In 2021, Nintendo announced the latest iteration of its hybrid gaming console in the form of the $350 Nintendo Switch OLED model. Despite all of the things this hardware refresh does right, most notably the slightly bigger and much better-looking display, the unchanged internal specs and lack of significant improvements to the dock have left me ambivalent after spending a week using it. The excellent new screen certainly makes this the best Switch for anyone who doesn’t already have one, but the relatively slim list of upgrades for those who do also has me wondering why some of these design revisions weren’t rolled out with the 2019 model.
The Switch OLED features a larger 7-inch 720p OLED display, making it slightly bigger than the base Switch’s 6.2-inch screen, but thanks to the smaller bezels (the black frame around the screen) it’s nearly the same physical dimensions as the previous Switch – it’s 242mm long, as compared to the original’s 239mm. The Switch OLED also beefs up the storage, doubling it from the original Switch’s tiny 32GB to… a still pretty small 64GB. Of course, we have the same option to expand it with a MicroSD card (the slot for which has been shifted slightly).
Nintendo Switch (OLED Model)
The crown jewel of the Switch OLED is, of course, the quality of the display itself. The OLED display is a significant change to the original Switch and vastly improves playing in handheld mode. As disappointed as I was to hear that Nintendo decided to keep a 720p resolution in handheld mode for this revision, it’s still a major step up in not only how good games look, but where they look good.
Specifically, the Switch OLED makes it a lot easier to play games in direct sunlight. No longer must we seek out dark corners to play in, or shield the screen while playing in the backseat of a car or on a plane! While not as bright as, say, the display on my new iPhone 13 Pro when at maximum brightness, I can now more comfortably bring my Switch outside with me and play a few hours while kicking back on my hammock. The display hits a sweet spot that makes it more of an incentive to take it with me wherever I go, making the Switch feel more mobile than ever and living up to the “play anywhere” promise.
As someone who mostly plays my launch model Switch docked, this made a massive difference for me right away. After playing just a couple of games I felt spoiled by the additional screen real estate, and it was harder to go back to my 2017 Switch. On top of everything else, the slightly bigger display also makes the on-screen text a little bigger; that may not be a massive difference to most people, but when doing a side-by-side comparison with the original Switch it is clear as day.
The Switch OLED doesn’t just look better – it feels better, too. From the display’s glass screen to the revised kickstand, it does not feel cheaply made in any sense. The Joy-Cons also feel more securely attached than on my original Switch model, where they’ve always felt a little bit loose, especially at the bottom.
One catch is that, due to its extra three millimeters in length, some of your original Switch’s accessories may have compatibility issues. While any Joy-Cons will fit the Switch OLED – including third-party controllers like the Hori Split Pad Pro – some controller grips, third-party docks/mounts, and cases may not fit; I would not recommend forcing the OLED into any of these things to make it work.
Spending roughly a week with the Switch OLED, primarily in handheld mode, I could easily tell that the screen made games a lot more vibrant. At peak brightness, the OLED really pulls me in on the action and, more importantly, it just makes games look more colorful. Tracks like Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe look a lot brighter and more vivid. By comparison, when I went back to playing on my original Switch the same course looked colorful but dim, even when adjusting the brightness and disabling auto-brightness. I also found that colorful, cartoony games like New Pokemon Snap and WarioWare: Get it Together! really shine on the new screen.
Even the darker and grimmer Metroid Dread benefits a lot from the OLED display. There are some sections that have darker blacks and subtly gray areas, particularly in the sections where an EMMI is patrolling, and the OLED’s ability to display absolute black made those areas eerier and creepier. And then there’s Samus Aran herself, whose white and bright blue power suit stands in stark contrast to the environment around her.
The Nintendo Switch OLED also adds a new feature not found in the original Switch or Switch Lite, called Console-Screen Colors. It’s enabled by default but is toggleable in the settings menu and has two options: the default Vivid and a reduced Standard option. While I thought at first the Standard mode would revert the console’s brightness and colors to look more like the original Switch, that is not the case. Instead, Console-Screen Colors serve one purpose: to increase the level of brightness and color saturation, particularly in lighter colors. So games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons look noticeably brighter, with bright-colored items and clothes given a lot more color, and they feel like they must be truer to the color scheme its creators intended it to display.
However, Console-Screen Colors does bring up one issue I have with the OLED model: the feature only changes how colors are displayed on the Switch OLED itself – meaning it won’t impact docked mode, even if you’re playing on an OLED TV. Still, this almost-hidden feature really does make the OLED the best way to experience handheld Switch games to date.
