For all the portable game systems Nintendo has launched, including mid-generation revisions, few have included cutting-edge upgrades to a key element: the screen.
Historically, Nintendo has been in the back of the pack when compared to competitors’ screens. The Game Boy’s panels suffered heavy ghosting and lacked backlighting, for instance; they were handily surpassed in their time by the likes of the Game Gear and the Lynx. Only now, with no other dedicated handheld console to beat (for at least two months, anyway), has Nintendo offered a screen that made me say “wow.”
This screen comes on the Nintendo Switch OLED, a model going on sale later this week. Rumors previously suggested that the Switch OLED would run existing games better, in one way or another, but that didn’t pan out (or at least not yet). Instead, this week’s new Switch OLED runs existing games on the same Nvidia Tegra X1 chipset. It copies the original portable/docked hybrid concept so well that you can use the new Switch with existing Joy-Cons, TV docks, and carrying cases.
The result—a larger, more beautiful screen and little else of import—is a tough recommendation for some Nintendo fans, but it will be a must-buy for others.
The list says a lot
Let’s start with a list of every difference between the original Switch and the new Switch OLED, because it may serve as review enough for some interested shoppers.
- 11 percent larger screen than standard Switch
- 4.8 percent heavier than standard Switch
- Roughly equivalent battery life to the “1.1” Switch refresh
- Screen now uses OLED technology (upgrade from existing models’ LCD panels)
- Exclusive “vivid” toggle while playing in portable mode
- Roughly double the built-in storage space, up from 32GB to 64GB
- A larger, firmer “tabletop” hinge
- TV dock now includes built-in Ethernet port
If some feature you’ve dreamed of isn’t in that list, it isn’t in the Switch OLED, which retails for $349.99 (with an included TV dock). That’s $50 more than the standard Nintendo Switch (which also comes with a dock) and $150 more than the portable-only, no-dock Switch Lite.
If you were blindfolded and handed either dockable Switch model, you’d only notice two major differences between their otherwise identical form factors. First, Switch OLED is a scant 20 g heavier, and all of that weight comes from the body itself; the detachable Joy-Con controllers look, feel, and weigh the same. They even have the same model number (HAC-016). If the new Switch includes any particular hardware revisions to fix “Joy-Con drift,” Nintendo isn’t formally acknowledging them. (I didn’t run into Joy-Con drift with these after only one week of use, for what that’s worth.)
The other difference you’d notice while blindfolded is the feel of the new aluminum hinge that stretches across half of Switch OLED’s backside, where your nontrigger fingers will likely rest. I’ll get to the hinge’s usefulness in a bit. For now, as a material against your hands, it’s a welcome upgrade. I’m a big fan of the slightly cool touch of aluminum on a mobile device, and once Switch OLED has been running for about 10 minutes, its aluminum more evenly distributes the console’s accumulating heat than the previous model’s largely plastic makeup. (The system still mostly relies on plastic, though).
A great steward for handheld action
Otherwise, this new model still feels very Switch-y. The console’s removable Joy-Cons fit flush against the new Switch, just like they did with its predecessor, instead of having any sort of mismatch. If you loved or hated how Switch feels in handheld mode, the difference in weight and material likely won’t sway you.
Once you remove your blindfold, of course, the biggest upgrade becomes abundantly clear.
This system crams an 11.4 percent larger screen (7 inches, compared to 6.2 inches in the launch model) into the same form factor. This is entirely thanks to a reduction in bezels. This nearly end-to-end wrap of pixels across Switch OLED’s front face is quite handsome, and its bezels are even smaller than the small ones on the Switch Lite (if only by a hair).
Switch OLED’s panel still has a 720 p resolution, however, which is scant compared to what you’d expect from a seven-inch smartphone screen in 2021. Yet the jump in size doesn’t produce apparent pixellation or smeariness. Whether playing a pixel-crisp retro platformer, an optimized 3D game, or even lower-resolution ports of graphical beasts like the Witcher 3, Switch OLED does its handheld action justice.