Our DSi XL shipped with firmware version 1.4U, which includes all the various media and online applications that we saw in the DSi. Bundled in with the XL are a few software bonuses that include the DSi Web Browser and Photo Clock. There are three games also preinstalled: Brain Age Express: Math; Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters; and Flipnote Studio. Of course, you have access to the DSi Shop, where you can download different games and applications for the system.
The DSi XL Camera application allows you to take pictures via either camera (there's one mounted on the front and one on the internal hinge) and keep them on the unit's internal 256MB of storage or onto an SD card. Though the XL still supports SDHC cards of up to 32GB, we would have liked an upgrade in internal storage here, considering you still can't play a DSiWare game directly off a flash card (they must be copied over to the system). For folks going from the DSi to the XL, there is no way to correctly transfer your games over to your new system. As it currently stands, you'll actually need to repurchase games for the DSi XL. For a more in-depth analysis of the Camera and Sound applications, we encourage you to read through our original DSi review.
Just like the DSi, the XL has the ability to connect to any 802.11b or g Wi-Fi router or hot spot. Strangely enough, all the hiccups we found in setting up wireless networking on the DSi are still present in the XL. It's still difficult to find settings that allow you to connect to a security higher than WEP. Those settings are actually buried in the system, forcing you to choose "Advanced Settings" on the main "Internet Connection Settings" screen. We're not sure why this functionality is so hard to find, but using connections 1-3 won't allow anything higher than WEP. Once you access the advanced menu, you can manually set up a connection using higher encryption such as WPA and WPA2. You'll have the ability to scan for hot spots that support encryption above WEP, and then you'll just need to enter a security key. Alternately, if your router supports AOSS, the DSi can connect that way as well. You also have the option of using a Wi-Fi USB connector (sold separately) that will allow for an easy Internet connection to the DSi XL.
The success of the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console and WiiWare platform has led to the handheld equivalent, called the DSi Shop, which debuted on the original DSi. More information outlining the system, along with some hands-on time can be found at the original DSi review. Download speeds remained the same on DSi XL's shop, and we noticed heavy Internet activity definitely had the most impact on battery life. More on battery life a bit later.
Like we've mentioned earlier, the DSi XL is essentially a carbon copy of the DSi, and the same goes for under the hood. The same 133MHz processor and 16MB of RAM are here, so don't expect any increases in overall performance. Besides, we didn't notice any improvements the first time around when going from a DS Lite to these new DSi specs.
The most notable internal hardware change has to be the new battery inside the DSi XL. Compared with the 9 to 14 hours of playtime the DSi provided on the lowest brightness setting, Nintendo boasts 13 to 17 hours with the XL. Our overnight testing supported this, which is for lack of a better word, outstanding. We've always been impressed with battery life on the entire line of DS systems, and that legacy continues with the XL.
Before seeing the DSi XL, we were a bit concerned about pixelation because of the screen's size enlarging, but the resolution stayed the same. When we demoed Mario Kart DS on the XL back in February, our worries evaporated as we had a blurry-free gaming experience. However, during our brief demo with the unit, we didn't get to try out games heavily focused on text like the preinstalled Brain Age titles. It's in games like these where the sharpness suffers. It's by no means unplayable, but those transitioning from the DS Lite may notice a change. Even in the system's menus, text appears a bit off, almost like what happens if you put your nose too close to an LCD monitor.
That said, the two 4.2-inch screens really do give you plenty of real estate to work with, and games like the Brain Age series--or any game where a lot of writing is required--truly benefit. We loved scribbling notes on our interactive map in Zelda: The Spirit Tracks and appreciated the massive room to write when designing games in WarioWare: D.I.Y.
We also want to mention that playing games on the DSi XL is a bit of a different experience than what's had on smaller systems like the DSi and DS Lite. The device's weight and bulkiness does come into play here, so you may need to readjust the way you're used to gripping the system. You'll also have to get used to the fact that your hands are farther apart, which may make for a bit of an initial awkward acquaintance period. But after a few extended sessions, you should have no problem getting used to the bigger design.
Since the DSi XL is merely a screen upgrade in comparison with the DSi, it leaves the question, "Who should buy it?" Judging by the way Nintendo has marketed the XL, we get the feeling that it is not necessarily aimed at younger gamers first; in fact, it's probably geared more toward an older crowd who may be intimidated by previously smaller models. We also should note how much more pleasant of an experience the XL can be for those with vision impairments.
The DSi XL is priced at $190 ($20 more than the DSi and $60 more than the DS Lite); it will be available March 28, 2010, in either bronze or burgundy.
Owners of the original DS "phat" and Lite are left with a tough decision. If an upgrade is necessary, we'd recommend the DSi over the XL, simply because of the pricing. However, if you're clamoring for more touch-screen real estate, the XL might be what you're looking for--just be prepared to lose some of that portability you're currently enjoying. Of course you can always wait for the imminent release of the just announced Nintendo 3DS, a portable gaming system that will display 3D graphics without the need for glasses. It will be backward compatible with DS games and should be out within a year or so.