Hardware Review: Nintendo 3DS

We take Nintendo's 3D portable wonder for a spin

To say that the buzz surrounding the upcoming Nintendo 3DS system is insane would probably be the understatement of the century. The system has garnered an incredible amount of hype and anticipation over the past year since it was announced and now that we've had a hefty dose of playing time on the unit, we thought we'd let you in on our thoughts about it.

When you first take the 3DS out of its protective wrapper, not much can prepare you for just how glossy and shiny it truly is. Now while this does mean the unit will show every single fingerprint that touches it, it does give the system a very sleek and glittery look. Its shape and feel is very similar to that of the DS Lite with its slippery outer shell and smooth rounded edges. About the only dead giveaway would be the system's layered plastic makeup that does give it a very unique look and feel.

The first major difference from past DS systems is the addition of the analogue Circle Pad, something DS owners have been clamouring for since Super Mario 64 was launched alongside the original DS system. Despite the Circle Pad's similar look to that of the analogue nub on the Sony PSP, it's actually quite a bit more comfortable to use, not to mention a bit larger in size. Rather than the hard plastic makeup of Sony's analogue nub, the Circle Pad has a slightly more rubbery feel which makes it not only easier on your thumb, but also gives it a bit more grip.

Adding in the Circle Pad meant that Nintendo would have to find a new home for its D-Pad and that location is now just below the Circle Pad. Now while this obviously offers up the question as how comfortable it will be using the D-Pad given how much lower down on the system's control face it now is, we can safely say that it works just fine in its new location. Sure it feels a little odd right at first, but once you use it for a while, it quickly becomes like second nature. And given how much more control response the analogue Circle Pad offers, having the D-Pad moved down a bit is a small price to pay in the overall scheme of things.

Of course we can't talk about controls without mentioning the buttons of the unit, and once again there are a nice variety of them to play around with. The system once again features the 4 action buttons on the control face with the two shoulder buttons on top of the unit. The other buttons have been moved around a bit with the power button now residing on the left lower side of the system's control face and the SELECT, HOME, and START buttons lined up along the bottom of the touch-screen. Much like the D-Pad, it just takes a little getting used to, but soon you'll be hitting the buttons instinctively.

On top of the action and function buttons, the 3DS also features sliders for volume, 3D depth, and wi-fi. The depth slider tends to feature a looser feel, similar to the volume button on the DS Lite system, whereas the volume and wi-fi sliders are far more tight and don't have any wiggle to them. All three work quite well, although the slight looseness of the depth slider can cause it to be moved just from picking it up or carrying the system around. It's certainly not a major concern, but it does make you wonder why Nintendo didn't give it the same tucked in feel the other sliders feature.

Once again Nintendo has made use of dual screens, but this time one of the screens is not only a 5:3 widescreen, it also features full 3D without the need for any type of glasses. The crispness and clarity of the top 3D screen is impeccable from the moment you first lay eyes on it. Of course keeping the 3D in focus will mean keeping the system centred in front of your eyes, something you'll become more accustomed to the more time you spend playing the system. Even when you switch the 3D function off, the screen still shows the type of vibrancy and clarity we've come to expect from Nintendo's portable game systems over the years. The bottom screen is a standard 2D touch-screen and performs and functions just like the one on the previous DS models.

In keeping with backward compatibility, the 3DS will even allow you to play your classic DS games. They will be stretched to fit the screen vertically by default, something that will make them a bit fuzzy and washed out colour-wise. If you're not a fan of having the DS games stretched out a bit, you can always hold the SELECT and START buttons when you load them up and play them in their native resolution. The only downside to this is that playing the games in their native resolution will make them a tad small in size given the higher resolution of the 3DS screens, but it's a small price to pay for the added vibrancy and clarity.

The speakers remain in their same location on both sides of the top screen, although the 3DS uses dots in the shape of a crosshair instead of the two tiny oval openings like those on the DSi. Sound quality is quite good and seems to come off a bit more spacious on the 3DS. Nintendo has also moved the 3.5mm headphone output over from the bottom right side of the system to the bottom middle, a nice touch which keeps it out of the way of your hands this time around.

The LED lights on the 3DS are a bit more strung out on the unit and feature an additional fourth light that displays alerts such as friend communications, StreetPass, and SpotPass functions. The power on and charging lights are housed on the bottom edge of the system with the wi-fi and alert lights on the top right side and top right hinge respectively. While the power and charging buttons only light up when the system is powered on and/or charging, the wi-fi and alert lights will typically blink during various communications. The alert light will even turn red and blink to warn you when your battery life is beginning to get low.

Another new addition with the 3DS comes in the form and location of the stylus. This time around Nintendo has included a telescoping stylus that extends to form a fairly lengthy stylus that should be comfortable for just about any size hand. The stylus compartment is also now located on top of the unit rather than on the right side like the DSi. It takes a little getting used to, as anyone used to the DSi system will find themselves constantly reaching for the stylus on the right side of the system.

Although it's only a 2GB SD Card, Nintendo was at least kind enough to include one in the box this time around. In fact, they were so generous, that they went ahead and installed it into the system for you, something which left me aimlessly searching around the 3DS box for 15 minutes looking for it. While we've yet to get an official confirmation on what the size limit for these SD cards is, I've tried up to a 32GB card and they all performed flawlessly. You'll also be able to launch games directly from the SD card this time, yet another long-awaited feature.

The addition of the cameras on the DSi opened up some brand new things that could be done with the system, including augmented reality. With the 3DS system, you still get an inside and outside camera system, but this time the 3DS features two camera lenses on the outside of the system allowing you to shoot photos in full 3D. It also allows developers to use these cameras for augmented reality in full 3D as well. If you need a little sampling, Nintendo have been kind enough to pre-install two AR games for you to try out that show just how amazing these cameras can make gaming experiences when used correctly.

For any of us who've spent any significant time with a portable game system, we know how gruelling it can be to plug that tiny AC adapter fitting into our system. There's absolutely no telling how many countless man-hours have been wasted partaking of this painstaking activity. Well we can all breath a huge collective sigh of relief as Nintendo has felt our pain and finally included a charging dock with the system called the Charging Cradle. Now you just gently sit your 3DS on top of the cradle to charge and walk away with no strenuous plugging in of the AC Adapter whatsoever.

To round out the package, you'll once again have a HOME menu that controls all of the inner workings of the 3DS system. These range from your settings all the way to Mii creation tools. You'll even have the Camera and Sound applications to toy around with once again, although Nintendo hasn't added much to the Sound application and is surprisingly similar to the one found on the DSi system. You can also tackle a host of AR Games using the included set of AR card or paste your ugly mug onto one of the Face Raiders and take part in an all out augmented reality war right there inside of your very own surroundings.

It would be nearly impossible to not be wildly impressed with Nintendo's newest portable wonder. The 3DS delivers one of the most amazing gaming experiences we're ever seen, and it does so with many of the conveniences we've become accustomed to from Nintendo over the years. The inclusion of the Circle Pad immediately pays dividends and the 3D screen alone is worth the price of the system. While there's really no way for us to convey exactly how amazing the system's 3D display truly is, we're confident that once you lay eyes on this incredible system in person, you'll be lined up with everyone else come launch day. So after careful consideration, not to mention countless hours of playing time, I'm going to have to stand by my original evaluation of the 3DS - it's incredible, absolutely incredible.

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