OK, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. The DSi XL is essentially a bigger version of last year’s original DSi console, and contains the same technology and upgraded features that version gained from its predecessor, the DS Lite (sadly, losing the GBA cartridge slot in the process). Most notable among them include two 0.3 MP digital cameras, SD card slot, 256 MB internal memory for storage, and the ability to download games via the DSiWare online store. The hardware also features photo and audio manipulation software, the ability to play ACC music files, free Opera web browser, and (in recent updates) the ability to upload photos directly to Facebook from the console. The DSi XL also retains the same d-pad and face buttons from the DSi, although they feel a bit sturdier and less flimsy on the larger body.
Where the DSi XL differs from the original DSi is also where it gets its name – extra large screens, as Nintendo has upped the DSi’s 3.25” displays to a whopping 4.2” for both screens. The result is bigger, better viewing angles from practically every direction, and retains their original 256 x 192 resolution output. While this can result in bigger and (in some cases) more distorted visuals, this also means that text is easier to read, and writing with the stylus is considerably easier. The larger body is also easier to grip for those with bigger hands, which translates into less cramping and playing first-person shooters was a lot more comfortable. The extra bulk is also heavier, and at 314 grams (roughly .69 lbs) you’ll feel every ounce. Thankfully, the battery life has been improved, adding a few hours over the original DSi’s weaker battery life.
The DSi XL includes the standard DS stylus, which can be tucked into the console when not in use, and even a larger, pen-style stylus that feels great. For games that require a lot of touching and tapping, you’ll never want to go back to the stock stylus again, as this larger alternative is sturdier and remained comfortable after hours of use. Its heft makes a nice tapping sound that screams quality, and while you won’t be able to store it as easily as the stock stylus, it’s worth the extra trouble to cart it along for the ride. A good traveling case should solve that problem, and should be an essential after-purchase, anyway.
Nintendo has even included a trio of free pre-installed software titles to get you started, although I’d hesitate to label them games. Brain Training: Math and Brain Training: Arts & Letters are carryovers from their existing DSiWare counterparts, and when you factor in their original prices (each costs 800 Nintendo Points, roughly $16 US for both) that nearly cover the extra cost of the console itself. Flipnote Studio is a nice animation studio that showcases the online capabilities of the hardware, although its inclusion here remains as free as it ever was.
One area where the DSi XL really excels (see what I did right there?) is with dramatically improved audio output. Not that previous DS models were lacking, but there’s just something about the DSi XL’s stereo that just sounds extraordinary. Perhaps this was another nod to the company’s mission to make the DS a shared experience, but I was really surprised at how crisp and clear music and effects sounded. Audio input seems to have been improved, too, as games requiring vocal inputs (such as Brain Age and various Cooking titles) picked up my cues a lot more accurately and from better distances than ever before. I wasn’t able to test its music playback capabilities in time for this review, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it challenged similarly-sized (and higher-priced) Bose sound systems. It really is that good.
Despite what you’ve heard, those larger screens weren’t just designed for older DS users, as there are plenty of users with poor eyesight that stand to gain the most from the increased screen sizes – myself included. When I have time, there’s usually a good platformer or real-time strategy game tucked inside my DS, and I’m known to indulge in more than a few casual titles. It’s here that Nintendo has done a great job balancing the need for the DSi XL to remain functionally a portable device, yet acknowledge the reality that some people just need a little bit more room to read and poke around.
As for my poor eyesight, you’d think a steady diet of electronic ‘fuzz’ would be the cause, but it’s actually an impossibly precise combination of bad genetics and a summer camp injury that’s caused my vision (particularly in my left eye) to erode over the years. I’ve also been an avid DS supporter since the introduction of the DS Lite, and readily appreciate any effort to make these smaller screens cleaner and more readable. Diving back into my library of older games was like rediscovering old friends, as most benefited greatly from being played on the larger screens. New Super Mario Bros. looked fantastic, and I was able to jot down answers to Brain Training quicker and more accurately than ever before. A favorite of mine, Personal Trainer Cooking (and its sequel) were utterly fantastic, thanks to the larger viewing size and increased responsiveness of the console’s beefed-up audio.
The DSi XL does sport a few features that some fans may be disappointed in, depending on how you plan to use the console and for how long. For whatever reason, Nintendo has replaced the DSi’s sleek matte finish with a shiny exterior, which means smudge-city for active users. As mentioned above, the DSi XL is also considerably heavier than previous versions, and feels it. While its weight isn’t much different than the original DS (Phat), it makes the DS Lite feel like a feather in comparison. Those with arthritic hands and problems stabilizing heavier objects may want to test a unit before purchase, as would anyone looking to replace their infinitely more ‘portable’ original DS console-of-choice.
The DSi XL also doesn’t support transfer of digital purchases you made from the original DSi console through the DSiWare online store. That Nintendo hasn’t made a universal accounting system between their growing family of online-connected consoles at this point is a bit troubling, and I hope they rectify this in future updates.
More a companion option than upgrade, those who assume that its current DSi users who will be upgrading to the DSi XL are missing the point, as this bigger, beefier platform most likely won’t convince anyone who’s invested in its predecessor to pick one up for the larger screens alone. The hardware is functionally the same as its predecessor, with better audio and sturdier base for longer sessions and gameplay. If you’re thinking of upgrading from the DS Lite, and don’t mind losing the ability to play GBA games and compatible peripherals, than take a look at Nintendo’s largest, most comfortable handled they’ve ever designed. If this is to be the final revision of the DS console, then it’s certainly going out in style.
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