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.