you'll have to make sure the game you want to play supports a controller.


The Switch game catalog is loaded with family friendly titles.


It's about the games

Comfortable, responsive controls are great, but they don't matter much if there are no games you want to play. There are currently more than 2,000 Switch games in Nintendo's eShop, with more than 900 of them rated E (for Everyone) by the ESRB and more than 550 others are rated E10+. (They're all easily sorted by those ratings in the eShop, as well.) Titles include all of Nintendo's first-party games and characters -- from Mario and Zelda to Kirby and Pokemon -- as well as a huge catalog of indie games. And, of course, Fortnite.

The other thing is, many of the Switch games are designed to be played with family and friends who also have a Switch. If you already have a Switch in your home, a Switch Lite is a less expensive way to play multiplayer games on the go and team up for online play. (You'll likely need additional copies of a game to do it, however.)

Watch this: Apple shows off new games for its Arcade subscription service

Aside from the upcoming Apple Arcade, there are more than 300,000 games in the App Store, so saying there's a lot to choose from is an absurd understatement. Plus, many big mobile games come to iOS first. And, of course, there's Fortnite. If you're concerned about ratings, Apple lists them with each title and in its Kids category, you can break them up into ages 5 and under, ages 6 to 8 and ages 9 to 11. However, these are not ESRB age ratings, but ones that "developers have self-identified as being appropriate for those age groups." (Just FYI, the Google Play store lists ESRB ratings with its games.)

Two other things to keep in mind are in-app purchases and storage. Both Switch and iOS games have in-app purchases and ways to stop your kids from making them. In iOS it can be done via the Screen Time settings. It's worth noting, too, that Apple Arcade won't have in-app purchases because everything will be included as part of the subscription. For the Switch, you can restrict purchases through your Nintendo account's parental controls.

As for storage, while both the Lite and Touch have 32GB of storage, only the Lite has a microSD card slot so you can load up on all the games you want and do it fairly inexpensively. For the iPod Touch, it will cost you $300 for a 128GB model and $400 for 256GB. Nintendo doesn't list the maximum supported storage, but a 256GB microSD card is less than $50.


The iPod Touch up against the full-size Nintendo Switch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But apps are nice, too

I know this is about gaming, and kids, and kids playing games, but you really can't ignore what Apple's App Store has to offer beyond popular games. From educational titles to streaming video and music to messaging and video chat, the app options are seemingly endless. Then you add in the updated hardware like its A10 Fusion processor -- the same one found in its step-brother the iPhone 7 -- and its front and rear cameras and you can include the AR apps in the App Store in the final tally also.

For the Switch Lite, the app selection is, um, light. You'll find Hulu , YouTube and a couple others. But, again, the Switch is made primarily for handheld gaming, so it shouldn't be a surprise that your kids won't find a great sleep-tracking app (though Netflix would still be nice).

As it stands, though, the Nintendo Switch Lite is likely going to be the better on-the-go gaming experience for your kids (and you), especially if you already have the regular Switch in your home. An iPod Touch makes more sense if your child's needs stretch beyond gaming or you intend to sign up for Apple Arcade in November.

Watch this: iPod Touch 2019 review: A device out of its time