Nintendo DSi XL

  • by McKinley Noble
  • March 29, 2010 15:48 PM PST

Nintendo's extra large handheld bucks its predecessors' smaller, sleeker designs in light of a heftier frame and wider screen, but is it worth its equally sizable price tag -- especially with the newly announced 3DS on the horizon?

When it comes to electronics, smaller is usually better. Everything, from refrigerators to hard drives, have gradually shrunk as time went on -- the two main benefits being increased efficiency and reduced cost. Think about the first computer: it literally filled an entire room and offered a fraction of the computing power found in current systems. Nintendo is an expert in the area of miniaturization, especially when it comes to their handhelds. They resized and shrunk the original Game Boy -- those of you who owned one remember what a chunky piece of plastic it was -- a whopping four times, and the Game Boy Advance eventually got retrofitted down to the ridiculously undersized (and appropriately named) Game Boy Micro.

But Nintendo is bucking convention and going bigger with its new DSi XL -- something Apple is also doing with its impending release of the iPad. The larger screens seem like an immediate improvement, but the increase in weight and bulk are important considerations for gamers on the go. So with that in mind, we asked McKinley Noble to compare the XL to its diminutive counterpart in several key areas and gauge how much better, or worse, Nintendo's new mega-handheld is.

Form Factor

It's a bit weird that the DSi XL so much more comfortable than the DSi, despite the fact that it's noticeably larger. In a strange twist, the XL's bulk is actually a positive because it's heavy enough that you'll be less prone to clumsily dropping it. It's also easier on the wrists during long gaming sessions due to the fact that you don't have to hunch down over the screens. I also noticed that I had an easier time actually looking at the games I was playing because my hands weren't getting in the way of the screen for once. Now that I've experienced the DSi XL, I'm actually regretting having to go back to the confined dimensions of my tiny little DS Lite.

One small downside to the new XL's design is the shiny exterior; the glossy finish on this thing picks up fingerprints like crazy. It's a pet peeve, but it's still annoying. If Nintendo manages to squeeze in another remodel in the next year, I hope they bring back the original DSi's matte finish.


Visually, the DSi XL should solve almost every problem that existed on the DS Lite and DSi. Gamers who especially hated reading text on the tiny screens will have a compelling reason to switch: even RPGs with large amounts of text, like The World Ends With You, are comparably much easier to read, with no squinting needed. Also, the expanded real estate allows for smoother and more intuitive use of the touch screen. Now, I can finally make detailed, pixel-perfect drawings in WarioWare D.I.Y., and that feature alone should make a huge difference for most DS games.

Rhythm Heaven's mini-games are much easier, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks plays like a dream, and even PictoChat requires less use of the "delete" key. In retrospect, it's surprising how often I ignored the occasional difficulties I've had with DS touch screens because of small targets or cramped writing room. On the DSi XL, I can almost guarantee that your drawing, scribbling, and swiping will improve tenfold, especially since you're also getting a slightly bigger stylus to boot.


As far as graphics go, the DSi XL makes most titles look better simply by improving the size of the on-screen visuals. Most DS games feature some degree of pixilation, and the XL's larger screens do make this more noticeable, but they can also give most titles a sharper edge to their artwork. It's especially noticeable in games like Spirit Tracks and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, where the cel-shading technology compensates for the pixilated graphics. Titles that make exclusive use of pixel animation, like Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, look a little better on the XL as well. The XL also has a display that really cuts down on glare, which is something that Nintendo's never really managed to get right on most of their handheld systems, but direct sunlight will still wash out the visuals.


By far, the most improved aspect of the DSi design has to be the XL's new speaker system. The sound quality is good enough that you will think twice before using headphones. In games like Chrono Trigger DS and Pokemon SoulSilver, the XL's speakers produced audio that was both deep and crisp. By contrast, cranking up the volume on a DS Lite or DSi can affect the over audio quality. Thankfully, the DSi XL doesn't have that problem, as every game I've tested sounded spot on.


