It seems hard to believe that the original Nintendo Switch launched over four years ago already. After the disaster of the Wii U, Nintendo needed a hit. And as the Switch has gone on to become one of the fastest-selling and widely popular consoles ever – the hybrid concept proved you should never count Nintendo out. As its own popularity soared and later Sony and Microsoft released their powerful flagship machines though, rumours that we’d soon be getting a ‘Super’ Switch, some kind of Pro version capable of outputting 4K graphics, were popping up everywhere. Then, in July, in typical ‘Nintendo-does-it-their-own-way’ fashion, they surprised the world with the reveal that we’d instead be getting a less-significant upgrade; A Nintendo Switch donning a new white paint job and a bigger, brighter screen (and a few other smaller upgrades) straightforwardly called the Switch OLED. Largely due to months of gossip-fueled assumptions, many were, understandably, a little disappointed. So, now that we’ve actually spent some time with the new console… were the concerns well-founded? Or could it be a bigger improvement than you were expecting? Well, as with so many things, the truth is somewhere in the middle and largely based on your expectations.
So, first things first – I love the original Switch. Sure, it has its issues. The build quality, for example, is, quite uncharacteristically for a Nintendo product, lacking. The original battery was also replaced quite early on. The online functionality still feels depressingly dated, eShop discovery is a joke and on the aesthetic side of things – we still only have two themes. And undoubtedly worst of all, somehow to this day, Joy-Con drift is still a thing. However, even taking those into account and whether you’re a Nintendo fan or not, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that can provide a compelling argument against the console’s ingenuity. Plus, thanks to Nintendo’s simply stellar list of launch (or near launch) titles like Breath Of The Wild and Odyssey, as well as the subsequent stream of significant first-party titles like New Horizons and Metroid Dread that seemed to perfectly capture the zeitgeist (not to mention the great Indie-scene), the Switch’s library is simply incredible. Then, you throw in the ridiculous sales figures, and quite frankly by virtually all objective and subjective measures, the Switch is one of the best or at least most significant consoles ever made. Now consider that, despite not being the 4K Super Switch, the Switch OLED is definitely an upgrade to the original and you start to understand why for many – the Switch OLED will be a must-buy.
It’s quite hard, even in a photo, to show exactly how much better the OLED screen is. It simply blew me away.
First of all, we have the screen. Understandably, moving up from 6.2 inches to 7 inches doesn’t sound like that much of a jump. I was expecting it to be barely noticeable. However, when side by side, I can’t believe how substantial it actually looks. Sure, there is still a bezel and it would’ve been great to use up all that visual real estate. But, the 7-inch screen really does feel much bigger. Of course, that difference is only amplified because of the OLED tech. Now, unless you’re technically inclined you may not immediately understand the difference between LCD and OLED when those acronyms are thrown around. It has something to do with the fact that LCD screens are backlit whether a specific area of the screen is on or off, whereas OLED screens have no backlight and the individual pixels themselves can be ‘on or off’. There’s probably an even more technical (and more accurate way of explaining it) however, for those of us that are more visual in our learning the result is that the OLED screen is super bright. The blacks are somehow darker, and bright colours shine with even more intensity. And while you may not as easily notice it independently, when lined up next to each other, the LED screen feels pale and washed out. I’ve tried to include pictures of this but due to how much the screens reflect it’s quite hard, even in a photo, to show exactly how much better the OLED screen is. It simply blew me away.
Now, we go to all the other smaller bells and whistles. In terms of the new look – I was already super excited about the white finish. I know you can still go for the classic black OLED too. However, I’m one of those people that simply love white on my consoles. I realise I may be in the minority, but I love the PS5, aesthetically much prefer the white Series S compared to its bigger brother, and think the Switch OLED looks clean and sharp decked in white. The included LAN cable port is another small but appreciated perk. Sure, if you already had a USB to LAN adaptor (that worked – mine didn’t) this won’t mean much. If like me though, you were relying on the Wifi – having a slot that you can simply plug into for some stable internet is a relief. Of course, perhaps due to Nintendo’s clumsy handling of online functionality, it still won’t be as fast as it could/should be – my 50 Mbps up and down line only managed around 24 Mbps (up) and 23 Mbps (down) when connected (I’ve heard this may something to do with USB 2.0 vs 3.0 or imposed server limitations). Also, for many games, we locals often struggled to find opponents and sadly the hardline won’t likely be changing that. However, that’s a pretty SA-specific issue and to be honest, even having a more stable (20+ Mbps) line for downloading games and the odd session of Mario Kart or Smash and is definitely a good thing – my Wifi speed usually fluctuates quite substantially between 6-14 Mbps and my Switch needs to be placed in very specific spots to get any good connectivity at all.
