Nintendo 3DS XL review

Following the surprise post-E3 2012 announcement, Nintendo launched the first major refurbishment to their current glasses-free 3D handheld console; the Nintendo 3DS XL.

The biggest selling point of the updated console is right there in the name – it’s a supersized version of the Nintendo 3DS. But is bigger always better?

The most striking feature of the console is the much, much larger screens. The top screen measures in at 124mm wide, and the bottom screen at 106mm wide. Compared to the original 3DS’s 90mm and 77mm screens, the 3DS XL’s displays are absolutely monstrous.

The screens are dazzling and you won’t be able to imagine playing games like Mario Kart 7 on anything smaller. You notice things you didn’t see before and become more immersed in your game – even when playing in 2D mode. The screens aren’t quite as bright as the original 3DS but it’s something you can easily live with.

Nintendo 3DS XL versus original 3DS

The 3DS’s key selling point is the rendering of 3D effects without using special glasses and the 3DS XL stays true to this trait. The 3D effects are more “noticeable” and dramatic on the larger screens. Things pop out further and the feeling of depth on the 3DS XL is one-of-a-kind.

It’s also easier to find and stay in the 3D sweet-spot. You’re not as constrained in keeping your head still when viewing 3D images as when playing on the original 3DS. The 3DS XL is great for 3D viewing and prevents it from becoming a complete novelty.

Nintendo also made a fuss about the new anti-glare treatment of the screens, but I couldn’t really see the difference. I guess you’ll notice it when playing in a studio-lit environment or under a spotlight; environments gamers tend to remove themselves from in any case.

Unfortunately there is a side effect to the increased screen size; the dreaded pixelation. You can’t stretch a resolution to a larger screen and not expect some quality degradation. While it’s not as bad as the stretch from the DS to DSi XL you do notice some rough edges and blocky animations.

By no means is the graphic quality on the 3DS XL bad – it’s just apparent that there is a quality difference when compared to the original 3DS. If the 3DS XL is your first encounter with the handheld series you’ll probably spend more time drooling over the 3D effects than worrying about pixels.

The biggest culprit on the pixelation front is the 3DS XL’s inner and outer cameras. Just like the DSi and original 3DS, the 3DS XL only touts 0.3MP cameras, and photos taken by such lenses are bad enough without being stretched to 3DS XL.

Playing any of the Augmented Reality games that are pre-installed on the system is a messy business of pixels, distortion, and a sprinkle of embarrassment.

Nintendo 3DS XL launch colours

Nintendo also dropped the 3DS’s glossy finish and went for a metallic matt-finish on the exterior of the system – fingerprint haters rejoice! The inside of the console remains solid black with a similar matte finish.

It would appear as if Nintendo learned from some of the 3DS’s mistakes as the 3DS XL has more ergonomically curved sides. This makes it much more comfortable to hold the system, but the increased size almost doubles the weight of the console. After playing a while I felt the need to rest my hands on a table or my lap – something that doesn’t really happen when playing on the original 3DS.

One of the biggest concerns with the original 3DS was the poor battery life. The bigger casing of the 3DS XL allows a larger battery and the system can now provide playtime of up to 6.5 hours depending on the back-light options, 3D effect, and Wi-Fi settings. The console did live up to Nintendo’s specs and you can bargain on obtaining at least an extra hour of playtime from the 3DS XL.

There are no radical changes in the button layout or appearance of the 3DS XL; the D-Pad, Circle Pad, and input buttons are right where you expect them to be, and behave as they should. However, the Select, Home, and Start buttons received a nice little touch up and are much easier to press than before.

This brings us to the point that everyone had a fit about – why on Earth didn’t Nintendo include a second Circle Pad on the 3DS XL? It was bad enough when the gaming giant announced a strap-on accessory for the original 3DS, but the idea of a Circle Pad Pro XL is absolutely ridiculous.

Nintendo claims that they couldn’t include an additional Circle Pad on the 3DS XL because it would significantly reduce the battery performance. I’ll take that statement with a tablespoon of salt, thanks.

I can’t see how an additional input mechanic will drain the battery faster. There’s more than enough space to include the additional analogue controller below the A, B, X and Y buttons and the incoming Circle Pad Pro XL will add unnecessary bulk and complications.

