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New Nintendo 3DS XL review: The New Nintendo 3DS XL almost nails it

The D-Pad, thumbstick, right and left triggers, home button and face buttons (which are now colour-coded) are all more or less in the same positions. But the power, start and select buttons have all moved -- the power button to the front of the device and start and select to below the face buttons. This makes them more reachable and less prone to an accidental press.

The stylus and game card slot have also moved, now at the front of the device, rather than the back. This is to make room for two new buttons tucked inside the shoulder triggers: ZL and ZR. The functions of these will probably vary according to the game, but they're not as uncomfortable to reach as they look; even with smaller hands, it's just a small shift inwards.

The function of a new thumbstick (of sorts) will vary too: the rubber C-stick on the front of the device, next to the face buttons. This takes a little getting used to, since it doesn't function like portable console thumbsticks usually do: it's fixed in place and quite rigid, and requires just a small nudge to click over. On the homescreen, it can be used to move between software programs, and it's actually quite sensitive; this disparity between the button's physical rigidity and its sensitivity takes some getting used to, but there's definitely some potential. In Super Smash Bros 3DS , for instance, you can hold it to charge your super attack.

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Dave Cheng/CNET

One change is a little on the vexing side: the SD card. It has been changed to micro SD with a maximum capacity of 32GB, although that's not the vexing part. The New 3DS XL and the New 3DS no longer have a slot for the card. Instead, you have to remove the entire back plate from the device using a screwdriver in order to replace the card -- which is desirable if you prefer to buy your games as downloads rather than cards, since by default the console comes with a 4GB micro SD card.

This is a fiddly process, and one that doesn't seem to make a huge deal of sense -- a slot could have been easily fitted along one of the sides. For the New 3DS XL, however, Nintendo seems to be trying to keep the sides of the device clear -- in the case of the micro SD card, to its detriment.

Software

Nintendo has tinkered with a few bits and pieces under the machine's hood, making a few upgrades that the player won't necessarily notice, but that will improve the overall experience. These include a faster CPU, automatic brightness in response to environmental lighting, video playback in the browser, wireless file transfer between the 3DS console and a PC, and a built-in NFC chip for compatibility with Amiibos.

The OS has had an overhaul, too, including the ability to change wallpapers and a more compact, easily navigable layout -- although it is worth noting that this OS update is also compatible with the 3DS, and has been available since early October.

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Dave Cheng/CNET

For all this, though, Nintendo still hasn't quite managed to address one of the biggest user issues with the 3DS: battery life. For something that is meant to be portable, a maximum of 7 hours of battery life seems slim. Although, it is better on the New 3DS XL than on the New 3DS, which only has a maximum of 6 hours, and the old 3DS XL, which has a battery life of 6.5 hours.

If you're travelling with the New 3DS XL, we recommend packing an external battery pack.

Conclusion

Each user's mileage is going to vary when it comes to the comfort or desirability of 3D gaming. That said, the upgrades to the 3D capabilities in the New 3DS XL alone make it worth either upgrading or as a purchase for those dipping their toes into the world of the 3DS for the first time. And, although it may not be as customisable physically, the New 3DS XL also has clear performance advantages over the New 3DS in the longer battery life and higher visibility.

The New 3DS XL is now available in most major markets.

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