Hype Check: Nintendo DSi XL Is Bigger, Boring but Somehow Better
What it isDSi XL is the latest in Nintendo's DS line -- a line that is now four models deep, each one incrementally better than the one before it. The XL is, as its name might imply, a bigger version of the DSi; the screen is about an inch bigger than that of its sibling (4.3-inch diagonal, as opposed to the DSi's 3.25 inches), and the console itself is accordingly bigger and heavier. It has been available in Japan since late last year, but just hit U.S. store shelves this past weekend.
Why it's different
In many ways, actually, it's not different at all. While the XL's screen is bigger than that of the DSi, it's not significantly better or brighter. Nearly everything else about the two platforms is identical: front- and back-facing low-res cameras, 256 MB of onboard flash memory (and support for SD cards), and built-in Wi-Fi. This is, quite simply, the DSi XL.
What we like
And yet, as is often the case with Nintendo products, there's something surprisingly compelling here, something that puts our initial skepticism (and cynicism) in check -- if not entirely to rest. The increased size of the DSi XL makes a difference and provides for some rather squint-free handheld gaming; while the resolution is exactly the same (read: larger pixels, not sharper graphics), the screen really is easier on the eyes. The increased size also makes stylus-centric activities like drawing much more comfortable and appealing when using the aforementioned Flipnote Studio (a flipbook-style animation program) or one of several downloadable painting apps. Then there are the boons of the device's alternate uses: looking at recipes while you cook (which is easier than on an iPhone, for example, as the screen opens easily and clicks into place at both 120 and 155 degrees), reading e-books, and so on. Especially if your vision isn't what it used to be (or never was, for that matter), using the DSi XL is a more pleasurable experience.
The styling is also nice; the deep burgundy of the system makes the thing somehow feel more mature (as does its other available color, bronze), something that will likely appeal to much of the older audience Nintendo is courting.
The stylus is held in the side of the system, just as it was in the original iteration. In addition to the standard stylus, the DSi XL offers a large, pen-shaped stylus for those who prefer it (as, for the record, we do); it will be a much comfier option if you have arthritis, for instance. Nintendo claims the DSi XL gets 13 to 17 hours of battery life on the lowest brightness setting, compared to the 9 to 14 hours offered by the DSi.
What we don't like
If you have a DSi or DS Lite and you've been buying games and apps through Nintendo's DSiWare store, they remain locked to the system onto which you downloaded them. There is nothing you can do about this (save for sending the two systems to Nintendo, or simply re-buying them), and this, to be frank, sucks.
Despite the increase size of the unit, there's still no GameBoy Advance slot on the DSi XL, so you won't be able to play your GBA games on it. Also, the system's glossy top is a magnet for fingerprints, and looks a bit cheaper than the all-matte DSi. It fits into some adult-sized pockets, but, for bringing it out on the town, the console will be more comfortable stuffed into a bag.
The system comes pre-loaded with two games: 'BrainAge Express: Math' and 'BrainAge Express: Arts and Letters.' It also comes with Photo Clock, as well as Flipnote Studio for making simple animations. We would have liked to see Nintendo throw us a few more bones, and the Web browser does remain rather forgettable.
Finally, rather than outfitting the device with bigger face buttons and a chunkier D-pad, Nintendo left everything rather kid-sized. For those who have struggled to get their man-sized hands to properly handle the miniature DSi controls, plan on continuing the fight.
Does it live up to the hype?
In many ways, the DSi XL feels like an "in-between system" for Nintendo, aimed at mature gamers only. The company actually decided to launch the console in the U.S. on the same day it announced its successor, the Nintendo 3DS, which will bring glasses-free 3-D gaming to the DS line, and will be unveiled at this year's E3 show. The 3DS sounds exciting; the DSi XL is merely a bigger DSi, and that's all. There is precisely zero new technology here.
Then again, in terms of hardware, the iPad is really only a bigger iPod; size does, in fact, make a difference for many applications and people, especially those with vision problems or arthritis. But it also makes a difference even if you don't have those problems; after playing games on the XL, it's tough to go back. It's only about $20 more than the DSi, so if you've been stuck with your original DS or DS Lite and have been meaning to upgrade, this is probably your best option at the moment. If you already own a DSi, wait and see what Nintendo has to say at E3 this June before dropping the $200.
What it costs