Hardware Review: Nintendo Switch OLED Model

A better version of a great console, but is it enough to warrant a double-dip by current Switch owners?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 10/19/2021 01:49 Comment on this     ShareThis

At a glance, Nintendo Switch OLED Model doesn’t seem to be much of a leap from the baseline version of the console that launched back in 2017. It uses the same Joy-Con (including the vulnerability for Joy-Con drift), there’s no difference in processing power, and it still outputs games on a TV screen at the same 1080p resolution as its predecessor. What, then, makes OLED worth a look? It’s all in the name: that OLED screen. But it’s also a menagerie of other additions and tweaks that make this the superior Switch hardware.

What it boils down to above all else is that OLED allows Switch to realize its full potential as a portable console. I don’t think anyone would argue that Nintendo didn’t nail TV Mode, and with roughly half of users playing in Handheld Mode it also isn’t likely that anyone would say Switch fails as a portable system. However, after playing with the OLED iteration of the hardware for over a week, what I’ve come to find is that in comparison, a baseline Switch is lacking. All of the new features and revisions make this the better console.

The biggest alteration is the 7-inch OLED screen. OLED, or Organic Light-Emitting Diode, screens provide vivid, crisp picture quality superior to a standard LED. From the moment I booted up my OLED Model it was clear (no pun intended) that the visuals were better than what I was used to with my original Switch. Although the 720p resolution is exactly the same as a stock Switch, OLED screens output light differently. This means that blacks are darker and colors are much brighter and more brilliant than anything an original Switch or Switch Lite can produce. This is hands-down the best screen of the bunch.

The remaining changes might seem small in comparison, but they add up, and quickly. First, the new stand is far more versatile. It’s a wide flap that takes up the entire bottom half of the backside of the unit. When flipped out, it can be adjusted to multiple different angles, making it a lot easier to position the screen at the best possible viewing angle for Tabletop play. This is a marked improvement for both solo and multiplayer rounds of gaming. Note that it is not designed to pop off like the original Switch’s stand, so don’t try to remove it. Don’t worry about it breaking off, however—the stand is very sturdy and someone would have to be very reckless to snap or break the thing.

Second, the audio is much improved. The speakers have been slightly repositioned at the base of the console, making them easier to hear when played in Tabletop Mode. Sound quality itself is better, with a notable uptick in bass and treble capabilities. The result is richer sound without having to pop in headphones. I was surprised how clearly I could hear my OLED even in a loud place like the inside of a restaurant. For those who wished Switch had more robust audio, OLED has you covered.

Third, the console’s build has a more luxurious vibe than a standard Switch. The face of an OLED has a smooth finish, while the back remains matte. The feeling in the hands is one of premium quality. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that PS5 is rocking white and, lo and behold, here comes OLED doing the same (you can get a black dock with the Neon Red and Blue Joy-Con if you prefer), but it really works. As innocuous as a colorway might seem, it makes OLED stand out and feel “new.” It does seem more fingerprint prone than a baseline Switch, but that’s a small irritant at best—and nothing a good microfiber cloth can’t blast away in an instant.

The bump to 64 GB of internal storage is definitely an improvement, but let’s be real: it’s still ridiculously low. Even someone like me who buys a physical cartridge every chance he can is going to tear through those 64 GB very quickly. Between software updates, DLC, and the enormous library of digital games that the eShop has to offer, it’s insanity in today’s data-heavy world to even pretend that storage options less than 500 GB are even remotely acceptable for a gaming device. Thankfully, as with the original Switch and Switch Lite storage can be expanded via micro SD card, but this was a major missed opportunity on Nintendo’s part.

The dock, meanwhile, boasts cleaner, rounded lines, but the changes aren’t just cosmetic. It also now has a wired LAN connection, which can be found on the inside of the unit behind the cover. This comes at the cost of a USB port, but anyone who already owned a LAN adapter for their original Switch dock isn’t likely to complain. However, given that a strong WiFi connection can sometimes render a wired connection moot depending on a player’s needs, it might sadden some to see that third USB go by the wayside. Especially for those who don’t have their console anywhere near their router. Still, as someone who has an awful Internet connection at home, I was happy to see a proper LAN port.

The dock also sports better grip thanks to a new rubber base, and the interior of the dock is now glossy as opposed to matte, which should reduce the potential for screen scratching. The panel that opens up the back of the dock is no longer hinged—it simply pops off, which will hopefully prevent any accidental breaks. There’s also a larger ventilation hole to help keep your Switch nice and cool while playing games. One final note on the dock is that it’s now capable of outputting a 4K picture resolution (but does not currently because the OLED Model can’t produce the needed signal). This has many pundits convinced that Nintendo is indeed planning to release a more powerful Switch model. That didn’t impact my purchasing decision, but it might potentially impact yours, although this is all wholly speculation.

A few final observations. The game cartridge flap is much easier to open than on any other model of Switch. The micro SD slot is still under the stand, but it’s been positioned such that it should be far more difficult to accidentally eject. The power button is wider and the volume rockers larger, making both easier to utilize. The improved battery is the same found in the HAC-001(-01) model that came out a couple of years ago. Since OLED technology is more economical with power, that means the battery life remains improved over a baseline Switch. My playtime is clocking in at around eight to nine hours, the same as an HAC-001(-01). Some accessories like the popular Flip Grip or the Nyko Thin Case aren’t compatible with OLED, but the former at least has announced a revision is coming and accessory makers are no doubt rushing to rework much of the same protective gear that people have been using for years now.

The elephant in the room when it comes to OLED is, should consumers buy it if they already own an original Switch? To be frank, no one who already owns a Switch needs an OLED. The OLED’s changes don’t make the older models of Switch or Switch Lite obsolete. That said, anyone who has yet to buy a Switch should absolutely buy this version because it is undeniably superior. I would also wager that many current Switch owners might feel a strong urge to upgrade to an OLED after getting some hands-on time with one. OLED isn’t the new, more powerful Switch that some fans have been clamoring for, but it easily justifies its existence thanks to smart design choices and quality of life improvements.

Thoughts on the Nintendo Switch Carrying Case & Official Screen Protector

It’s not the first official case that Nintendo has put out for Switch, but this particular one caught my eye. Launching alongside the new OLED Model, the Nintendo Switch Carrying Case & Official Screen Protector boasts white accents around the zipper that mimic the clean aesthetic of the console itself. It’s slightly rigid, which will provide a wee bit of extra protection for the glass OLED screen that this Switch has.

In case you hadn’t heard, Nintendo has been warning consumers not to remove the clear film that goes over the OLED’s screen. It’s meant to protect users in the case that the glass shatters and dislodges from the console, which could potentially cause harm. The included screen protector isn’t glass, which is what I usually prefer, but given the more delicate screen of the OLED Model, I opted to get Nintendo’s official protector. It went on very easily, which I’m not used to with non-glass screen protectors. It also comes with a protector for a standard Switch, too, which is… odd, but a nice bonus regardless. Consider spending the $20 to get one if you decide to buy an OLED Model.

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