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The Switch Lite arrived in 2019. What comes next?


Sarah Tew/CNET

The Switch has been a runaway success for Nintendo, especially after a 2020 that had us all shut in at home playing Animal Crossing. The question now is… what comes next? Signs point to a new, 7-inch OLED model with possible 4K gaming when docked, coming later this year.

The Nintendo Switch debuted four years ago; the less expensive Switch Lite arrived two years ago. Meanwhile, the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 have arrived. Sony and Microsoft are in next-gen console land, while Nintendo seems to be staying the course. A recent Nintendo rundown of upcoming Switch games had no news on any new Switch hardware. But the question looms as to whether something might still come later this year.


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Nintendo, as always, is coy on details. A Polygon interview with Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser last December suggested the Switch was midway in its console cycle, and that “existing form factors” would be honored. A Bloomberg report from earlier last year said Nintendo may already be looking to developers to upgrade their games to 4K for an eventual hardware refresh.

Meanwhile, the Nintendo Switch has already sold more systems than the Nintendo 3DS, and could eventually catch up to the Wii.

There wasn’t any new Switch in 2020, but could a long-rumored “Switch Pro” eventually happen in 2021? I could see it happening, though I think of it more as a Switch XL with some useful extras. 

When asked about future plans, Nintendo declined to comment.

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Nintendo’s 3DS lineup continued to evolve and the Switch might do the same.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Very likely: Larger OLED display, improved TV gaming when docked

A new Bloomberg report says an updated Switch with an OLED display is coming this year. The 7-inch Samsung OLED could be 720p, according to the report. The existing Switch and Switch Lite have 720p displays, but they’re 6.2- and 5.5-inch LCD panels. Reports of a larger Switch display go back to last year, at least, but reports then pointed to different display manufacturers.

That’s not a huge screen size increase, but maybe it will come in tandem with a case redesign to become more compact. Then again, if a new Switch changes the size of its body, it could be a problem when connecting with older Switch accessories.

4K game resolution on a TV — also mentioned in Bloomberg’s report — feels overdue, but would that also mean a new wave of games that are 4K-optimized? If so, how would those games play on a 720p screen on the go, and how would those games feel on older Switches?

Previous Nintendo 3DS updates offer an idea of how the Switch could incrementally evolve

Even though the original Nintendo Switch arrived in 2017, there have been some evolutions since then. The more affordable, handheld-only Switch Lite arrived last fall, and has been the Switch that’s been the easiest to find in stock online. The dockable original Switch got a significant battery life boost around that time, too.

While Nintendo’s TV-connected consoles usually haven’t gotten many updates after launch, Nintendo handhelds tend to get evolutions every couple of years. The Nintendo 3DS (early 2011) was followed by the larger-screened 3DS XL (mid-2012), the Nintendo 2DS (2013), New Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS XL (late 2014-early 2015), and New Nintendo 2DS XL (2017).

On that timeline, getting another Switch update would happen… this year. Will that happen? Well, 2017 was a long time ago, and the Switch Lite in 2019 was basically a cosmetic upgrade (and feature reduction).

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The Switch Lite (top) and original Switch (bottom). There’s room for improvement.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Small updates could still offer a lot of upside

I could dream all day of how a brand-new Switch 2 could push modular gaming into uncharted territory, but the Switch is in a major success mode now and it seems extremely unlikely that Nintendo would shake that up. Tweaking the hardware formula, however, with some extra perks in a shiny new model seems like a very likely move.

The Switch is a system that gets a lot of wear and tear: Joy-Cons break, backs crack, they take dings and get tossed around by accident. Moving to a new version every few years isn’t a crazy idea for a serious player.

We’re also at the point where console ports of games are hitting maybe a bit of a wall with current Switch hardware. The PS5 and Xbox Series X run rings around the Switch in terms of performance. Big deal, you might think: except, well, the Switch really should at least allow for 4K games at this point. Or some improved graphics and performance for games that get ported over. It would help for cross-platform games, which seem to be happening at an increasing pace.


