Category: Gadget Reviews

I’ve recently bought an aftermarket black 3DS silicon case off of ebay in hopes of keeping my 3DS protected whilst not sacrificing portability.

There are about three or four different aftermarket case designs going around right now, most of which come from Hong Kong.  Prices vary depending on the location of the seller and I chose a slightly more expensive one from a US seller in hopes of getting it quicker than one normally would get directly from Hong Kong.  With shipping the total came up to $6.50.  Cheaper ones were available from outside of the US for about four bucks.

Silicon cases are quite popular for phones and ipods/mp3 players though ergonomically those devices are quite different from Nintendo’s 3DS.  Where as an iPhone is a one piece device with no face buttons, the 3DS sports a two piece clam-shell design and several buttons and an analog stick.  The silicon case doesn’t interfere much with the usability of an iPhone.  The 3DS is another story.

The black silicone case covers up the 3DS’ buttons and d-pad which forces you to press silicone buttons instead of the devices plastic ones.  It’s not really terrible, but it’s certainly not good either.  The excess rubb
er connecting the top screen to the bottom of the unit  hangs out on the back when the device is open and sometimes interferes with pressing the triggers. I ended up cutting off these straps altogether as they served little purpose and really bothered me during use of the device.

The top of the case doesn’t meld well with top screen as there are no holes to accommodate the 3DS’ top screen rubber bumpers – I had to cut small rectangles out to allow some room for them.

Once I worked everything out the case seemed alright for protecting the 3DS against minor things like scratches and scrapes. Being that as it may it’s just disappointing when you have to cut holes in a BRAND NEW product designed for a particular device.  It’s as though the manufacturer cooked the case up in a matter of hours without properly testing it and shipped it out for new 3DS owners to get ripped off with.

If you can find one of these for one or two dollars and are willing to snip and cut to accommodate your 3DS better then this may be worth getting, otherwise I’d stay far far away from this junk.

As of Sunday March 27th Glasses free 3D is here courtesy of Nintendo’s new 3DS handheld video game system – the question is, should you go out and buy one?

The 3DS is Nintendo’s successor to their exuberantly popular DS system which was released back in 2004.  Including the original’s innovative touch-screen, the 3DS adds a stereoscopic glasses free 3D screen to enhance the graphics in eye-popping 3D.

To get it out of the way I can safely say this: The 3D effect works, and fairly well at that. That said 3D alone is not enough to make a good system.  Is the $250 price justifiable?

Many Nintendo fanatics and technophiles have already plunked down their cash and became early adopters of the handheld gaming device; though if Nintendo is to have their way many more will experience the handheld sooner or later.  The caveat is precisely that: sooner or later; and there are several things to consider, including price, software, and of course 3D itself, before you decide if you should purchase a 3DS.

The Hardware

The first thing you’ll notice about the 3DS is how strikingly similar it is to Nintendo’s DS Lite and DSi systems.  The chassis – which is available in black or turquoise – sports the same dual screen configuration and clamshell design, albeit with a slightly different button layout.  The top 3D stereoscopic screen measures at 3.53” with a resolution of 800×240 (400×240 per eye) while the bottom touch-screen measures at 3.0” with a resolution of 320×240.

The device measures in at less than an inch in thickness, .83” to be precise, weighs about half a pound and is roughly the same size as a Nintendo DS Lite.  Although being somewhat bigger than your average cell phone or iPod the system will easily fit in a pocket or small purse.

The device has four face buttons, a directional pad, and analog nub (called circular pad), a pair of triggers, a slider to control the depth of the 3D effects, a volume slider, and start, select and home buttons.

The face buttons and triggers follow the same layout as the Nintendo’s previous DS systems albeit noticeably smaller.  People with small hands may not mind the small nature of the buttons though those with larger hands may find the button layout a bit cramped. The directional pad in particular is quite bad.

The analog stick on the other hand has a large circumference and accommodates your thumb quite nicely, much better in fact, than the PSP system, which was notorious for having a small and unresponsive analog nub.

The bad news is that there is only one, a limitation that has hampered the control of certain types of games such as first person shooters on the PSP.  That said, the touch screen can potentially mitigate this issue if implemented in games correctly.  Overall, the 3DS is just not as comfortable to hold as the DS Lite or Sony’s PSP.

The 3D slider, located on the side of the upper half, controls whether the 3D effect is turned on, and if it is, how much depth is used.  When pushed all the way the 3D effect is more pronounced and when pushed to minimum the 3D effect is muted.

The start, select, and home buttons are completely flush on the system and are difficult to press.  In certain cases it took me several tries to apply enough pressure on these buttons to use them properly.

