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Nintendo 3DS XL hands-on impressions: Bigger is way better

Is the Nintendo 3DS XL worth the $199 upgrade?

Nintendo 3DS XL
Nintendo 3DS XL
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Hands-on impressions with the new Nintendo 3DS XL.

Nintendo brought its XL-sized revision of the Nintendo 3DS to Comic-Con, our first chance to go hands-on with the portable game machine that's better in almost every single way. More than just a size revision — the system now boasts screens 90% larger than the original — the Nintendo 3DS XL fixes many of the design faults of the 18-month-old handheld.

The most noticeable upgrade is the 3DS XL's new larger screens. Playing Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS XL was a spectacular experience, offering a huge window into the game world. The size difference is significant. The 3DS XL's stereoscopic 3D effects felt a bit easier on the eyes, too. The simulated depth felt less obviously distracting, after we found the visual sweet spot.

Finding that 3D sweet spot was a bit harder while playing 3DS software that require movement of the system, like the built-in augmented reality mini-games. At times, we had mistakenly thought we'd found the right angle and distance, only to notice that one edge was out of focus. A slight readjustment of our hold fixed that.

Beyond the screens, Nintendo has made a few welcome changes. It's moved the stylus from the back of the system to its right side. No more reaching behind the top half of the 3DS to slide out the stylus. The XL's stylus is a full-length, non-telescoping touchpen, about the same size as the Nintendo DSi XL stylus.

The Nintendo 3DS XL hardware is rounded off in all the right places. The system's edges have been smoothed and curved, eliminating many of the sharper angles of the original 3DS. The 3DS XL analog Circle Pad is also rounded off, with a slightly more rubberized feel.

The excellent d-pad feels unchanged from the original, with just the right amount of clickiness.

Another great tweak is the new 3D display slider. On the 3DS XL version, sliding the switch down to its lowest level to click the stereoscopic 3D effects off now requires a little more force. There's very clear feedback when the slider moves past its notched on-off position.

Everything about the Nintendo 3DS XL feels better

Finally, the three buttons below the 3DS XL's bottom touchscreen — select, home, and start — are now honest-to-goodness buttons with movement, rather than the cheap-feeling clicky membrane buttons employed in the original 3DS. If I were to register a minor personal complaint, it would be that the three buttons are not printed, but embossed, which makes them a bit harder to read in a dark room while looking at a bright display.

Everything about the Nintendo 3DS XL feels better in your hands, from its rounded edges to its matte plastic surfaces to its more comfortable full-sized stylus. The bigger, more beautiful display screens also feel slightly easier on the eyes. The 3DS XL feels more like the handheld Nintendo should have released from the get-go.

If you'd like to get your hands on one, Nintendo will release the 3DS XL in Europe and Japan on July 28th, and North America on August 19th.

Check out our gallery of Nintendo 3DS XL photos for detailed shots of the system and comparison pics of the 3DS, 3DS XL and DSi XL.

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