Just more than a year after the release of the 3DS, Nintendo is rolling out a newer version of the handheld, raising more questions than answers. Did we really need a bigger 3DS? Is it enough of an upgrade to buy another 3DS this soon? And, perhaps most importantly, where am I going to find screen protectors this large?
In many ways the 3DS XL is akin to a luxury model of a car or flying first class: it's slightly more expensive, has a few new bells and whistles, some extra leg room, and makes incremental changes (both for the better and the worse) to the original experience.
And many of those changes are welcome. I'm a big fan of the new system's rounded edges, which have replaced the square (and not comfortable) edges of the original 3DS. The biggest change is the new giant in-your-face screens. Boasting 90 percent larger screens, they are large and in charge, breathing new life into your portable gaming experience, wide-screen style.
But, the screens come at a cost. Nintendo sacrificed size for resolution, and now games are going to look slightly worse on the bigger screens. It is nice to see the games blown up, and if you have bad vision, or just want things as big as possible, then these screens will do the trick. I didn't notice any real help or hindrance of the 3D effect - if anything it seemed slightly less intense, and the screen size pushes the system a little beyond what I would consider perfect pocket size (and the 3DS was already pushing that limit for some).
Gone is the glossy paint finish of the original system: Instead it is replaced with a less finger-print-attracting, yet slightly cheaper - and plastic-looking matte finish. I'm still not a fan of the two-tone 3DS systems, and with the 3DS XL (in America at least) we don't have a choice: two-tone red or blue are the only options out for launch. Gone as well is the much-hyped charging cradle, but the system still comes with a charging adapter. Battery life has been improved slightly over the original model, but even at Nintendo's estimates it's nothing to throw a parade over. The super-awesome telescoping metal stylus has also been replaced with a silly plastic one. It's a small and trivial detail, but one I still miss.
Nintendo also missed a perfect chance to fix the main problem with the original system. Instead of opting for an additional circle pad (which many games need, as seen in the Circle Pad Pro adapter for the original 3DS, and no, it won't fit on your new beefcake-sized XL) there is a giant blank space on the system just crying for a new pad. The speakers, while changed aesthetically, haven't been improved, and I've always found the original 3DS's sound output one of the weaker aspects of the system. The home and start/select buttons have been made actual buttons which is nice, and the circle pad seems a little smaller and offers a slight more resistance; changes that come down to personal playing preference. The screen-scratching problem also seems to have been resolved, and as many people with launch 3DS systems will attest, that was a serious issue. But again, it by itself isn't enough reason to jump size ships yet.
If you have a 3DS already there isn't much to draw you to the new version of the system, especially since what seemed like no-brainer upgrades - the extra circle pad especially - aren't here. If you don't own one, the XL and larger screens do provide a bigger feature, but aside from its size, the 3DS XL isn't that big of a jump, or improvement, and doesn't fix what problems the original model had.
The Nintendo 3DS XL launches on Sunday, August 19 for a MSRP of $199.99.
Hands on with the Nintendo 3DS XL
Willie Clark wears cargo pants and he swears it isn'just so he has a pocket for his 3DS. He also is rabid about screen protectors, and had to cut and size his own for his pre-launch 3DS XL. Hate dirty screens as well? Make sure to follow him on Twitter or Facebook.