Sunday, 7 March 2010

Feature: Hands-On Nintendo DSi XL

Perhaps I should’ve known better, but after launching the DSi I didn’t expect Nintendo to be releasing another version of their ultra successful NDS range of handhelds so soon. Counting up the various revisions brings the current total up to four, including the latest DSi XL, and exceeding variations available for both the original GameBoy and the GameBoy Advance. Whilst most of these updates have resulted in a smaller, more compact edition being released, with the DSi XL Nintendo have gone down the opposite route and given us the biggest DS yet.

Surely people aren’t going to fall for yet another version of the same thing, especially one which is simply larger than all the others, and features a small amount of built in software?

Well judging by sales of the new console in Japan, and by the pre-order numbers here in the UK, it looks like Nintendo have another hit on their hands, albeit a much smaller one that with the DS lite. At the same time with the XL, Nintendo don’t seem to be aiming the system at everyone - how many times have you heard grandma, or one of your aunties talk about using ‘that’ touch screen handheld at home; “I’ve just finished the Professor Layton game” or “that new brain game is what I’m going to be after next” along with “never thought I’d be into this, but it’s really quite fun” type scenarios - these are the kinds of people that Nintendo are pushing the system towards, ones that spend more time playing their DS’s at home rather than taking them out anywhere.

With that idea in mind, Nintendo have made the DSi XL the largest version of the DS yet, with what they are calling 93% bigger screens, though the logic isn’t quite so sound, but more on that later. Also, they’ve seen fit to include two bite-size pieces of software to keep the masses entertained for a little while after they first turn on the system. For Europe we’ve been given Dr. Kawashima’s: Little Bit of Brain Training: Arts Edition and Dictionary 6 in 1 with Camera Function, along with the enhanced DSi Browser, all of which come pre-installed on the machine. Again, showcasing the intended target audience outside regular gamers, and younger folk.

Nintendo’s DSi XL is available in two different colours here in the UK, with the options being a two-toned Dark Brown system, or a red one, referred to as Wine Red. The red XL lacks the two-tone coloured appearance of the brown but does feature the dual glossy top, shiny matte sides and bottom surfaces.

The overall look of both XL’s is immediately much sleeker than with the previous DSi models, featuring a stylish, glossy and smooth reflective finish on top, with shiny matte finish around the screen and on the undersides of both systems. However the Dark Brown model features a two-toned appearance, using a slightly lighter colour for the matte finish around the sides and underneath. This choice is slightly odd, but in my opinion makes the Dark Brown version appear more like a premium product, looking rather stylish, though some people at work strongly disagree, thinking it looks cheap as a result.

The XL measures 161 x 91.4 x 21.2 mm, and weighs 314 grams, compared to the DS Lite's 218g and the original DS's 300g, so it’s sizably weightier in addition to being a noticeably larger handheld.

The screens measure 4.2 inches diagonally across (3.36" x 2.52"), whilst the DSi's screens are 3.25 inches, and the DS Lite's screens are 3 inches respectively, making the XL screen size 93% larger than DS Lite's. However this official measurement uses an eschewed but legitimate method when working out the increased screen size, as the XL’s screen isn’t nearly twice as large as the DS Lite’ s, but instead being more like 50% physically bigger, which is exactly as it looks on the life-size comparison picture on the XL’s packaging, and when both machines are side by side.

The resolution of the XL’s screen is exactly the same as the ones found in all three of the other DS’s, a mere 256×192, which unfortunately due to the much larger screen size, creates a noticeably blockier look to games running on the XL when compared to the DSi or DS Lite. Effectively the pixel size is larger and more noticeable than before, giving off a screen-door effect to everything that is being displayed. What this means is that although things are larger and sometimes easier to see, they aren’t always as sharp or as clear. However this isn’t likely to be a problem for older audiences who mostly play titles such as Brain Training, or the Professor Layton style investigative type games, in which text is easier to read and the overall sense of scale increased, making it a more comfortable affair for longer sessions.

At least the screens are still native resolution, as having a higher resolution would require upscaling of all DS software, and the effect of this would be much worse than what we are seeing with the XL. To be honest, the DSi also suffered from the same problem due to having a larger screen also, however the issue was far subtler compared to what we are seeing here, and in the end most people won’t notice, or really care all that much. For pure clarity and sharpness though, nothing beats the good old DS lite.

In terms of d-pad, face buttons, and placement, the DSi XL features the same sturdier buttons and pad found on the DSi, feeling more plasticky than the ones used on the Lite, although they do seem slightly looser and more responsive than before, which is a nice improvement and makes playing the likes of Mario Kart easier, whilst not quite reaching the DS Lite level of comfort. All the buttons and d-pad sizes are exactly the same as with the DSi and DS Lite, although the DSi style power button has been given a smooth and shiny finish, which feels good when you press down on it.

The only complaint that comes to my mind with the current design, is that given the much larger size of the XL, the buttons feel so small in comparison to the rest of the system and would have benefited from being just a tad bigger. Doing this would have made the system even bigger, and I’m not sure that anybody would want that.

Despite a few issues and improvements, the DSi XL feels pretty comfortable to hold, and the larger screen size makes playing certain games a lot more fun, even with the blockier look, which I have to say has the opposite effect some games. The XL doesn’t feel like it weights too much, and given its size is perfect to rest on the edge of a sofa whilst playing if it becomes too heavy. I can see this being perfect for casual gamers who want something larger and easier to use at home, whilst still having their DSi or DS Lite for when out and about.

Like all the other DS’s that have gone before, the DSi XL features a stylus that slots into the unit itself, which is 4mm longer than the stylus on the DSi; so pretty much the same overall, in addition to a much chunkier, 129.3mm-long pen-shaped stylus, which can be tied onto the back of the XL if need be.

The DSi XL also comes with the same AC adaptor that changed the standard DSi, the first time that any of the NDS models have shared the same charger. Also Nintendo claims that the battery life in a fully-charged DSi XL with out last the DSi on both the lowest and the highest brightness settings. You can expect around 13-17 hours of playtime on the lowest brightness setting, compared to 9-14 on the DSi, and around 4-5 hours on the highest setting, one hour more than the DSi.

Overall, the DSi XL is a very nice addition to the NDS family of systems, weighing the same amount as the original DS, whilst looking considerably sleeker, packing more built-in features, and at the same time, increasing usability for anyone having trouble before due to the more compact nature of the handheld. There are some negatives though; mainly the blockier looking picture you get with the bigger screen, which looses some clarity in the process, and the fact that having the pen stylus attached to the back of the system feels a little awkward. However these concerns aren’t likely to be felt by most, who arguably just want something larger and easier to hold for prolonged sessions around the house. In which case the DSi XL succeeds.

For those looking to upgrade from an old DS Lite, that has maybe seen a little too much use, then I would probably recommend picking up the DSi instead, seeing as that particular system has similar screen quality to the Lite, whilst being compact enough to easily take with you on short notice journeys. The DSi XL on the other hand, represents a good investment for those looking to have two DS systems, one for extended home use, and one for travelling and outdoors, but not as a replacement for a standard DS system.

Either way it seems that Nintendo have once again caught the public’s imagination via another incremental upgrade to a now aging five year old handheld. Though I’d argue the point that maybe it’s time for them to be taking the next step, showing off a true successor to the NDS at some point later this year, one which has full backwards compatibility with the current systems, whilst bringing in a new style of gameplay and much better graphics. It’s not like they can get way with ‘another’ revision of the existing DS’s, especially since they have practically covered all bases.

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