Hands-on: New Nintendo 3DS LL

The latest iteration of Nintendo’s portable hardware line is currently available only in Japan, but that didn’t stop us from getting our hands on one!

A couple days ago, I received my imported New Nintendo 3DS in the mail. Being a current 3DS XL owner, I opted for the larger model, called the New 3DS LL in Japan. (Not even the fashionable charms of pop idol Kyary Pamyu Pamyu could lure me away from the bulkier console… sorry, Kyary.) Since then, I’ve been putting the console through its paces, getting a feel for the new controls and features. How does the new model stack up against the “3DS Classic”?

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First off, the box. It’s really small; not much larger than the size of the console inside. The text on the front highlights all the flashiest features: the large screen, the improved 3D play, the new C Stick, and the built-in NFC reader for Amiibo figurines. Of course, the box can only do so much. Let’s see what’s inside…

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Included in the box are the system, a set of AR Cards, and the standard documents (the manual, a Simple Start Guide, and tech support information). The New 3DS has a stylus and a 4GB microSDHC card inside, both pre-installed. The microSD slot is not actually accessible from the outside; you have to remove the screws from the back plate and pry it off to switch microSD cards, which is the same procedure you’ve always had to go through if you want to replace the battery. A minor inconvenience, depending on how often you actually take out the SD card.

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The finish on the New 3DS LL is more akin to the finish of the original 3DS rather than the 3DS XL’s matte surface. Very shiny, and has a cool striped pattern when you look closely. It’s striking, but unfortunately, it’s also a big fingerprint magnet.

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This is the bottom of the system. The power button is on the right, and the headphone jack is in the center. The stylus holder and game card slot have been moved here as well, which are both odd places to put them. I assume this was necessary to pack all the extra hardware into the device, but it’s a little hard to get used to all the same.

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The top of the system is what you’d expect, notwithstanding the absence of the card slot. The shoulder buttons are here, including the new ZL and ZR buttons. The extra shoulder buttons are really nice to use; it’s easy to hit the ZL and ZR buttons with the tips of your fingers, while using the space between your first and second knuckles to hit the normal L and R buttons. The usual AC and infrared ports are present, as well as the hook for the DS thumb/wrist strap, if you’re still rocking one of those. The metal connectors surrounding the AC port are for the charging cradle, which is sold separately.

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And now, the face of the console. The inside of the clamshell actually has a matte finish, unlike the outside. This means that, even if the console is a fingerprint magnet, you won’t have to see those fingerprints while playing! The button configuration is much the same as it has ever been, with a few notable differences:

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Check out those colored ABXY buttons! They share the colors of the Super Famicom controller, the first Nintendo controller to introduce the tried-and-true four-button diamond configuration.  All the buttons are clicky and responsive, just like they are on the 3DS XL. The Start and Select buttons have been moved to the right side of the console, where they were on the DS Lite (remember that?). Combined with the smaller home button, this makes it harder to accidentally return to the Home menu when, say, you’ve just spent multiple hours slaving over a Miiverse drawing that you haven’t saved yet. Ahem.

Also in the above picture, you can see the system’s strangest new addition: the “C Stick”. It’s not really an analog stick, but it’s pretty close; it’s the same thing as those mouse pointers you used to see on laptops, in the middle of the keyboard. I miss those.

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The left side of the console is unchanged, except that the volume slider has been moved so that it sits above the hinge. It’s the same kind of slider as the 3D Slider, and just like its brother on the opposite side of the screen, it clicks into place at the bottom. This is a small change but a godsend if you play your console in public as much as I do. No longer will you accidentally bump up the volume slider while trying to use the Circle Pad!

Now to power the thing up and see what it can do. First, though, I guess we gotta charge it up.

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The box does not include an AC adaptor, but your standard-issue American one will do just fine. (I can’t speak to whether or not the European adaptor is compatible.)

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The operating system is mostly the same as the latest 3DS update. During setup, though, the tutorial notes one of the system’s coolest new features: head-tracking 3D. While active, the front camera on the 3DS will keep track of where your face is (see the little illustration on the top screen, which shows the position of my face relative to the camera’s field of view). If your face moves out of the 3D “sweetspot”, the camera will notice, and adjust the 3D effect so that it still looks clear. It’s ridiculously responsive, and you’ll be surprised at how far you can tilt the screen before you lose the 3D effect. To test this, I tried playing the console on a train and in a car. (I wasn’t driving.) The head-tracking kept the 3D effect crystal clear (almost) the entire time. It had a little difficulty every now and then on the train, which I suspect is because it was picking up the face of the person sitting next to me. Those disturbances were short-lived, however. This is an awesome new addition that makes playing 3D games on the move a much less frustrating experience.

