3DS XL review

Though everyone expected Nintendo to release a hardware upgrade for the 3DS, no one really thought the first revamp would be the 3DS XL. In the past, Nintendo has iterated on its handhelds with leaps and bounds, creating gigantic upgrades in the early years of the system's life. The DS got the much more ergonomic DS Lite eighteen months after the original launched and the Game Boy Advance SP got a better back light two years after the original release. Size changes usually came later (the Game Boy Advance shrinking to the Game Boy Micro and the DS evolving into the DSi, then expanding to the DSi XL), after all of the issues with the initial hardware had been eradicated.

And yet, for whatever reason, Nintendo decided to change this up with the 3DS. Instead of fixing the system's problems, or even shrinking the system (as it did with the original Game Boy), it increased the size and, honestly, that's about it. There's no second analog stick and the 3D is still a little finicky. And yet, despite these omissions, we're still extremely happy with the 3DS XL, even if it isn't necessarily the huge upgrade we wanted. 

As we explained, the 3DS XL is a gigantic 3DS, so the biggest updates come with the bigger screens. The 3D screen located on the top of the unit has been increased from  3.58" to 4.88" (4.88cm by 12.4cm), and the bottom has gone from 3.02" to 4.18" (10.6cm by 7.7cm). This 90% size difference is a pretty big deal, and, obviously, makes for a much more substantial system, increasing the handheld's weight from 235g to 336g.

Buttons have been moved around slightly, it comes with a bigger SD card (4GB, up from 2GB), and it doesn't come with a charging dock. Other than that, it's the same 3DS that launched last year.

Some have complained about the lack of a second analog stick, but we're actually alright with that omission from now. If Nintendo adds the analog stick in a future iteration, it'll be a huge deal, essentially creating a disparity between the old and new systems (and ushering in games that would require the new hardware), so we're happy that Nintendo didn't just slap one onto this system and call it a day.

That said, we're sort of upset that the battery life wasn't increased that much, since that's really the 3DS's only other "big" issue.

So, should you buy one? Continue on for our verdict...

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  • Ravenbom - August 3, 2012 11:07 a.m.

    Hey HoCo, there's a slight mistake in the article text: " The 3D screen located on the top of the unit has been increased from 3.58" to 4.88" (4.88cm by 12.4cm)" The centimeter conversion on the aspect ratio is screwed up.
  • ObliqueZombie - August 3, 2012 12:45 a.m.

    I really, really dislike the design on this. I know the matte textures allow for little-to-no fingerprints, which is awesome, but it looks sun-faded and bland. I mean, have you SEEN the new purple 3DS? It looks like one of the best portable gaming platforms ever. Such a rich, deep color with a non-tacky gloss finish. Beautiful. But... with my big man hands, this may be the better option. Alas, I don't think I'd play it for elongated periods of time (read as: more than four hours straight), but it would be mighty comfortable in comparison. Thanks for the review, guys, but I'll think I'll stick with the original sleek design.
  • gopher1369 - August 8, 2012 4:38 a.m.

    "But... with my big man hands, this may be the better option" Certainly for me. I'm 6 foot tall with man-hands. I was getting regular hand cramps holding the 3DS, even after as little as 30 mins play. The XL is much more comfortable for me.
  • ObliqueZombie - August 8, 2012 3 p.m.

    No, that's what I meant, haha. That the 3DS XL would be the better option. I should have clarified that, so I apologize. But still, I just loveloveLOVE the look of that purple 3DS. I might just cave in to that one, instead.
  • gopher1369 - August 16, 2012 5:05 a.m.

    That was me not being clear. I totally understood what you meant and was agreeing with you. Had my XL for a couple of weeks now. Wouldn't go back. Even if you ignore the screens, it's just far more comfortable and the battery lasts way longer. Just the battery alone would have been enough for me to upgrade. Also playing DS games is a much better experience. Hold down the select button as you load a DS game up and it loads in the original DS resolution (1:1 pixel mode). Way too small on the 3DS but really enjoyable on the XL. Currently playing Professor Layton and Infinite Space DS games on my 3DS XL and it's such a joy that last week I sold my DS Lite on Ebay as the XL made the trusty old DS Lite redundant
  • ObliqueZombie - August 18, 2012 8:03 a.m.

    Oh wow... well then, I might have to reconsider. I mean, as much as I love the purple finish on the original 3DS, I'd rather have my games, both DS and 3DS, played at a comfortable resolution. Though I have to say, Pokemon Diamond looked and played just fine on the fiance's. Are other DS games not as optimized as that one, giving a less-than-fantastic game experience?
  • ultimatepunchrod - August 2, 2012 9:46 p.m.

    I think I'd rather have the more portable (and cheaper) version of the PORTABLE gaming device. But that's just me.
  • zombi3grim - August 2, 2012 9:31 p.m.

    I dont have a 3DS yet, but I do want one more then the Vita. I MIGHT pick this up during Christmas time for my little boy and "borrow" it occasionaly for myself, muahahaha!
  • talleyXIV - August 2, 2012 3:25 p.m.

    I wish I hadn't gotten the original last year.
  • ThatGamerDude - August 2, 2012 3:21 p.m.

    I still need to get my 3DS therefore I'm going to wait it out until this comes out. Oh and you can play DS games in their original resolution by holding START or SELECT when the game launches, of course you'll have the black lines across the screen though when you do.
  • J-Fid - August 2, 2012 1:58 p.m.

    In my 6 years of visiting this website, this might be the first full-fledged review for a console I've ever seen. But it was informative, so good job.
  • sweetchiliheat - August 2, 2012 1:06 p.m.

    Actually, I believe the vita has a bigger screen. Handheld comparisons aside, I think the $30 difference between the 3DS & XL is probably the most convincing point for someone without a 3DS.
  • gopher1369 - August 6, 2012 8:56 a.m.

    "Actually, I believe the vita has a bigger screen." Depends, the 3DS XL has a 5 inch top screen and a 4 inch bottom screen (rounding off) so you could argue that the Vita has a 5 inch screen and the 3DS XL has a 9 inch screen. Or it has 9 inches of screen available to it, might be a more accurate way to phrase it.
  • Fuzunga - August 2, 2012 12:16 p.m.

    You know you can play DS games in native resolution, right? Or does it not make a difference?
  • Darkhawk - August 2, 2012 11:43 a.m.

    You'll Hate: NO FRIKKIN CIRCLE PAD. Everyone: wait. Seriously, just back away from the package, and wait for the inevitable 3DSiXL 2.0
  • talleyXIV - August 2, 2012 3:26 p.m.

    There is a circle pad. 0_0
  • ray-carter - August 2, 2012 4:08 p.m.

    Dont you mean 3DS XL Pro?(Circle Pad Pro) or 3DS XL Duo (Dual Circle Pads) 3DS XL2 (2 Circle Pads)
  • Cyberninja - August 2, 2012 6:28 p.m.

    I think you confused a 3DS XL for a DSIXL common mistake really because all 3DSs have a circle pad.