For kid-friendly gaming, experts are split between the Nintendo 3DS (*Est. $170) and the less-expensive Nintendo DSi (*Est. $150) as the best handheld consoles. The 3DS offers two screens in a clamshell design: one touch and one 3D, with no glasses required. The depth of the 3D effect in games that support it is adjusted by a slider, or 3D can be turned off completely. The 3DS includes a motion sensor, gyroscope, two cameras (one normal, one 3D), a telescoping handheld stylus, an SD card slot and access to online downloads.
The Nintendo DSi is a dual-screen foldable console with a fixed stylus, two normal cameras, an SD card slot and access to online downloads at the Nintendo DSi store, DSiWare. The Nintendo 3DS comes in four colors (blue, red, pink and black), while the DSi now comes comes in three (black, red and aqua).
Both devices share the same basic library of titles, and it is huge, with more than 1,700 titles (as of March 2012). In addition, the 3DS has access to a smaller library of 3D-enabled games that are unique to it. At the time the 3DS was launched, just 18 titles supported the 3D functions, but that has grown to nearly 170, including titles available exclusively via Nintendo's eShop for the 3DS. Neither model will play older Game Boy Advance titles. The vast majority of games are family-friendly names like "Super Mario Brothers," "Zelda," "Pokemon" and "Nintendogs." For this reason, reviewers say hard-core gamers may be disappointed with the Nintendo 3DS or DSi, which offer very few Mature-rated titles.
While there are significantly fewer games that take full advantage of the 3DS, reviewers say, the console's features are impressive. Battery performance isn't great, with three to five hours of play time. And because you have to keep your eyes in just the perfect sweet spot for the best 3D results, game play isn't as easy for kids on the go.
While the initial editorial reviews of the 3D effects themselves and of the 3DS are overwhelmingly positive, early sales were lackluster. In response, the price was cut from $250 to its current $170 just a few months after the console was launched. To placate early buyers who might have felt the sting of that cut, Nintendo offered an ambassador program that gave them access to 20 vintage titles. That program has now ended. While the price cut made the 3DS a better value, and did help perk up sales, most recent reviews comparing the 3DS to the newer Sony PlayStation Vita (*Est. $250) say the latter is a superior system despite its lack of 3D, and especially for serious game players as well as older gamers looking for more mature titles. We cover the Vita in the following section of this report.
Experts say the Nintendo DSi remains a great choice for kids, families or casual gamers. The Nintendo DSi has larger screens than the previous version, the Nintendo DS Lite, and Chris Kohler at Wired says more screen real estate improves the gaming experience. Owners at Amazon.com also give the DSi high ratings, praising the fun camera effects, matte case, larger screens and improved audio quality.
One notable downside for both devices is a short battery life. Darren Gladstone at PC World gets four hours in his test of the DSi, which is far less than previous Nintendo portable game devices. Battery test results for the 3DS range from three to five hours. Experts say the DSiWare store, while easy to use, could benefit from more titles, and many users are disappointed that neither the Nintendo DSi nor 3DS is backward compatible with Game Boy Advance games.
Nintendo also offers a version of the Nintendo DSi with larger displays. The Nintendo DSi XL (*Est. $170) has two 4.2-inch screens compared to dual 3.25-inch screens for the smaller Nintendo DSi. Features are nearly identical to the Nintendo DSi, including dual cameras, a stylus and integrated Wi-Fi. Reviewers love the larger displays and beefier sound of the XL. "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," McKinley Noble writes at PC World (Australia) Good Gear Guide. Viewing angles are also improved. Still, because the Nintendo DSi XL is so similar to the original DSi, reviewers say current owners have few reasons to upgrade.
The Nintendo DS Lite (*Est. $100) was rumored to have been discontinued, but it is still available from many retailers. Still, few reviewers recommend it over the Nintendo DSi or 3DS; it is cheaper than either and has longer battery life, but it lacks their features. However, unlike the DSi or 3DS, the Nintendo DS Lite does play Game Boy Advance games. It also earns glowing reviews at Amazon.com, where more than 1,400 owners give the handheld console above-average ratings. Most users say it's a great budget alternative with a huge library of fun games. Numerous parents also say it's a great purchase for young kids. A few users say the console isn't very sturdy, which results in broken hinges or unresponsive buttons.