Nintendo 3DS Hardware Review

The Nintendo 3DS was originally released on February 26, 2011, the 3DS XL came out just over a year later on July 28, 2012 with 90% bigger screens than the original 3DS. I will be reviewing the XL Australian and New Zealand version with Mario Kart 7 pre-installed.

Is this the handheld for you? Find out below.

(Note this review was originally from 2013)

OUT OF BOX EXPERIENCE

On opening the box, everything is well packed, the documents and power supply are plastic wrapped, and the console itself is covered with a soft wrapping to prevent scratches.

What’s in the box?

  • Nintendo 3DS XL Handheld console (with stylus)
  • 4GB SDHC Memory Card (Mario Kart 7 Pre-Installed)
  • AC Power Supply (Input: 230V-240V~50Hz 7W, Output: 4.6V DC 900mA)
  • Operations Manual
  • Nintendo 3DS XL Quick-Start Guide
  • Club Nintendo booklet
  • Six Augmented Reality Cards

The included docs and AR Cards:

HARDWARE

The console itself is beautifully made, nice rounded corners make it nice to hold with no awkward right angle edges that make it feel unnatural. The upper screen is a 4.88 inch 3D display with a resolution of 800 x 240 (400 pixels per eye when using 3D feature), the lower  screen is a 4.18 inch resistive touchscreen with a resolution of 320 x 240. The unit I’m reviewing is white, doesn’t it look nice?

AUDIO

While there is a standard audio jack for headphones, the unit comes with stereo speakers either side of the upper screen. The speakers aren’t overly powerful or punchy, but they do the job, the Operating System outputs nice, crisp and clear audio. When a game tries to use bass for a bit of impact that is when the speakers show their limits, and can sometimes sound a bit tinny.

CONTROLS

There are a wide array of physical buttons on the lower part of the device, including a directional pad, analog thumb pad on the left side, and your standard 4 action buttons on the right side.

Holding the device, my thumbs were naturally hovering above the game controls which results in less fatigue. Coming from an Xbox360 or PS3 controller to a 3DS most of the buttons are where you expect them, however I found the start button to be positioned quite far away from where my right thumb was, which sometimes was a little awkward pausing a game quickly, but that’s just me being picky.

Having only one thumb pad on the left is a bit of a bummer, especially in racing games when for the majority of the time all you are doing is holding down the ‘accelerate’ button.

CAMERAS

The 3DS comes with two rear facing cameras that can take 3D photos, as well as single front facing camera (2D only). The cameras are very low resolution (0.3 mega pixels @ 640 × 480), and have a very slow frame rate. Below is a photo I took under artificial light, and to say it’s terrible is giving it a compliment. Click on the photo to see the full uncompressed original photo.

Sure the rear facing camera takes 3D photos, but is it usable at all as a camera to take photos? I’d have to say no, even $50 phones out now have way higher quality cameras. I’d only use the camera for games, that’s where it works well, the inbuilt games Face Raiders and AR Games are quite a bit of fun.

DISPLAYS

The displays themselves are a bit underwhelming from a clarity and resolution point of view. The low resolution sticks out like a sore thumb. The text is fuzzy, browsing the web is awful, massive aliasing can be seen in game, and you can see the individual pixels of the screens.

Below is a photo taken of two menu icons, you can easily identify the pixels and intense anti-aliasing used on the image and the text.

The 3D in the system does take awhile to get used to, it took me about two days of on and off usage to get used to it, it does feel quite immersive once you do get used to it. A built in Kingdom of Plants 3D movie really showcases the 3D in the screens, it certainly impressed me.

What I found to be very annoying was having to hold the 3DS at a specific viewing angle and at a specific distance away. this made me feel robotic and uncomfortable after a while, when playing Mario Kart my hands would slowly and subtly start angling the 3DS as I had lots of pressure put on the accelerate button, this would cause the 3D to break and things to become blurry, completely distracting away from the game itself.

This was made exponentially worse when I tried the AR built in game. The AR game instructed me to have the 3DS a specific distance away from the AR cards… so now I had to have my head at the correct angle and distance in relation to the 3DS, and then I had to have the 3DS at a certain distance from the AR card.. WHATTTTT. It is was such an obscure experience. Especially when you pan your 3ds around the AR cards, and your head has to stay fixed in relation to the 3ds. I felt like the top half of my body was a robot. It was a lot better of an experience to play with the 3D turned off.

