Review: Nintendo DSi XL, for Some Eyes Only

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Here's the deal: If Nintendo's standard-issue DSi doesn't make you cross-eyed scanning tiny fonts or pixel-headed critters, there's no reason to bother with the company's just-released DSi XL. None whatsoever. It's just a bigger, pricier DSi, after all, and that turns out to be a mixed blessing.

Let's start with the XL's downsides. It's heavier, weighing in at 314 grams, 22 percent more than the regular DSi (214g). It's bulkier, too, over 1.5 times the volume of the DSi--both wider and longer, though of roughly the same depth (try jamming it in a shirt or pants pocket at your peril). Combine the last two points and you get a device that's less comfortable to hold, since your fingers have to extend further, while hefting something a quarter again as heavy. While adolescents to adults shouldn't experience fatigue during extended play sessions, I wonder how it'll fare in the grip of younger players.

Blame the size and weight issues in part on the XL's larger battery, which--place a mark in the "upsides" column--lasts about 18 percent longer than the DSi's on the lowest brightness setting.

Cosmetically, the DSi XL's glossy top-lid tends to turn dull from fingerprint smudging. No biggie in itself, but the surface seems more likely to scratch--and show those scratches prominently--than the original matte-finish model. Thankfully the interior plastic employs a rougher non-glossy texture, absorbing fingerprints and giving the framing areas a higher-quality appearance overall. Why Nintendo didn't extend this to the top-lid is baffling.

In the perks column, the DSi XL's dual 4.2-inch screens are 93 percent bigger than the DS Lite's 3-inchers, and a tick brighter (on the brightest setting) with higher clarity at extended viewing angles. The latter's supposed to attract and encourage "social" gaming, i.e. kids watching each other play. I'm not sure about side-by-side gaming, but the XL's screens definitely deliver better slantwise viewing. I'm able to turn the unit 70 degrees either way without noticeable picture or luminance degradation. On the other hand, the glossy LCD finish is highly reflective, making it tricky to position in a way that allows two or more observers to simultaneously view the screen without glare.

Upsizing a digital image without increasing its display resolution (the number of horizontal and vertical lines) has clear pros and cons. The XL's displays are easier to see--text in particular--making it a shoe-in for anyone with eyesight issues (older players in particular). The tradeoff? The regular DSi's 3.25-inch screens already look pixelated at 256 x 192. Upscale the screen real estate "93 percent" without a commensurate resolution upgrade and images start to look pretty fuzzy.

Out of the box, you get the DSi XL itself with integrated stylus, a fatter pen-like stylus, the AC power cord, and one of Nintendo's biblical (size-wise) game manuals. Unlike the DSi, the DSi XL comes with a pair of preloaded puzzle-games, Brain Age Express: Math and Brain Age Express: Arts and Letters. It's also packing the downloadable DSiWare Photo Clock app, which overlays a digital clock onto pictures snapped with one of the handheld's twin cameras. The system costs $189.99 (contrast with the regular DSi, priced at $169.99) and comes in "Bronze" or "Burgundy" colors.

Too many DS's in the hopper? Not really. The DS Lite's no longer sold new by major retailers like GameStop, so customers have just two DSi-family models to choose from: Regular or supersized. Even the recently announced upcoming 3D model won't hit Japan until late 2010 or early 2011, with a US follow-up probably a good three to six months thereafter.

Should you buy the XL? Probably not, if you already own an original DS, DS Lite, or DSi. Not unless you have trouble making things out on any of those models' screens.

Is Nintendo targeting the XL at a market--an older and/or visually-challenged demographic--no one's tapped yet? Maybe. If so, it's a fantastic idea, but someone really ought to notify the company's marketing department.

PCW Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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