3DS XL Review: Nintendo's Hardware Analysed & Rated

Dave Cook


Nintendo 3DS XL is inbound, delivering a larger screen, but largely the same specs. We take the handheld for a test drive to see if it’s worth buying.

Published on Jul 18, 2012

Nintendo seems set on its tradition of incremental hardware updates with the 3DS XL, a larger version of the standard 3DS. Similar to the DSi XL, the 3DS XL is essentially the same handheld but bigger. 

Is this small difference worth shelling out on a 3DS XL for? Read on to find out more.

3DS XL Build Quality

In the grand scheme of handheld gaming consoles, the original 3DS was on the uglier side of the spectrum. It wasn’t the most comfortable handheld to use either – as long-time players of Kid Icarus: Uprisinmay attest to. 

In the end it all felt a tad slapdash, but Nintendo has made amends with the 3DS XL. It boasts a superb matte finish on the outside that doesn’t suck up your hand grease like a sponge. The same applies to the inside.

Select, start and the home buttons are actually buttons this time, rather than the odd icon bar that the 3DS had, giving you a tangible response when you press them. 

Nintendo has also applied this to the 3D slider which now locks into the off position, which makes accidentally sliding on the 3D effect a thing of the past. 

However, while on the home screen it’s still possible to accidentally activate the camera by hitting either shoulder button. Speaking of which, the camera quality is still dire.

The two rear-facing cameras and forward-facing camera are three-mega pixel at 640 x 480 resolution. However, all capture images have a real grainy, bleached-look to them, even when 3D is disabled.

Camera aside the 3DS XL build quality is far superior to the standard 3DS model, rectifying some – but not all – of the first edition’s glaring issues. However, there are some keyissues that need addressing

3DS XL Screen Quality

The 3DS XL top screen comes in at 4.88 inches diagonally, while the bottom is 4.18 inches. The standard 3DS top screen was 3.53 inches diagonally, and the bottom was 3.02 inches. It’s a stark difference that really hits home first time you compare both consoles side by side.

However, the 3DS XL displays games at the same resolution as 3DS games, although the pixel size has been increased to fit this new screen size, which does result in a loss of picture quality. You have to have a standard 3DS running along side a 3DS XL to really see the change.

Jaggies become more apparent, text suffers a degree of softening and elements that were once sharp and now smudged slightly. It’s a change that you will likely become accustomed to over time however.

The top screen suffers more than the bottom, but you do have to be looking pretty closely to really get too wound up about it. In fact, using the DSi XL and the DS as a side-by-side comparison gives largely the same results.

Finally, the 3DS XL screen is slightly brighter than the 3DS, and the 3D effect is essentially the same with no notable difference, even though the screen size has been improved.


3DS XL Battery Life

The original 3DS could sustain a full charge for between 3-5 hours while playing 3DS games, and around 5-8 hours while playing DS titles, which isn’t too bad in the grand scheme of handheld history.

Nintendo has pegged the 3DS XL’s battery life at between 3-6.5 hours when playing 3DS games, and between 5-8 hours again for standard DS games. It’s hardly a massive increase.

We decided to run our own battery test by charging up our 3DS XL in full, and then leaving a copy of Mario Tennis Open running with 3D effects turned up to max.

We found that the battery life lasted just over six hours, which lives up Nintendo’s estimate. Five to six hours is pretty much on par with what Sony offers with the PS Vita so there’s no room for complaint here.

However, the 3DS XL doesn’t come with a charger, which is a whole other issue that has left many gamers feeling soured. We’ll discuss this point further on in our review.


3DS XL Ergonomics

As we touched on earlier, the original 3DS wasn’t the most comfortable handheld to use, particularly when playing Kid Icarus: Uprising. It’s refreshing to see that Nintendo has made the 3DS XL more ergonomic in response.

The bottom half of the 3DS XL is taller, meaning you can hold it in your palms as comfortably as you would an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller. It just feels natural, rather than having to tightly grasp the original 3DS.