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In terms of size, the New 3DS LL is not much different than the 3DS XL; most notably, the screen size is unchanged. The clamshell is a little shorter, but thicker and wider. The original 3DS XL felt a little too small for my larger-than-average hands, but the subtle changes in the shape of the New 3DS LL feel absolutely perfect. Taken as a whole, the system is noticeably heftier than its predecessor, but the weight is distributed differently; it’s concentrated more on the bottom half of the console. This is a good thing, for my money; it feels much easier to hold, especially during times of heavy stylus use: because there’s not as much weight in the top corners, it’s a lot easier to hold the system in one hand and the stylus in the other.

One thing I did have trouble getting used to was the C-Stick. I don’t have a game that uses it (I don’t have enough confidence in my Japanese skills to dive into Xenoblade Chronicles, and I’ve spent too much money lately to double-dip on Smash), but you can use it to navigate the Home menu. I like that it’s above the buttons rather than below; it’d be too hard to switch from the buttons to the C Stick otherwise. However, you do need to train yourself to adjust your grip slightly to get to the C Stick; otherwise, you’ll have trouble inputting up and left directions. After getting used to it a little, it’s not so bad; it’s kinda spongy and actually feels pretty nice to use. Unfortunately, I found it a little imprecise, but again, I haven’t actually used it in a game (and you don’t really need a lot of precision for camera control, anyway).

Another somewhat unfortunate difference:

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The New 3DS LL’s stylus (right) is a lot shorter than the 3DS XL’s (left). I’m still not used to this, at all. Not much else to say about this, other than it’s probably another consequence of the fact that there’s a lot more hardware crammed into the new device.

On the plus side, that extra hardware is put to use. While your old 3DS games can’t tap into the extra hardware to avoid slowdown (understandably so; it’d be a compatibility nightmare), navigating the menus and the built in apps is an incredibly snappier experience. Loading times in the OS are way down across the board. Internet speeds seem improved, but not fantastically so; I downloaded the retail game Puyo Puyo Tetris (about 0.44 GB) in roughly five and a half minutes. It feels improved to me, but that’s not a scientific comparison. Your mileage may vary. (As a side note, the Japanese eShop accepts American credit cards without complaining, which is nice.)

One of the oddest but most marked improvements in the OS is the web browser. It takes advantage of the improved CPU and wireless card to deliver a much smoother online experience. It’s worth noting that parental controls are enabled by default. I bring it up for two reasons. One, this amazing illustration of Web filtering:

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And two, that fact that removing said filtering requires a one-time charge of 32 yen (approximately $0.30). This is, I suppose, a way to help ensure that kids can’t remove the Web filtering without a credit card-wielding adult.

Perhaps the coolest new feature of the New 3DS browser? The new video player, which can auto-convert “3D” content in side-by-side or anaglyph format and convert it to true 3D. The formats this feature supports are displayed in the screenshot below:

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I tried this feature out on a few YouTube videos, and it works quite nicely! If there wasn’t any reason to use the 3DS web browser before, there is now.

If I had to pick one big thing I dislike about the system, it’s the fact that it’s region-locked. This is true of all the 3DS models, but I can’t play my American games on my Japanese console, or vice versa. I wasn’t expecting a change of heart from Nintendo for this release, but I really hope a reversal of the policy is in the cards for the next set of consoles.

In summary, I think the New 3DS LL is great. Despite a couple minor issues, I’m happy to have it; the increased speed of the OS and the head-tracking 3D are excellent additions that I really wish were in the original model. The C Stick is functional enough, but a little hard to use; otherwise, the changes in the button configuration are all totally welcome. Is it worth the upgrade? It’s hard to say at this point. If you were considering buying a replacement 3DS before you saw the announcement of the New model, then yes, it’s totally worth it. The problem is that we don’t know how many games are going to take advantage of the new features (especially the increased processing speed). If I had to make a recommendation right now, I’m leaning “yes”, but we’ll see if more New 3DS-exclusive software is announced between now and the (assumed) US launch of the console. Until then, the New 3DS LL is a nice upgrade from the original, and the best iteration of the hardware to date.


Aaron Dobbe is an Associate Writer at MONG specializing in Nintendo but playing a bit of everything else too. Follow him on Facebook and pester him to get a Twitter.

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