An increasing number of games are compatible with the Circle Pad Pro and you’ll need to think carefully about this point before purchasing a 3DS XL. Will you ever play games like Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D or Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance that are optimized for the additional Circle Pad? Will you be happy about buying another accessory that will potentially increase the size of the 3DS XL to that of a tablet PC?

Owners of the original 3DS will notice a few more minor changes to the console: the stylus now slides into the right of the console, the 3D control slider is much more rugged and ‘clicks’ into 2D mode, the 3D indicator light has been removed and the system’s hinge system has been improved.

Oh – and the 3DS XL doesn’t come with a charger. Yes, you read correctly. In an attempt to reduce costs Nintendo dropped one of the most essential pieces from the package.

If the 3DS used a standard charging mechanism such as USB, then yes, by all means, keep it out of the package. However, assuming that every potential customer owns one of your proprietary chargers is a little absurd. I foresee loads of returned 3DS XL’s because “the charger is missing from the box”. After all, there’s only a small yellow warning about this vital “accessory” that’s not included.

I was also surprised to find that nothing changed on the software front. The system interface and Home menu options are identical to that of the 3DS and even show diagrams of the original 3DS throughout the initial system setup and 3D calibration steps. I wasn’t expecting a brand new software update but it’s apparent that everything was ‘copy-pasted’ from the 3DS to 3DS XL.

Yes – there are a lot of points about the 3DS XL that are disappointing. I guess I was expecting a major overhaul that would render the original 3DS obsolete. But that’s just it – that’s not what Nintendo’s trying to do with the 3DS XL. The 3DS XL is supposed to be a parallel to the 3DS with similar features. At its core the only difference between the 3DS and 3DS XL is the increased size and we can’t blame Nintendo for trying to trick us otherwise.

If you’re new to the handheld market the 3DS XL is a very attractive console with a decent software library, but at a recommended South African retail price of R2,349 I wouldn’t urge you to go and buy a 3DS XL if you already have a 3DS.

The larger screens and additional battery life are a major improvement on the 3DS XL and if you have decent household insurance you might want to consider leaving your original 3DS on the side of the bathtub…

The complete spec sheet includes:


  • 134mm × 74mm × vertical thickness horizontal 21mm (when folded)
  • (Including the battery pack stylus SD memory card) 235g

Top screen

  • (Approximately 16.77 million colors viewable) widescreen LCD with integrated Autostereoscopic
  • 240 dots vertical (horizontal) × 800 dots / (46.08mm vertical 76.8mm × horizontal) 3.53 type
  • can be assigned respectively to 400 dot 800 dot the right eye-left eye (horizontal three-dimensional representation is possible)

Bottom screen

  • (Approximately 16.77 million colors viewable) LCD with touch input feature
  • type 240 3.02 × 320 dots vertical dots next to / (46.08mm 61.44mm × vertical horizontal)


  • Two cameras inside / outside
  • Resolution (0.3 mega pixels) 640 × 480 both lenses: the number of effective pixels CMOS /:: imaging element / focal length of approximately 300,000 pixels


  • 2.4GHz communications passing between the play and play Nintendo 3DS available
  • via the wireless LAN access point can be connected to the Internet (supports IEEE802.11b / g Reinforcement (WPA / WPA2 ) security) within 30m distance recommended ambient communication (※ may be shortened by circumstances)

Game inputs

  • A / B / X / Y button, cross, L / R buttons, Start / Select button
  • (Possible 360-degree analog input) Slide pad
  • Touch screen
  • Built-in microphone
  • Camera
  • Motion sensor
  • Gyro sensor
  • System inputs
  • Game card slot
  • SD memory card slot
  • Charging terminal
  • AC adapter connection terminal
  • Headphone connection terminal (stereo output)
  • On the screen left and right stereo speakers (for surround pseudo-)
  • (10cm when fully extended about) possible expansion and contraction


  • If you want to play Nintendo software 3DS : about 3 hours to 6.5 hours
  • if you want to play the Nintendo DS software: about 5 hours to 8 hours
  • Battery life may vary depending on the brightness of the screen.

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