DSi XL review

Bigger really does mean better

DSi XL review
22nd April, 2010 By Ian Morris
Game Info // Nintendo DS
Nintendo DS Boxart
Available On: DS

I'm sure we've all been there before. The DS is telling you something, but you can't quite make out what it says. Sitting there, squinting down at your console, tilting it in every which way imaginable, no matter what you do, you just can't make out what it says. Damn those three pixel high letters.

But as annoying as it may seem, Nintendo have been listening to our feedback. Inspired by the complaints of Japanese commuters, who were having trouble reading the text in games such as 100 Classic Books, Nintendo originally planned on releasing a new, larger DS Lite - but instead have held fire until now, with the DSi XL. And we're certainly glad they did, as the new handheld does pretty much everything you could ever hope for.

Coming in two different colours - the pictured Wine Red, and the decidedly boring sounding "dark brown", the DSi XL is obviously being positioned towards a more mature audience. And we like it.

The screens

The first thing that strikes you when you pick the unit up is just how big those screens are. 4.2" across the diagonal, each screen is a whopping 93% larger than the screen on the DS Lite (or an unbelievable 140% larger than the original DS' screens), and when you're playing a game, that makes a heck of a difference - especially if it's a game that has fairly small text.

With fonts, graphics, and basically everything on screen blown up to roughly twice the size, everything now feels a whole lot easier. You'll find yourself squinting less to make out characters, or texts in games that obviously haven't really thought that much about making their game easy to read, because everything is now literally almost twice as large.

The size comparison. There's a huge difference.

Of course, it's not just the sheer physical size that helps - the two screens are also a lot brighter than the ones found on the DS, and even the DS Lite, and come with adjustable backlight settings, allowing you to ramp up the contrast whenever you need to. Preventing fonts from simply blurring into the background, the increased screen size, and improved contrast, makes everything a lot easier on your eyes, and text in now a lot easier to read. In fact, you don't really realise just how small and fiddly the DSi's screens really are until you try the DSi XL.

But yet, the improvements to the screens don't stop there. Nintendo have been positioning the DSi XL as a family console - the adverts will often show a mother and daughter, or a couple playing the DSi XL together. To this end, the DSi XL's screens now come with a much wider "viewing angle" - which basically means you'll be able to see the screen, clearly, from the sides. With many LCDs, if you try and view them from anything other than head on, the screens just appear black, or severely discoloured. With the DSi XL, that's not a problem - although, in all honesty, we've never really noticed it being a problem on the older DS' either.

Size matters

Other than the impressive screens, the other striking thing about the DSi XL is just how much more sturdy the device feels. Those new screens have added an extra 100g onto the weight of the console - but in practice, although it may be slightly harder hold it with one hand at an awkward angle, it doesn't really effect things all the much - if anything, it makes the handheld feel more robust - and therefore more likely to survive a fall. While you may be concerned that the super sized screens may have pushed the size of the console up so much as to not make it portable, it hasn't actually made that much of a difference. The DSi XL measures 161mm x 91.4mm x 21.2mm, compared to the original DS' 149mm x 84.7mm x 28.9mm (width by height by depth) - so in actual fact, the DSi XL is actually slimmer than the original DS, and despite having screens that are almost twice the size, is only 12mm wider!

Despite its upsizing, the DSi XL is still small enough to fit in a handbag, or the side pocket of some combat jeans - and the extra weight doesn't make a great deal of difference when you're lugging it around. Hey, look at it this way - the only way the extra weight will really affect you is that you'll burn slightly more calories when you're carrying it around!

New Stylus

Rounding off the list of DSi XL specific improvements is the new stylus the handheld comes with. Large, chunky, and pen shaped, the new stylus intends to make writing on the DS screen feel a lot more natural - which it succeeds in - the only problem being that there's nowhere to store it on the handheld itself. Luckily, the DSi XL also comes with the traditional, er, stylus shaped stylus that shipped with the DSi - thicker than the original DS', there's nothing really wrong with this stylus - but the pen is preferred for games that require writing. So long as you don't lose it.

