After months of not exactly baseless speculation and rumours, there is a new Nintendo Switch, but it’s not the so-called Switch Pro we were expecting.
While there are definitely reasons to be excited about the 2021 refresh of Ninty’s hybrid machine, which continues to sell faster than Usain Bolt running to catch a bus, those hoping for a graphical boost that puts it a little bit more in line the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X (or even Xbox Series S) are going to be underwhelmed.
The Nintendo Switch OLED model, as the name gives away, does have a brand new OLED display, which is exciting news for handheld players, but does it justify the price bump, and are there enough new features to tempt current Switch owners into upgrading?
Design: (screen) Size matters
In terms of pure design, the Nintendo Switch OLED model looks very familiar to the original Switch. You’re still looking at a touchscreen tablet console to which you attach two Joy-Con controllers when you want to play in handheld mode. If you want to play on the TV, the console slots snugly into the included dock, which connects to your TV via HDMI.
But there are a couple of fairly significant changes. The most obvious one is screen size, which has been increased to 7in, up from 6.2in on the original model and much larger than the more portable Switch Lite’s 5.5in display. If you predominantly play the Switch in handheld mode, having a bigger screen to look at is obviously a tempting upgrade, especially as Nintendo has achieved it by slimming down the bezels, rather than increasing the overall size of the device, which remains pretty much identical to the original.
The Switch OLED does weigh slightly more, though, up to 320g from the 297g Switch. With the Joy-Cons attached the whole thing weighs in at 420g, and considering that the Switch was pretty heavy in the first place, this is something to consider. If handheld comfort over longer play sessions is your priority, it’s very likely that the Switch Lite will remain the best choice.
The other notable design tweak is the new and seemingly much improved kickstand. The flimsy stand on the original always felt worryingly snappable, and Nintendo clearly agreed privately, because the Switch OLED’s is almost as wide as the console itself, which should make it sturdier for tabletop play. You can adjust its angle too, allowing you to find the optimal position for where you’re sat.
The Switch OLED ships with a redesigned dock that now has a built-in wired LAN port. Before, the Switch was a Wi-Fi only machine for online play. As well as the standard black model we’re used to, Nintendo has also introduced an off-white colour for the Switch OLED. Both will be available at launch.
Display and audio: OLED me at it
If you want to know the main reason why you should consider buying a Nintendo Switch OLED model then, well, the clue’s in the name. As well as increasing the size of the display, Nintendo has replaced the original Switch’s LCD with a 7in OLED panel. If you’ve made the jump from an LCD phone to an OLED-toting one - or perhaps you were the owner of the evidently ahead-of-its-time OLED PlayStation Vita - then you’ll know what a huge difference it can make. Richer, more vivid colours, inkier blacks and improved contrast: there’s a good reason why OLED continues to reign supreme in the world of screen tech.
The Switch OLED’s resolution remains at 1280x720, but despite the undoubtedly disappointing lack of a bump in that department, the move to OLED is still a big upgrade for those who care about visuals. The watercolour painting in motion that is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and its upcoming sequel will look absolutely sumptuous on an OLED.
Nintendo says the Switch OLED features ‘enhanced audio’ from the console’s speakers. Nobody has been able to test that claim yet, but it’s certainly a welcome upgrade. What it doesn’t do, though, is distract from arguably the most disappointing omission from the Switch OLED: Bluetooth audio. Not being able to use your wireless cans with the original Switch was a big letdown and felt outdated back in 2017, and while a number of brands have released Switch headsets with USC-C dongles that enable wireless connectivity, it’d be nice if you could pair any old pair of Sonys or Boses that you might have lying around. But from what we’ve heard so far, it doesn't sound like Nintendo has added this functionality, and unless it can do so via some sort of firmware update, it looks like you’ll be plugging in headphones for some time yet. Boo.
Power: Same as it ever was
What’s the difference? Short answer: nothing. Despite all the talk about a 4K-ready Switch Pro being on the horizon, the Switch OLED will have the same customised Nvidia Tegra X1 as its predecessor, the same 4GB of RAM, and the same max 1920x1080 at 60fps performance when docked. There’s no 4K upscaling of any sort going on here. In handheld mode, meanwhile, 720p remains the best you can expect resolution-wise.
Power-hungry Nintendo gamers were definitely expecting more, and while we can see how it might be tricky for Nintendo to develop games that run well on a 4K top-tier model without crushing the handheld-only 720p Switch Lite, or simply looking awful by comparison on the weaker hardware, it does feel like a missed opportunity.
Handheld Switch players will likely be chuffed with the OLED upgrade, but if your own Switch is usually docked, there’s simply no reason to upgrade. Games are going to look and perform identically. And we still wouldn’t rule out a 4K Switch in the not-too-distant future.
Battery life and storage: more in the tank
If you think your OG Switch is lacking in the battery department, prepare for more disappointment. The Switch OLED has the same 4.5-9 hours battery life, depending on usage, as its LCD counterpart, and the same 3-hour charging time.
Storage, on the other hand, has doubled out of the box. You get 64GB now, and although an SD storage card expansion will probably still be essential at some point down the line, you’ll at least be able to hold out a bit longer.
Price: deeper pockets needed
If you want Mario and Zelda on an OLED, you’re going to have to pay up for the privilege. The Nintendo Switch OLED model costs £310, £30 more than the £280 (and often discounted) standard model, and over £100 more than the £199 Switch Lite.