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Review: Nintendo DSi XL: Is bigger really better?

2:30 PM on 03.30.2010 // Nick Chester

Hot on the heels of its announcement of its next handheld the 3DS, Nintendo released the Nintendo DSi XL in North America.

On store shelves now for $189.99, it's basically exactly what it sounds like -- a DSi, but bigger. I've had a chance to play with a DSi XL for about a week, putting it through its paces to see if bigger is indeed better. Hit the jump for a look at the ups and the downs of Nintendo's massive new handheld.

My, that's a big handheld you've got there

This thing is called the "XL" for a reason -- it's massive. Officially, Nintendo is saying it's 93% bigger than the DS Lite. What that means is that the screen size is now 4.2 inches, a little under an inch larger than the DSi. And boy, does that inch make a difference.

Simply reading those numbers you don't really get a good idea of just how much bigger the DSi XL is than the DSi. But in your hands and in front of your face, the difference it makes is impossible to ignore. Yeah, it's almost absurdly large, but going back and playing on the standard DSi, it just seems downright tiny in comparison. The screen on the XL is big and bright, making it easy to see tiny details on sprites, and allowing colors to pop more than ever before.

Nintendo markets the XL as the system that more than once person can enjoy simultaneously; anyone could stand around a single person playing a game and see it all, from just about any angle. The idea here is that it opens up the system to new types of games that can be played on a single handheld at one time, like the fighter Photo Dojo.

But from a purely selfish standpoint, there's really nothing like basking in the massive screens while playing a single player game. There hasn't really been a portable with a screen this big on the market before, and it just makes everything smaller look inferior and almost unacceptable.

It's a monster and it's heavy, but still portable

While some may worry that the XL is simply too large to be carried around as a portable (and it's a valid point), there's little reason to worry too much. Sure, it'll be the biggest thing in your pocket, but it'll fit... just a bit more snug. (This assumes you're not wearing super-tight hipster jeans, and instead pants that simply "fit.") You can also throw it in any bag, and it'll probably fit in most (man and woman) purses with ease.

The XL is also heavier than the standard DSi by about 100 grams, and that's most obvious when it's being held as opposed to carried in your pocket or bag. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it doesn't make for a tiring or difficult play experience. We're talking 100 extra grams here; the DSi XL still weighs less than a pound, and I'd find it difficult to take any complaints about the heft seriously.

As far as how it feels to play in your hands, it does take a bit of adjusting, especially if you're used to the smaller form factor of the previous DS units. But for someone with average-sized hands, your fingers should sit nicely on all of the main face buttons. The d-pad and the X, Y, A, and B buttons haven't changed size, either -- although they look minuscule on the large unit, you'll feel right at home.

Glossy and matte, a match made in heaven

The top side of the DSi XL has a sexy, glossy finish. I tried hard to get my grubby fingerprints all over the finish of my burgundy review unit, but it just wasn't happening. As for the bottom, the matte material is meant to give you a better grip on the unit as you hold it in your hands. Sounds silly, but it does the trick, and feels great.

It just keeps going and going and going...

With a larger size comes a larger, longer-lasting battery. Nintendo says that, depending on the game played and the brightness setting, you could get upwards of 17 hours of life from a single charge. Pretty insane for a portable, but that wasn't something I was able to test in any scientific way. I will say that one full charge, with the XL on the medium brightness setting (3 out of 5), got me through more than 10 hours of play on a recent trip... and it's still kicking.

Yeah, it's basically a DSi... but bigger

If you already have a DSi, you know exactly what to expect with the DSi XL. Its functionality, internal hardware, and software are identical in every way to the DSi, which was released in North America less than a year ago. Outside of the fact that it's larger, there's nothing else to see here... move along.

I hope you had fun with those DSiWare games you had purchased on your DSi

If you already own a DSi, chances are you've spent some DSi Points on purchasing DSiWare games. Unfortunately, there's currently no way to transfer DSiWare games from one unit to another, and that includes to a new DSi XL. While it's possible to put DSiWare games on an SD card, they simply won't play in another unit. The same thing can be said about any DSi Points you might have added to purchase games -- they're tied to a unit and not an account, and therefore will be held hostage on your old handheld if you decide to upgrade.

It's a pretty ridiculous oversight, especially since the DSi was just released last April. Nintendo was either shortsighted or simply doesn't care. It's entirely possible that this functionality will be added in a firmware upgrade in the future, though; it's currently possible to transfer Wi-Fi settings wireless from one DSi to another. But as of right now, if you decide to go bigger, kiss your DSiWare purchases (and any remaining points) goodbye.

It's a stylus that's also a pen... wait, no, that's not a pen at all

For some reason, the DSi XL ships with a huge pen-like stylus. Problem is, it's not a pen at all, despite masquerading as such. The stylus point doesn't click out, and the clip found on most pens is represented as a bump, but isn't functional as a clip at all. It's just a big ass, pen-looking stylus for the sake of it, it seems.

The unit does come with a more standard DS stylus, which slides nicely into the side of the unit, and is only 4mm longer than the standard DSi stylus. It just would have been nice if Nintendo didn't try to trick me with something that looks like a pen; I'm always looking for pens around my house, and this is just confusing.

Hey, check out my floppy hinge

After about a week's worth of usage, my DSi XL is suffering from a "floppy hinge." The unit's screen flips open and "clicks" into place, but it's certainly not as tight as it was when I first pulled it out of the package. This is particularly noticeable if you play the unit while reclined, or if you're trying to play it while walking.

It's not a huge deal -- it moves very slightly -- and in an extremely informal Twitter poll I ran, I'm the only person who's had this issue after a week's worth of light usage. I tried to grab a video of the floppy hinge in action, but it's pretty hard to pick up on camera, a testament to the fact that it's a) an incredibly small problem and b) maybe I'm just sensitive to floppy hinges.

So do you need one of these things or what?

This is a tricky question, and it really depends on your situation. If you're currently DSi-less, and you're not too concerned with picking up Nintendo's upcoming (and backwards compatible) 3D handheld (tentatively called the 3DS) at launch next year, the DSi XL seems an obvious choice. If you're in the market for a DSi, then the additional $20 (the DSi retails for $169.99, the XL for $189.99) is well worth it for the extra size and battery life.

But if you already own a DSi, than the XL is a bit of a hard sell. Even if you're someone that simply must have it all, the fact that you can't transfer your DSiWare games or points to your new unit will probably be a deal breaker for most. On top of that, the lack of any additional functionality means you're really just shelling out additional cash for more of the same.

On its own and with over a year to go before Nintendo launches the 3DS, the DSi XL is the choice handheld on the market right now. It's solid hardware backed by an already solid and every-growing library of titles. If you're a gamer and you don't own a DS, you're doing it wrong. Now with the DSi XL, you can just do it bigger than ever before.

[Hey, where's the score? We don't score hardware reviews. But hey, there's a lot of text up there that should be able to help you understand what we think about the DSi XL. Why not read it if you haven't already?]

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Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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