- Game library There are only a handful of 3DS-specific games available right now. Until that number increases, you can still play existing DS and DSi games on the 3DS.
- Graphics Naturally, the 3DS has the most powerful graphics of any Nintendo handheld to date. Oh yeah, there's also the whole part where the screen is 3D.
- Battery life With a rated 3 to 5 hours of gameplay between charges, battery life on the 3DS is pretty weak compared to its predecessors.
- Portability (size / weight) Lightweight and super portable.
- Durability Feels solid in general, though the strength of the hinge is a little questionable. Overall, I'm confident the 3DS would survive your typical accidental drop.
When the 3DS is closed, the top half is tapered outwards along the edges, making it very easy to lift open from any point. Although the top half is very glossy, it's covered in a fingerprint-resistant coating. It still attracts prints, just not as easily.
The bottom half, when viewed from the sides, is like a two-layer sandwich — it has a darker-colored layer on top, and a lighter-colored layer on the bottom. All of the LED lights and switches are located along the darker half (which is slightly recessed, so you can't accidentally move any of the switches). The labels for those LEDs and switches are printed underneath on the lighter half. All in all, this makes for very clean lines in the hardware design.
Nintendo has also removed some seams from the design: looking at the bottom of the 3DS, there isn't a cutout for the battery compartment, because the entire bottom side is actually the battery door.
The hinge doesn't feel particularly tight as you open or close the lid. When the 3DS is held normally, the hinge holds the lid in place effectively (at least for now). But if you're laying in bed and holding the console up above you, the hinge isn't strong enough to hold the screen open and it will flop shut unless you've clicked it all the way back into place. This part of the hardware has always been a sore spot for the DS family, and only time will tell if the loose hinge wobble will plague the 3DS too.
Overall, the plastic material feels solid, not cheap. And if it's anything like the DS or Game Boy lineup, the 3DS can probably withstand a little abuse before it breaks.
======= Screens =======
Obviously the main attraction here is the 800x480 top screen, which can display three-dimensional graphics without requiring you to wear any special glasses. It looks fantastic. Even after a week of owning this thing, the glasses-free 3D effect still impresses me every time I see it.
There is definitely a sweet spot for the 3D viewing angle. You need to be looking straight at the screen; move your head too far to the left or right and you'll lose the effect entirely.
The intensity of the 3D effect is customizable with the slider located to the right of the screen. Slide it all the way down, and the screen becomes completely 2D. I haven't experienced any of the headaches or eye strain that some others have complained about, but I typically keep the 3D slider at the halfway point (not full strength). As an additional note, I wear glasses (nearsighted) and I can view the 3D effect comfortably with or without them on.
The bottom screen, like previous DS models, is a 320x240 resistive touchscreen. You can use your finger to touch things on screen, but you'll want to use the included stylus when it comes time to draw something or press small keys.
======= Controls =======
The slide pad, a new addition to the 3DS, is a flat rubbery gray circle that gives you full 360-degree movement control. Pull it with your thumb to any direction and it springs back to the center when you let go. By its nature, it's far more precise and freeing than the 4-way control pad (which is still present, now located right below the slide pad).
Buttons provide a good amount of click action, not too mushy feeling.
====== Cameras =======
The inner and outer cameras aren't much more than a novelty, taking grainy 640x480 (0.3 megapixel) photos. However, the two outer cameras work together to capture 3D pictures, which you can then view in 3D on the device. Despite the low image resolution, the 3D aspect is pretty amazing to look at. Your photos gain a true sense of depth which allows for some impressive, dramatic shots. I'd love to share them online but unfortunately they wouldn't convey the effect!
======= Battery life =======
Nintendo rates 3DS battery life at 3 to 5 hours of gameplay, which is pretty low in comparison to previous DS models. This seems to line up with the ~4.5 non-consecutive hours of gameplay I've been getting with Wi-Fi turned on.
To soften this blow, a charging dock is included in the box. You can simply set your 3DS onto the dock, and it starts charging instantly. There isn't any fancy wireless / inductive charging going on here; the weight of the system actually presses a switch on the dock which causes charging contacts to flip out. You can still use the 3DS when docked. Also, you don't have to bring the dock with you to charge it; you can plug the AC cable directly into the console.
Pro tip: the 3DS has a special power saving mode which is turned off by default. If you turn it on (top left icon on home screen), the 3DS will automatically adjust the brightness of each display based on whether the content being shown is light or dark. You won't notice any visible changes, and I've squeezed in at least an extra 30 minutes of gameplay with this option activated.
======= Built-in software =======
The menu system feels very Wii-like; it looks nice and it's simple to navigate. You can press the Home button in the middle of any game or application to temporarily suspend it while you jot something down in the notepad, check your friends list, or view an unread notification.
One of the included applications, "AR Games", is a suite of augmented reality minigames. Included with the 3DS are some special Nintendo-branded playing cards; by placing one of them on a flat surface and pointing the 3DS camera at it, games are rendered on top of the card on the 3D screen. It's very impressive, you really have to see it to believe it.
Some of the other bundled applications are a Mii creator, photo viewer & editor, audio player, and usage statistics log. A web browser and downloadable software store are arriving in a future system update.
======= Social features =======
Want to play games against your friends over Wi-Fi? The good news: you can, and generally it works pretty well. The bad news: Nintendo is still employing their friend code system, so if you want to befriend someone, you'll have to trade 12-digit codes. At least they've settled on using the friend code tied to your system, and not a different friend code for every single game.
Once you've added someone as a friend, you can see when they're online and what they're currently playing. As soon as a friend signs on, the notification LED on the device flashes, which is kind of nice. (I sure wish my iPhone had a notification light...)
When the console is asleep and the new "StreetPass" feature is enabled, your 3DS will wirelessly exchange data with other nearby 3DS systems during your daily routine. Other peoples' Mii characters, Nintendog pets, etc. will appear in compatible games and applications the next time you use them.
The system also counts your steps while it's asleep with the built-in pedometer. It awards you with virtual coins based on how far you've walked, which can be used as in-game currency to unlock bonuses in certain titles.
======= What's to come =======
Nintendo has announced that Netflix is coming to the 3DS later this year. I don't really need yet another Netflix-capable device in my house, but if the 3DS could stream and display 3D movies, that would be a game changer. I think the 3DS represents a pretty big opportunity for media producers — it's probably how a lot of people will first experience 3D content in their homes, since I can picture the 3DS selling a lot faster than 3D-capable television sets.
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Updated detailed review
Updated detailed review
Edited comment on Portability (size / weight)
Rated Portability (size / weight) a 5
Rated Durability a 4
Edited comment on Durability
Edited comment on Battery life
Edited comment on Graphics
Rated Game library a 3
Edited comment on Game library
Rated Graphics a 5
Rated Battery life a 2