The Nintendo 3DS is a really nice looking handheld. Color choices aside (more on that in a minute), the 3DS feels substantial in the hand and is much sleeker than it looks in photos. It has an impressive amount of buttons, ports, lights, and cameras, all of which will make your inner geek giggle. There is an SD card slot, standard headphone port, power port, and levers for Wi-Fi, volume, and the 3D effect. There are the usual assortment of gaming buttons, plus an excellent analog pad, and of course the touchscreen on the lower screen, which remains both resistive and low res (boo!).
At $250, it’s not cheap, but you definitely feel like you’re getting a solid piece of tech for that price. Nintendo hasn’t said much about the graphics hardware powering the 3DS, but from the launch software and some of the previews we’ve seen of upcoming software, it’s safe to say the 3DS is roughly on par with Wii visuals, which is great for a handheld and will continue to impress until the much more powerful Sony handheld is released later this year. There are quite a few jaggies on most games (made worse when you crank up the 3D), but overall the 3DS is a very capable piece of hardware for portable gaming.
It is available in two colors, with cosmo black being the sensible choice, and even there, some of the color work seems suspect, including a two-tone shade on the top cover. The coloring on the console is just too overdone; there are too many shades and too many variations on material texturing. Hopefully Nintendo chooses to consolidate future colors so that it is overall more uniform, rather than the mix they have going in the launch units. Really, the color choices are the only weaknesses on an otherwise solid hardware design.
The system features two cameras in the back for taking 3D pictures and one camera in front for taking self-portraits and for use in Mii creation and software like Face Raiders, which allows you to shoot pictures of you and your loved ones. None of the cameras are particularly effective at taking good pictures, especially in low light. Still, they are competent enough to work reasonably well with software designed for them, including some of the augmented reality stuff that comes packaged with the handheld.
One of the most talked about topics regarding the 3DS is the battery life, and although I wish I had better news on that front, I don’t. Battery life on this device is terrible, there is no getting around that. Nintendo has sought to mitigate this by including a docking cradle that you can easily place your Nintendo 3DS on to charge, and it was a smart decision, since it makes charging the device second nature. Still, without 3rd party solutions, you’ll be running up against the battery limitations just about every time you take your Nintendo 3DS on trips or even on long play sessions at home.
The 3D Effect
The first time you start up your 3DS and toggle the 3D on, you’ll smile. It works, and it is convincing. I happen to own a 3DTV along with a 3D kit, so I have stereoscopic 3D experience to compare against. The 3D in the 3DS utilizes a parallax-barrier system that is different from the one used in modern day 3DTV’s with Blu Ray 3D movies and 3D games on Ps3 (and to a lesser extent the Xbox 360). The 3D effect is not nearly as pronounced as the pricey stereoscopic kits, and although the 3DS produces very good depth in its 3D, the “pop-out” effect is rather lacking. Also, the viewing angle is pretty narrow compared to the stereoscopic setups. You will have to find the “sweet spot” on the 3DS and remain still, plus you’ll likely have to fiddle with the 3D slider to get the desired effect.
Still, you won’t need the goofy glasses, and you get to take this 3D on the road. And the 3D effect, when used properly, is both dazzling and entertaining. I’ve yet to show someone the 3D without seeing them smile once their eyes adjust and they sense the 3D effect in action. To have this kind of effect without glasses and on a handheld is still magical, although I suspect it will be rather commonplace once Android phones with similar technology start to flood the market. The 3D slider itself is a wonderful design choice, allowing users to place the image at a comfortable level, or turn it off completely, which is what I do with my young daughter.
The Bundled Software
If all you could afford was a 3DS with no games, you’d still have plenty to do after you brought it home. Nintendo has packaged a good amount of software into the device, all of it mostly superfluous, but also entertaining and engaging. There is the Mii creator, a Mii plaza, a music player, a 3D music video (once you do your first system update), photo software, note-taking software that works across games, activity log software that complements a built-in pedometer, software called Streetpass that allows your 3DS to talk to other 3DS’ as you go through your daily commute….the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, the web browser and web gaming store are not ready at launch, a HUGE disappointment for us.
There are also two built-in games, one is an awesome little shooter called Face Raiders that takes your face, puts it on a character, and makes you shoot it. It is a ton of fun for a short burst, and much more fun when you get someone else’s face in there. There is also a set of games centered around augmented reality tech where you put some cards on a table and them marvel as things grow in and around the card, morphing your environment into an actual game world. If you’ve never experienced AR gaming, it’ll blow your mind, and although you’ll need fairly ideal conditions (chief among them being a well lit room), the software is an excellent demo of why you want the cameras on the DS, even if they are terrible at actually taking pictures.
NintendoSpin will review the retail software separately, but on its own, the 3DS hardware is a compelling handheld, the best one Nintendo’s ever put forward from just a technical and usability standpoint. Its main selling point, the 3D, works well and provides a very convincing level of depth to gaming environments. The graphics, even for the launch software, point to very capable hardware under the hood. Some of its shortcomings, including the battery life, can be partly remedied with 3rd party solutions, but likely won’t be fully fixed with a hardware refresh anytime soon.
At $250, it is expensive, so whether you want to buy it now will depend (aside from your current financial situation) on how you feel about the launch software, or whether you want to wait for Zelda, Metal Gear, and the system update that brings us the web store and browser.