Even when the Nintendo Switch launched in 2017, it was a dinosaur. In terms of raw horsepower, it was far from state of the art; PlayStation 4 and Xbox One went in circles. But it was good, because thanks to the Switch, we could play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in the subway.
Soon, however, the luxury of playing a great console game on the go wasn’t enough. Since then, there have been calls for an improved version of the Switch that could tackle more intensive games and deliver higher performance. Then the rumors started, reaching a frenzy earlier this year, following reports that Nintendo would soon be announcing a 4K-capable Switch model. Finally, Nintendo was going to update its ambitious hybrid console with a few more startups.
Or not. Back in July, when Nintendo announced the news of its upcoming Switch model, it didn’t quite live up to rumors or expectations. The new Switch is said to have a larger OLED display, improved speakers, more internal storage, and a better kickstand. Notably absent in this announcement: Any mention of improved system specs or 4K output.
That leaves us with the Nintendo Switch OLED model, an improvement on the console we’ve been using since last week that feels like a half measure, but still manages to offer clear improvements over its predecessor.
The advantage of OLED
Let’s start with the simplest point of comparison: the OLED display is a superb upgrade from the standard Switch and Switch Lite LCDs. He’s the predictable star of the show here, but it’s also a hard improvement to convey properly.
I’m not obsessed with the quality of the display, and initially worried that the difference between LCD and OLED would be insignificant. It is actually quite striking. The colors on the OLED Switch screen are much more vivid and striking. Mario’s classic red cap pops up dramatically in the middle of a go-kart race or when zooming in on Lamode Lake. The Pikmin stand out among the lush green of an apocalypse as they sprint to their death.
OLED shows best in high contrast areas. There are times in Terror Metroid when the screen is almost completely black and all that is visible are shiny pieces of Samus’ armor. On an LCD screen, times like this would have something more akin to a dark gray appearance, but on the OLED switch the screen becomes a void, with the occasional bright laser explosion breaking through the darkness.
Is it so much better that I suggest throwing your existing Switch into the ocean? Damn no. But if you’re the type of person who focuses on visual fidelity, you’ll be amazed at how much color data is lost on a non-OLED display.
The biggest screen
In addition to offering improved blacks and colors, the OLED model’s screen is also 13% larger than that of the original Switch, dropping from 6.2 inches to 7 inches. It seems like a weirdly small number, almost to the point of being unnecessary. As for the color difference, I had doubts that I would even notice. And as for the color difference, I definitely did. I found the increase in screen size to be even more impactful than the color improvements the OLED screen brought.
When testing the OLED model in handheld mode, the jump in screen size felt like the on-screen action took up much more of my field of view than on a normal Switch or Switch Lite. I could play a game like Terror Metroid and I feel more immersed than before.
Part of this is due to the literal size of the screen, but also because the OLED model significantly reduces the width of the original Switch’s bezels. On the launch model, the bezel measures three-quarters of an inch down the sides and half an inch at the top and bottom. On the OLED model, it’s about half of that, which means you don’t feel like you’re carrying that big black frame around every time you play a game.
And while the new Switch model doesn’t increase the resolution at all, its larger screen makes it a bit easier to see some games that have small text or icons (like the just released Diablo 2 remake) when playing in portable mode.
We all laughed at the fact that one of the main features of the OLED Switch is an improved kickstand. There was no doubt that the original Switch’s kickstand was nearly worthless; it was fragile and could snap in the blink of an eye, and we brutally knocked it over during our examination. The original kickstand also only had one viable angle it could hold onto. If that angle wasn’t ideal for your sitting position – say, if you were sitting at your desk and the angle was too steep to see the screen – you were out of luck.
Nintendo has significantly overhauled the kickstand of the OLED model. Rather than being a single flimsy piece of plastic on one side of the Switch, the bracket now extends the entire length of the device. It’s also fully articulated and will hold the switch at any angle. Say goodbye to the need to lower your desk chair to toddler height just for playing Mario kart 8.
Paired with the OLED model’s larger screen, the kickstand makes gaming on a desk or table much more viable, so you can sit back a bit further and keep watching the action.
Some less impactful changes
The OLED Switch brings other upgrades that are great, but whether you notice them will depend on your use cases. Internal storage is now doubled to 64GB, but that’s still pretty paltry and will likely still require you to grab a microSD card after you’ve installed three or four games.
Nintendo says the speakers are “better,” although the difference between the new and the old is incredibly subtle and would likely require a very careful ear. Don’t expect Dolby Atmos to come out of your OLED switch.
There’s also the nice addition of an Ethernet port built into the docking station that comes with the OLED switch. While most people will find Wi-Fi to be the perfect fit for their Switch needs, being wired is definitely an upgrade if you find yourself gravitating to competitive games like Splatoon 2. With the original Switch, you would have had to buy a separate USB Ethernet adapter in order to connect directly to an internet line, but here it becomes unnecessary.
Serious problems remain
There is no doubt that the OLED switch offers some very nice improvements over the original model. But it still hasn’t fixed all of the issues that have existed on Switch hardware since the system was released in 2017.
The Joy-Con controllers that come with the OLED switch haven’t been changed at all (other than adding a new white color). For years, it has been clear that the design of the Joy-Cons has been flawed, resulting in a drift that makes them useless. The problem is so common that a number of class actions have been filed against Nintendo. Nintendo has continued to replace broken Joy-Cons through a mail-in program, but the company has yet to announce any plans to improve the controller or extend its life. It’s hard to believe that a company whose products are generally considered indestructible would be cool with such a widespread failure of their flagship controller, but here we are.
In addition, for a system whose main advantages exist only in portable mode, the OLED switch is not very ergonomic. Anyone who has played a Switch game in portable mode for more than an hour or two can attest to hand cramps that do occur. These issues can also be attributed to the Joy-Cons, which were designed more for versatility than long-term comfort in a portable environment. It’s high time Nintendo reassessed whether Joy-Cons are the right way forward, or whether there is a more suitable solution for a human hand that would work better.
The OLED Switch is packed with improvements that you’ll instantly see when you take it out of the box. Still, it’s still hard to ignore that it lacks the upgrades dedicated fans demanded: a more powerful processor and graphics chip. Nintendo has repeatedly denied that a 4K Switch is on the way, but given the frequency and reliability of reports, such a device could easily arrive around the same time next year.
Taken on its own, the OLED switch is a big improvement over the launch model. But it’s not that big that I would recommend everyone, or even most, to throw away their old hardware in favor of this device. For someone who has never bought a Switch and decides to spend an extra $ 50 for the OLED model, I would say it’s worth it. For everyone else, the game of waiting continues.
The Nintendo Switch OLED model will be released on October 8. The console has been reviewed using hardware provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find further information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.