Last year, Nintendo released the DSi, the third iteration of the DS handheld gaming console. That model introduced two low-resolution cameras, along with larger screens and a slimmer and more robust design than that of the DS Lite. In October 2009, news came of another refresh -- the DSi XL, a super-sized version of the DSi with even larger screens. It's available now for around £150.
Hello, big boy
If you own or have held a DSi, the first thing you'll notice about the DSi XL is its weight. At around 315g, the DSi XL is heavier than the DSi and DS Lite, which both weigh around 213g. That said, the DSi XL has a certain appealing robustness that probably means it can take more of a beating than its predecessors.
Whereas the DSi is covered in a matte outer layer, the DSi XL sports a glossy top, along with a more textured plastic outer casing, giving it a comparatively sophisticated appearance. We didn't scuff it up during our testing, but it appears that the shiny top may be prone to scratching. It's also a fingerprint magnet. The dark burgundy colour of our review unit helps to hide smudges, however. The DSi XL is also available in brown and white.
Measuring 160 by 20 by 91mm, the DSi XL makes the DSi look tiny. Its dual 107mm (4.2-inch) screens are a whopping 93 per cent larger than those found on the DS Lite, and roughly an inch larger than the screens on the DSi. The three LED lights found on the left hinge of the DSi XL have symbols for power, charging status and Wi-Fi activity.
Nintendo has made a big deal about the wide viewing angles of the DSi XL's two screens, and, although it's difficult to discern a huge difference compared to the DSi's screens, this improvement is very apparent compared to the DS Lite's displays. This makes it easier to watch people play when you're sitting next to them or watching over their shoulder.
Every button on the system has the same shape, feel and location as those on the DSi, save for slightly larger L and R shoulder buttons, and power toggle. Compared with those on the DS Lite, the X, A, B and Y buttons aren't as deep, so they require less pressing. The same can be said for the L and R rear buttons -- they're now much springier, and require less effort to press. Even the Select and Start buttons have received a similar treatment -- we found them to be especially difficult to press on the DS Lite. Moving along to the d-pad, we experienced the same sort of click responsiveness. The DS Lite's d-pad was somewhat looser.
We really wish the DSi XL improved on the original's 0.3-megapixel cameras, because, even though the screens have been enlarged, their 256x192-pixel resolution has not. This means photos are often blurry and lacking in detail.
The included stylus is mounted in the same rear location as with the DSi, with just a 4mm bump in length. We really liked the pen-shaped stylus that's also included, and found ourselves using it on our older DS models, too. Although the thick stylus is a great addition, it can't be stored in the unit itself and must be carried separately. There's also an included AC charger, which works with the original DSi as well.
The DSi XL isn't as portable as some would like. Its bulky size won't let you store it practically in a pocket, so, wherever you go, it'll most probably need to be kept in a backpack or purse. It wouldn't surprise us if the DSi XL becomes more of a portable system for use in the home than something you'd travel daily with.
Three free games
Our DSi XL shipped with firmware version 1.4U, which includes all the various media and online applications that we saw on the DSi. Bundled in with the DSi XL are a few software bonuses, including the DSi Web Browser and Photo Clock. Three games have also been preinstalled: Brain Age Express: Math, Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters, and Flipnote Studio. You have access to the DSi Shop too, 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). You can keep them on the unit's internal 256MB of storage or on an SD card. Although the DSi XL supports SDHC cards of up to 32GB, we would have liked an upgrade to the internal storage, given that 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 DSi XL, there's 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.
Just like the DSi, the DSi XL has the ability to connect to any 802.11b or g Wi-Fi router or hotspot. Download speeds remained the same on the DSi XL as on the DSi, and we noticed heavy Internet activity definitely had the most impact on battery life.
The DSi XL is similar to the DSi under the hood. It uses the same 133MHz processor and 16MB of RAM, so don't expect any increases in overall performance.
The most notable internal hardware change has to be the new battery inside the DSi XL. On the lowest brightness setting, the DSi delivers 9 to 14 hours of play, but the DSi XL boasts an outstanding 13 to 17 hours.
Before seeing the DSi XL, we were concerned about pixellation, because of the larger screens and unchanged resolution. Playing Mario Kart DS resulted in a blur-free gaming experience, however. It's in text-focused games like the pre-installed Brain Age titles that the sharpness suffers. Such games are by no means unplayable, but those transitioning from the DS Lite may notice the change. Even in the system's menus, text appears slightly blurred, as when you put your nose too close to an LCD monitor.
That said, the two screens really give you plenty of real estate to work with, and games like the Brain Age series -- or any game where plenty of writing is required -- really benefit. We loved scribbling notes on our interactive map in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and appreciated the abundance of room to write when designing games in WarioWare DIY.
Playing games on the DSi XL is a slightly different experience to playing games on smaller systems like the DSi and DS Lite. The device's weight and bulk mean you may need to grip the system in a way you're currently unaccustomed to. You'll also have to get used to the fact that your hands are further apart, which may make for an initially awkward acquaintance period. But, after a few extended sessions, you should have no problem getting used to the bigger design.
Although the Nintendo DSi XL's huge screens offer plenty of advantages, they also make the system less portable, and some text-based games look blurry. Ultimately, the DSi XL is exactly the same as the cheaper DSi, so, unless you're desperate for more touchscreen real estate or your vision is impaired, we can't recommend buying one.
If you've been waiting to upgrade since the days of the original DS, we'd still encourage buying a DS Lite or DSi. You may even want to wait for the forthcoming 3DS, Nintendo's new portable gaming system that offers 3D graphics without the need for glasses, while still being compatible with DS games.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet