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First impressions of Nintendo's 3DS XL

Our early thoughts on the beefed-up version of Nintendo's handheld
Product: Nintendo 3DS XL | Publisher: Nintendo
Nintendo 3DS XL 3DS, thumbnail 1
It might not be out until July 28th across Europe, but Nintendo was kind enough to ship out early units of its upcoming 3DS XL handheld to eager / spoilt rotten games journalists this week.

Considerate creatures that we are, we thought we'd open up the box of the 3DS's big brother, remove all the cellophane, and deliver our first impressions on Nintendo's latest piece of kit.

Aren't we kind.

Look and feel

The first thing that strikes you about the 3DS XL is how much nicer it actually feels. The effect is appreciable the moment you first get your hands on it, and it's down to two things: its soft silver sheen and the more rounded corners around its underside.

As a result, it rests more comfortably in the palm of your hands, and the curvier design extends all the way around the system, with smoothed-off shoulder buttons also a noteworthy improvement.

In terms of heft, the 3DS XL weighs just under 100 grams more than the original (339 vs 241 grams), but doesn't feel noticeably heftier once the lid's open and you're actually playing on it.

Remarkably, despite the increased dimensions and weight of the 3DS XL, the height of both systems is nigh-on identical, though the XL's rounded edges give it the illusion of being thinner when stood vertically side-by-side.

Cosmetic surgery

Once you open up the lid, the cosmetic differences of the XL become more apparent. Firstly, its innards are black - rather than silver. Secondly, the surface is coated with a rougher fingerprint-resistant film, similar to the one used on the DSi models.

The basic controls all feel largely identical to the original, although Nintendo has opted for an inferior, non-retracting plastic stylus - again, similar to the DS and DSi's, which doubtlessly means you'll eventually lose it when it no longer clips snugly into place. Irritatingly, there's no spare provided, either.

Elsewhere, the front three Select / Home / Start functions have been given distinct buttons, while the location of the XL's mic is now etched into the plastic - just to the left of the circular power button.

In terms of other minor design changes, the headphone socket can now be found on the front left - rather than the centre - while the SD flap has been switched from the left side to the right, just next to the relocated stylus housing. The 3D slider, volume, and wireless switches remain exactly where they were, but are now slightly more prominent than they were.

Screen test

The real star of the show, though, is the XL's expanded screens. The top one benefits from a 90 per cent hike in surface area, which is, unfortunately, not a uniformly positive upgrade.

On the plus side, having a bigger screen has the obvious effect of delivering a bigger impact. Given that you're holding the 3DS XL at the exact same range as previously, having a bigger image in front of your excitable mush automatically feels like a good thing.

The glasses-free 3D effect, in particular, is more convincing on a larger screen, with a discernibly wider viewing angle than was previously possible.

With an image less prone to refracting the minute you stop viewing the system dead-on, there's more of a temptation to play with the 3D settings on, safe in the knowledge that you won't end up with a confusing image - or worse, a splitting headache.

Bigger is better?

That said, bigger doesn't automatically mean better. As with the DSi XL, having a bigger screen merely exposes the limitations of the image. Jaggies that were previously not apparent suddenly stand out, while the screen reveals itself to be noticeably fuzzier than the one on the original 3DS.

Close-up, it's very easy to spot individual pixels, which in today's era of pin-sharp Retina displays feels like a retrograde step. That said, once you put away the microscope and start actually playing on the thing, it's something your eyes compensate for very quickly.

In terms of battery life, Nintendo is saying that the XL grants you an extra half an hour for 3DS titles (boosting it to 3.5 hours), and up to an extra hour for DS / DSi titles (boosting it to six hours). To be blunt, it's a minor improvement, nothing more, and the 3DS is still a relatively thirsty handheld compared to previous Nintendo models.

Audio-wise, it'll be no great shock to anyone to discover that the sound is pathetically tinny, with Nintendo doing nothing to enhance the notoriously weedy output from previous models. As ever, headphones are essential if you want to get the most out of the system.

Two thumbs, one pad

We couldn't conclude an assessment of the 3DS XL without rueing the lack of a built-in second Circle Pad Pro. Frankly, the console real estate is even less of an issue than it was before, and 'solving' the issue by releasing an even more comical XL version of the Circle Pad Pro is going to turn the already-chunky system into a plastic goliath.

Why Nintendo didn't just include the Circle Pad Pro XL on the 3DS XL by default will go down as one of the biggest mysteries in modern handheld gaming.

Perhaps even more of a mystery is why Nintendo saw fit to entirely dispense with an AC adaptor for the 3DS XL in Europe and Japan. If you're a games journalist or hardcore Nintendophile with an existing DSi and 3DS charger to hand, fair enough, it's no biggie, but for most customers it's a ridiculous oversight.

