Nintendo Switch OLED review: beautiful, but not essential
Along with this new display are a bunch of minor tweaks that don’t seem like much when considered individually, but overall they really make the experience better. Most notable is the new support on the back. The original Switch’s is small and about the width of a finger, with only two positions: open and closed. The one on my original launch unit no longer locks in the ‘closed’ position and tends to collapse when playing in portable mode. It also comes off completely if you look at it funny.
Support for the OLED Switch is a whole different beast. Instead of a small, thin strip, it’s now a Microsoft Surface-style panel that extends across the back of the entire unit, with real hinges that can be left in any number of positions. so that you can now place your unit at the angle you prefer. I wouldn’t try to take this thing off; the hinges are actually molded into the plastic so if you break it it will have to go to the Nintendo repair shop to fix it.
To accommodate the new bracket, a bunch of things have been moved to the back of the Switch unit. The logo is now printed on the backing itself, so it has been moved to the lower half of the back. Manufacturing information, such as part number and voltage, is now printed in black on the black plastic, below the backing. So it’s doubly hidden – a subtle but welcome improvement. The rear speakers have been moved to the lower edge of the unit, where they also serve to pull out the bracket. It’s actually very thoughtful, while providing clear gaming sound and minimizing system noise. And, although the microSD was not completely moved, it is now placed parallel to the bottom edge. I’m assuming this small change is to prevent users from accidentally removing the card when trying to adjust the holder. The only thing that hasn’t been moved is the USB-C port at the bottom, so you still can’t charge it in tabletop mode.
There are fewer changes to the top edge of the device, most notable being a redesign of the buttons resulting in longer and thinner power and volume switches. The new buttons aren’t any easier to hit, but they look more stylish and feel better under my fingers thanks to the textured plastic of the OLED Switch. The system is actually just more comfortable to hold now, like when it kept sweat from building up under my sweaty hands during a particularly stressful boss fight in Terror Metroid.
Because the OLED Switch must be compatible with all existing accessories, this means that the unit is the same height and width as the original model. The Joy-Con haven’t been redesigned, but I hope the infamous “Joy-Con drift” has been stamped out by now. The new black and white color scheme is very nice, a step up from my all-gray launch unit in terms of styling. If you like a more playful color scheme, the OLED Switch can also be purchased with Red and Blue Joy-Cons, or you can trade in any other Joy-Cons you want. But whites don’t scratch as easily as other shades, so they’ll look chic for longer.
The only change in the dimensions of the system is the weight, thanks to the OLED display. When you handle the original and the new Switch side by side, the difference is undeniable. But that’s not a big enough gap to make the OLED Switch less portable in any way. Subjectively, it may seem a bit lighter, perhaps because the weight is distributed well. The only thing about the build that feels like a step forward is that the OLED model has a tiny bit of flex in the middle of the back panel that isn’t present in the original. However, that doesn’t make much of a difference to build quality, unless you plan to put a hammer on the back of the device.
Since the system retains the same internal components, this means that the battery has also remained unchanged. It’s the same as the refreshed battery from 2019, which offers between four and nine hours of battery life from the launch unit’s six-hour cap. However, the new OLED is expected to be more power efficient than the LCD screen, and in use it appears to be. I have almost seven hours of Terror Metroid before getting the “low battery” warning at 15%, and this is a game that frequently uses vibration. Compare that to the four or five hours I tend to spend from my OG Switch, even when playing something quite tame like Animal crossing Where Untitled Goose Game.
If you already have an existing switch, you can drop the OLED model into your current docking station and it will work just fine. But the system comes with its own redesigned dock that you might want to configure. It’s much prettier thanks to the rounded corners and shiny black plastic on the inside (which, admittedly, will likely get scratched over time). The back panel isn’t great, as it’s fragile and can come off completely (so you might lose it). But all of this is offset by the significant addition of an Ethernet port.