The top screen now features more points of articulation, with several locking points that help you fix the screen into an angle that feels comfortable, and can help combat sun glare issues without forcing you to move around.

The 3DS XL certainly feels like a handheld tailored towards comfort of use, and Nintendo has achieved this without compromising the handheld’s sleek design – something many handheld manufacturers have botched over the years.

£DS XL Missing Features?

While the 3DS XL is well designed when compared to its predecessor, it’s still lacking some important features. The omission of the oft-requested second thumbstick is still a sore point.

Nintendo’s 3DS twin thumbstick extension was a monstrosity, and the 3DS XL version looks just as daft. Sure, there aren’t that may games requiring a second stick yet, but it still feels like Nintendo is missing a trick here.

The lack of power adapter is also a real issue. Nintendo’s rationale was that selling the 3DS XL without an adapter would drive down retail cost. Instead it’s punishing those who don’t already own a suitable adapter, something that will only serve to irritate new customers.

Bundle these issues in with the 3DS XL’s shoddy camera, and you have a console that is making steps towards fixing prevalent sticking points, but is still falling wide of the mark.


If you want to upgrade to a 3DS XL, you may want to cash in your standard 3DS to get a discount, because buying the 3DS XL outright for a larger, yet poorly defined larger screen set isn’t justification to buy one alone. 

The lack of power adapter is also a real sticking point. Sure, if you have a 3DS already you can use that, but as most retailers won’t accept consoles without chargers, you will likely have to trade that in as well.

It’s a weird move by Nintendo, and if you do have to buy an official 3DS XL adapter, it will run you around £7-£10 depending on where you shop. It’s a small price to pay, but it’s still an additional cost regardless.

It’s hard to recommend a console that does little of difference when compared to its predecessor, even if the build quality is superb. But if a larger screen is what you’ve always wanted from your 3DS experience, definitely get one on the cheap if you can.

Technical Specs

Top screen

(Approximately 16.77 million colors viewable) widescreen LCD with integrated Autostereoscopic 240 dots vertical (horizontal) × 800 dots / (46.08mm vertical 76.8mm × horizontal) 3.53 type can be assigned respectively to 400 dot 800 dot the right eye-left eye (horizontal three-dimensional representation is possible)

Bottom screen

(Approximately 16.77 million colors viewable) LCD with touch input feature type 240 3.02 × 320 dots vertical dots next to / (46.08mm 61.44mm × vertical horizontal)


Two cameras inside / outside. Resolution (0.3 mega pixels) 640 × 480 both lenses: the number of effective pixels CMOS /:: imaging element / focal length of approximately 300,000 pixels


2.4GHz communications passing between the play and play Nintendo 3DS available via the wireless LAN access point can be connected to the Internet (supports IEEE802.11b / g Reinforcement (WPA / WPA2 ) security) within 30m distance recommended ambient communication (※ may be shortened by circumstances)

Game inputs

  • A / B / X / Y button, cross, L / R buttons, Start / Select button
  • Slide pad
  • Touch screen
  • Built-in microphone
  • Camera
  • Motion sensor
  • Gyro sensor
  • System inputs
  • Game card slot
  • SD memory card slot
  • Charging terminal
  • AC adapter connection terminal
  • Headphone connection terminal (stereo output)
  • On the screen left and right stereo speakers (for surround pseudo-) (10cm when fully extended about) possible expansion and contraction


If you want to play Nintendo software 3DS : about 3 hours to 6.5 hours. If you want to play the Nintendo DS software: about 5 hours to 8 hours. Battery life may vary depending on the brightness of the screen.


  • Isometric.jpg
  • Top Down.jpg
  • 3D Slider.jpg
  • Side Comparison.jpg
  • Comparison.jpg
  • Battery Life.jpg
  • Camera.jpg
  • Build Quality.jpg
  • Screen Quality.jpg

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