Nintendo 3DS battery test explains how to get the most from your handheld

Handheld games machines demand lengthy battery life, so how does the 3DS fare? We drain, deplete and demolish Nintendo's new machine, and show how to squeeze more juice from your own console.

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
4 min read

We're ardent admirers of the Nintendo 3DS -- you can tell because we awarded it four stars in our in-depth review. But one of the weaknesses we observed was that Nintendo's newest console doesn't offer great battery life. We've conducted a few battery tests, so here's what you can expect from the 3DS away from the mains, and a few tips on how to get as much battery life as possible.

Bad battery life? That sounds... bad!

Battery life is of utmost importance when it comes to a handheld console -- after all, the point is to play it when you're out and about, so if the 3DS can't keep its cool away from the mains, it's not going to be much use on long car journeys, or for keeping you sane in dentists' waiting rooms.

So what's the problem?

The 3DS plays games in 3D without requiring you to wear any stupid 3D glasses, and it also scans the airwaves constantly looking for other nearby 3DS consoles. Chuck in Wi-Fi connectivity and two bright, colourful screens to power, and it's not hard to see why the 3DS guzzles down juice like a busfull of thirsty pre-schoolers.

When projecting 3D images, the 3DS has to place two separate images on to the 3.5-inch upper screen, so we were keen to see what kind of effect this would have on battery life. Our first test was to establish a minimum battery benchmark, so we turned screen brightness up as far as it would go, turned the wireless features on and set the 3D effect (which can be adjusted using a slider control to the right of the display) to maximum. With these parameters, it took around 3 hours to completely exhaust a full charge.

So, with everything cranked up and gunning at full whack, expect roughly 3 hours of gaming time out of your 3DS. That's not disastrous, but it's far from impressive. If you had a lengthy plane journey ahead of you, you'd quickly find this diminutive 3D darling gasping for breath.

3D drain

To test how much the 3D affected battery life, we performed the same test under the exact same conditions, but this time we turned off the 3D effect. This time the console managed 4 hours and 10 minutes before conking out.

That's better, and means the 3DS will last a precious hour longer before needing to suck on its charger. It's still not ideal, and bear in mind there's no way to access the 3DS' battery pack, so you can't swap an empty battery for a full one like you would with a camera, or chuck in a few new AAs like you could with the Game Boy of old. Kids these days.

Extended play

If you want to get the most out of your 3DS in terms of battery life, here's what to do.

First, turn off the 3D using the depth slider. Secondly, turn down the display brightness. This is a great way to extend battery life if you don't mind on-screen action looking a little less vivid. You can do this from the 3DS home screen -- just tap the little sun-shaped icon in the top left, and from here you can choose a lower brightness setting.

There's also a power-saving mode available on the same screen, which dims out the screen even further, and will help you squeeze a precious few extra minutes of gameplay out of the console.

Thirdly, using the sliding control on the right of the 3DS, turn off all wireless communications. Searching for Wi-Fi connections and using the console's StreetPass features will drain the battery, so take the console offline for a while.

With the display down low and the 3D and wireless features all off, we managed to eke 4 hours 35 minutes out of the battery. So the wireless doesn't use nearly as much battery as the 3D and the screen, but turning it off will still bag you a few extra minutes of playtime.

Finally, shut down the console properly instead of putting it into sleep mode. That way it can't possibly use up a scrap of power by running anything in the background.

So what's the verdict?

The 3DS' battery life isn't brilliant, but it's not so bad you should be put off buying one if you like the look of the console. And if we remember our childhoods correctly (which is questionable), trying desperately to complete a tricky level before our battery died and lost all our saved data was part of the fun anyway. Our advice would be to make sure you've got your charger nearby, and to keep the console juiced up and ready for long excursions.

If you're lusting after a 3DS but haven't bought one yet, check out the rest of our coverage of Ninty's ace 3D handheld.