[Left to right: DSi XL, DSi, DS Phat]
Perhaps it was no coincidence that Nintendo stopped by New York City to show off the Nintendo DSi XL, one day after Apple made its not-so-earth-shattering iPad announcement. Like the iPad, the DSi XL is a larger version of an already successful handheld device, but unlike the iPad, the DSi XL promises no added functionality, nor does it alter the electronics landscape in any way. It is, quite succinctly, a bigger DSi.
One can't help but question why the device exists in the first place. To whom does the DSi XL appeal? Certainly, its gargantuan size makes it stand out as the least portable handheld system we've seen in quite some time, taking a completely opposite approach to that of Sony's PSP Go. Thanks to its larger screen size, it takes up even more space than the original DS Phat -- strange, considering one of the primary complaints held against the Phat was its unwieldy girth.
What the XL excels at (sorry!) are games that require extensive use of the stylus. The massive stylus that's included with the system is easy to handle, making earlier stylus pens feel cheap and flimsy. The larger screen real estate makes it easier to draw on the system, perfect for intense Pictochat sessions or a round with WarioWare DIY.
Beyond the obvious difference in size, there's yet another change that's immediately noticeable: the screens are absolutely gorgeous. Nintendo promised a brighter screen with a better viewing angle, and it delivered. Impressively, the image quality doesn't suffer much on the DSi XL's larger screens either. Most likely, the use of solid, bright colors in games like Mario Kart DS disguise the low-resolution textures. Compared to the DSi, the XL is the clear winner. (The DS Phat is laughably poor in comparison. The system is actually on in these comparison pictures.) Nintendo promises no degradation in the battery life -- perhaps the larger system houses an even larger battery to compensate for the enhanced screens.
Unfortunately, Nintendo currently has no plans to retroactively implement these improved screens in revised versions of the DSi or DS Lite. (Why would it when it could release another new DS model?) And don't expect Nintendo to support your current collection of DSiWare in the new DSi XL -- even for fans that are "upgrading," there's no real process for transferring games from one system to another.
We were pleasantly surprised to see how improved the screens are on the DSi XL. However, the question still remains: who is this for? It's hard to envision gamers throwing out their newly purchased DSi systems for the XL. And although the screens are attractive, they're certainly not as easy to fit in your pocket.