When the 3D works, it works well. But is the overall 3D experience worth it? I would have to say no. I found it a lot more enjoyable to play games with the 3D turned off, so I could free up my arms and just focus on the gameplay itself.. Nintendo need to come up with a way to tilt the 3D screen based on the angle the console is in relation to your head, it would help the experience out so much. Sure it sounds absurd, but it needs to be done for that 3D switch to stay ON.

When the 3D works, it works well. Unfortunately the low resolution really breaks the immersion that the 3D brings to the table. The whole system is worse off from the low resolution, the system text has been purposely made bigger and heavily anti aliased, which makes most of the Operating system text readable but fuzzy, not as crisp as it should be. All applications have a larger than usually minimum font size, or else the text just isn’t readable at all. Web browsing is pretty bad too, but more on that later. The image above shows you how you can easily see individual pixels and very low fidelity.

NINTENDO 3DS VS NINTENDO 3DS XL DIMENSIONS

WhatNintendo 3DSNintendo 3DS XL
Dimension (Width)134.62mm (5.3 inches)156mm (6.14 inches)
Dimension (Height)73.66mm (2.9 inches)93mm (3.66 inches)
Dimension (Deep)20.32mm (0.8 inches)22mm (0.86 inches)

NINTENDO 3DS XL SPECIFICATIONS

LCD ScreensUpper Screen: 3D-enabled widescreen LCD (can display 16.7 million colours)Lower Screen: Touch-screen LCD (can display 16.7 million colours)
Screen Size / ResolutionUpper Screen: 4.88 inches (106.2mm wide x 63.72 mm high)800 x 240 pixels (400 pixels per eye when using 3D feature)Lower Screen: 4.18 Inches (84.96mm wide x 63.72mm high)320 x 240 pixels
Battery6.5Wh Lithium Ion
Wireless Frequency2.4GHz Band (11b: 1 – 13ch /11g: 1 – 11ch)
Communication StandardIEEE802.11b/g
Output Power11b: 5.5dBm / 11g: 5.0dBm maximum
RecommendedCommunication DistanceWithin 30m
Camera FeatureLense: Fixed focal lengthImage sensor: CMOSEffective pixels: 300,000
SpeakersStereo (supports psedo-surround)
Input / Output TerminalsGame Card slot, SD Card slot,  AC adapter connector, audio jack (stereo output)
SensorsMotion sensor, gyro sensor
Maximum Power ConsumptionApprox. 4.1W (when charging)
Usable EnvironmentTemperature: 5-35 degrees CelsiusHumidity: 20-80%
Dimensions93mm high x 156mm wide x 22mm thick (when closed)
WeightApprox. 336g (11.85oz) – including battery pack, stylus and SD Card
Charge TimeApprox 3.5 hours
Power AdapterAC 230 – 240V 50HzDC 4.6v 900mA
StylusPlastic, 96mm in length, Approx 1.8g

SOFTWARE

OPERATING SYSTEM

When switched on and setting up the console for the first time it is a nice experience, some soft background music as you go through the menus, what I found most impressive was the stylus and the touch of the screen, it seemed very responsive and accurate to the stylus touch.  However using fingers instead of the stylus on the 3DS just doesn’t work very well at all, you need to use the stylus if you want consistent results, but that doesn’t matter too much as you generally just use the stylus.

The quirky Japanese charm is splashed all over the Operating system, it is a lively fun system, however the main menu does seem a bit unorganised, and some menu items don’t make too much sense in their default positions, but you can change the position of the menu items, group them in folders much like an IOS device. The amount of rows can be adjusted from displaying one row of icons, to up to six rows at a time.

The buttons and the general UI are nice, the buttons giving a nice “you’ve clicked me” noise, and the scrollable menus are very smooth and fluid. However the experience can be a quite inconsistent. For example there are instances where you think you are able to scroll but you can’t. Some in-built applications support navigating with the direction pad, some are stylus only. It does give the feeling that different departments made separate parts of the overall experience and didn’t have any sort of branding or User Experience document to go by.