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My wish list

An XL version with a larger OLED screen (and 1080p)

I admit, I squint at the Switch screen a lot, especially the smaller Switch Lite. The 3DS went bigger-screen and it could be an easy move to make an XL Switch that reduces the large bezels and expands the screen across the body. Maybe 7 inches, or 7.5. Make the display better and brighter, and allow it to show the better 1080p resolution you can get on the docked Switch games.

The display could also shift to OLED. That would certainly help with display clarity and quality. The existing Switch displays are okay, but not great.

An improved processor

The older Nvidia Tegra processor on the Switch can handle games just fine, but that venting fan on top shows it has to chug a little more than I’m comfortable with. Besides not requiring a venting fan (maybe), an improved Switch processor could also aim to boost handheld performance up to what the docked Switch can do. 

4K when docked

If there’s a new processor onboard, it should help push 4K games to a TV when docked. That would help games look prettier, but it would also allow better-looking split-screen multiplayer. I do a lot of that on the Switch right now, and I’d love to see games use more of my TV real estate.

Easier docking

If the onboard processor can handle graphics better, maybe that also means that the weird, bulky Switch dock can be shrunk down, too. I’d prefer an official Nintendo unit that’s really compact and easier to pack and travel with. There are third-party options already, but I’m hoping the entire official package gets more elegant.

Bluetooth audio

I still save a pair of wired 3.5mm headphones to plug into the Switch, somewhere near my bedside table. It’s absurd. Everything else works with Bluetooth headsets, but not the Switch. Nintendo’s controllers are wireless. Come on, introduce Bluetooth audio.

Fix the kickstand

The dockable Switch can also be a great little prop-up arcade machine for two players. I love that idea. The kickstand on the Switch doesn’t make that idea work very well, though. I need to balance it just right, or the Switch tips over (not a great idea with kids). Maybe a revised, smaller Switch dock could double as that prop-up stand.

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Switch Lite colors are nice. There should be more.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Include lots of colors (like the Switch Lite)

Just saying that colorful Switches are fun and the original Switch is only available in black.

Sturdier Joy-Cons (with D-pads and analog triggers)

Because the Joy-Con slots into Labo and Ring Fit Adventure and other accessories, I’m not sure it makes sense to change the general form of the controllers. But really, there needs to be an upgrade. My son, who’s gotten into Fortnite on the Xbox, comments on the Switch controls not feeling good enough. Nintendo has its Pro controller, but even that lacks analog triggers.

A new version of Joy-Cons are well overdue. I’d love to see a less creaky revision that doesn’t feel so worn down over time. I’d like improved vibration with more accurate haptics, and what would really be nice is a true analog set of trigger buttons for games that could take advantage of them.

And D-pads. The Switch Lite changed the left-side buttons to introduce a real, classic Nintendo-style D-pad that helps make games like NES Classics or Tetris 99 feel more natural. Joy-Con controllers on the original Switch don’t have D-pads, but it would be great if one did.

Could a Pro model arrive later this year?

Four and a half years seems like a perfect time for a Switch Pro or Switch XL to emerge. It doesn’t need to be a whole new system, but it could be wholly improved. With the success Nintendo’s already seen from the Switch, it makes a lot of sense. It might even justify a higher price.

But if previous Nintendo hardware upgrades are an indicator, the changes might not be big enough to inspire buying a new one. Existing Switch owners could be just fine with what they already have, unless you feel like waiting it out, or treating yourself to an upgrade when the time comes.

For the true expert opinion, however, I turned to my 8-year-old. He says, “Take two little controllers, pull them apart and pull up a tiny screen. It’s a Switch you can fit in your pocket.” I don’t know if a Switch Micro is happening anytime soon, but that’s what he wants and it’s not a terrible idea. 



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