The Great 3DS Battery Life Test

It's the most important part of any handheld - does the 3DS stand up to the test?

The Great 3DS Battery Life Test
24th March, 2011 By Ian Morris

When you're buying a new handheld console, one thing tends to be on your mind more than anything else, whether it's the colour of the console, what games you're going to buy, or even how expensive it is - the battery life. It's the lifeblood of any handheld console, as if you're having to plug your console in every few seconds to charge it up, there's very little point in having a handheld console.

There's been a lot of speculation about the 3DS's battery life for quite a while now. When Nintendo announced that the console would come with a docking station, which you were intended to plug your console into every single night, alarm bells started ringing, as that seemed to hint at a poor battery life.

When the physical battery details were revealed, people's fears were initially somewhat allayed. While the DS Lite had a 1000mAh battery, and the DSi had an 840mAh battery, just a bit smaller than the original DS, which had an 850mAh capacity. The DSiXL was Nintendo's largest battery yet, until the 3DS was announced, with a capacity of 1050mAh. The 3DS beat even that, however, with a 1300mAh capacity. Then Nintendo announced the amount of time the battery would last.

While the DS lasts up to 10 hours, the DSi gets up to 14 hours, the DS Lite can achieve a whopping 19 hours, and the DSiXL achieves a very respectable 17 hours, the 3DS, according to Nintendo, would last between 3 and 5. Three and five hours! For a brand new console? That's around a quarter of what the DS Lite achieves, and to be honest, sounded pretty pathetic.

But, we weren't all too concerned. Perhaps that was with Wireless turned on - maybe they had the backlight whacked up to full, and the 3D amped up too? So when our 3DS came through the post, we couldn't help but test it, and find out just how "bad" it was for ourselves.

The test

The first problem with the 3DS is actually the length of time it takes to charge the battery. While it has a much larger battery than the DSi, it uses the same charger, and so charges at the same rate. This means that, in a nutshell, the console takes an age to full charge - around 3 hours and 40 minutes in our experience, which is an awfully long time when you're waiting to play a game.

To get an accurate picture of the battery life, we ran several seperate tests:

  • Test 1: Full 3D, wireless on, full backlight, running a game - 3:08
  • Test 2: Full 3D, wireless on, backlight on 2 (out of 5), running a game - 4:18
  • Test 3: No 3D, wireless off, backlight on 2, running a game - 4:42
  • Test 4: Normal playing - wireless almost always on, system kept in sleep mode for StreetPass, varying levels of 3D used* - 3:55

*The 3DS was kept on in sleep mode when not in use for three days, using StreetPass with several other 3DS owners, in between playing.

The results, in all their glory.

As you can see from the results, in test 1, which was the most demanding test, with full everything (3D, backlight, wireless), the 3DS managed a, frankly, pitiful 3 hours and 8 minutes, which was some 40 minutes less than it took to charge. Turning the backlight down, however, yielded some pretty impressive results, getting us an extra hour and ten minutes of play time, simply by reducing the brightness of the screen.

Test number three measured the effect 3D has on the battery, revealing that by turning the 3D off, you can squeeze roughly an extra half an hour out of the battery - which was a bit less than we'd expected.

Test number 4, meanwhile, represents the 3DS's battery life through an average weekend of play. Turning it on on Friday morning, and putting it into sleep mode, we carried the 3DS around with us, playing when we got chance, and exchanging Miis via StreetPass with other users. The 3DS lasted fine for three days, and still had two batteries showing when we decided it was time to run the battery down by playing it until it died. StreetPass seems to have relatively little effect on the battery life, which is promising, as Nintendo are relying on you to use it as a way of getting their console out there.

But while the results aren't awful (4 hours of play time between charge is comparable to an iPhone or PSP), when they're taken in conjunction with the 3:40 charging time, the battery life starts to look more than a little bit suspect - in fact, on full backlight, the console drains quicker than it charges.

Taken on their own, however, what our experiments have shown is that on a reasonable brightness, you can manage to squeeze a decent amount of play time out of the 3DS, which, while it can't even hope to come close to past Nintendo consoles, should last you for any journey. If the console charged quicker, we'd probably be approaching being satisfied.

As it stands, though, the battery life is the single worst (and practically only bad) aspect of Nintendo's new handheld. Hopefully the inevitable 3DS XL will have a larger battery - or Nintendo will bow to the pressure and release a bigger one themselves. Like it should have come with from the very start.

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