Connecting to WIFI was very straightforward, and the ability to skip any tutorials for connecting is a nice touch. There is nothing worse than setting up a new product and being forced to sit through a tutorial.

Updating to the latest firmware was easy, albeit a little hidden away. It would have been nice for it to have checked for a new update when I first connected to my wifi spot. To update to the latest firmware took roughly 10 minutes.

INTERNET BROWSER

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, this is what the text looks like in the web browser at the default zoom. The internet browser is bottlenecked by the resolution of the screens. Website text is generally horribly pixelated when viewed in their normal state, text being barely legible, and having to zoom in when you shouldn’t need to (which painfully makes the whole page re-render again). After browsing a few websites, about 30% of them didn’t finish loading or did not load at all.

Scrolling with the stylus on web pages is very nice and fluid, the website overflows from one screen to the other totally seamlessly.

On HTML5Test.com the web browser scored a total of 109 out of 500. It does not support many HTML5 standards including video, audio or WebGL. Flash also isn’t supported. This completely rules out using your 3DS for watching youtube videos.

The only reason I use my 3DS web browser over my other devices is to get photos I’ve taken with the 3DS emailed to me, as the only other way to get photos off the device is to pull out the SD card, no ability to share via email, facebook, twitter or usb cable. It seems so barbaric to have to do it like this in an overly connected world.

Overall another disappointing aspect of the 3DS, maybe we’re all just spoilt with the great resolution and internet browsers found on iOS and android devices?

NINTENDO ESHOP

Nintendo has created an online shop to download demos, grab a game from Nintendos back catalog, purchase full games, or in other regions the ability to stream Hulu and Netflix.

There is a vast selection of demos to try, all very fast to download. It was weird to see a limit set on each demo, you can only play a demo a certain amount of times.

Purchasing full games from the eShop is a good idea if you want the full game installed onto your device, no need to insert a game cartridge each time you want to play a specific game. Unfortunately the pricing model is a bit out of whack. Most of the games were overpriced compared to their retail physical counterpart, some games I found to be up to three times as expensive purchasing from the eShop then my local retailer.

The 3DS does not allow background downloading, which is a bit of a shame. You are either faced with a download screen or you can suspend the console while it downloads.

The downloadable Nintendo back catalog of games was a bit lackluster, I was expecting to be able to download a few more of the Nintendo Classics.

AR GAMES

AR Games is a game where it revolves around Augmented reality cards you place on the ground. It does require very good lighting to work well, as low light conditions don’t tend to work well, or work at all.

Seeing an Augmented Reality structure fold out in front of you is a very cool experience, and panning around inspecting the details adds a nice level of immersion.

If you are to play this, make sure you turn the 3D off on your 3DS, as it gets quite fidgety and frankly quite annoying with it on when you are moving the hand held around the AR cards as explained previously in this article.

FACE RAIDERS

Face Raiders is a game where you take a photo of your face and it is warped onto a flying 3D face, it does an amazing job of manipulating the face texture to show various emotions. The aim of the game is to take photos of people and then shoot them down. When in game it uses the in-built rear facing cameras and places the 3D faces in your world, you move the 3DS around to aim.

The game nails it’s purpose, to provide a fun quirky game which showcases various technologies of the 3DS.

WRAP UP

Peeling back the charm of the Japanese made handheld, you are left with a console that:

  • Has low resolution displays
  • An unforgiving 3D experience
  • Low fidelity cameras
  • No ability to stream anything from your computer
  • A lack-luster web browser
  • Has a great gaming experience and portfolio

If you are after a multi purpose handheld console, a handheld with the best graphics, or a handheld with the best displays then this isn’t the handheld for you. However if you are after a handheld console for the sole purpose of playing games, and games only, then you’ve come to the right place.

Overall I give this handheld console a 7 out of 10

Published by Matt van der Haas

Matthew van der Haas is a lively, motivated, professional yet sarcastic web developer who loves nothing better than exploring new technology. Having not being used to writing in the third person, Matthew tells a story of how he's had over 10 years of professional web experience, and experience in front of a computer since he opened his eyes. At a small age Matthew was described as knee-cam, due to being interested in taking video when he was as tall as the height of peoples knees. Matthew also enjoys the hardware side of things, enjoys good old fashioned tidy soldering and wiring job, as well as playing with GPIOs on the Raspberry PI

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