Nintendo 3DS XL Review: Does Bigger Make for Better 3D?

by Reads (49,268)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Performance
      • 8
      • Total Score:
      • 8.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • 90% larger 3D screen for a more immersive 3D gaming experience
    • Much improved battery life
    • More solid-feeling hardware that is more comfortable to hold for long gaming sessions
  • Cons

    • While it is still technically pocketable, it's pretty large for a handheld gaming device
    • Speakers aren't quite as good as the original 3DS, so you'll want to use headphones most of the time.

Quick Take

The larger display and improved battery life make the 3DS XL the definitive version of Nintendo's current-gen handheld. Upgrade if you can.

The Nintendo 3DS XL is the updated version of last year’s 3DS gaming handheld. Like the original, it plays cartridge and downloaded games as expected, and it also packs in a web browser, sound recorder, notes app, and a 3D camera. The 3DS XL also has a 90% larger screen and enhanced battery life, and is available in your choice of red or blue for $200.

Nintendo 3DS XL Build & Design

The 3DS XL is by definition larger than its predecessor, but while you may have a hard time finding a pocket large enough to carry it around in, you will likely find that it is much more comfortable to use for extended periods of time. The design has been subtly tweaked in several good ways. The device is more evenly weighted, so it doesn’t tend to flop in your hands and lean to the back. The bottom portion is thinner, and the corners are more rounded so they don’t dig into your palms.

And while it may seem like a giant device, it isn’t actually that much bigger than the original 3DS. It is slightly longer and not too much taller, and roughly the same thickness. It will fit into a pants pocket if necessary, though I wouldn’t recommend trying to sit down with the 3DS XL in your pocket.

The materials are quite nice, and the device is very solidly built. The blue finish is much nicer looking in real life than it appears in pictures, with a subtle sheen that seems to resist fingerprints. It’s important to note also that only the top and bottom exterior covers of the 3DS XL are colored, while the hinge and everything inside is black–you don’t want a colored bezel around the screen distracting you from the graphics of the game.

Open it up and you’ll find that the hinge is much sturdier than the original 3DS, and securely clicks into several different positions so that you can find that perfect viewing angle. That’s important since you’ll need to find the “sweet spot” for the best 3D viewing experience.


The big news here, of course, is the giant (literally!) screen upgrade on the 3DS XL. The 3DS is unique for offering a glasses-free 3D experience, and the 3DS XL takes it to an entirely new level. The 3D upper screen is now 90% larger than before, and it is truly a sight to behold. The screen on the original 3DS was plenty good, but take just one look at the larger screen on the XL version and you’ll definitely want to make the switch.

Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL ComparisonEven though existing games in the 3DS library are being scaled up to the larger display, graphics are still crisp and sharp — I couldn’t see any obvious artifacts, graininess, or major pixelization that said “look at me, I was originally a lower res game!” The display isn’t really HD quality, but that’s OK because the 3D effects are really, really good and grab your attention right away.

You do still have to find the sweet spot to get the best 3D experience, but that is much easier to do than before, perhaps because of the larger screen. All you really have to do is hold the 3DS XL so that the middle of the screen lines up with your eyes, and you’re good to go. You’ll be rescuing the princess (or whatever game you like to play) in no time at all.


Since the 3DS XL is primarily a gaming device, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that it doesn’t have a physical keyboard. There are a few places where you need to enter text, such as when setting up your initial profile or using the web browser, and you’ll use your stylus with the virtual onscreen keyboard.

Other Buttons & Controls

While the second screen allows for touchscreen controls, sometimes you just need a few buttons to make gaming enjoyable — and the 3DS XL has plenty of them. There are left and right triggers on the hinge, and they are long enough to fit your fingers perfectly. The volume slider is on the left side, and the wireless on/off switch is on the right.

Open up the 3DS XL and you’ll find the circle pad and d-pad buttons on the left. The d-pad buttons are nice and clicky, with good feedback — much improved over the original version. The A/B/X/Y buttons are on the right, and below is the power button.

Under the screen you’ll find the select, home, and start buttons, and these are much improved over the earlier 3DS. This time around they’re actual buttons, instead of a pressure sensitive area below the screen. They’re much easier to find and use than before.

Nintendo 3DS XL Back EdgeThe only other control is the 3D slider on the upper part of the device, just to the right of the 3D display. You can control the level of the 3D effect or turn it off entirely if you prefer. There’s an SD card slot on the right side of the device, just below the stylus silo.

The power port is located on the back hinge of the device, and uses the same connector as the original 3DS, so any extra chargers or power accessories you have should definitely work with this new model. The headphone jack is on the front left edge. power button is inside, on the lower right corner of the bottom portion of the device.



This article is part of our 3D Special Report on



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