Unfortunately, there’s a reason that Console-Screen Colors is a togglable setting rather than something you’d leave on all of the time. All the additional vibrancy it brings can occasionally go too far, causing some games to have oversaturated colors. I found this to be an issue in games that were already pushing saturation to the limits, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I saw a few instances where some oversaturation of color made slight differences to the saturation of backgrounds, particularly in the opening title screen. It’s not to the point of obviousness, but it was definitely noticeable when flicking the Console-Screen Colors option on and off.
It can be annoyingly inconsistent, even within the same game. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for instance, looks great in some areas with vivid colors enabled, but when I was roaming the open world, the color of the cel-shaded grass felt a bit oversaturated. It is a case-by-case thing for sure, but it can be distracting.
All that said, I could not help but feel – at least in the case of the OLED display – some real “this should have been here since 2017” energy. The fact that the PlayStation Vita, a handheld released back in 2012, had an OLED display (albeit a smaller one than the Switch OLED) makes me wonder if an OLED display was up for consideration in the original Switch. It definitely would’ve been more expensive, but Nintendo doesn’t seem to have a problem with charging $350 in 2021. (Granted, that’s easier for it to have the confidence to do now that the Switch is its best-selling console since the Wii).
20 Major Nintendo Console and Handheld Upgrades
OLED display aside, the latest Switch refresh makes some other smaller, yet appreciated improvements to the overall design. The speakers on the Switch OLED are slightly bigger, but to be honest I did not find the slightly clearer and louder sound quality to be that big of a difference for the most part – not something I’d have noticed if I weren’t doing side-by-side testing.
Battery life remains mostly the same, as noted on Nintendo’s website. Though some games I tested, like Breath of the Wild, did last a few minutes longer than the 5.5 hours Nintendo estimated, other games, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, were closer to the 5-hour mark (an improvement over the 2019 Switch, which gave out at 4 hours and 50 minutes). Again, from what I could find, the battery life improvements are modest and mostly just a few extra minutes.
The Switch OLED has the same 3.5mm audio jack on the right side of the console, as well as the long-awaited Bluetooth audio feature (which is now enabled on all Switch models through a software update). I was able to seamlessly connect my Apple AirPods, though your Bluetooth performance and mileage may vary depending on the wireless headphones or earbuds you are using.
Outside of the display, my favorite improvement to the Switch OLED is easily the new kickstand. Taking some cues from Microsoft’s Surface Pro line, the Switch OLED kickstand is a lot firmer and more flexible, offering more angles at which you can set the Switch up without risking it falling flat if you bump the table. Its increased width means any worries or anxiety over breaking the kickstand are gone in the OLED model, which makes it a lot easier to play multiplayer games like Super Mario Party in tabletop mode.
The Top 25 Switch Games (Fall 2020 Update)
Most of the improvements for the Switch OLED are on the handheld side of things, but there are some minor changes for those who prefer playing the Switch on a TV, including a revised dock. Aside from coming in a new white color, the dock has curved corners and the inside includes a glossy black design. The new dock includes a bit more space than the original, which may help compensate for the issues the original docking station had with scratching the Switch’s display when placing it inside, though there is a tradeoff: the Switch now wobbles a bit while docked. Not to the point where you will risk disconnecting it from the TV, but I noticed it when comparing it to my old Switch dock, which has no wobble at all.
The revised Switch dock still has the two USB ports on the left side, but the back is a little different from the original in that it includes a detachable backplate instead of a back door with a hinge, and the backplate also includes a bigger outline for cables than the old dock. I found the material on the revised dock’s backplate to feel a little cheaper than the original, and I miss the hinge that attaches the backplate to the Switch dock.
The revised dock also ditches the third USB port in favor of a LAN port, a welcome addition through which you can connect directly to a Wi-Fi extender or router via an Ethernet cable. I have a pretty solid internet connection and speeds, but that connection is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain that connects to the internet. For the original Switch dock, the only way to do that out of the box (without buying an adapter) was over Wi-Fi, which is generally not going to be nearly as fast as a wired connection. Games like Cuphead and Sonic Mania would take about 40-50 minutes to download on my Wi-Fi connection, but over LAN they take roughly 15-30 minutes.
The LAN port also vastly improves stability in games that have online functionality. I’ve always had lag when playing online for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Mario Tennis Aces, and Splatoon 2 on my launch Switch, but I noticed no lagging or internet issues on my end when connected to an Ethernet port. (Note that Nintendo will sell the new docking station separately at a later date, so you do not need to spend $350 for a whole new Switch if that’s all you want, though you’d be better off buying the $30 adapter if you’re not annoyed by a dongle hanging off your dock).