The Nintendo Switch has been a profound success, it being ubiquitous in most homes across the United States and indeed, much of the world.
Why is that? Well, it's portable, and yet it can also dock to a TV or monitor. It has a ton of great first party Nintendo games like Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild. And, despite its weak hardware compared to say a PS5 (or even PS4), it has enough strength to power through most of the games that people enjoy playing these days.
But beyond that, the purpose of this article is to discuss the latest Switch release: The 2021 OLED model. Here I want to ask the question, is it worth $350 today?
The short answer is yes, it's worth it. I can speak as someone who owns an older model of the Switch, and who thought that the OLED model was a gimmick meant to prolong the console's lifespan. What changed my mind was seeing the OLED model in person at a random GameStop store. It was far beyond what I had imagined, its vibrancy and clarity obvious even from several feet away. And this was the display model, which was beat up, scratched, scuffed, and pretty grimy from months of usage.
While OLED screen technology is relatively old at this point (it being a key feature to 2012's PlayStation Vita handheld), it's still rather rare to find when speaking of computer monitors, cheaper TVs, and handheld videogame consoles. Which is to say, if you are an average gamer, it's likely that you aren't playing games on an OLED screen, so you don't really know what you are missing.
OLED (short for "organic light-emitting diode") is a technology that, in layman's terms, uses pixels capable of lighting themselves. Unlike LCD, OLED does not use a backlight, leading to deeper blacks and better, more accurate colors without the unnatural glow inherent to LCDs. OLED screens also have better contrast than LCD screens. Any game that incorporates a lot of color or uses a lot of contrast benefits tremendously from OLED technology.
The 2017 and 2019 Switch models came with LCD screens, which, while sufficient, don't compare to the 2021's OLED screen. I tested this myself, putting my 2019 Switch next to the OLED, and the difference was enormous. Although the former boasts a bright 6.2" screen that isn't bad by any means, the 7" screen on the OLED looks generationally better. It is brighter, sharper (surprising given that it maintains the same resolution as the older, smaller screen), and much bigger.
One of the first games I tested was Fire Emblem: Three Houses, notorious for its microscopic text and poor visibility in handheld mode. I've played this game on all of the Switch models, and the differences could best be described as this:
Switch Lite: Unplayable on the 5.5" screen. I was not able to play the game this way.
2017 and 2019 Switch: Playable on the 6.2" screen, but docked mode was preferable. Still, more than serviceable.
2021 Switch OLED: Text is still small, but it's much more readable. Colors pop nicely. Looks better than playing on a 1080p monitor. Handheld is now preferable to docked mode.
To sum up further, the main benefit of the OLED model is that it really encourages handheld play. The sublime screen makes most games look better than they would on a monitor or television panel. Whereas with the 2019 Switch I tended to play games in docked mode, with the OLED I always choose to play games in handheld mode.
Maybe my time with the game Mario: Odyssey best describes this shift. It looked alright on my old Switch, but muddy and jagged compared to how it looked on my monitor. On the OLED it looks better in handheld mode than it does on my monitor, and I feel encouraged to play the game that way instead.
In some ways, the OLED has proven to me how good the Switch is as a console. Whereas before I viewed the Switch as an underpowered PS4 or Xbox One that could sometimes be used as a handheld, I now see it as a great handheld console that isn't necessarily directly competing with Microsoft or Sony.
Graphically, the Switch (and even the Switch 2, if there is one) will never match PlayStation or Xbox, but the OLED model proves that this doesn't matter so long as we continue to get great handheld experiences. In the same way that you could own and enjoy a Nintendo 3DS alongside a more powerful PS4, so too can you enjoy a handheld Switch OLED alongside a PS5 or Xbox Series X.
The question of "is it worth it in 2023" is, to me, straightforward. Yes, it's worth buying the OLED model, even if you have an older Switch already. There is a generational leap here with respect to the handheld gaming experience, and even with the Switch being an older device, I can see the OLED model having staying power as a great gaming console for many years to come.
This answer is perhaps complicated by the fact that we are likely to see a "Switch 2" in 2024 or 2025. Even with that in mind, I'd say that the OLED is worth it if you plan to use it frequently enough to get your money's worth, and if you already have a deep library of Switch games you want to play. Further, we don't know what the Switch 2 will look like. Obviously it will be more powerful, but it may not even have an OLED screen. Additionally, Nintendo devices pretty much always hold their value, so you could theoretically buy and enjoy an OLED model today and sell it next year in preparation for the Switch 2, should you so choose.
Either way, I hope that this article has helped you make a decision. A few months back I debated getting an OLED model, but couldn't find resources on the internet offering a breakdown regarding the question of if it is worth it or not. Hopefully now you feel more confident about whatever choice you plan to make!
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