Matching The CompetitionFaced with the Sony PlayStation Vita's 5" screen and smartphones that are increasingly bigger in size and increasingly geared up for gaming (4.7" screen for the HTC One X, 4.8" for the Samsung Galaxy S3 and even 5.3" for the Samsung Galaxy Note), Nintendo has decided to load its 3DS XL with screens of a similar size. The console's top screen (5:3 format) is 4.88" (12.4 cm) in size, while the bottom screen (4:3 format) measures 4.18" (10.6 cm).
However, the screen resolution hasn't been upped—Nintendo therefore doesn't have to change the console's hardware and there'll be no impact on the way games are displayed. The top screen therefore keeps its 800 x 240 pixel resolution (400 x 240 per eye in 3D). So while everything is certainly bigger, easier to see and generally more comfortable on the 3DS XL, pixels and aliasing effects are inevitably also bigger and more visible. The PS Vita doesn't have this problem thanks to its higher resolution of 960 x 544 pixels (2.72 times higher than the 3DS XL) and effective anti-aliasing in most games. Nintendo may therefore seem to have made a surprising choice at a time when display sharpness is an important factor in portable devices. In fact, with high-end screens like Apple's Retina display, pixels can no longer be picked out with the naked eye. So with resolutions now approaching 300 dpi or more in many handheld devices, the 3DS XL is left trailing behind with 95 dpi in 2D mode (118 dpi for the 3DS)!
In spite of that, the glasses-free 3D effect still gains from the increased screen size. In 3D, the impression of depth is generally more effective, although you still need to be facing the screens more or less directly to enjoy 3D without too much visual fatigue (see our original 3DS review for more information).
We measured brightness levels that were slightly lower in the 3DS XL than the original 3DS, which is a bit of a shame—especially since these are glossy screen panels. Then again, the reduced brightness does help boost battery life a little, so thankfully Nintendo's console doesn't run out of juice ridiculously quickly at its maximum brightness setting.
Although this new outsized model looks more plasticky than the first 3DS, the 3DS XL still has an excellent-quality finish. Plus, Nintendo is now using matte plastics, which really help keep fingerprints and greasy smears to a minimum. That said, the console doesn't have quite the same generally high-end look as the original.
Nintendo has also rounded off some of the console's squarer edges, making the 3DS XL more pleasant to handle than the 3DS. Its bigger size is a plus here too, as the new model is nicer to hold, particularly if you have larger hands. Best of all—your thumb doesn't have to bend round as much to use the analogue controller, as this is further away from the console's bottom edge.
The XL version is about 100 g heavier than the 3DS, weighing 336 g, but this doesn't really affect handling as its weight is evenly balanced over the device.
Still No Second Analogue Stick!Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the 3DS XL is that there's still no sign of a second analogue controller (circle pad) to the right of the screen. A second stick could be added to the original 3DS by means of the Circle Pad Pro accessory, and it's a shame Nintendo hasn't used the extra space in the 3DS XL to integrate one directly into the console. Although it clearly won't be useful to all gamers, an extra analogue stick is pretty much indispensable in shoot-'em-up games where you need to control your gun sight and general movements simultaneously (Resident Evil Revelations, etc.).
The interface is exactly the same as in the smaller 3DS, but that's no bad thing (see our original 3DS review for more information). Plus, the console's two cameras are as bad as ever—Nintendo clearly hasn't taken this opportunity to upgrade them.
Longer Lasting But No Removable BatteryWhile the 3DS barely held out for more than 3 hours 15 mins in "standard" conditions of use (3D, sound, brightness at 50%), the 3DS XL can manage 6 hours in the same conditions! Plus, if you switch off 3D, you gain an extra 1 hour 15 mins. The 3DS XL therefore beats the PS Vita on battery life.
We're currently in the process of carrying out some more extensive battery life tests on the 3DS XL so stay tuned for updates.
XL Or Not XL?All in all, the 3DS XL outclasses the original 3DS as its big screens are generally more comfortable to use. It handles better too, and the boosted battery life is clearly a bonus. However, users who are often on the move may find it a bit too bulky—a bit like the PS Vita, in fact—as it can't be easily slipped into a pocket. That said, the first 3DS is still a good buy, as it has the same hardware, is just as fun, is slightly cheaper, and comes with a charger and dock! We're just holding out hope that Nintendo's next portable console will have a second analogue controller built-in—a feature sorely missing from both the 3DS and 3DS XL.
- Bigger screens are generally more comfortable than those in the standard 3DS
- Battery life has improved
- 3D effect is more immersive
- Good finish, decent-quality matte plastics that are fingerprint-prone
- Improved design and handling
- Buttons are more practical
- Still only one analogue stick
- Mains charger not included
- More plasticky, less high-end feel than the original 3DS
- Screen brightness slightly lower than the 3DS
- Screens are bigger but resolution stays the same
- Battery can't be removed
If you don't mind its bulkier design, the 3DS XL is probably a better choice than the original 3DS. It's nicer to handle and its bigger screens are generally nicer to use—even if the resolution hasn't been upped (onscreen images are less finely detailed). The biggest let-down has got to be the fact that there's still only one analogue stick, which means the 3DS XL is no match for the PS Vita for comfort of use in certain types of games.