nintendo switch oled hands on lead
CNN  — 

After getting my hands on the upcoming Nintendo Switch OLED model, I can confirm that it’s largely just that: a Nintendo Switch with a really nice OLED display. However, it’s some of the smaller quality of life changes (as well as those gorgeous new white Joy-Cons) that have me almost as excited as that shiny new screen.

While I don’t think every Switch owner needs to rush out and upgrade to the OLED model, it’s shaping up to be a no-brainer for most folks looking to buy their first Nintendo Switch. The new console is up for preorder now for $349 and launching on Oct. 8 — here’s what I think after going hands-on with it.

The new OLED screen really pops


As you might have guessed, the biggest change to the Nintendo Switch OLED model is its vibrant new 7-inch OLED display. This type of display technology is built to deliver deeper blacks, higher contrast and bolder colors than an LCD panel, something we’ve found to be true on the many OLED laptops and TVs we’ve tested. And fortunately, many of those same benefits have now made their way to the latest Nintendo Switch.

I knew I was looking at an OLED display the second I picked up the new Switch — when being prompted to press a button to get to my game, the striking contrast between the deep black background and bright white text immediately grabbed my eye. Even basic text looks more lively and legible on OLED devices, and that continues to be the case on this console.

The Switch’s shiny new screen continued to look great once I fired up Metroid Dread — the highly anticipated sci-fi adventure game launching alongside the system — and started blasting up some aliens. The rich reds and blues of Samus’ armor really popped, and those inky blacks helped deliver a strong sense of contrast between the game’s dark terrain and the bright blasts of blue and white bursting in from the background.

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I really enjoyed taking in the game’s dramatic cutscenes on this display, as the fiery orange lazer that popped out of an enemy robot’s head looked especially bright and prominent. I didn’t get a chance to see the same game running side by side next to a regular Switch, but after an hour of playtime, the Switch’s OLED screen does look like a significant step up in overall contrast and color quality.

The jump to OLED is nice, but I’m even more impressed by the fact that the new Switch packs a bigger, more seamless screen into basically the same body. The Switch OLED’s 7-inch display is a notable step up from the 6.2-inch panel on the standard Switch, and results in an almost bezel-less design that’s much more immersive and modern-looking. It really makes the thick display borders on the original model hard to go back to. Just note that while the display is bigger and more vibrant, it’s still a 720p screen — so don’t expect an improvement in overall fidelity when it comes to things like character and background details. The Switch OLED still comes with a dock for playing games on your TV and is powered by the same processor as the original model, so the big-screen gaming experience will likely go unchanged.

Lots of subtle but smart refinements

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There are a few other quality-of-life upgrades that help set the Switch OLED apart, starting with the kickstand. While the standard Switch has a flimsy, inch-wide kickstand that’s prone to popping out, the Switch OLED’s kickstand spans the entire back of the system. It felt durable and easy to adjust during my hands-on time, and I especially liked that it allowed me to prop the Switch up at multiple viewing angles.

The top of the Switch OLED packs lots of subtle but smart refinements, including wider power and volume buttons that feel more distinct and spaced out from one another, as well as thinner fan vents that are less distracting than what you’ll see on the standard model. The Joy-Con controllers felt identical to the current models, but I really love the new white variation that comes with the Switch OLED and wish I could just buy a pair right now to attach to my current Switch. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Nintendo will be selling these Joy-Cons separately, but you will be able to buy the new white dock on its own. And if white’s not your thing, the Switch OLED will also come in a Neon version with red and blue Joy-Cons and a black dock, just like on the standard Switch.

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The Switch OLED features 64GB of onboard storage — that’s twice the amount you’ll get on the 32GB Switch and Switch Lite, and will give you lots of extra space for game downloads, save files and screenshots. You’ll still want to eventually snag a microSD card for expanding your storage if you buy lots of digital games, but the bump in built-in storage is appreciated.

The Nintendo Switch OLED also promises what Nintendo is calling “enhanced audio” when using the built-in speakers. The sounds of shooting aliens and sliding under killer robots in Metroid Dread were perfectly loud and clear — even in a room with other folks talking and playing — though I’ll have to test the speakers side by side with a regular Switch to see how much things have really improved here. I’m also curious to see how well the Switch OLED fares in terms of battery life, as OLED devices can sometimes suck up battery faster than their LCD counterparts.

Metroid Dread is a strong showpiece for the Switch OLED

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My hands-on time with the Switch OLED was also my first chance to try out Metroid Dread, which is also coming on Oct. 8. It’s no surprise that Dread is a launch game for the Switch OLED — its colorful side-scrolling shooting and vibrant, moody environments are a perfect showpiece for a fancy new display. But I was just as impressed by how the game plays, even as someone who isn’t the biggest Metroid buff.

Dread is the latest addition to the core Metroid franchise, which consists of two-dimensional action games in which you explore cool-looking labyrinthine worlds that gradually open up as you collect new weapons and abilities. That formula is largely unchanged here, but with a fresh coat of paint that feels both nostalgic and modern. I had a blast shooting, sliding and exploring my way through the mysterious planet of ZDR, and the game’s cutscenes looked especially slick on the Switch OLED screen.

While Dread will feel familiar to anyone who’s played previous installments like Super Metroid or Metroid Fusion, there are some modern touches that make the game especially fun to play. Like in 2017’s Metroid: Samus Returns, you can counterattack your enemies and leave them vulnerable with a well-timed button press, and it’s super satisfying every time. Fitting to its namesake, Dread also adds a new layer of tension to the series with the addition of EMMI robots. These virtually indestructible killing machines patrol the game’s areas and will hunt you down if you’re spotted, which forced me to tread carefully and try to avoid being seen. I’m not proud of how many times I was taken out by EMMI bots, but I also took great satisfaction in finally figuring out how to counter and evade them.

You won’t need the new Switch OLED to play Metroid Dread, but it does do a nice job showing off the benefits of the new model’s upgraded screen. I’m looking forward to spending more time with it, even if it’s on my regular old Switch.

Let’s recap

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I really enjoyed the hour and a half I spent with the $349 Nintendo Switch OLED, even if I’m not in a massive rush to ditch my existing Switch for one. The new OLED display looks really vibrant up close, and perhaps more significantly, it gives you a bigger and more immersive screen without making the system any bulkier. Add in some nice design refinements — including a much more practical kickstand — and you’ve got what could very well be the best Nintendo Switch yet.

But do you actually need one? If you’ve yet to buy a Switch (or want to upgrade from the handheld-only Switch Lite), the Switch OLED model is shaping up to be worth the $50 premium over the $299 Nintendo Switch — as long as you plan on actually playing in handheld or tabletop mode. The Switch OLED doesn’t bring any improvements to the experience of playing on a TV, so if that’s how you do most of your gaming, you’re better off buying or keeping the standard $299 version. And if you can live without OLED and only care about playing in handheld mode, the adorable $199 Nintendo Switch Lite is still the most affordable and portable option of the bunch.

Still, the Switch OLED model is looking like a smart improvement on one of the most beloved gaming machines out there. We’ll be putting it through its paces with a wide array of games for our full review once it arrives in October, so stay tuned for more.

In the meantime, the new system is available for preorder now, though stock is currently hard to find. Here are the retailers to keep an eye on.