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You might have heard the kids talking about the new Nintendo console coming soon. That would be the Switch OLED, which is a slightly better version of the popular system that came out back in 2017, and gained new popularity while we were all in lockdown. But before you rush off to pick one up from Amazon or Walmart, make sure you have all the facts on hand so you don’t spend $350 on something that’ll just gather dust.
So, which one is the Switch, anyway?
Right now there are three companies making video game consoles that connect to your TV: Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Microsoft and Sony both released new systems last year, the Xbox Series X|S and the PlayStation 5. Nintendo’s current console is still the Switch, which came out four years ago and has sold like gangbusters ever since. It’s basically a small tablet with clip-on controllers that slides into a special dock that connects to your television or monitor. So you can play on your TV or take it on-the-go. The other systems don’t offer that versatility.
What’s the Switch OLED? Is it a completely new system?
The Switch OLED is a minor upgrade to the existing Switch hardware, not a new system. It has a bigger 7-inch screen (the original screen is 6.2-inches) that uses OLED instead of LCD technology. What that means in practice is that the screen is brighter with blacker blacks, whiter whites and most important of all, uses less energy. So the battery life is a lot better. There are a few other minor changes between the classic Switch and Switch OLED — I go into depth over at Engadget and in the video, below—mostly design tweaks that make it a lot nicer to hold and use.
My family already has a Switch, do we need to upgrade?
It really depends on when you bought your system. If you bought one way back in 2017, be aware that units sold from 2019 have a better battery, adding about two more hours of power. That’s the same battery that now lives in the Switch OLED, so if you upgrade from a 2017 unit to the new one, you’ll see a big improvement in how long it lasts on the go. If you’ve bought a Switch in 2019 or 2020, you won’t see as much improvement outside of the nicer screen, and that’s only if you play in handheld mode.
If your family’s Switch mostly stays in its dock connected to the TV, there’s little point in upgrading at all, since the Switch OLED’s output on your set will look the same as the classic Switch. The only reason to make the change is for a better internet connection: The Switch OLED now has a wired ethernet port, so you can plug it into your router directly. That’s great if your family games online a lot, but it’s not a must-have for solo play.
I don’t have a Switch, which one should I buy?
The Switch OLED, no question. It costs $50 more than the original, but the improved battery life is more than worth it, alongside all the small design changes that make it a pleasure to hold and use. There are ongoing rumors about a new system in development but we don’t know when it’ll be announced or released, so it’s better to get the best model available so it’ll feel fresh as long as possible.
What games should I get with it?
Unlike the consoles of our youth, the Switch OLED doesn’t come with any games in the box, so you’ll need to buy a few to make the best use of your new system. Everyone’s tastes vary, but for hardcore players we’d recommend The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Metroid Dread, the latter of which is out the same day as the Switch OLED. Newbies and casual players will enjoy Animal Crossing: New Horizons and New Pokémon Snap. You should also subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, which not only allows you to play online, but also gives you access to classic NES and SNES games. It's a great bargain at $20 a year.
When should I buy a Switch OLED?
You can order one now, and you absolutely should. Electronics in all categories have been plagued by supply chain issues for the past year or more. Video games are no exception — it’s still difficult to get a PlayStation 5 a year after its release. Even in a normal year, Nintendo systems tend to get pretty hard to find to find around the holiday season. Don’t drive yourself nuts in late November or early December looking for a console, grab one before most kids even put out their wish lists.
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