On paper, you wouldn’t think the difference between the original Switch and the Switch OLED was much at all.
Now, chances are you’ve already made up your mind on whether to buy, or upgrade to, the Nintendo Switch OLED. It doesn’t offer any frame rate improvements on the original Switch, the Switch Lite, and the battery life remains the same as the revised Switch which launched in 2019. There’s no AI-powered upscaling for higher resolutions, so there’s no difference when the Switch OLED is plugged into a TV — whether that’s through the brand-new, LAN-supported Dock or the older variants. And there’s been no news on any permanent fixes for Joy-Con drift, either.
If you’ve got an existing Nintendo Switch — either the original model or the ones with an upgraded battery life — the biggest thing you’ll notice is the screen. The 7-inch OLED display is an immediate, obvious improvement from the 6.2-inch screen on the older Switches, or the 5.5-inch on the handheld-only Switch Lite.
That extra size means the Switch OLED requires a slightly bigger case and accessories, depending on how snug the fit was. Nintendo sent over a new white case for the Switch OLED, which will go on sale for $29 from October 8. It wasn’t as nice as my existing suede pouch that I bought from Yodobashi Camera back in 2017, mind you, and the Switch OLED fit into that just fine. The OLED also fit — barely, but it got there — into a larger Waterfield brown wax Switch canvas bag that I’d reviewed a few years ago.
So chances are you won’t really have to upgrade your existing accessories. Any controllers or equipment that worked with your existing Switch or Switch Lite, like third-party 8BitDo controllers or your audio gear, works with the Switch OLED just as well.
Most of the upgrades are more about quality of life, really. Along with the new screen, the Switch OLED is a fraction wider than the original models. It’s not so wide that the console feels ergonomically out of whack — if anything, I found the Switch OLED a fraction more comfortable to use.
The improved kickstand now extends across the entirety of the console, although a nice added touch is that the microSD slot has also been repositioned for easier access. Apart from a much wider range of motion, it’s just an awful lot sturdier and less prone to breaking. Nintendo’s mostly advertised this as a benefit for tabletop play. That’s not as helpful in our still-in-lockdown lives, but I still found the kickstand had some surprising practicality.
For one, popping the kickstand all the way out means you can plug a charger in and prop the Switch up in bed. Gaming in bed has become a common place for the Switch, but the original models could become a bit clunky to use if you were running low on battery. The old kickstand wasn’t especially stable, and it’s limited range of motion meant you often ran the risk of bending your USB-C cable.
The new kickstand is wide enough that you can extend it all the way, rest the back of it on both your middle fingers, placing up the console in a comfortable enough position that lets a charging cable sit freely. It also gives you that slightly angled position that makes for more comfortable viewing when you’re propped up by a couple of pillows. You could just hold a Switch flat so that you don’t bend the USB-C cable. But the kicker here was that it positioned the Switch away from a natural viewing position, a situation made worse given the original Switch’s (or Switch Lite) reduced viewing angles.
The OLED screen is brighter, clearer and nicer to look at in a ton of different environments. The screen does technically have lower image quality in that the Switch OLED screen has a lower pixel density than the original Switch and Switch Lite. But in practice I found the clarity, contrast and slightly larger real estate meant games had much more vibrancy and pop than the original Switch.
That said, the benefits can vary game to game. Because the internal hardware hasn’t changed, the Switch OLED doesn’t correct any issues with low resolutions. A game like Cricket 19 can be surprisingly difficult on the Switch — the internal resolution is already pretty low, making it difficult to identify small objects like fast moving cricket balls. And because most of Cricket 19 takes place in brightly lit environments, that extra contrast doesn’t really help much. Having the already low-res blocky image spread out over 7 inches, instead of 5.5 or 6.2 inches, doesn’t make things easier to see — if anything, it makes it a fraction harder.
But that’s a very extreme example. On the opposite end you have games like Monster Hunter Rise. Rise already looks decent, considering the limitations, and Capcom did wonders in making the UI as readable as possible on the small handheld.
Having that extra real estate pushes that UI out a fraction further, which has genuine benefits to gameplay. It gives you more space to focus on attack patterns and the neat environments. It makes the whole presentation look a fraction less cluttered, which can be handy particularly in the game’s Rampage quests where the screen fills up with monsters to target. And while Rise isn’t exactly a game shrouded in darkness, the improved contrast is immediately noticeable.
What has really sealed the Switch OLED for me is just how nicely the screen balances out the limitations of the hardware. You can get a small resolution bump and performance improvement with the Switch OLED, or the original Switch models, once it’s plugged into a dock. But that doesn’t mean you’re getting an improved experience. One of the Switch’s biggest issues is a complete lack of anti-aliasing, a graphical technique designed to smooth the edges of textures to improve overall picture quality.
When you get a Switch running on a 4K or even 8K screen, it actually brings out a lot of the Switch’s flaws. (Many TVs will now automatically switch to game mode for consoles, too, which disables any post-processing benefits or internal upscaling TVs might automatically apply.) That’s true for Monster Hunter Rise and even newer releases like Metroid Dread, where the smaller scale of the 720p OLED screen hides some of the jaggies and rougher textures in ways that TVs and larger screens cannot.
Another benefit is the newer speakers, which are clearer than previous iterations. Like the original Nintendo Switch, the speakers are located at the bottom left and right of the screen, tucked within the bezel. But Nintendo has revised the design of the speaker slits to be much wider on the Switch OLED, allowing for louder, less muddier sound than any of the console’s other iterations. The wider size of the Switch OLED also means there’s less risk that you’ll end up covering the speakers with your palms. I never had this happen to me on the original Switch, but it was a factor that could crop up with the Switch Lite. Bass comes through a lot more clearly on the Switch OLED than previous models, although it’s still nothing compared to a proper set of wired or Bluetooth headphones.
None of this answers whether existing Nintendo Switch or Switch Lite owners should upgrade. But that’s the more complicated question, so let’s start with the easiest first. The original Switch will certainly be better value, especially as retailers clear stock over Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the upcoming holiday sales. But if you spend any amount of time playing handheld at all, the Switch OLED is a bonafide upgrade. The clarity and contrast of the OLED screen is an absolute winner, especially in games with lots of darker scenes that suffered from a washed-out look on the original Switch or Switch Lite. Games with a lot of UI elements are also a little bit nicer to play and look at, courtesy of the extra real estate, although anything with a heavy amount of text isn’t necessarily improved due to the reduction in pixel density.
If you’re someone who purely plays with the Switch in docked mode, the best option is probably to stick with an original Switch, but with an Ethernet adapter for the Switch dock. That’s the biggest quality of life improvement for multiplayer games in particular, especially for games like Pokemon Unite or Fortnite, where the Switch’s older wireless adapter sometimes struggles.
If you’re looking to upgrade from a Switch Lite to something with TV-out capability, I’d also skip past the original Switch — even at a good discount — and just move onto the Switch OLED as a full replacement. It’ll hold up better over the next few years courtesy of the sound and screen alone. And if you’re worried about potential Joy-Con issues, that’s the same problem regardless of whatever Switch you buy.
The Switch OLED isn’t a true Switch successor, nor is it a Switch Pro or anything that resolves some of the performance quirks with some games. But Switch fans have made their peace with its limitations. That’s why the Switch has been outselling just about everything for the last few years. What the Switch OLED does is provide the best possible handheld experience right now. It’s not something all Switch fans should upgrade for — but if you’re able to trade in your existing console, it’s definitely worth considering.
The Nintendo Switch OLED is available in Australia from October 8 for $539.