The older, 6.2-inch LCD screen is tablet-size, but looks like a mobile phone compared to the new seven-inch OLED screen. On paper, it doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but it’s noticeable during play. More importantly, the new screen makes this the best way to play Switch games on handheld, no question. If you don’t have a Switch, or you’re an owner who mostly plays handheld with $350 to burn, I don’t think you’ll regret the purchase.
“Metroid Dread” turns out to be a great showcase for the new OLED screen. You enter the game’s classic save rooms completely in the dark, lit only by the glow of computer screens and your power suit. Blown up on a TV, these rooms look a bit washed out and definitely blurrier. But on the native 720p resolution of the OLED screen, “Metroid Dread” cuts a sharp image. If it wasn’t for the demanding controls of the game, I would say that handheld on the OLED model is the ideal way to play the game.
But that goes for many other games I tested. “Luigi’s Mansion 3,” one of the best-selling titles for the system, is another game that revels in the shadows. Again, the haunted hotel floors are that much darker with the true blacks promised by OLED screens. Because OLED screens are not backlit, we get true representations of the color, which make the neon-colored ghosts that Luigi battles all the more vibrant.
Bright games also benefit from the display. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," with its anime-inspired aesthetic, looks brighter than ever. All the Mario games look more lively, with his red cap and shirt looking even redder. None of this is washed out. It’s just, once again, that sharp contrast between true blacks and colors that allow other palettes to finally shine through. The same holds for retro games. In “Mega Man Legacy Collection,” I’ve never seen the Blue Bomber look quite as blue in the last 30 years.
But the screen isn’t going to save your games from blurry resolutions or poor performance. Nintendo never promised this, and sure enough, famously demanding games with broken frame rates like “Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity" still perform just as poorly. And although Panic Button’s port of iD Software’s “Doom Eternal” was an excellent and surprisingly accurate conversion for the ancient mobile chipset powering the Switch, it still looks blurry on the OLED screen thanks to its resolution output hovering around 480p.
That’s where the Switch OLED’s romanticism ends. The new kickstand is a welcome addition, finally addressing the old unit’s most prominent and unsightly form factor issue. But the speakers don’t sound remarkably better than the old system. And otherwise, it’s the exact same console. The new LAN port is a welcome feature, but one that should’ve been included at launch. Even the GameCube had a port at launch — and that was 20 years ago.
So it’s no surprise that my conclusion for the Switch OLED is pretty similar to what I surmised it would be back when it was announced. It’s not at all a necessary upgrade for anyone. It finally updates Nintendo’s handheld screen to match standards met by Apple and its OLED screens with 2017′s iPhone X.
Like the iPhone X, you’re not really going to want to look at the iPhone 8 screen anymore, not if you have the means and the options to secure the better screen. But if you’re a perfectly happy Switch owner, don’t feel like you’re missing out on much. Like the iPhone X screen back in the day, if you never saw one, you wouldn’t know you’d want it. Consider the Switch OLED a luxury item, as its meant to be.
The model name is fitting: The screen is really the only meaningful difference. It really depends on whether you think that’s worth $350 alone.