New Nintendo 3DS review

New Nintendo 3DS is almost here!

Nintendo's major revision of the already-great 3DS is upon us, releasing in Europe and North America on February 13. The New Nintendo 3DS XL is coming to both territories, costing around $199.99/179.99/199.99Euros. The smaller New Nintendo 3DS is not currently slated for release in the US, but in the UK and Europe it will cost around 149.99/179.99 Euros, although retailers (not Nintendo) are setting the exact prices so shop around and you may get a better deal.

But how good is the hardware? Does it fix the few shortcomings of the original 3DS and 3DS XL? Is the battery life better? Does the new processor add anything to your existing games? Well, we've had both the New 3DS and New 3DS XL for a couple of weeks now, so read on and have all your questions answered

Weight (and no, it isn't really weighing my hand down)

The New 3DS has a lovely weight to it, feeling like a sophisticated piece of technology. The New 3DS XL, however, is noticeably heavy to hold, especially for long periods of play. The finish of the Metallic Black version I've been using is undeniably gorgeous, but with so much thick, glossy plastic everywhere, it feels like it's put on a few pounds (figuratively, of course).

The reality is that it's actually 7 grams lighter than its 3DS XL predecessor, so really I shouldn't have anything to complain about as I played one of those comfortably for months. Nonetheless, if such things are a consideration for you, it is worth bearing in mind it's no Game Boy Micro.

Better batteries not included

The battery life, sadly, remains approximate to that of the original 3DS and 3DS XL. After an hour or so's play on a train with a fully charged unit, I left the smaller system in sleep mode for two days. When I came back to it, it was dead.

It's a common problem for existing 3DS units, but should have been fixed for the new hardware. There are juice-conserving options like screen brightness and a separate 'power saving' option (which I wasn't using), but your best bet is probably to keep it charged when not in use. Running the system at full brightness with the sound on will drain the battery in around 4 hours, just as before.

The new second analogue stick is a nub

The new right thumbstick is nothing like you'd expect. Do you remember some 1990s laptops had a small blue nub between the 'G' and 'H' keys that acted as a mouse? It's like that. Made of what feels like firm rubber, it doesn't really travel under your thumb as you use it, instead reacting to pressure in 360 degrees of directions.

It's progressive, so you can move the camera slowly or quickly in Monster Hunter, for example, by pushing harder or more delicately in any given direction, but it's a foreign feeling for a while. Its placement also takes a lot of getting used to - I found myself occasionally trying to push it as a button because it feels like one under your thumb. It's certainly better than having no second stick, but an actual second circle pad would have been preferable - especially on the XL model where there's arguably plenty of room. The second stick is definitely the most contentious point in the New 3DS' feature list.

The new shoulder buttons aren't much use yet

New 3DS has new ZL and ZR buttons next to the existing shoulder buttons L and R. Factor in the new analogue nub, touchscreen and NFC support and you've essentially got the Wii U inputs. Interesting. The shoulder button placement isn't ideal, as they're on the same horizontal plane as the existing shoulder inputs, which is unlike every other controller I can remember. The result are buttons that can't be pressed by separate fingers unless you hold the 3DS flat in both palms. Which nobody will ever do.

The new button layout works for any title that already supported the Circle Pad Pro. There are updates coming for games like Shantae and the Pirate's Curse which will allow you to use the new buttons for fast menu navigation, which is great. But so far I wouldn't say the new controls are a reason to upgrade on their own.

The system is faster, but not in every respect

You'll certainly notice that the home button is more responsive than before, as the New 3DS' processor is faster than its predecessor. It also downloads games more quickly due to better wifi, which is ever more important as digital distribution becomes more widely-adopted. It depends on your connection quality of course, but the difference is noticeable. So thumbs up for that.

As for the games themselves, I'm sad to say the extra power doesn't affect the frame-rate in your older titles. Allowing the new power to affect older titles could have broken some games so it's understandable. At least new games like Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate will run more smoothly on New 3DS. And there will be New 3DS-exclusive titles that take advantage of the extra power. If you want to play the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles with its impressive open environments, you need to buy a New 3DS. Simple as that.

The screens appear 'warmer' than before...

The new screens are both bright and clear, although the colour scheme is noticeably warmer (more orange) than the old-style 3DS, which has a much bluer tinge. Obviously you only notice when comparing, but warmer colours are more inviting, so perhaps it's meant to make the system more cosy? Mere speculation.

The system on the left up there is a Metallic Red 3DS (a later edition of the original 3DS' design) and the one on the right is a New 3DS. But the New 3DS XL has a similarly warm tone to its colour palette. In fact, it's arguably more vivid, as you're about to see...