Other features

The DSi camera function lets you create rather stylish images - here pictured on a DSi

Of course, the list of features doesn't stop there. The DSi XL also comes with the features that were introduced with the DSi - namely, dual cameras (one for taking photos of other things, and one for taking photos of your own ugly mug), vastly improved speakers (things sound a lot less tinny now), and, most importantly, a huge revision to the DSi menu.

Arranging each program horizontally, the menu borrows heavily from the Wii, by splitting each program into a seperate channel of its own - so there are no menus to navigate to find what you're looking for. Coming pre-loaded with applications for taking and manipulating photos (you can distort them, turn them into a bizarre kaleidoscope picture, or graffiti them with mario hats and moustaches!), recording and manipulating sound (it's amazing how much fun we had recording people, and making them sound like they'd just inhaled a gallon of helium), and even a web browser - which works surprisingly well, the DSi XL is a fully featured media device. With an SD card slot, you can even use it as an MP3 player - although technically, it'll have to be an AAC player, as for inexplicable reasons, the MP3 format isn't supported.

The DSi menu - running on an original DSi

But the preloaded goodness doesn't end there. The most important new feature is the DSi Store, which lets you download new applications, and new games, from a virtual marketplace. The currency of choice is Nintendo Points, and by purching a Nintendo Points card from a shop, and connecting to the DSi Store, you can redeem the points, and spend them on a selection of games - from miniature versions of 42 Classic Games, and Brain Training, to entirely original creations - such UNO, or EA's Sudoku - a game which offers hundreds of the number based puzzle for 200 points - equivalent to about £1.99 at RRP - or even cheaper if you shop around for your points.

With every passing week, the DSi Ware store fills up with more and more great games, that are well worth your money, which makes this one of the console's strongest assets. Even more impressively, two DSi Ware games come pre-loaded on the store - Brain Training: Arts Edition, and the snappily titled 6 in 1 Dictionary with Camera function, with a third one (flipnote studio - an animation package that lets you turn the DS into a virtual flick book) available as a free download simply for connecting to the DSiWare store.

The down side

Of course, there are a few negative points with the handheld. The price (£159.99 RRP - although it can be found for a lot less than that now) still seems a bit extortionate, and with no Game Boy Advance slot, it's still impossible to play the Guitar Hero games.

More disappointing are some poor design decisions on Nintendo's part. By default, the wireless on the DSi XL is turned on - and the only way to turn it on or off, is by quitting to the main menu, and accessing the settings. Whereas before, games used to access the wireless by themselves, and turn it on only when it was needed, for some reason Nintendo thought this huge step back was a good idea - so now you have a choice of either letting your battery drain incredibly quickly (even in sleep mode, wireless remains on, so it continues to eat your battery), or having the awkwardness of having to quit out of your game every time you want to use it. The same is true of the screen brightness, which is only changeable from a menu you can only access by quitting from a game.

However, the biggest reason not to buy a DSi XL is news of the console's successor - the 3D-bursting-out-of-the-screen capable 3DS. Already being rumoured to launch in October, the 3DS is the elephant in the room that Nintendo really doesn't want you to think about - and if it really is launched this October, it'd certainly make you regret having spent £160 on a console that's effectively obsolete within six months, at the time of writing.Of course, if the promise of eye-popping 3D, without the use of 3D glasses doesn't interest you, or you'd rather wait to see how warmly the new console gets received, a DSi XL purchase could be right for you. With a huge amount of features, the biggest, brightest, clearest screens that Nintendo have ever put on a console, and plenty of great pre-loaded applications, there's certainly enough here to keep you busy for the next few months. Heartily recommended.

Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS

StarStarStarStarHalf star
As the final iteration of the DS hardware, Nintendo couldn't have chosen a better swan song. An amazing piece of machinery that listens to the demands of its fanbase, soured only by the impending 3DS.
  • +
    Did we mention the screens? Improved contrast, and an even more impressive range of brightnesses make this the clearest DS yet.
  • +
    The DSiWare store lets you download new games every week - at an attractive price.
  • +
    The cameras, the media functions, and the web browser all help make the console more than just a gaming device.
  • -
    With the 3DS just around the corner, is it really worth the expenditure?
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