3DS XL hands-on: extra large, extra good

Finding exactly the right size for a handheld unit is one of those ongoing design puzzles, and one that likely has no single answer. Every player has different sized hands, different ways of holding the unit, a different posture, and so on. What fits perfectly in the hands of one will be woefully unwieldy for another.

Nintendo provided one solution to this issue in 2009, when it released the DSi XL, a larger unit that it sold alongside the standard DSi unit. It is repeating this strategy with the release of the 3DS XL on 23 August, a larger sibling that will sell alongside the standard model, with both units selling for the same price.

My first thought when I saw comparison pictures two months ago was, “I want this!” My second thought was, “Wait a minute, where’s the built-in second analogue pad?” Third: “Damn it, I don’t want this anymore.”

I have now mellowed on the 3DS XL’s solitary analogue stick, mostly due to the price-match with the original 3DS model. The new design is larger, but otherwise is a very similar design. Adding a second circle pad on the face of the unit would have required a substantial redesign, and there is no way Nintendo could have achieved that without increasing the price. Considering only a handful of 3DS games make use of the second pad, it now seems like a sensible move on Nintendo’s part, and an XL version of the Circle Pad Pro expansion peripheral has already been announced.

Holding it in my hands, the XL feels far more comfortable than the original 3DS ever did. I always found the launch unit to be a little too small for my big hands, and during extended playing sessions its sharp corners would dig uncomfortably into my palms. The XL is larger, of course, but it is also smoother, easier to grip, and has rounded corners. While I only got to play with it for a little while, I could feel that it would not be stabbing me in the palms like its little brother.

The other issue that its larger size fixes is viewing distance. In order to view 3D, I always had to hold the 3DS too close to my nose, as holding it further away would cause picture issues. The upper screen on the 3DS XL is 90% larger than its predecessor’s, nearly double, and it is a joy to look at. I can hold the XL comfortably at arm’s length and still use the 3D effect without any issues.

The Nintendo Australia staff member who demonstrated the unit to me said the technology hasn’t changed, but the larger screen simply makes it work better. Gamers who have left the 3D slider on their original 3DS permanently set to zero may finally be tempted by the 3D view in the XL.

When the DSi was blown up into the DSi XL, many users complained that the screen resolution just wasn't sufficient for a screen that size, and graphics looked terribly blocky. With the 3DS's much higher resolution screen, the 3DS XL does not suffer from this, especially when the unit is held out at a comfortable distance. Some pixellisation is visible, but it's mild and a fair price for a much larger display.

A larger form factor also means a larger battery. Battery life has always been one of the 3DS’s big flaws, and while the XL’s performance in this regard is a welcome improvement, it’s still not stellar. I have not had the chance to test it for myself, but I have been told that battery life has been increased by about a third. If you’re getting four hours from your current unit, for example, the XL should give you around six, but everybody’s mileage will no doubt vary.

Despite being larger, the 3DS XL doesn’t feel too large. This is helped by the fact that while it’s longer and wider, it is actually a millimetre or two thinner than the original unit, and its new rounded edges make it feel sleeker than the blocky original. It’s a bit bigger, sure, but this is still a pocket-sized unit.

In addition to its increased size, the XL is also improved by a handful of minor hardware tweaks. The 3D slider now clicks into the “off” position, meaning that it can’t be bumped out accidentally during play. Where the original was criticised for only clicking the hinge into a single locked position, almost flat, the XL adds a second lock position at about 120 degrees. This to me a is a far more natural viewing angle.

The 3DS XL goes on sale on 23 August for a RRP of $249.95. If you are thinking of buying your first 3DS, this is definitely the unit to get. The larger screen, better battery life, and more comfortable grip all make it the superior option, as well as its inclusion of a 4GB SD card rather than the original’s 2GB. If you are considering an upgrade from an existing unit, it’s going to come down to your own priorities. For my money, though, the 3DS XL is worth the upgrade.

- James "DexX" Dominguez

twitter DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez

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