It feels like a more premium product.
The final three obvious additions are the adjustable kickstand, the added storage and better audio. On the audio side of things having front-facing speakers is a welcome addition – and of course, having sound actually directed at you makes it sound just that little bit clearer and crisper. The Switch OLED has double the internal storage. Yes, it’s still relatively tiny but no one will ever complain about having extra memory. The old kickstand was flimsy and pretty useless – especially once it inevitably broke because you removed the microSD card a few too many times. The new stand, on the other hand, is sturdy – looks a heck of a lot better and can be adjusted to pretty much any viewing angle and still feels quite stable. All that being said, while these three features are clearly better than what we had before – I personally, struggle to be too excited about them. How often are you going to be playing handheld and not using earphones? For me, the answer is hardly ever. And while it’s great to have a ‘whopping’ (please note sarcasm) 64 GB now and Nintendo is great at compressing their games, we all know if we have even one big third-party title – we’ll still need a microSD card. So again, not a huge gamechanger. True, I cannot overstate how much better the new kickstand is, yet again, in all the time I have owned the original Switch I have used it in the tabletop mode a grand total of two times. Yes, the old kickstand was a pain, and we landed up leaning the console on a pillow instead and now won’t have to. So while that’s a good thing – none of the enhancements are enough to completely change my whole playstyle. On the plus side, I do want to point out that despite all these minor improvements, the Switch OLED itself also seems to have a better build quality than its predecessor. It’s ever-so-slightly slightly heftier (but still weighs a comfortable-in-the-hand 420g) and the shell and all the bits that click or need to be pressed just feel a little more refined and intentionally put together. It feels like a more premium product.
OLD or OLED
So, what does it all mean? Well, as I stated above it all depends on your expectations and why you may be considering purchasing the Switch OLED. Let’s be honest, when we are talking about Nintendo products in South Africa, the weak Rand, the much smaller purchasing audience and a host of other factors mean we tend to pay a lot. Even the ‘regular’ Switch at R6999 is considered relatively expensive especially because at the price point it is competing directly with a Series S. This is particularly the case, because over the years, not all Nintendo console generations were available locally, so many South Africans have just not grown up playing their games. The brand affinity that is so prevalent in places like the USA and Japan is just not here. So, if you can offer a system that is ‘graphically superior’ and can play the best versions of popular local titles like FIFA – buying a Switch is always going to be a tough sell. Add another R1000 to the price tag and… well, you get the picture.
Of course, those of us that love Nintendo games, know that we sometimes pay more because the quality of the software is just that good. And because of the way Nintendo creates their games specifically for their software, even if there was another way to legally play a Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing or Metroid game it probably wouldn’t feel as good. If you fall into that group, the truth is you probably already own a Switch. So now, to put down R8000 for something that on at least on paper doesn’t really seem like much of an upgrade on what you already have means most just won’t have enough reason to purchase Switch OLED. In fact, even for obvious enhancements like the screen or the kickstand, unless you are physically holding the two models next to each other you’ll never even know what you’re missing – and in this case, ignorance is blissfully cheaper. Plus, if you predominantly play your Switch on your TV – the most important upgrades will be lost on you. And If that’s your situation it’s honestly hard to justify the upgrade.
It’s honestly hard to justify it as an upgrade. However, as a first time purchase I’d definitely recommend saving just that little bit more and splurging on the OLED.
However, there is another side to this coin. If haven’t yet purchased a Switch, or perhaps like me you still own the original Switch and now have a 4-year old console that needs a refresh – then I definitely see the upside of purchasing the OLED model. It is quite simply the best version of an already pretty-close-to-perfect console. Sure, on your TV screen you won’t notice the difference and drift seems like it will be a problem forever. However, in your hand and on your TV stand, the OLED absolutely shines. It’s arguably the best-looking hand-held ever made – and even if you disagree with that – it’s definitely one with a stunning screen and a staggeringly good library that now has a build quality to match and a few extra upgrades that truly make it feel like a luxury product. Plus, unlike the way cheaper Lite, you still get to connect it to your TV – for the truly one of a kind hybrid console experience, In fact, if you have already saved up enough to purchase the Switch – I’d definitely recommend saving just that little bit more and splurging on the OLED. It may take a bit more time – but the jealousy monster will be taken care of and I just can’t see you being disappointed. Sure, it’s not the 4K upgrade that may have simply blasted it into the stratosphere and into the ‘Masterpiece’ rating range – but it is, quite simply, an amazing piece of tech.