It’s fair to say that the 3DS didn’t have the start that Nintendo was hoping for. Launched amid high expectation and a groundswell of three dimensional hype, the system initially struggled to find an audience; it took a price cut and an injection of big-name quality software to bolster its commercial fortunes and allay the fears of Nintendo’s increasingly nervous shareholders. Given that the console is only now finding its footing, you might assume that the last thing it needs is a revised version hitting the market – yet that’s exactly what's happened.
Of course, this being Nintendo, it’s hardly an unexpected move. The company has a history of incrementally refreshing its portable hardware; the Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Advance SP and DS Lite are all evidence of this. Like those machines, the 3DS XL is outwardly different but internally (almost) identical: it features the same hardware, screen resolution and camera type as its direct ancestor. Only the size has changed — the system is noticeably bigger than the original 3DS, although it retains roughly the same thickness.
The most obvious advantage of this increased size is the screens – the top display in particular is a whopping 90% larger than the one on the previous console, although as we’ve just touched upon, the resolution is unaltered. The 4.88-inch screen certainly makes a difference when playing games, making them bigger, bolder and consequently more visually alluring, but it brings with it a degree of pixellation. In terms of overall brightness, viewing angles and colour balance, everything seems exactly as it was before.
Another welcome side-effect of the enlarged casing is comfort – while it’s certainly not true for everyone, a worrying percentage of owners of the first 3DS have complained about hand cramp, something that we can personally vouch for here at Nintendo Life. By opening up the console’s interface and spreading out the various pads and buttons, the 3DS XL feels roomier and consequently more pleasurable to use for prolonged periods of time.
Naturally, you’d expect a console with bigger displays to soak up more battery power, so Nintendo has wisely taken this opportunity to increase the stamina of its new system. A bigger case offers the potential for a bigger battery, and the one inside the 3DS XL is able to achieve around six hours of play, although this can be lower, depending on what activity you’re involved in. This is a marked improvement over its forerunner but it’s still not enough in our eyes. The fact is that modern handhelds are advancing at a faster rate than the rechargeable cells which power them.
Nintendo has also taken steps to safeguard the console's digital future by bundling a 4GB SD card, which offers double the size of the 2GB version included with the original 3DS. It’s a necessary move when you consider the company’s plans to make all first-party 3DS releases available for digital download after 17th August.
Other changes include a non-telescopic stylus (which is now docked on the side of the unit, rather than on the top), a revised 3D slider which ‘clicks’ into place when using the 2D mode and a row of physical buttons along the bottom of the screen, which replace the odd single-piece panel on the first iteration of the hardware.
Aside from that, this really is just the 3DS writ large. You won’t find any other technological enhancements hiding away inside the casing, which is disappointing but entirely understandable – by adding in new features at this early stage, Nintendo would effectively divide the market and alienate early adopters.
So should you rush out and buy a 3DS XL? It depends what your current position is. If you’ve held off joining the 3D revolution then by all means, grab one. It makes more sense to pick up this version of the system because the bigger screens and improved battery life make it a superior option to the original console. However, if you’re already a 3DS owner, the outlook is less clear. To be perfectly honest, we can't shake the feeling that the 3DS XL fails to offer enough of an improvement over the previous model to justify shelling out all that money.
When you consider that the painful process of porting over your data from one 3DS to another, as well as the fact that in the UK and Japan, the new system ships without a power supply and charging dock, the notion of upgrading becomes even less appealing.
We also have to admit that we prefer the look sharp, edgy look of the original system – the rounded corners of the XL variant look a little cheap, although this is purely personal preference, of course. Still, if you’ve struggled with the size of the 3DS and want something a little more comfortable, then Nintendo’s new portable could be what you’re looking for. Just don’t expect a revolution – this is more of an evolution.
If you've picked up a 3DS XL and need to know how to transfer your 3DS data, check out the video below.