I happened to be in Japan when the new Nintendo 3DS and 3DS “LL” models came out in retail. I didn’t buy one since it is region-locked, but I wanted to take a closer look at how it feels and what it looked like in the real world. Already shown during Tokyo Game Show, the new Nintendo 3DS is a little wider, and there is also an LL (Nintendo uses LL in Japan and XL for the West) version of the new console which is just a little bigger than the older version, but lacks the ability of having interchangeable faceplates – and that’s probably why the regular version is the best-seller right now.
The most obvious change for this 4th generation 3DS hardware is the new display. It looks much bigger, is better in 2D mode, and the stereo-3D mode has been improved quite a bit, with some games providing a true “depth of field” feel, with blur in the background and all. The stereo 3D remains glasses-less and can be turned ON or OFF at will, thanks to the stereo 3D dial on the right side of the screen.
Nintendo has also added some face-tracking feature that will let you rotate the console in your hand to experience additional 3D effects as the camera adapt to the motion. It is as if you look at things from the sides. Since your face can go out of the camera field of view, Nintendo also uses the motion sensor to double-check what’s going on. This is assuming that you turn the console in your hand, rather than move your head around it.
Although not really indispensable in my book, 3D can be really nice depending on the title and on your own taste for it. What I can tell you is that the new 3DS does take it to the next level, so stereo-3D fans should really appreciate the evolution of the display.
Nintendo has also added a light sensor, so the brightness can now adapt to the ambient lighting automatically, which may save you some battery if you are using it in a dim environment.
Note that the touch display is still fairly prone to having fingerprints all over, and despite the progress, the visual quality is quite far from the latest PS Vita, and of course, from the latest smartphones. Since it is “stereo-3D”, it’s not really possible to do an Apples to Apples comparison, but that gives you a lay of the land.
A few new buttons have appeared: two are additional rear trigger buttons in the back (named ZL and ZR), and one is next to the action buttons, and there’s a new Home physical button. The action buttons also get more color, with a design that will throw you back to the Super-Famicom days
The one next to the X/A/B/Y buttons is mostly used to adjust the camera position and works more or less like a Thinkpad pointer for a lack of a better comparison. The precision goes from “so so” to just “OK” depending on your expectations, but I would be surprised if most people found it to be “great”.
At first, and depending on how you usually hold the console, the trigger buttons can be activated unintentionally, but after a short while, people should get used to it. I haven’t tried games that make heavy use of it, but this should come soon enough.
As I mentioned earlier, the difference in overall body size and display size are the most noticeable changes, especially for the LL (‘XL’ in the West) version of the new console, which is even bigger. The other thing is that Nintendo is now using a matte plastic instead of a shiny one.
I personally prefer this option because it makes the console feel a little less slippery (especially the buttons) and it is less prone to show fingerprints on the body. Some people have asked me if that would catch dirt in the long run – honestly, I’m not sure, but in general, I don’t think that matte plastic becomes very dirty over time.
There are other small differences, like the positioning of the game card slot is housed and things like that, but these don’t really affect the gameplay.
Again, keep in mind that the new XL (or LL in Japan) version does not have custom faceplates, which apparently turned off quite a few people that I talked to, and I have to admit that the vast array of faceplates looked really nice, and more are coming.
Nintendo is well known for its incremental improvements, and this is a noticeable one, for a relatively low price ($150?) which seems to have attracted plenty of buyers on Day 1, at least in Tokyo. Unless you are put off by the size, the new design is clearly better than the previous one in nearly every way – and that would include better battery life, if Nintendo claims are true.
The main downside for non-Japanese users, is that the console is currently country-locked, so it would be a hassle to get one now. It should eventually make its way to the USA and elsewhere, but it’s not really clear “when” that will happen.
Heavy 3DS users will be likely tempted to get a new one, and there are clearly a lot of people upgrading from a previous version. The improvements are quite important, so I can totally understand why this makes sense for so many 3DS users.
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