Editors' note: The Nintendo 3DS XL's functionality is nearly identical to that of its predecessor, the 3DS. Please see that review for an in-depth look at the performance and features of the system. This review will highlight the main differences between the two consoles.
In March 2011, Nintendo released the 3DS, the company's glasses-free portable 3D gaming system. Its reception was mixed; some complained about the finicky 3D effect, while others mocked the system's subpar game library at launch. Nintendo had released a system that seemed to deviate from the company's reputation for excellent handheld devices, highlighted by the 3DS' short battery life -- something typically unheard of in a Nintendo product. Then there was the confusion surrounding a second circle pad. The left pad was a welcome addition to the 3DS, but the lack of a complementary right one left many scratching their heads. This was exacerbated when Nintendo released a clunky attachment, the Circle Pad Pro, that added another pad to the system.
Despite these shortcomings, the 3DS held a lot of promise, which is why I gave the system 3.5 out of 5 stars. It seemed the 3DS' future potential contained more value than what immediately met the eye.
Fast-forward to a year after its release and the 3DS has clearly been unable to match the success of its predecessor, the DS. Predictably, Nintendo announced a follow-up to the 3DS, the 3DS XL, which many viewed as a chance for Nintendo to correct some of the missteps from the original 3DS' launch. So does the $200 3DS XL repair some of the problems I had with the first iteration?
Design and feel
While the short answer is probably no, make no mistake: the XL is definitely the 3DS you should be buying if you're considering one. The most obvious upgrade is the system's screens, which get a massive 90 percent bump in size. The change is so drastic, in fact, that going back to the original 3DS after an extended XL play session is laughable. Measuring 4.88 inches, the top screen is so large that it now rivals the Sony PlayStation Vita's, which is an even 5 inches.
The bump in screen size is not an increase in resolution, though, which seemed to work against the DSi XL when it was first released. The same pixel isolation is apparent on the 3DS XL. Graphics simply don't appear as sharp as they do on the 3DS. Text suffers a lot, too, but it's by no means unreadable.
Mostly everything on the 3DS XL remains the same as it did on the original, save for a few new locations for items. The three main buttons that run along the bottom of the unit (select, home, and start) have a much better tactile feel to them and are separate tiles altogether. The SD card slot has been moved to the right side of the unit, and the headphone jack is aligned with the bottom left as opposed to dead center. The stylus is also on the right underside of the system, moved from the top panel. Because of this, it's nontelescoping. Nitpickers will notice the 3D icon doesn't glow green like it did on the original, either.
Out of the box the XL comes with all the usual suspects, though it doesn't include a docking station like the 3DS did. Instead you'll just find the unit, an AC charger (it uses the same port as the DSi XL and 3DS), and a set of AR cards. An SD card is preloaded in the slot and has been doubled from a 2GB to a 4GB card.
Most glaringly absent from the XL is a right circle pad. While it seemed that the XL would have been the perfect opportunity to incorporate one, it once again is inexplicably omitted. Granted, there are only a few titles that successfully take advantage of that control, but a right pad was requested by critics and gamers alike. If you thought the 3DS looked ridiculous with the Circle Pad Pro, I'm not sure anything can prepare you for what the XL attachment will look like.
Speaking from a construction standpoint, the XL feels much more solid than the 3DS does. Its hinge is much more securely fastened than its looser predecessor. The XL abandons the shiny plastic that covered the entire 3DS and instead opts for a smoother matte look and feel.