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Nintendo Switch vs Switch OLED: which should you buy?

A split image showing the Nintendo Switch (top left) and Nintendo Switch OLED
A split image showing the Nintendo Switch (top left) and Nintendo Switch OLED (Image credit: Nintendo)

Whether you pick up a Nintendo Switch or a Nintendo Switch OLED, you'll have access to a huge amount of top-quality gaming. Perhaps you want to analyse and learn from these titles, or just need a new way to relax. Either way, you've made a good choice.

Of the three current Switch consoles: Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Switch OLED and Nintendo Switch Lite, the Switch and Switch OLED are the most similar. While the base Switch has stayed (almost) the same since launch, the OLED version improves on several aspects, although it does cost a bit more as a result.

The Switch Lite remains the top pick if you want a purely handheld gaming experience. But if you like the option to dock your Switch and play on a bigger screen, deciding between the Switch and Switch OLED is what you need to do.

In order to help you make that decision, we've got a full analysis of all the key features of the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch OLED below. Hopefully after reading our breakdown, you'll know which console will suit you best, and then you can head straight to our Nintendo Switch deals page to find the best price for your chosen console, or see today's best offers below:

Nintendo Switch vs Switch OLED: design

The Switch and Switch OLED are nearly identical twins visually. Both consoles are in essence a black rectangle with a display on it. These have the same power/volume controls and game card slot on top, a USB-C charging port on the bottom and two side rails where the detachable Joy-Con controllers can be fitted.

Nintendo Switch OLED

The Nintendo Switch OLED with its main unit, dock and Joy-Con controllers (Image credit: Nintendo)

Looking at the measurements is where we find a difference. The Switch OLED measures 4 x 9.5 x 0.55 inches (102 x 242 x 13.9mm) with Joy-Cons attached, whereas the base Switch measures 4 x 9.4 x 0.55 inches (102mm x 239mm x 13.9mm). As for weight, the OLED model is 0.71 pounds (0.93 with Joy-Cons), and the basic Switch is 0.66 pounds (0.88 with Joy-Cons).

Nintendo Switch review

The Nintendo Switch, with its Joy-Con controllers attached (Image credit: Future)

A subtle upgrade that Nintendo made to the Switch OLED was to swap out the speakers. The new design offer greater volume and clarity to game audio if you're playing in handheld mode without headphones, compared to the old model.

One last difference that isn't immediately obvious are the two versions of the kickstand that the consoles use to stay upright while in tabletop mode. Both fold up into the console neatly, but the base Switch uses only a small, non-adjustable tab as a kickstand. The Switch OLED's stand encompasses the whole back of the console, and can be adjusted to multiple angles.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch OLED: display

This is where we see the most difference between the two consoles. First off, the size. The base Switch uses a 6.2-inch LCD display. As it says in its name, the Switch OLED uses an OLED panel, a technology that offers better power efficiency and improved brightness and contrast compared to LCD. The Switch OLED's display is also larger, at 7 inches.

The Nintendo Switch OLED in handheld mode

The Nintendo Switch OLED in handheld mode. (Image credit: Nintendo)

There's no difference in detail however. Both consoles offer 1280 x 720 displays, making for basic HD resolution when playing in handheld mode. Both consoles are capable of 1080p (FHD) output when connected to a separate display capable of that resolution.

Lastly, both displays are touchscreens. You probably won't use this much, but it is an option to keep in mind for navigating the Switch's menus or play certain games if your controllers aren't charged up.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch OLED:  battery life

Going by Nintendo's official specs, there's nothing between these two Switches' battery life if you're buying one today. It's different if you have an older Switch though.

When playing games in handheld mode, the Switch OLED lasts between 4.5 and 9 hours. The base Nintendo Switch, provided you buy the newer model, sold in an all-red box with model number HAC-001(-01).

The original Switch (HAC-001), sold between 2017 and August 2019, has much worse battery performance. It manages a range of only 2.5 - 6.5 hours. You shouldn't buy this one if either of the other models are available.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch OLED: dock/compatibility

You get two different docks with the Switch and Switch OLED, but they're actually compatible with each other.

Nintendo Switch review

The Nintendo Switch in its dock. (Image credit: Future)

The basic Switch's dock comes in black, and aside from the slot that the Switch lives in, it also features a USB-C power port, an HDMI port and a regular USB port for accessories on the back behind a hinged plastic cover. The white dock that comes with the Switch OLED does all of that, but adds an ethernet port for more stable internet while docked, and also removes the cover, leaving a plastic lip to tidy your cables with instead.

Like we mentioned before though, these docks work with either the Switch or Switch OLED (but not the Switch Lite). Nintendo also sells both kinds of dock individually too, in case you want a spare for another screen in your house or want that ethernet port for your regular Switch.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch OLED: controllers 

Both the base Switch and the Switch OLED use two removable Joy-Con controllers, which can either be used together as a dual-joystick controller in two halves or as two separate controllers, albeit only with one joystick and one pair of shoulder buttons each. The Joy-Cons also support motion control, NFC for use with Nintendo Amiibo figures (on the left controller) and an IR motion camera for controlling specific games (on the right).

The Nintendo Switch OLED from the back, with its Joy-Cons detached

The Nintendo Switch OLED from the back, with its Joy-Cons detached. (Image credit: Nintendo)

The only difference you'll find here is colours. The standard Switch ships with either two grey controllers or a blue one and a red one (also called the "Neon" version). The Switch OLED also has a Neon version, but the other choice is a pair of white controllers. However there are plenty of additional controllers you can buy from Nintendo or third-party companies, including different Joy-Con colours.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch OLED: price 

You can pick up the basic Nintendo Switch for $299/£259. The OLED model costs a little more at $349/£309. You can often find these consoles bundled in with a game or two at various retailers, but it's rare to find the consoles on sale by themselves.

Make sure you take a look at the deals below to find the top offers available right now.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch OLED: games

The available library of games is identically vast on the Switch and the Switch OLED. You can take a look at our top picks in our guide to the best Nintendo Switch games.

The only difference is that, because of its larger and brighter display, your games will look better in handheld mode on the Switch OLED than on the original Switch. That's purely because of the display though. Both consoles use the same custom Nvidia Tegra chipset to run the games, so this difference won't be noticeable on the same monitor or TV when docked.

Nintendo Switch vs Switch OLED: storage

If you plan on downloading games a lot onto your future Switch, you should know about the memory differences between the two.

The standard Nintendo Switch comes with 32GB of onboard storage, but the Switch OLED has double: 64GB. That's quite a bit more room for saved games, updates and so on.

Fortunately, both consoles can handle up to 2TB of extra storage in the form of microSD cards. You can find the slot for this beneath the kickstand on both models.

Should you buy the Nintendo Switch or the Nintendo Switch OLED?

If you're buying a new Switch right now, you're most likely better off going for the Switch OLED. It's got a better inbuilt display, improved speakers, a dock with a LAN port included in the box and double the storage of the base Switch. The only reasons the standard Switch may suit you better is if you want the lightest option of these two consoles, or you want to save a bit of money.

However if you already own a Switch and are eyeing up the Switch OLED, an upgrade is probably not worth it. The display and sound in handheld mode will be better, but you can get its other two chief advantages - the LAN dock and extra storage capacity - as separate accessories without buying a whole new console.

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Richard is a tech journalist and writer. He is Staff Writer at Tom's Guide and has a passion for smartphones, gaming and audio.