Opportunity knocked

In our Day One estimation, the 3DS XL represents something of a missed opportunity for Nintendo. On the one hand, it's a more desirable 3DS, with a superior finish and more comfortable feel. On the other, the wow factor of the larger screen and improved 3D soon gives way to disappointment over the image clarity.

After its alarming financial slump last year, Nintendo's current priority is returning to profit - and it shows. No doubt once the components are cheap enough, we'll eventually get a Nintendo handheld system with all the features we desire - but only when it's profitable for The Big N. For now, gamers will just have to settle for a few compromises.

Reviewer photo
Kristan Reed 4 July 2012
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Jul 2012
Post count:
MikeJones | 11:28 - 8 July 2012
This is why I didn't buy a 3DS in the first place; Nintendo ALWAYS do this type of thing. Game Boy Advance, GBA SP, GBA Micro. DS, DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL. 3DS, and now this. And usually, now I'd go and buy the updated version, but what for? It's a flippin' behemoth of a console, at what point do you stop calling it a portable? I'll wait for the next upgrade, thanks.

And sorry jn2002dk to pile on the pressure, but that certainly isn't a valid argument. 3DS owners without a circle pad pro are already being conned because games are easier to play when it uses it. Adding a second circle pad surely wouldn't be as big a kick in the teeth as reducing the prices of the 3DS dramatically and then saying "Sorry about that. Here, have a flippin' 25 year old game for your troubles." It's pretty much confusing to everyone except the strongest Nintendo fanboys that the upgrade definitely needed it, yet it's gonna get a silly looking plastic peripheral. I've been a Nintendo boy all my life; since n64 there hasn't been a home console or portable generation I've missed (except this), but this is just ridiculous. The article I'm sure is unnecessarily harsh, but it is still a let down, and you really can't battle your way out of it, jn.
May 2009
Post count:
careface | 01:04 - 6 July 2012
jn: Way to run away from the discussion. All the Nintendo fanboys will agree with "YOU", so you can just sit in your little bubble and see the world through your own eyes. It's pathetic when it's so obvious.
Apr 2012
Post count:
jn2002dk | 09:18 - 5 July 2012

I'm sorry but i can't take anyone who uses u instead of you and ad hominem seriously

Back to school with you
May 2009
Post count:
careface | 01:02 - 5 July 2012
jn2002: They made that decision with Resident Evil and it's the best game on the system. People who wants to play the real games will have to buy the circlepad or upgrade and that's it. Just because U might not be able to afford a new unit, you're not one to say that it's a bad move cuz the console as it is now is incomplete.
Jun 2011
Post count:
Etharius | 23:14 - 4 July 2012
"It's simply not good business practice to screw over early adopters"

Too late for that by a long chalk. As a "Nintendo Ambassador" let me tell you, nothing sucks more than having a company admit they overcharged you and then fob you off with a load of ancient games which look terrible on the unit anyway.

IMO, this is a dud. Since it offers no benefit over the existing 3DS, why on Earth would I upgrade to it? If I'm looking at the unit as a new customer, it's bigger, far uglier and the graphics look worse. Plus they've pulled a Sony and left an important and necessary item out of the box.

*Slow handclap*

This is typical Nintendo, arrogantly ignoring all their customer feedback and simultaneously making the new system a misery to upgrade to. Want to trade in your old DS? Well it's pretty much worthless and you'll have to buy a new charger because no one will take your old one without it.

Apr 2012
Post count:
jn2002dk | 17:37 - 4 July 2012

It certainly is a valid argument, you even prove it by saying they could make a sucky version of games for people with the original 3ds. That's the equivalent of screwing your early adopters and obviously that's a bad idea

As for your 3ds collecting dust, well that's your problem isn't it? Plenty of people are enjoying theirs including me
May 2009
Post count:
careface | 16:53 - 4 July 2012
jn2002dk: That isn't a valid argument since they could just make the games that are made for 2 sticks be circlepadpro games. And like they've done with Resident Evil, make a sucky version for those who don't own the accessory and refuse to buy it. I want real games to my 3ds, right now it's collecting dust. Kingdom Hearts will go warm on it though, then it's the shelf til a real 3ds with proper controls inevitably surfaces.
Apr 2012
Post count:
jn2002dk | 15:49 - 4 July 2012
"Why Nintendo didn't just include the Circle Pad Pro XL on the 3DS XL by default will go down as one of the biggest mysteries in modern handheld gaming"

No, it won't

Give it up already, lots of people have explained why. It's simply not good business practice to screw over early adopters since more and more games would require 2 pads

Now that's out of the way...sigh...i'm going to have to upgrade again. That big screen is just so tempting
Jul 2012
Post count:
Mischa | 15:02 - 4 July 2012
Question: the pathetically tinny sound you are talking about, was that present in the old DSphat? Just wondering how it compares.