Hardware Review: Nintendo DSi XL

Is bigger really better?

It would be accurate to say that more than a few heads were scratched when Nintendo announced that they were releasing yet another new model of their DS system called the DSi XL, especially considering that their DSi system had only been on the market for less than eight months. And to make things even more odd, instead of making the system smaller and more portable, Nintendo instead chose to make the system quite a bit larger.

The DSi LL, as it's being called in Japan, just hit store shelves a couple of days ago and already it's been met with mixed reactions. While the system has sold fairly well in its launch window, it's still a bit early to tell how successful the system will end up being in the long run, especially with it being sold alongside the regular DSi system. We were lucky enough to get our hands on one of these new DSi LL systems and have spent the past few hours putting it through its paces and pitting it up against the regular DSi to see how this new unit stacks up. So without further ado, let's get to it.

The first thing you'll notice when you un-box the DSi LL system is just how large it really is. To say that this thing is a beast would be an understatement. All of the various buttons and ports on the system are in exactly the same place as the regular DSi unit, so anyone moving up to this larger version will likely find the layout of the system quite familiar. Although the system does come with a rather large stylus that closely resembles a fountain pen, the unit still comes with a small stylus that slides into the side of the unit much the same way as the regular DSi. Of course if you want to carry around the larger stylus, you will have to carry it separately, as there is no slot for it on the system itself.

The unit itself looks almost identical to the DSi system, just of a much larger size. Oddly enough, the top of the system sports a glossy lid, whereas the rest of the system features the same type of matte finish as the standard DSi. One difference is that the texture is quite bit tackier on this DSi LL, possibly to make it easier to hold onto given its larger size and heft. Much like the other glossy portable systems out there, fingerprints quickly build up on the top of the system and seem to be especially noticeable given this Wine Red unit's darker color.

Another feature unique to the DSi LL system is the lid's locking points. Whereas the DSi system has two locking points as you open it up, the DSi LL system has three. It still features the same fully open and slightly tilted viewing angles of the regular DSi system, but it also has an slightly larger than 90 degrees open angle lock for what looks like having other players be able to sit around the unit and play. It's a small touch, but an interesting one nonetheless.

The D-Pad and action buttons are all the exact same size as those found on the regular DSi system, and for the most part they have the exact same feel to them. They might be a tad more clicky than those of the DSi, but it was difficult to pinpoint any differences in the way they looked and felt in comparison. The START and SELECT buttons are slightly larger, but they too have basically the exact same feel as those on the standard DSi system.

The best feature of this DSi LL system would have to be its larger screens. Not only are they much bigger in size than those of the standard DSi system, but they're also a bit brighter as well. You'll especially notice this when viewing the system from the side. You won't lose much brightness or clarity no matter how far off to the side of the system you get. This was obviously something Nintendo wanted to emphasize in this version and they've done it quite well. Since this unit has the exact same resolution as the regular DSi system, there is no screen stretching of any kind and despite the pixels being larger, you certainly can't tell it from looking at the unit's screens. Every game we tried on the system looked absolutely gorgeous. If ever there were a reason to move up to this system, these screens would have to be most attractive one.

It's difficult to fault the DSi LL system as it is a beautiful system and offers two of the best looking screens you're likely to see on a portable game system. It's obviously going to appeal more to gamers who might have trouble viewing the smaller screens of the standard DSi system, but if you're one of those people who just prefer the larger screens, it would be well worth it to at least give this unit some consideration. That being said, we still found ourselves preferring to stick with our standard DSi systems given their increased portability and more comfortable form factor.

The bottom line is this - if you already own a DSi system, you're probably going to be better off sticking with it rather than spending the extra money to buy this beast of a portable game system - if you can even call it portable. Of course if you have yet to invest in a DSi, you'll most likely want to at least demo one of these XL models when they hit retail shelves in the US and Europe early next year, as if you can manage to overlook the system's slight lack of portability due to its larger size, you might find that the amazing screens are more than worth the trade-off. Either way it's nice to see Nintendo giving gamers a choice and also opening up the portable market to those who might not have the best eyesight. And since we're not exactly getting any younger, this little gem might actually come in handy someday.

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