The only thing I didn't like about the XL was the built-in cameras. Nothing has been done to improve the resolution of the photos, and as a result, it looks exactly the same as the original DSi. The picture quality isn't nearly as good as it should be, an issue that's exacerbated by the larger screens, and while the image manipulation capabilities make it a fun little feature, having an improved camera really would have added a sense of value to the overall package. Overall cost was probably the biggest motivating factor here, but even an incremental bump up in image quality would have been welcome.


Despite the improved design, larger screens, and superior sound quality, there's still a hefty $190 roadblock that will probably deter most current DS owners. You can soften the blow to your wallet with exchange deals and trade-in offers -- most involve trading in your your old DSi or DS Lite and putting the credit towards the XL -- but regardless, you're still paying a lot of money for a system with only a few solid design upgrades. Throw that in with Nintendo's recent announcement of the upcoming 3DS, and there's even less reason to invest in a new DS that's going to be obsolete in roughly a year. At the very least, if you're already set on owning a DSi XL, you should at least wait a few months for some better colors.

Final Thoughts

The Nintendo DSi XL is a supremely well designed handheld, and an absolute joy for people tired of hunching over tiny handheld systems with even tinier screens. The bigger screens and added visual real estate are a definite boon for gamers, and the slick design doesn't affect your ability to actually hold it over long gaming sessions. But at the end of the day, it's something I can only recommend without reservations to two very specific groups: gamers who don't own a DS of any kind, and the holdouts who didn't feel the need to upgrade from their original DS "Phat". These people should definitely give the XL serious consideration.

But gamers who recently purchased a DSi or are still loyal to their DS Lites don't have as much incentive to upgrade. While it is an excellent system, it's still an incremental upgrade; in other words, it's an evolutionary step as opposed to a revolutionary one. The bigger screens do pay off in the long run but if you're content with your current handheld, it's a luxury upgrade at this point. The recent announcement of a new backwards-compatible 3D model of the DS also adds an interesting layer of conversation, and gamers who are on the fence -- or on a budget -- should probably wait until more details surface to see if it's worth saving their money for that instead.

PROS: Superior audio quality, sleek yet hefty design, larger screen size benefits both graphics and DS touch gameplay.
CONS: High price for a late redesign. Despite larger dimensions, no GBA support. Camera resolution hasn't been improved from the original DSi whatsoever.

Comments [13]

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I got this yesterday and its pretty cool but it was kind of expensive (


colossus16 wrote:

wonder what discount i could get for my DSi?

Amazon trade-ins can net you as much as $40 to $50, but GameStop's offer knocks a meaty $90 off the price of the Nintendo DSi XL.


@ Shotgunzzz it cost me including taxes $201.39....I only wish this review had information on the battery life it isn't mentioned at all. Mine needed to be recharged after 7 hours of play time.


spacer1205 wrote:

@ Shotgunzzz it cost me including taxes $201.39....I only wish this review had information on the battery life it isn't mentioned at all. Mine needed to be recharged after 7 hours of play time.

It's difficult for us to quantify such things. Every battery is a little bit different, and different games drain batteries at a different rate depending on a variety of factors. It's just too difficult for us to test this in a reliable way.



No thanks.

Hopefully the DSi XL improved the d-pad. I had to trade in my DSi for a Lite because of that sunk-in crap.


I just got one last yesterday by trading in one of my DS Lites and some games. I tried some of the features out, and I love it. I'll have to try a game tonight.


I'm looking at upgrading for my kids Christmas this year since they are both still running the original NintendoDS. Debating between DSi & the new DSi XL. Question: are both DSi & DSi XL backwards compatible with the old GBA & DS games? Made that mistake with the PS3 not being able to run PS2 games & don't want to get burned again. Any thoughts??


RosePrincess79 thats a yes an no question, no, you cannot put gameboy advanced cartridges on a dsi or dsi xl but what you can do 1, you need to someone whos good with modding, 2, buy a r4I gold card for the dsi or xl, and legally if you own the original game, you can download the rom from any site you want, so it a bit complicated, but a r4i is about 25-10 bucks compared to buying those games that are outdated for like 20 each

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