THE GAME AWARDS | Follow our coverage Thursday, December 7th at
Switch OLED Review – Playing With Portable Power
Nintendo has often made an effort to iterate on its existing consoles, often to varying degrees of success. The Nintendo Switch is no stranger to iteration either, with the Lite and the upgraded battery model appearing on store shelves over the last four years. The Switch OLED is the latest update to the company’s flagship handheld console hybrid, and while those who primarily play on the TV shouldn’t feel the need to purchase the system on day one, handheld players will benefit the most from the shiny new update.
The main draw of the upgrade comes from the new system’s namesake feature; the OLED screen is a wonder to behold. The color fidelity is crystal clear when you first fire up the system and the Nintendo logo appears. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Metroid Dread on my 4K TV, I was mesmerized with the title in handheld mode because of the crisp black and whites and a color palette that truly took advantage of the boost in contrast. That visual fidelity isn’t limited to Nintendo’s most prominent 2021 release. The pixel art and color popped off the screen during my time testing Eastward and Unsighted. Hyrule took on an even more beautiful light in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Like the launch Switch, the OLED model remains 720p, which may sound disappointing, but was quickly forgotten when I got my hands on the system. The difference in overall quality is remarkable. I was reminded of the upgrade from Xbox One to the Xbox One X. I’m still playing the same games, but the extra boost in color fidelity and polish leaves me excited to return to my current library on the go. That renewed interest is especially refreshing, as my Switch has been powered down for the majority of the last six months.
The contrast boost isn’t the only highlight of Nintendo’s new screen. The latest model comes with a seven-inch display, which is .8 inches larger than the original Switch and a whopping 1.5 inches bigger than the Switch Lite. That doesn’t sound like a sizable change on paper, but it makes a substantial difference in execution. The OLED is roughly the same size as the launch Switch, but a smaller bezel makes room for the larger screen. That extra real estate is noticeable in high-action games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, where I felt like I could cut through the chaos and focus on my character better because the screen is that much larger. Combining that with the boost in colors mentioned above, and Switch games have never looked this good. Players looking for a handheld upgrade will not be disappointed.
Kicking Up The Quality
I’m someone who kicks his feet up and plays his Switch undocked and I love the OLED’s new speakers and kickstand. Instead of the cheap plastic strip that caused rage-inducing headaches while trying to enjoy a 1v1 bout in Super Smash Bros.’s Final Destination stage, the updated kickstand now stretches the length of the console and gives the system better support. I’ve experienced several plane rides where I tried to play my launch Switch with detached joy-cons, only to put it away because the console either kept falling over or I couldn’t get the angle right. Those days are gone as the new, adjustable kickstand can fit any angle while remaining upright and sturdy.
The sound quality is also improved on the Switch OLED, with new speakers featuring a fuller sound compared to the relatively tin-like audio of the original console. It won’t replace my soundbar anytime soon, but I loved playing Metroid in bed or on my balcony and having a more enjoyable sound experience.
A Couch Slouch
However, those who like their Smash beat downs on the big screen don’t have much to look forward to in this model. Both OLED and non-OLED Switch models run on an NVIDIA Custom Tegra processor, meaning gameplay performance, loading times, and previous limitations carry over to Nintendo’s newest hardware. The sense of excitement that buying a new console brings quickly dissipated when I docked my new machine only to find the same menus and issues that have plagued the system since 2017.
It’s not all bad news for couch dwellers, though. The shiny new dock comes with essentially the same features as the previous TV connector (minus one USB 2.0 port). However, the built-in LAN port is a great addition. Instead of tracking down an extension like before, I was happy to be able to dock my Switch OLED and download Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle in half the time it would take over Wi-Fi. My time playing multiplayer titles such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also benefited from a wired connection with an overall smoother online experience. It’s a welcome addition that Switch players will appreciate even though it’s not exactly groundbreaking.
The Switch OLED also comes with 64GB of internal storage, double that of previous models. Combining the new storage space with my 128GB micro SD allowed me to download the bulk of my library while leaving room for upcoming games such as Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp and Pokémon Legends: Arceus. While extra storage space and a LAN port may not be worth the $350 price point for those already stocked up on dongles and SD cards, these bells and whistles were worth the price for me as my launch Switch was starting to show its age.
The Final Grade: B
Pure and simple, the Nintendo Switch OLED is the best version of the console on the market today for those who play undocked. The screen is an absolute marvel, and its vibrant colors and larger play space rekindled my love for the system just when my interest started to wane. As someone who owns a launch Switch and primarily plays undocked, the additions of more storage, better battery life, a LAN Port, and a stable kickstand justify the investment. While all those additions are great for like-minded Nintendo fans, the lack of meaningful processing upgrades or 4K support makes the $350 cost a hard sell for those who prefer Princess Peach on the big screen.