With a beautiful black and white theme (or standard red and blue), the Nintendo Switch OLED model oozes handheld sophistication. Its premium feel from the slimmer bezel, robust kickstand and a light metallic substrate back panel is both aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to use. But how does the upgraded model stack up in comparison to its original counterpart? Let’s find out.
It’s been four and half years since the original Nintendo Switch was launched. Back in March 2017, we reviewed the original console, praising its handheld comfort and portability, while noting its lack of internal storage at 32GB and low battery life for heavy-duty games. Now, using that same original system to compare, we are going hands-on with the new OLED model. In our preview, we spoke at length about the new features of the console, how it looked and played. However, here we’ll be reviewing the console in three distinct areas; its technical aspects and design, overall playability, and ‘watchability’. Finally, we’ll round up with the pros and cons of the device based on different audience needs, rather than giving the model an overall score.
Technical & Design Features
Featuring a 7-inch multi-touch capacitive OLED screen, the new model’s difference in image quality, colour contrast and sharpness from the original LCD screen is staggering. While only 0.8 inches larger, the glass screen coupled with the OLED backlights gives the console a much more premium look and feel, without altering the resolution. Although the glass is more prone to fingerprints than the original’s plastic coating, the OLED model only weighs in at .71lbs – just .05lbs more than the original – making the screen and its light metallic backing just as portable and much more scratch resistant.
Coming in at 9.5 inches in length, 4 inches in height and 0.55 inches in depth, the OLED console will still fit comfortably (albeit quite snug) inside official Nintendo carry case accessories. Due to its slightly larger size, Nintendo state that it may not work as intended with Toy-Con Labo kits, meaning there may be an issue with some peripherals (like a comfort grip) where the console length matters.
The OLED model’s new design features, such as the slimmer bezel and fully adjustable, robust kickstand, enable additional comfort for tabletop and viewing modes. There is also enhanced audio too with slimline speakers at the front, while the power and volume buttons have been altered with a rectangular and rounded edge appearance. On the back of the console, you’ll find the Nintendo logo has been repositioned onto the kickstand and is smaller in design.
The one issue to note is the SD card’s new location, which is now placed horizontally, albeit still on the left side. This makes it unnatural to slide in and out, despite being in an easier to reach position. For some, the 64GB internal storage may be adequate, but for others who like to have a selection of games on hand, an SD card will be the best option.
On the new white dock itself, we discussed in our preview about the unhinged back cover for easier access to the new LAN port, alongside the regular AC adapter and HDMI ports. In addition, two USB ports are located at the side as was the case with the original dock. And, of course, you will be able to purchase the LAN white dock separately on the My Nintendo store. For those curious, both new and old docks will work with either of the consoles and, in our case, we were not required to update them to do so.
While the Joy-Cons are the same in terms of design and build, inside the vertical packaged white OLED model box you will now find the Joy-Con slider and wrist straps have tiny grey flecks in the fabric for differentiation. A minute detail, perhaps, but one that adds to the premium feel of the console.
For testing purposes, we tried out a range of software on the OLED model, including Metroid Dread, alongside Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Hyrule Warriors, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Party and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. As a near exclusive docked Switch player (like quite a few of us), I rarely play in handheld or tabletop modes, only doing so for work or travel purposes. However, the OLED model has the potential to switch docked fans over to its portable mode, due to its beautiful colour popping contrasts.
For example, in Metroid Dread, you’ll encounter many darkly lit areas with gorgeously detailed elemental features. Between fire- and ice-themed rooms to areas densely filled with alien architecture, the OLED screen creates this vibrant pop of colour that’s just so lovely to view. This is, perhaps, aided by the new console screen settings, ‘standard’ or ‘vivid’, with the latter creating more unnatural colour contrasts to help you play in natural light. Unfortunately, bright sunshine remains a problem for games like Metroid Dread due to its dark colour scheme. Other games though, like Hyrule Warriors, do fare better but it is not a game-changer. Players will still need to find a nice, shaded spot to get the most out of handheld gaming.
In tabletop mode, we tested both Hyrule Warriors with a horizontal split screen and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for its vertical view. The sturdy, hinged kickstand is an excellent and – let’s be honest – necessary addition, allowing the gameplay to be viewed at any angle. With Hyrule Warriors in particular, we noted that the textures appeared sharper on the OLED model compared to the original and the depth of colour was easier on the eyes. While for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the larger screen was much more comfortable for longer play sessions.
If you are looking to purchase the white dock for its LAN port, either as part of an upgrade or solely through the official Nintendo store, you’ll be pleased to hear that it delivers a consistent and stable online gaming experience. When connected to a LAN port, the intelligence in the Switch means the port is recognised straight away, while the connection symbol takes the shape of an ‘N’ next to the battery symbol, making the branding completely on point.
With the newly improved kickstand and OLED screen, the new model offers an array of options for potential streaming services. Currently, the Switch works with a handful of video streaming applications (such as YouTube, Hulu and Pokémon TV to name a few), which are perfect for daytime and evening viewing from the comfort of your own bed. Prop it on a pillow or place it in your lap, the kickstand is so flexible it works with any setup. Plus, the picture quality makes a real difference, especially when viewing the same content on both consoles side-by-side.
Those looking to upgrade will also be pleased that the battery life is also improved from the original 2017 Switch console. We did a quick test on both devices watching an episode of Pokémon. In roughly 20 minutes on full brightness, vivid colour and sound settings, the OLED model battery decreased by 5%, while the original decreased by 8%. Nintendo states that depending on the application used, you’ll get roughly 5.5 to 9 hours of battery from the OLED model before it requires charging. In an alternative test with Metroid Dread, for instance, we managed approximately 6.5 hours of gaming.
Pros and Cons
For exclusively handheld players, the OLED model is an instant must-buy. The clarity of colour is outstanding – and something that cannot be adequately described and must be experienced first-hand. Our only grievance here is the lack of a ‘cinema’ mode in the console screen settings, which would have been excellent for games like Metroid Dread, Fatal Frame and Resident Evil.
For those who enjoy tabletop gaming or using the Switch as a portable media entertainment device, the kickstand is perfect for viewing content at any angle. And, for those who are looking to upgrade from an original 2017 model, the improved battery life and additional storage space will be a great addition.
Docked players, however, won’t see any visible benefits to gameplay. Many of the OLED model’s upgrades are tied to comfort, flexibility and ease of use for handheld and portable gaming. If you do require a LAN port, we recommend purchasing the white dock separately as there are no known issues when switching between docks.
Although not the version it could have been, the Switch OLED model is an excellent upgrade for handheld gameplay. Yes, it is smarter, slicker, and more premium in feel, but it caters to a select audience. The OLED model feels like a truly hybrid console – and perhaps it should have been the original design. But after 18 months of shielding and gaming indoors, maybe now is the time to be more daring, brave outside spaces and make the switch to handheld gaming.
Final Verdict: Recommended for those who enjoy playing in handheld or tabletop modes and as an upgrade for launch-day Switch console owners.
A Nintendo Switch OLED model and a review copy of Metroid Dread (for testing purposes) was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK.