Fatty, Fatty, 2.52 x 3.36
As with a number of past Nintendo roll-outs (the easy majority of which turned out to be solid, popular products), some might see the new DSi XL as something of a head-scratcher: As its name makes plain, the DSi XL is an extra-large version of last year's DSi (in Japan, this new jumbo-DSi is called the 'LL,' referring to the Japanese plus-clothing-size designation—one that clothes-shopping visitors like myself have come to think of as 'something in this wonderful country that might possibly fit me').
The XL's most obvious asset—and, along with its selection of bundled titles, one of the prime indicators of what seems to be a strangely-conceived user-base—is found in its pair of 2.52 x 3.36-inch screens (a whopping 93% larger than those of the DS Lite). There isn't a compensatory change of resolution, but, surprisingly, games running on the bright, larger screens don't look particularly crunchy or blown-out, as one might expect. They just look...all the more pleasingly vivid (this particularly goes for environmentally-vibrant titles. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, for example, looks especially impressive).
Even simply-presented, but data-heavy and tiny-text-intensive games—just about any seriously-menued RPG comes to mind, as do games like Advance Wars or Fire Emblem—certainly get a visual boost as well, as do more action-oriented games that require a lot of frantic precision with the stylus.
Speaking of the stylus: In addition to the expected stylus that slides out, XL buyers are also given a much larger stylus that's basically the size and shape of a standard office pen. It's ergonomically-considerate enough, particularly if you have biggish hands...but there's no place on or within the plus-sized XL to stow it away, so don't lose it.
(Funny: What at first appears to be the raised ridge where the 'clip' would be on a real pen is just a solid bar of molded plastic, so you can't even temporarily stow the plus-sized stylus on yourself, in the nerd-pocket fashion of yore).
All the obvious signs point to Nintendo aiming this outsized portable platform at considerably older gamers (with, it would seem, some middling eyesight issues thrown into the bargain). Consider: The nice-but-way-more-than-you-need screens, the jumbo-shrimp stylus, and even the unfortunate grandma's-pocketbook case-color options (End-Table Burgundy and Ghastly Bronze).
The XL's max volume output also seems to have been slightly upped—happily, that's something more than a few DSi users had rightfully complained about anyway; even with headphones, those users who wanted to slap their DSi closed, jam the thing in their jacket pocket and rock out in any but a fairly-quiet location were getting the short end of the output-stick. So the XL addresses that, a bit...even if it arrived at the solution by a less-obvious route.
But as apparent user-base indicators go, all of that is as nothing compared to the bundled titles that ship with the XL: Yes, you get three pre-installed titles, and Free is always a good bargain...but two of them are Brain Age titles (Math and Arts and Letters), and that's just...well, frankly, not very exciting to a target-market below A Certain Age, is it?
(Oh, and that third free “title”? Yeah, it's the Photo-Clock app from the DSi Store. Be still my clotting heart.)
With the exception of the (admittedly great-looking) larger screens—and perhaps, the somewhat burlier sound output—is there anything that might tempt you to trade in your current, functioning DSi toward its newer, somewhat hyperthyroidal sibling? Probably not. But if you're still rocking a DS Lite and have been thinking of an upgrade...well, depending upon your taste in games—and/or possibly your eyesight—that almost-double visual real estate could very well start to look tempting (but remember old-school gamers, the slot for GBA cartridge games is long gone).
Almost all the definite upsides of the DSi are still here, however—precisely how, and where, they were left:
Unfortunate case-color options aside (no basic, timeless black, Nintendo-san? Really?), the XL is still slick-looking overall, this time around featuring a gloss-finish upper lid and matte-finish inner and bottom surfaces (for a suitably grippy feel); the clamshell design, now even more like a little laptop, features a side-mounted volume control step-switch (as opposed to the DS Lite's exposed bottom-edge slider); the power switch is a straight-up, old-school button situated at the lower left corner of the lower screen, protected within the closed shell of the unit—in other words, no more accidental, power-interrupting brushes with the insides of your jacket pocket, backpack or what have you. The left and right shoulder buttons also protrude just a smidge beyond the flush of the unit's spine and, like all the other controls, have a nice, clicky resistance to them.
The dual screens, meanwhile, are toggleable for brightness, and are designed to be readable at an angle; supposedly, this is happily intentional on Nintendo's part, the notion being that the larger displays will be more of a draw for people who want to stand around—social-like, dont'cha know—watching gameplay on some sort of communal XL. I have whole kegs of “I don't know about that” on tap here...but the screens are, indeed, easily viewable even from radically off-angle. If three or four of your chatty, nosy friends want to huddle around you (and not strain their failing eyesight) watching you tear up Brain Age: Math, well then, you are Golden (Girls).
And as with the DSi, the XL offers its signature twin cameras, a slot to accept SD cards, and limited but functional ability to browse the web in general and the new DSi Store in particular with its Opera browser.
The slightly-stiffer $189.99 price tag (about $20 over the still-available DSi) comes at the 'hidden cost' of the same typically-Nintendo, idiosyncratic, bang-your-head-against-the-nearest-wall shortcomings that stole some of the thunder from its DSi predecessor: You can import music files from your computer via SD card...but the DSi XL still won't recognize the ubiquitous MP3 file format, requiring instead conversion of all imported files to the MP4 codec/AAC—a minor but extant pain in the ass. The modest (.3 megapixel) twin cameras are easy to use and you can save images manipulated on the XL to your SD card...but you can't (currently, at least) import pics taken on any other digital camera or cell phone, period—not even those taken on a DSi and later altered on a PC.
And here's the one I'm pretty sure that Nintendo, for whatever malign reason, aimed directly at me: You can listen to your SD card tunes, or browse the web...but not both at the same time. Ouch. At least they didn't change the shape of the charge adapter again, like they did in the jump from the DS Lite to the DSi. Thank Mario for small favors.
One final thing that sounds strange to say, but has to be said: While the overall unit isn't, you know, world-endingly bigger than the DS Lite (despite what you may have read from blog-whiners, you can still fit the XL into a pocket and then walk around without herniating yourself), the unit IS just that bit heavier enough to...well, notice. If you're holding the thing up before your eyes, and you're a delicate-snowflake type, you might find the slightly-added mass of the thing telling on your endurance after an hour or two.
Bottom line: It's definitely more functional, stylish and innovative than its DS Lite precursor, any way you choose to look at it... and that fact that it happens to be larger is really a hands-of-the-beholder kind of deal. If you already love everything about your DSi and aren't bothered in the slightest by the occasional menu-intensive game that seems to delight in excessively-dinky text or character sprites, you probably don't need the XL, and that's that. If for any reason, however, you wish your DSi's display were that much bigger and impressive—for eyesight considerations, long play-session convenience, as a gift for easing your parents (or even grandparents) into gaming, or just because certain titles look even more awesome and/or allow for more precise control—then the XL is a good, solid portable-gaming solution. If you still use the DS Lite and just plain wish it did more, know that the DSi and XL are essentially, functionally identical.