Impressions
The New Nintendo 3DS XL

By Jorge Figueiredo - February 6th, 2015

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‎Anytime a new Nintendo hand-held hits the market, it’s like a mini-Christmas. With the announcement of the New Nintendo 3DS XL that hits the North American market next week (on February 12 – only the XL version will be available at this time), folks are wondering whether or not to make the jump to the new system from whatever version that they currently have now. The answer to that question depends on what your priorities are – and it is also based on what you currently own. Advice aside, as a standalone piece of hand-held gaming technology, this latest edition is pretty amazing and definitely worth at least a look.

While the general look of the New Nintendo 3DS XL is the same, some subtle tweaks speak to some great design changes that make one’s overall experience a lot better and make the unit seem a lot more streamlined. First of all, the overall feel of the New 3DS XL ‎as you pull it out of the box is one of a more solid and rugged machine. My old 3DS XL would “rattle” when gently shaken – even from day one (not an uncommon thing for larger electronics)‎; but the New version doesn’t make as much noise, which indicates that the internals are probably a little bit different. A cursory look at the exterior reveals the aforementioned tweaks that can be seen – and everything looks really great.

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Centered power port in the back.

The first thing that I noticed before I even opened it up was the inclusion of two new shoulder buttons, ZR and ZL, which are adjacent to the original bumpers (R and L). The power port has been shifted to the center of the device (along the lower back edge) and the stylus access and cartridge slot have been moved to the front. Moving these two parts to the lower front edge is a genius move – no more accidental ejection of the cartridge during play or transport. The Power button has also been moved to the lower front edge of the XL, giving users quick access to turn on their machine (or turn it off); furthermore, the 3.5mm headphone jack is now centered as well, mirroring the power port and making the machine much more symmetrical. All three status lights (power, charging and wireless) are now located next to each other, and the SD slot is now gone (the New XL uses microSD cards and the slot is accessed by unscrewing the bottom plate).

Incidentally, once the box is opened it is hard to ignore the fact that something is missing: the charging cable. The New 3DS XL doesn’t include an AC adapter cable, so you’ll have to hold onto your old one, or spend a little coin on a new cable, if you ‎wish to have a dedicated charging solution (charging cables run between $10 and $16). I have mixed feelings about this decision, as it means that people will have to spend a little extra on the charging cable (since a good number will want to get rid of their old models in favour of the new one). Additionally, the decision to enclose the microSD card beneath the shell is also a bit odd, since anytime anyone wants to get at it they will have to open the case using a screwdriver (and anytime people do this they risk losing the screws that hold the bottom plate on). Mind you, the New 3DS XL comes with a 4 GB microSD card, which is plenty of storage for most people, nullifying the need to open up the unit.

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No more crowding for the Home button. Note stylus, headphone jack and cartridge interface.

Opening up the New 3DS XL cover reveals only a single button beneath the touch-screen: “Home”. Start and select have been moved to the right side where the Power button used to be located. ‎The Volume slider now sits on the opposite side of the 3D slider (which reduces the chance of accidentally shifting the knob), and there is now no longer a physical wireless button (wireless functionality is now toggled via software). There is also a new input placed adjacent to the standard face buttons: the C-Stick. The addition of a second stick seems to follow a design philosophy that is all about preserving the form factor and the functionality of the status quo. The new stick (or “nubbin”, as I like to call it) is short and definitely meant for one’s thumb. It is very similar to the controller that you find on some older laptops (which fellow Thumber Dave calls “the nubbin” – hence the nickname).

The new C-Stick is a little stiff, but it works fairly well. I tried it out in Resident Evil: Revelations and it made aiming a lot easier. Really, the C-Stick and the ZR and ZL buttons work together to do what the Circle Pad Pro used to do in the past – so, in theory, the limited number of games that supported the CPP will work on the New 3DS model. It should also come as no surprise that Nintendo will design some upcoming games to take advantage of this control set. An internal NFC reader will also support Nintendo’s new amiibo collection (bottom screen), but I haven’t really had the opportunity to test this out yet (though, if it works as well as the GamePad on the Wii U, amiibo fun will be easy to use).

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C-Stick is nicely integrated. Face buttons look and feel nice.

Under the hood, the New Nintendo 3DS XL is superior to its predecessor. Boot times are a little faster (the new model fires up in 5-6 seconds, whereas the old one is ready to go in about 11-12 seconds), and the unit has auto-brightness enabled (which can be shut off from the settings menu). Compatibility with previous 3DS (and DS) titles is great – and the transfer over from my old 3DS XL went off without a hitch (though it did take a fair amount of time – so make sure you have a charging cable for each of DS models, just in case you are carrying data over). Everything seems to run a little bit faster, with the graphics being smoother and the overall 3D effect being much better.

By far, though, the new 3D functionality is the best part. With my older 3DS XL, I tended to play games in 2D, testing the 3D only when doing reviews (to be able to report on how things looked). Now, thanks to head-tracking technology, the 3D looks stellar. When I was setting up the New Nintendo 3DS XL, I was blown away by how much better things looked in 3D – there no longer seems to be a need to hold the 3DS at the exact same angle, which means that other people can actually observe the 3D effect at the same time you are (though they need to be relatively close to the screen, too). Enabling 3D now doesn’t seem to affect performance as much, which means the previously existing “flicker” is minimized (if not completely gone). Note, though, that rapidly changing the viewing angle of the 3DS will cause a little bit of a hiccup before the 3D kicks in again (but the fact that it actively “resets” is freakin’ cool).

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Extra shoulder goodness.

So is it worth it? The New Nintendo 3DS XL will run you about $230 (plus a power adapter, if you need one) – so it’s not cheap (though, relatively speaking, the entry cost is at least the same as the original 3DS XL). If you currently own a 3DS XL, there are far fewer reasons for making the switch: the new version is roughly the same size as the old version (screen size is the same), amiibo functionality will still be attainable thanks to an adapter, and there currently aren’t a lot of titles that really make good use of the C-Stick and the ZR/ZL buttons. However, the graphical fidelity is better, the 3D is much improved, and the battery life is supposedly longer. If you don’t currently own an XL, though, you have a few more reasons to make the switch (screen real estate and better processing power). As usual, though, the choice is up to you. All I can say is that I’m very impressed with this new model, and I’m sure many people will feel the same once they try one out for themselves.

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