I bought a Nintendo Switch on launch day. The anticipation had been building for a long time: I’ve been a Nintendo guy my whole life, and after almost quitting gaming entirely during the sparse and underwhelming Wii U era, the Switch brought me back in. I was on holiday visiting my girlfriend who had been studying interstate when it came out, and I essentially barely did anything with her in favour of playing Breath of the Wild. I think I owe her a retroactive apology… regardless, I’m not shy about proclaiming it the best console of all time, and four and a half years down the line (longer than the Wii U’s entire lifespan) we’ve finally got a hardware upgrade.
The Switch Lite was lovely, sure, but with a smaller screen and the removal of the titular Switch — that is to say, no TV docking ability — it was clear that it was for the casually interested, the occasional gamers or the children whose parents don’t want them on the TV. Now we have the OLED Model: a tangible upgrade.
Except… it’s not really an upgrade, is it? You’ll likely have heard the “it’s the same hardware but with a bigger screen, so there’s no point in buying it” argument about a thousand times by now and, to be fair, that argument is partially accurate: the OLED Model has exactly the same internals as the currently selling regular Nintendo Switch. There’s no upgrades in power or memory, and there’s only a battery bump if you’re coming from a pre-2019 Switch (Nintendo technically did a sneaky hardware update when it changed the look of the Switch packaging, but only to battery capacity).
You’ll find no enhanced frame rates or higher resolutions or fancy multitasking here, like the New Nintendo 3DS or Xbox One X mid-cycle hardware revisions of years past. To appreciate what the OLED Model represents, you’ll need to recalibrate for a second: it is not to the Switch how those consoles were to their predecessors, but rather like regular consumer electronics. It’s much more akin to the difference between an iPhone S and a regular numbered iPhone — the same insides, the same main features, but with some extra mod cons and luxuries that come with the extra development time. You won’t miss out on core functionality with a regular version, but if it’s important to you, you can spend the money to get the extras.
The extras on the OLED Model are, to be quite frank, absolutely lovely. The screen is the big drawcard here. It’s in the name, and it’s beautiful. Colours are unbelievably rich and vibrant, brightness is improved, and even though it’s the same resolution it makes everything look so much nicer. It’s increased in size, too, and while on paper the difference is only fractions of an inch, the reduced bezels do an incredible job of helping build immersion. The display has the same impact on the Switch as the Wii U GamePad in that after twenty minutes with the OLED Model, the original Switch feels more like a Fisher-Price “My First Nintendo Console.”
There’s more to it than just the screen though: the OLED Model has more internal storage — so those of us with full MicroSD cards can hold off on buying another one — and improved speakers. The improvements Nintendo has made to the speakers are noticeable, and the range is a little fuller, but if you were hoping for tablet-level audio, that still isn’t there; I’m a big Taiko no Tatsujin player, and the music still sounds as weak and tinny as it did on my launch edition Switch.
Then there are the improvements that Nintendo didn’t advertise as much. The kickstand is incredible, game changing even. The original Switch’s kickstand was a tiny little piece of plastic that could hold the console at one poorly chosen angle and that broke off immediately, since it never stayed in its barely-adequate holster. A lot of media I’ve read about the OLED Model mentions that the tabletop mode is its creators’ least played mode, which I think is because Nintendo almost trained us to think of it as an inferior experience with the pathetic kickstand; the new stand covers the entire back of the Switch, à la Microsoft’s Surface, and it securely holds the console up at a huge range of angles and makes tabletop gameplay a viable option. Games that benefit even slightly from touch controls — mobile ports, rhythm games, what have you — are now a much less miserable experience, but that’s not the only positive: the new kickstand allows you to prop the OLED Model up at such an angle that you can still plug in a USB charger! That’s another whole accessory market, dead, just weeks after Nintendo killed the Bluetooth adapter industry by enabling Bluetooth audio.
Nintendo took the same approach with the rest of the build, as well: the plastic has a nicer, less fingerprint-y texture; the JoyCons fit a little more securely; and the front of the console is glass instead of plastic. It’s a massive increase in all-round quality and feel that just makes the OLED Model feel modern and lovely to hold and play.
I really don’t have anything bad to say about this upgrade. The biggest issue is really what this isn’t, and what you pay for it. This thing retails for AU$539. That’s $70 more than the regular Switch’s RRP, but $140 more than the $399 sale price we typically see it go for. If you’re brand new to the Nintendo Switch market, well, this one’s better in every way and I strongly recommend that you pony up the extra 15-30% for a better, more modern experience. I’m happy that I upgraded, too: I’ve written this review based on a unit that I purchased for myself, because the Switch is my primary gaming console, I play a lot of handheld, and I like that big, beautiful screen and the much-improved kickstand a lot.
With that being said, the haters are also right: there’s no functional improvement to speak of. If you play exclusively in the dock, you’re paying upgrade costs to get a LAN port on the dock (which you’ll likely be able to purchase separately soon) and that’s it. If you’ve had your Switch for a year, paying to upgrade to the OLED Model is a fair whack of money for a list of benefits even smaller than for older Switch owners. There’s no reason to upgrade… but there’s also nothing bad lying in wait for you if you decide to, beyond an empty wallet, and with that 4K Switch continuing to swirl around the rumour mill, always lying on the horizon… your wallet may become emptier yet.
If you were going to buy a Switch, don’t buy any other Switch. This is the new gold standard, and it even feels fresh and exciting for those with an aging device. The caveat is mainly the price: AU$539 is a pretty hefty amount to drop on something with no concrete additional functionality, when that could get you into a whole additional gaming ecosystem… But boy is that little OLED lovely and shiny.
Ben reviewed the Nintendo Switch — OLED Model with a unit purchased at retail.