The first noticeable aspect of the Nintendo 3DS XL is not so much its considerable size increase, but the actual redesign to make its buttons and edges rounder and smoother for more of an overall improved feel. This is far more important than the screen enlargement because for anyone with bigger hands, the diminutive original 3DS model proved awkward to hold for lengthy periods on certain games, and there were far too many areas of discomfort thanks to its build. Now Nintendo has crafted something that is akin to a cross between the very first Nintendo DS model and the Nintendo DSi XL, coming along with a matte finish that is significantly less prone to picking up dirty finger print marks than the standard 3DS (as can clearly be seen in the recent comparison images news story with Cubed3’s well-used, rather grotty-looking 3DS unit!).
Pleasingly, due to the modification of its casing, there is no longer that annoying sweat line that appears on the top screen of the 3DS. Every time the 3DS is used and the lid closed, upon opening once more there was what some described as a ‘scratch’ on the auto-stereoscopic screen, but was in fact simply sweat that had built up in one of the lower part’s ridges and transferred because of poor design leading to the top screen pressing too close to the lower half of the unit. Many people will be pleased to hear that this problem has now been eradicated. Even the added weight is not noticeable, since whilst the 3DS made hands cramped and tired after longer play sessions, the 3DS XL distributes its heftiness across the grander form factor, giving the false impression of it seemingly being just as heavy, if not even a smidgen lighter. The curved design also helps it to sit snugly and comfortably in the hands of gamers.
The stylus has been changed to a more regular plastic one, rather than the retractable metallic contraption, and its resting position has been moved from atop the system to the right-hand side, along with the newly placed SD slot (complete with complimentary 4GB card for every unit purchased), whilst the headphone port is tucked away on the bottom-left edge and the ‘Select,’ ‘Home,’ and ‘Start’ keys have been changed to much easier-to-press buttons. Nintendo really has pieced together a smooth-looking piece of kit, and even the sound sounds as if it has been moderately tweaked.
The good news for anyone reading reports of pixelation causing problems is that sites talking about that are over-reacting. Unless you specifically scrutinise each game played in the upscaled format, then nothing will seem different other than the clearer, larger output image. When playing something that was already blocky, then obviously the effect will be more pronounced, but the majority of 3DS games look superb, just as DS games did when enlarged on a DSi XL. In fact, DS games are now played at the correct ratio, filling the entire lower screen and stretching across to the top screen with the right proportionality.
There are positive alterations in the volume control, wireless activation button, and, especially, the 3D slider. Before, knowing when 3D was fully turned off was clear to most, but after plenty of usage, the slider had a habit of becoming a little loose, confusing matters slightly. On this 3DS XL model, however, there is a ‘click point’ where sliding it down far enough locks the system into regular 2D, and anything above that is in the scalable level of 3D depth. Speaking of which, the frustrating point of losing that ideal viewing angle that gives the best 3D clarity has been somewhat alleviated. Whether the screen technology has been adjusted is unknown, but the increased size alone appears to have reduced some of the agony of blurriness when slightly moving your head during play.
Finally, the battery is marginally improved -- but only by around an extra hour when played at full brightness with both DS and 3DS games; the sound output appears to be moderately louder, yet still requires good headphones or external speakers to get the best results; and there is no added Circle Pad. Yes, we all know that the separate analogue nub will be available later this year as an individual purchase, but should it have been included as standard? The simple answer is ‘no’ and there are two key reasons for this: 1.) As Iwata-san pointed out, sacrifices would have had to be made to add it into this particular upgrade, either upping the price or increasing the size of the model too much, 2.) There would be a split in the userbase, with original 3DS owners feeling too aggrieved by the fact their systems would not play new games that did not have an option for single-Circle Pad play. Nobody has seen what the add-on will look like yet, anyway, so judgement in regard to its omission here should be reserved for now.