Nintendo 3ds XL review

Key Features:

  • 4.88in main screen
  • 156 x 93 x 22mm form factor
  • Weight: 336g
  • 3D image and video camera
  • Price as reviewed: Around £168


Most games companies strive to make their products smaller as time goes on. Sony eventually produced versions of its PSOne and PS2 home games consoles that were so small they could easily be popped into a bag and set up at a friend's house.

There's already been a slimmer PS3 (the first version was /massive/) and rumours suggest an even thinner superslim version may hit stores in time for Christmas. Even the Xbox followed suit a couple of years back and went on a diet.

Nintendo's handheld games consoles, which are already designed to be small, follow a different path. They start off the size of an '80s mobile phone and they end up expanding to include the words XL. It is almost as if Nintendo designers are reading too much of their spam email and feeling the need to add a few inches.

Nintendo 3DS XL: Design

On the plus side, that bigger size this means much bigger screens for better viewing and easier touch control. On the downside, well in our opinion there isn't really a downside.

We have never really had a problem with the increase in size to what Nintendo considers 'XL' as it still fits in the average pocket and is not that much noticeably heavier. It may not look as cute when it is slightly blown up but who buys a games console based on how cute it is?

Nintendo 3ds XL review comparison on top
A comparison of the Nintendo 3DS XL and the original 3DS

Size wise, the Nintendo 3DS XL is 156 x 93 x 22mm and weighs 336g, which is 101g heavier than an original 3DS measuring 134 x 74 x 21mm.

Where we have a problem is with the layout of the bigger model. The new and improved size does not come with a new and improved set-up. In fact, it is exactly the same as the previous model except for a slight change in the positioning of the headphone socket.

Familiarity can be a wonderful thing but if a second gamepad controller (Nintendo calls it a Slide pad) had been added on this larger body, it would have made it an essential buy for most gamers. The ability to control a first-person shooter like Resident Evil: Revelations as you would with the two thumb controllers on an Xbox or PS3 would add so much.

We can't help thinking Nintendo has missed a trick there but it would not sell many Circle Pad Pro add-ons if it changed the XL's design.

Nintendo 3DS XL: Content

Some content has always been free with the 3DS and it is the same on the XL.

The Mii Maker lets you build a character to represent yourself in the same way as on the Nintendo Wii games console. There are also a few games, although the Augmented Reality offerings in AR Games and the picture-based blasting of your friends in Face Raiders will not hold your attention for long.

Nintendo also regularly releases games that can be downloaded from its eShop web store, including many back catalogue and classic titles.

Some 3D and movie content is available to access using an internet connection, including trailers for games. Some 2D video content is also available. This is not as wide as we would have expected and more choice would make sure you popped your 3DS XL in your back pocket instead of picking up a tablet before you leave the house.

Our other main niggle in this area is that only one piece of software can be supported at any one time. Software can be minimised to the background as you browse the device but as soon as you choose a new action the following message is displayed: "Close the suspended software and open this one?"

Nintendo 3ds XL review open front

Nintendo 3DS XL: Screen and Cameras

The screen itself is the biggest - no gag intended - reason to buy this version of the console.

The jump from a 3.53in main screen on the 3DS to a 4.88in display on the 3DS XL is significant enough to make the whole experience more pleasurable. The best comparison to make is that it feels as if games are being played on a mini tablet or large smartphone, like the Samsung Galaxy Note, rather than the small screen of an average mobile phone.

That top screen is a widescreen LCD able to show off 16.77 million colours with a resolution of 240 x 800. Testing involved playing a lot of Resident Evil: Revolutions to see how it handled the jumps between bright areas and dark spaces and it passed with flying colours.

The bottom screen is also bumped up to 4.18in from 3.02in and for once it is possible to type using the onscreen keyboard without reaching for the stylus.

The unit comes with the same dual-camera system as the 3DS, to take 3D snaps and video for later playback. With a bit of fiddling it is possible to display that content elsewhere, such as a 3D TV, but mostly you will just be showing it off to friends on the console.

Nintendo 3DS XL: Connectivity

Connectivity is another boost to gaming and entertainment on both the 3DS and XL consoles. As we mentioned in the content section above, everything from full games to trailers to video can be downloaded over Wi-Fi.

The Spotpass system can be set to automatically download videos in the background when an internet connection is available and we used this to load up sports clips using the Eurosport app.

The unit also links to other gamers online or nearby for multiplayer action, as long as you all have a copy of the same game.

Leaving the unit switched on while you are out and about also connects to other consoles you pass by in the street. The people you 'meet' can then swap puzzle pieces to help you finish exclusive images or provide help storming a castle in StreetPass Quest.

Nintendo 3ds XL review open on side
Side swipe: the Nintendo 3DS XL open on resting on its side

What would have been an awesome addition, given that they are starting to appear on mobile phones, is a HDMI output. We recently played a Spider-Man Android game on an Xperia phone using its HDMI connection and it was brilliant even on a 50in TV. Games output from this device should be as good if not better, even if it would most likely be shown off in 2D rather than 3D.

The standard game card slot appears on the back and the cartridge system has not outlived its lifespan just yet. Downloads may rule in the modern age but there's something very simple about knowing exactly which games you have with you at any one time based on the cartridges you have to hand.

The SD memory card slot makes it easy to store additional content - if only someone would tell Apple that.

We would have preferred to have seen the 3.5mm headphone adapter moved to the end of the unit. If you are listening to something on the go and the headphone jack is sticking out the front of the device it may not fit in your pocket.

The only other oddity is that the AC adapter does not come bundled as standard with the 3DS XL. "To ensure the console is available at a reasonable price, the Nintendo 3DS XL does not come packaged with an AC adapter but is compatible with chargers for Nintendo DSi, DSi XL and 3DS," is Nintendo's official word on that omission.

If you do not own a previous Nintendo handheld console, you can buy an adapter separately for around £10.

Nintendo 3DS XL: Battery Life

Given that this piece of kit is built for gaming, most of the activities you use it for will be fairly intensive and battery draining. Nintendo has therefore improved the battery life in the XL over that of the 3DS.

Gameplay on 3DS titles will last anywhere between three to six hours, while playing 2D titles from the earlier Nintendo DS adds a couple of extra hours to that figure. The brightness of the screen can also have an impact on those figures which is why the range is so wide.

The charger - which as we point out above does not come as standard in the box - is still pretty chunky for a modern appliance. Apple's iPhone 4S and Nokia's Lumia phones come with chargers so thin they are hard to get a purchase on and pull out of a wall socket. Perhaps this would make them cheap enough to be bundled.

Nintendo 3ds XL review comparison behind

Nintendo 3DS XL: Verdict

If we had to choose between buying this and buying the original, smaller Nintendo 3DS, we would choose this version every time. The increase in size for both the upper and lower screens adds so much to the gameplay it is difficult to switch back to the smaller 3DS.


  • Overall: 8/10
  • Design: 8/10
  • Screen: 9/10
  • Keyboard: 8/10
  • Connectivity: 9/10
  • Value: 7/10

The Good:

  • Great screen
  • Still fits in your pocket
  • Improved battery life

The Bad:

  • AC power adapter costs extra
  • Only one program can be open at any one time
  • Second gamepad would have made this essential

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