The Nintendo Switch OLED model is not the long rumoured and vaunted Switch Pro that the internet has been trying to will into existence for years now. This fact, aided by the timely reveal of the Steam Deck earlier this year, as well as the rumours regarding an imminent Switch Pro coming to a head, made the response to the Switch OLED model surprisingly negative when Nintendo did reveal it earlier this year.
You can empathize with the negative response, to be fair. While the Switch OLED model absolutely advertised a fair few updates, they all seemed fairly iterative, and more in line with a system refresh than anything; which, obviously, was not what was expected. But ultimately, what really did the OLED model’s initial response in wasn’t that it was just a slightly improved Switch – it was that it was a slightly improved Switch being sold at a $50 price hike, which, for an almost five year old platform that has still never seen an official price cut, seemed excessive.
Of course, once the actual kit started going out into people’s hands, things changed, and the outlook towards the OLED model became more positive. Which makes sense – after having spent some time with this revision, I think it’s fair to say that this is an excellent bit of hardware, really well made and premium feeling, and without question Nintendo’s best made portable hardware yet. The improvements that seem incremental on paper are far more impactful in practice. The OLED screen offers deep blacks and rich colors that the original Switch screen simply could not hope to deliver on, leading to great picture quality in portable mode. The new kickstand works as advertised, and is far superior to the flimsy excuse for one that was present on the original models. The new sound output is fantastic, and arguably the most impactful part of the experience – it’s amazing just how rich and differentiated sound channels are output on this thing, and it, again, makes the output on the original models seem dinky by comparison.
"After having spent some time with this revision, I think it’s fair to say that this is an excellent bit of hardware, really well made and premium feeling, and without question Nintendo’s best made portable hardware yet."
Then there is the screen size increase – again, on paper, it’s barely worth pointing out. Actually playing the Switch OLED in portable mode makes the larger screen size feel that much more impactful, with an image that stretches almost edge to edge on the system, and very little in the way of bezels left. The OLED screen’s richer blacks and colors actually help emphasize and accentuate that larger screen size as well.
There are other, unadvertised improvements as well. The Switch OLED model seems to be using glass (or something close to glass) for its screen, as opposed to the plastic of the older models. This has several implications – for starters, it’s just a nicer and more premium feeling screen now as a result. But also, the new material has significantly better anti-glare and doesn’t distort the image or disperse colors as much as a plastic overlay would, meaning, again, the actual image quality ends up being stunning and aided greatly by the new screen.
The kickstand on the back (which now comprises the lower half of the Switch’s reverse) is also no longer plastic – it’s metallic. This of course helps it support the system’s weight at any angle (and is why this new kickstand is such a big improvement over the existing one), and, again, helps the whole thing feel more premium and high end than a plastic finish would.
In portable mode, the Switch OLED offers one additional improvement over the existing models – at least, existing models that aren’t the 2019 revision and onwards. Because it’s using a more efficient node for its SoC, the power consumption on it leads to significantly superior battery life than on the launch era models. Where the launch Switch systems were rated for 3-5 hours of battery life, Switch OLED (as well as the 2019 revision it is more directly replacing) offers 5-9 hours of battery life instead – almost 2 times the battery life, and actually the best any handheld has offered in ten years (the 3DS and Vita both came down to 3-5 hours of battery life each as well, and while later revisions pushed it up a bit, it never got to the 5-9 hours the newer Switch models provide).
All of this makes this the absolute best Switch model yet – and, to be perfectly honest, in a vacuum, it makes the new model worth the cost too. What that means is, if you don’t own a Switch already, and your options are Lite, the regular one, and this one, I would say you should spring the extra $50 and get this one. The improvements are minor, but substantive enough that they are worth spending for if you don’t already have a Switch yet.
"If you don’t own a Switch already, and your options are Lite, the regular one, and this one, I would say you should spring the extra $50 and get this one. The improvements are minor, but substantive enough that they are worth spending for if you don’t already have a Switch yet."
Things get messier if you do, however. If you already have a Switch, the OLED model offers a whole lot of little stuff on top that’s cool to have – but a lot of which feels inessential. Yes, it’s cool that the kickstand actually works now or that the system natively supports wired internet connections or that it feels better in the hands – but is that worth spending $350 on if you already have a Switch?
I find it more helpful to look at usage patterns here to decide on this. If you use the Switch mostly in docked/console mode, the OLED model has very little to offer you. In fact, most of its improvements literally do not exist in docked mode. The OLED screen? Great, but your TV screen is the one that matters in docked mode. New speakers? Cool, but again, your sound system is what matters there. The kickstand? Never used in docked mode. Better battery life? Irrelevant when the system is always docked. The nicer finish and premium feel? If it’s seated in your entertainment system, you barely ever get to feel it. The LAN cable compatibility is really the only improvement you get if you’re a primarily docked player – and is that worth $350, especially when existing Switch models can use a $10 USB to LAN adaptor anyway?
On the other hand, if you either chiefly play in portable mode, or play in portable mode a whole lot, this OLED model might be worth looking into. The improvements to the portable side of thing are pretty immense when they all add up, and do make for a significantly nicer experience, there’s no denying that. I would argue the battery life alone is a good enough incentive there, but the screen, the sound, and the finish are icing on top of that to boot.
But even for portable players, there are further considerations. For anyone who owns a 2019 Switch model, I would say the answer should be no. This is because one of the biggest pros offered by this OLED model, the better battery life, is already available on those systems. At that point, you need to ask yourself if you want to spend $350 on a system you already own, but with better screen, sound, and finish. I’m sure for some that’s a good proposition – but absent the battery life as well, I personally wouldn’t make that recommendation.
If, on the other hand, you are one of the 40 million people who own the original Switch model, and you use portable mode to any significant degree, I think the OLED model is a worthwhile upgrade. The battery life, screen, sound output, better finish, better kickstand, and even higher storage on board, all make this a significantly more pleasant experience, and really offer enough improvements to justify the upgrade.
The Switch’s two biggest strengths are its flexibility and its incredible library. The OLED model is the absolute best of the entire lineup at delivering on those strengths. The games look better on the OLED model than on any other one, and it offers improvements in portable, tabletop, and docked modes, which make this the definitive Switch model. If you’re a newcomer to Nintendo’s world conquering hybrid? Go for the OLED. If you already own one, spend some time to consider your usage patterns, and decide whether or not the improvements would offer enough of an upgrade for you – and if you do decide you do want to spring for it, you will find the Switch OLED model to be among the best bits of hardware Nintendo has ever put out.
The OLED screen is stunning; the larger screen size is fairly impactful; the new speakers make a huge difference; the new kickstand and increased on board storage are nice to have; on board LAN compatibility; significantly improved battery life compared to launch models; a noticeably improved and upgraded experience for portable players.
No change to the core hardware; very few improvements in docked mode; the $50 price hike makes this hard to recommend to existing Switch owners who don't use it in portable mode much.