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Grown up Nintendo 3DS may not grow on you

Published August 21, 2012 9:10 pm

Review • Newest edition has 90% larger screen, but not a bigger payoff.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sometimes bigger isn't better. It's just . . . bigger.

Such is the case with the new Nintendo 3DS XL, the latest version of the 3D handheld gaming system from The House of Mario that takes the regular dual-screened 3DS and supersizes it with an upper screen that's 90 percent bigger.

Everything about the new system, which was released Sunday, is larger than it's 17-month-old predecessor, including the price. Both screens are bigger. The system is heavier. The case is larger in the hand. And the new 3DS XL goes for $199, compared with $169 for the regular model.

But not everything has been expanded or improved.

Like the 3DS, the new XL has two screens, an upper 4.88-inch screen that is stereoscopic (1.3 inches larger) and a 3.5-inch lower touchscreen. Both screens are used in unison in gameplay. For example, while the top screen can show the game in 3D, the lower screen may display a map.

Although the new XL has a much larger screen, it keeps the same 800-by-240-pixel display as the original 3DS. And when the 3D is turned on (via a 3D switch on the side), the resolution is really 400 by 240 pixels for each eye.

Although that low resolution may look fine on the original 3DS 3.5-inch screen, when you blow it up on a display that's 90 percent larger, the pixels become much more noticeable. That may not have been as big an issue say four or five years ago, but with the popularity of "Retina" displays with much higher resolutions on devices such as the iPhone and iPad, bigger pixels are much more annoying to view.

Compared with another mobile gaming device with a 5-inch screen, Sony's PlayStation Vita, the 3DS XL's display pales against the Vita's deeper colors, higher contrast and pixel density. The 3D effect, which doesn't require glasses, is still amazingly pronounced and clear. But like the original, it has a very limited viewing angle. Move the system just several degrees to the left or right, and the effect disappears.

Still, the XL screen's colors and contrast are as crisp and deep as the original 3DS. And although the resolution seems noticeably low for games, the XL's screen is fine for watching 2D videos such as movies through its Netflix application.

The new XL has a bigger form factor with rounded edges unlike its predecessor, and that makes it feel more comfortable in the hands despite a slightly heavier weight. Your hands won't feel as cramped playing it as they might with the original 3DS. Also, the clam-shelled device doesn't feel that much bigger than the original when it's closed (in fact, it's the same thickness as the 3DS). You can still easily fit the XL into a pocket.

And thanks to the bigger size, the XL boasts better battery life, up to 85 percent or more. But I found the screen to be somewhat dimmer than the original 3DS, and I had to boost the brightness level all the way to maximum, which will drain the battery a little more.

The new version comes with a memory card twice as big as that on the original 3DS, a welcome change because Nintendo will be selling more games through its downloadable service that will take up precious memory storage.

If you already have a 3DS, it may be difficult to justify dishing out another $199 to "upgrade" to its bigger brother. The new model has the same processing speed, the same resolution and the same 3D effect as the original handheld but for $30 extra.

If you haven't previously owned a 3DS and you need to choose which one to get, then it all comes down to the original question: "Do you think bigger is better?"

vince@sltrib.com

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi Nintendo 3DS XL

What is it • Nintendo's new 3D handheld gaming system has a 90 percent bigger 3D screen than the previous 3DS, which so far has sold 19 million units worldwide. It plays the same 3DS games via either a memory card or from Nintendo's downloadable gaming store.

Released • Sunday, Aug. 19.

Price • $199

Additional features • Two rear-facing cameras for 3D pictures and one front-facing camera. Stereo speakers. Web browsing. Plays video, including Netflix movies. Music player. Includes several built-in games.