Hardware Review - Nintendo 3DS XL


Hardware Review - Nintendo 3DS XL
Bigger is most certainly better when it comes to the 3DS!
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Following Nintendo’s announcement that the 3DS would be receiving an extra large upgrade back in June of this year, there had been much speculation about just what the 3DS XL would offer to newcomers and owners of the original 3DS system alike. With no Circle Pad Pro integrated into the system, and concerns over the battery life of any new device, it’s fair to say that we were quite skeptical as to whether or not it would prove to be a worthwhile upgrade. Fortunately, it has turned out a hell of a lot better than we expected, despite the fact that it doesn’t offer anything particularly new beyond an increased footprint and larger screens.

Already available in Europe and Japan, the 3DS XL hits Canadian and North American stores on Sunday August 19th, so we were keen to get as much hands-on time with the latest arrival in Nintendo’s handheld family as possible following the arrival of our console last week. You can watch our unboxing video here to check out exactly what’s included, and to familiarise yourself with some of the basics of the device.

Obviously the first thing you’ll notice when you get the XL out of the box is the fact that it’s not actually as big as you might have expected. Despite boasting a screen size increase of 90%, the footprint of the device is a lot more slim line than we had expected. In comparison to the original 3DS, the XL is approximately an inch wider, and an inch deeper when closed, the height of the machine when laid flat on a surface is identical. In terms of weight, the 46% increase to 336 grams may seem a bit much, but it’s spread out particularly well, and the device feels comparable to the original.

Once you get it open, the screens dominate your view, boasting a 4.88 inch top screen and a 4.18 inch bottom screen compared to the previous 3.53 and 3.02 inch displays. In terms of real estate, that inch and a bit on each screen makes a huge difference. It’s now much easier than ever to accurately use the touch screen without the stylus, while the increased size makes for a much more enjoyable 3D experience for our money. Unfortunately, due to the fact that games are still optimised for the regular 3DS, you’re going to pay for that additional size with some minor pixilation during certain games.

Unless you’re incredibly anal about clarity and picture quality, the difference is negligible, and it’s certainly a worthwhile trade-off. While we’ve been around the block once or twice, we’re not yet at the age where our eyes are failing us too badly, but the additional screen size is certainly welcome when it comes to playing games in 3D while on the move. We’ve not exactly been the biggest fans of the 3D effect in most games, but the XL really does seem to help existing titles hit that sweet spot a lot more, and we find ourselves cranking up that 3D slider instead of simply turning it off.

Speaking of the 3D slider, the XL remedies one of our pet peeves from the original 3DS – the non-click off position – by finally adding in point where the slider clicks into the off position, preventing it from being accidentally turned on mid-game. It may not be a console selling addition, but it certainly is welcome in our eyes, and it’s a great way to ensure that you can eek the last drop of juice out of a dying battery before you have a chance to charge up again.

Check out our video review and unboxing!

The finish of the 3DS XL has also received something of a makeover. Out goes the shiny, glossy finish, and in comes a more subdued matte look. Not only is it a lot more appealing to the eye, particularly since you don’t have to worry about the console acting as a reflector for sunlight, but it makes prolonged gameplay a lot more comfortable too. The additional grip offered by the face buttons serves to entice long plays rather than punishing those of us with sweaty palms!

Another nice bonus is the inclusion of a 4GB SD card this time around, instead of the standard 2GB card that featured in the original system. We know that SD memory is far from pricey these days, but it’s genuinely nice to know that you don’t have to worry about storage for the foreseeable future when you purchase the console. Given the fact that first party 3DS titles are now available for day one download from the eStore, it’s good to see Nintendo offering a pre-emptive solution to possible storage issues down the line.

The lack of a second analog stick was definitely a big concern of many of us here in the office, with some seeing it as a missed opportunity for Nintendo to undo what was arguably the biggest mistake it made with the original 3DS. However, given the fact that the uptake on the Circle Pad Pro, both from consumers and developers, was relatively low, it makes sense that the company has instead opted to release a separate Circle Pad Pro peripheral for the XL so those who want it can pick it up, and those who don’t can carry on regardless.

Another potential bullet dodged comes in the shape of the XL’s battery. Given the less than impressive performance of the 3DS’s battery last time around, it was always going to be hugely important that Nintendo nailed it this time around, especially when you consider the additional power overhead required by the larger screens. Thankfully, they’ve managed to offer us vastly improved performance, with the XL long outlasting the 3DS in the battery life stakes, across a wide range of different performance testing which included volume and 3D turned all the way up, system powered on with a game loaded but not being played, online play, Netflix viewing and 3D and volume turned all the way down. On average, you can expected to get at least 4 ½ hours’ play out of a charge, increasing to as much as 9 hours depending on your settings.

With everything proving to be quite successful so far, you’re probably waiting for the big “but” – alas there’s none to be found, at least from a hardware perspective. The closest thing that we could find to a genuine negative is the fact that you’ll need to spend about 20 minutes transferring your data wirelessly from your original 3DS to your XL if you want to play your eStore purchased games and maintain your online profile on your new system. The process itself is relatively painless, and it’s identical to the procedure needed to transfer data from one 3DS to another. It’s worth noting that you only get 7 transfers during the lifetime of each 3DS device though, so those of you thinking it might be an easy way to swap downloaded games with your friends will need to think again.

The 3DS XL is a great piece of kit, from top to bottom. The build quality is solid, the finish is great, the battery is impressive (easily the pick of the current generation of handheld systems) and the larger screens really do improve the 3D experience. Whether it’s worth the upgrade will very much depend on how much you use your current 3DS. Likewise, those of you now considering picking up the system for the first time are urged to take a look at the existing software catalogue, as well as the titles on the horizon, before making your mind up.

For us though, it’s a must have, and with New Super Mario Bros. 2 hitting stores on the 19th of this month, we can’t see ourselves ever going to back to our regular 3DS.

10 Stars: Recommended
Hardware Review - Nintendo 3DS XL on ClickOnline.com
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