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Nintendo 3DS XL review: Should you upgrade to the larger handheld?

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Nintendo 3DS XL

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The newly-announced 3DS XL is essentially a larger version of Nintendo's 3D-enabled handheld released last year. While the original's screens were small but comfortable to use, the XL offers a whopping 90% increase in size. The difference is impressive, but is it worth the upgrade?

What's new with the 3DS XL

In terms of specific features, the 3DS XL offers nothing new over the current model, meaning that current adopters will lose nothing if they don't update. There are some improvements, though; battery life has been increased to around 6 and a half hours for 3DS games, while DS software now runs for an impressive 10 hours.

Various hardware tweaks have taken place as part of the size increase. The stylus and SD card slot are now located to the right, the clamshell hinge now snaps into place in three positions, and the 3D slider now clicks into the off position as opposed to sliding down.

Nintendo 3DS XL

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Finally, it's important to note that the 3DS XL fails to offer a charger in the box. This is fine for those who already own a DSi, DSi XL or 3DS, but it means new adopters or those hoping to trade in their current 3DS models will need to cough up an extra £10 or so on top of their existing £180 purchase.

Finally, it lacks a second Circle Pad, which was added through an add-on to the original 3DS. This works out as a wise move as the audience isn't split between games that require two sticks instead of one. For games that do make use of it, Nintendo will offer a larger Circle Pad Pro in the near future.

The benefits: More comfort, improved battery life

The most immediately pleasing element is those huge screens - comparable to the Vita in terms of size - but the real benefit is comfort. At times, the original 3DS feels cramped and uncomfortable to use, but between the larger size and more rounded corners, it's a pleasure to hold and use the XL.

It also offers a much nicer matte finish and better overall build quality. The original 3DS's shiny surface, odd colour choices and loose components (try shaking it) makes it feel like a toy by comparison. While the bulk of the buttons and control options are the same as before, the Home, Start and Select keys at the bottom of the device aren't nearly as cheap feeling.

Finally, the XL comes bundled with a 4GB SD card as opposed to the 3DS's 2GB - ideal timing for Nintendo's push for digital downloads with the likes of New Super Mario Bros. 2 launching in August as a day-one download.

The drawbacks: Worse image quality, heavier to hold

As great as the huge screens first appear, it rapidly becomes apparent that the resolution just doesn't scale all that well. The blown-up images makes everything look far less defined, especially when it comes to menu screens, text and two-dimensional scenes.

While games are still easily playable and readable, the lower quality is at times distracting, and the difference in quality glaring when compared side-by-side with the original 3DS (and even more so compared to a Vita or a smartphone). It takes a toll when using 3D, too, where there appears to be a smaller sweet spot in the centre, and more ghosting when you veer too far away to the sides.

This said, certain games cope well with the larger screen. Polygonal and cinematic titles such as Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance and Resident Evil Revelations benefit from the huge screen, but obviously still suffer when menus and text rear their heads.

Nintendo 3DS XL

© Digital Spy

Nintendo 3DS XL

© Digital Spy



Elsewhere, the device is noticeably larger. Although the original 3DS isn't exactly pocket friendly, it could fit into a jeans pocket, whereas the XL is one for a rucksack or handbag. It's also noticeably heavier too, and becomes tiring for games where holding a stylus is required at all times.

Should you buy the 3DS XL?

The main benefits of the 3DS XL also have some trade-offs. The larger screens - which are a stunning increase when compared to the original - wield a much lower image quality, and the comfortable form factor and improved battery life means the device is noticeably heavier and larger.

Some users might not mind the trade-off in image quality for much larger screens, however, so we could recommend that you go hands-on with the device before making the jump to determine whether the drawbacks will make a difference to you.

As a result, this can't be instantly recommended over the current 3DS model. Instead, it's very much an optional upgrade, which thankfully doesn't leave early 3DS adopters out in the cold.

The Nintendo 3DS XL is available in Europe on July 28 and North America on August 19 for around £180 / $250.

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