Monday, September 27, 2021

Nintendo Switch OLED: Hands-On Preview

I've spent a lot of money on Nintendo handheld updates over the years. From the GBA SP to the Nintendo 3DS XL, I've rarely been able to resist the allure of a brighter, more attractive screen. So when Nintendo announced the Switch OLED back, I immediately put in my pre-order despite privately worrying that it was a marginal update at best. Is it really worth dropping $350 on a new screen and a handful of other extras?

Fast-forward to September, and I'm feeling a better about my decision to pick up a Switch OLED. That's because I recently got a chance to go hands-on with Nintendo's updated handheld, and what I found was absolutely an improvement on my trusty launch unit, which has carried me through a couple thousand hours of Animal Crossing, Hades, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Is it still kind of a ridiculous splurge? Oh yes, definitely. But it's definitely more of an upgrade than I initially expected.

Nintendo Switch OLED's Screen Is a Big Improvement

As previously announced, the Nintendo Switch OLED is the latest attempt to refresh the Switch hardware. For $50 more than the base console, it will feature a larger and clearer screen, greater storage space, and the feature we've all been crying out for, an improved kickstand. Notably, the Switch OLED will use the same processor that powers the base model, so it will not feature improved performance over the original Switch.

With that in mind, the Switch OLED's biggest selling point is definitely its 7-inch OLED screen, which is a clear upgrade over the LCD screen used by the base model. Compared to the original Switch, the OLED model features deeper blacks and a richer, more vibrant color palette, which was especially evident when playing Metroid Dread. I'm unfortunately not able to show a direct side-by-side comparison, but having seen the two together, I can definitely attest to how much better the screen looks in person. It makes the launch Switch's screen — with its much larger bezels and LCD display — look small and dim by comparison.

OLED screens in general are known for their remarkable color fidelity, which is fully on display with the Switch OLED. However, they're also known for having greater issues with burn-in, which a Nintendo spokesperson says will be addressed by existing features such as auto-brightness and auto-sleep. One other thing you should know about OLED displays is that they can also have some issues with glare, so it might be a little tougher to play the Switch OLED outdoors, but we'll need to do more testing to determine that one way or another.

The Switch OLED's other improvements are smaller, but nevertheless welcome. Believe it or not, the new kickstand actually does make a difference, making the rarely used tabletop option a much more viable choice. The dock now features a LAN port, meaning you no longer have to buy an adapter if you want to play online with wired internet. Also, the back part of the dock actually pops off now, which is an odd but interesting design choice by Nintendo, but may make it easier to access some parts of the system.

One underrated improvement is to the handheld unit's built-in speakers. This is due to changes Nintendo has made to the housing design, which changes the sound balance between the left and right speakers. The effect is noticeable, even if I still prefer headphones when playing portably (and thank goodness all Switches finally support Bluetooth headphones after the last software update).

A Luxury Nintendo Console

Otherwise, the Switch OLED is pretty much the Switch as you've known it for the past four years. It's still subject to the growing gap in performance Nintendo's console is seeing with other consoles, and the Joy-Cons remain unchanged, meaning drift will likely continue to be an issue. It's pretty much the definition of a luxury item — the version you pick up because you must absolutely have the best possible screen.

As for whether the Switch OLED is improved enough to justify an upgrade, that's harder to say. My own rule of thumb is that I upgrade whenever a version comes along with a superior screen, and the Switch OLED certainly offers that. But at $350, I can certainly understand why many people would want to stick with their base units while hoping Nintendo puts out a proper Switch Pro in 2022. If I were buying a Switch for the first time, though, this is the version I would want. Expect a more detailed review on IGN soon.

The Nintendo Switch OLED will be out October 8th. There's lots more Switch OLED coverage on the site, and make sure to check out our final preview of Metroid Dread, which launches the same day.

Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN.


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