The XL version seems to have slightly richer colours

Again, you wouldn't notice this unless you look at them side-by-side but, as you can see, there's clearly a difference there. Just an observation. But don't worry - at no point while playing the smaller model did I ever feel like its colours are washed out. The smaller unit's screen is gorgeous.

Indeed, the smaller model's screen seems to be exactly the right size, in my opinion, given the resolution of the games weighed against the modern need for every screen to be as big as possible. And that same trend could be one of the major complaints leveled against the New 3DS XL...

New gear's resolution

The New 3DS XL's much larger top screen (4.88") is noticeably low-res compared to other modern handheld devices like the PlayStation Vita, not to mention an iPhone's Retina Display. The lower screen is slightly smaller at 4.18" but the effect is very similar.

Personally, I find the pixellisation too much to view comfortably a problem I had with the old 3DS XL. That said, some people who have difficulty reading small text will probably enjoy the huge screen.

The super-stable 3D is wonderful

No longer will you lilt your 3DS or move your head slightly to one side and lose the 3Ds effect. New 3DS uses the front-facing camera above the top screen to watch your face and see whether your position changes in front of the device. If you move your head to the left or right, it adjusts the projection of the stereoscopic imagery so that the 3D effect is maintained.

I tested it on a moving train, and didnt notice any problems at all. It's brilliant. And it's also interesting to watch the screen from the side when someone else is playing, as you can see it adjusting to their position and they don't even realise. I should point out, however, that there is very occasional ghosting on the 3D image, as there was on the original 3DS. If you move your head slightly closer to the screen, it seems to rectify the problem, and it's only happened a handful of times in the past fortnight. It's still a beautiful 3D display, but not quite perfect.

Faceplates (smaller New Nintendo 3DS only)

The smaller of the New 3DS units (which isn't being released in the US at present) allows you to change its faceplates. It's a neat touch and the range available at launch should have most Nintendo fans covered. It does, of course, come with faceplates already attached, but they're either black or white depending on which colour system you choose.

The top plate lifts off easily, but you'll need a screwdriver to remove the one on the back. They do feel like they'll break easily, so be careful if you change yours. The Mario one here that I have is very glossy, with pin-sharp artwork and a premium feel. You'll probably want one - or more - if you live in a country that stocks the smaller machine.

The memory card slot is now Micro SD

Underneath the rear panel, which can be removed on both models, you'll find the battery (a slightly disappointing 1740mAh) and a slot for the memory card, which is now a Micro SD. Don't be tempted to remove the battery as it is likely to mess up all your Streetpass data as the clock won't be powered any more.

The Micro SD card that comes with each model of the New 3DS is 4GB, which is a decent amount, but considering I've already accrued over 20GBs of downloadable games, a 32GB card is a good investment. The contents of your old SD card can be transferred via PC, or wirelessly (which will take a while depending on how much stuff you have). At least Nintendo appears to have lifted the '5 transfers ever' restriction. You can now transfer from one 3DS to another again after waiting one week.

NFC for Amiibos is in! But not functional just yet

Even so, there is an option on the Home menu (found in the top-left corner of the home screen) for Amiibo, but currently you can only register an Amiibo to your profile by holding it over the touch screen. I tested this with Pikachu and it works, but until the likes of Super Smash Brothers for 3DS gets updated or another game comes out, we'll have to imagine it works like the Wii U version.

Is it worth getting? Yes. But...

New Nintendo 3DS is a wonderful machine, and arguably how the 3DS should have been done first time round. The new super-stable 3D is wonderful, the extra navigation and download speed is very welcome and the extra control stick should make a lot of difference to games with 3D cameras. But that new C-stick nub is very strange, especially considering the circle pad on the left is pretty darn perfect.

If you don't already own a 3DS, then you should absolutely get a New 3DS. Right now. And of the two, the smaller one (not available in North America) is the one I'd recommend, thanks to the more pixel-dense display than the XL, it's more compact feel and the fact that it's lighter to gold for long sessions. Here's hoping the New 3DS joins its big brother in NA soon.

As for whether you should upgrade from your existing 3DS, there's no immediate rush. You'll notice the improvements, but until there's something you absolutely have to play that only works on New 3DS, the old one is just fine. Amiibos aren't integral to Nintendo games just yet, either. When New 3DS-exclusive games like Xenoblade Chronicles come out, it may become essential. As it is, it's simply the best handheld console you can buy. I don't need to tell you that's a big deal.

And if you're looking for more, check out The 25 best 3DS games and 10 bold Nintendo predictions for 2015.