The included stylus fits snuggly inside the system and is fairly comfortable to hold.  Two Cameras in the back are capable of taking 3D photos and the lone camera in the front takes 2D ones.  Don’t go throwing out your digital camera though; the two cameras are only 0.3 megapixels (640×480), which is worse than many cell phones.

Thankfully the 3DS has better sound quality than most cell phones, which is an improvement over the original DS and DSi. The volume itself is quite loud but if one desired to play without making much noise a standard headphone jack is available as well.

For wireless capability, Nintendo has included 802.11g, which is fairly good for a handheld but not up to snuff compared to 3G/4G found in other (albeit more expensive) wireless devices or even 802.11n found in most current routers.

The bottom touch screen is pretty responsive though it’s a shame it is not multi-touch responsive like the iPhone and some of the newer touch screen devices.  The screen won’t recognize the press of a thumb for an instance – a particular point on the screen must be pressed with the stylus or thumbnail for the 3ds to register the press.

With a price tag of $250 it is disappointing that Nintendo includes what is essentially 7 year old tech for the bottom screen.

The top screen on the other hand is beautiful and crisp, particularly when viewed in 3D, which is of course the main feature and selling point of the system. The 3DS sports a pretty capable graphics chip to take advantage of the 3D capabilities; close to the Nintendo Nintendo Wii in capabilities but certainly not up there with Sony’s upcoming NGP handheld system.  Now whole it won’t give you PS3 or Xbox 360 level of graphics it will provide enough graphics power for something those systems can’t do: glasses free 3D.

Glasses-Free 3D

The 3D effect truly is revolutionary when you consider that those annoying glasses required for viewing 3D televisions and movie screens are not necessary. The fact that this is true on a handheld makes the 3DS something of a technological miracle – well almost.

The 3D depth slider on the side of the device controls the depth of the 3D and whether it’s on or off.  Some people report that the 3D effect gives them head-aches and makes their eyes feel uncomfortable.  I personally have not experienced any of these issues even when playing with the 3D depth slider set to the maximum level possible.

Others might have the trouble focusing on the 3D and/or get headaches after extended play though this is probably rare.  Never the less if you find yourself feeling sick after viewing a 3D movie at the theaters or with a 3D television, you may have to limit yourself to using the 3DS in 2D mode.

That is of course not to say that the experience of viewing the 3D is just like the one with your standard 3D requiring glasses. The effect is similar, albeit somewhat subtler, as the 3D doesn’t leap out at you as much as it gives you a real sense of depth, like looking out of a window.

The downside to the glasses free experience is that there is a particular angle that the 3DS must be held at to see the 3D effect clearly; move just a little to the right or left and the top screen becomes blurry and you lose the effect.  Fortunately you don’t have to fine tune the angle for more than 1 or 2 seconds at most and the adjustment shouldn’t interfere with gaming – unless perhaps you attempt to run or jog while playing, then it may become problematic.

As with most electronics, the more advanced the hardware, the shorter the battery life.  The 3DS is no exception and the 3D experience unfortunately takes its toll on the portability of the system.  On a full charge and with the 3D and Wi-Fi turned on and brightness set to maximum, the 3DS only manages to muster up about 3 hours of play time.

At minimum brightness and no 3D or Wi-Fi the system can give 4 ½ to 5 hours depending on the game.  That’s particularly disappointing when compared to the Nintendo DSi’s battery life of about 15 hours on minimum brightness.  Still it’s comparable to the PSP’s battery life and is certainly doable.  Nintendo includes a charging dock to keep your 3DS in while it’s charging  though to me it comes off as cheap and largely unnecessary.

It’s also worth noting that Nintendo recommends that the 3D effect not be viewed by those less than 7 years old, though I personally wouldn’t recommend giving a $250 device to a toddler regardless of the possibility that the 3D may burn holes in their eyes.

The 3D itself is pretty much just as Nintendo promised.  It really does enhance the gaming experience so you should drop this article and go run heedlessly to buy one right now right? Well… it’s not as simple as that.

Though Nintendo introduced this revolutionary tech it by no means has exclusive rights to it.  Within the year more manufacturers, almost certainly including apple, will integrate the glasses free technology into their own devices.   What will differentiate the 3DS is the quality software that smart phones simply can’t produce.  Well, hopefully, because right now that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Software

So perhaps  you’ve bought your 3DS and are dying to test out the 3D.  Even if you don’t have any software purchased with the system you’re in luck: Nintendo includes several 3D games and other software utilizing the 3D cameras built right into the system OS.

Nintendo brought over the wildly popular ‘Miis’ from the Wii console, allowing the facial recognition software to be use the camera’s to approximate your own face, and even allowing you to import your existing Mii from your Wii.  The Miis look and function exactly like they do on the Wii albeit in 3D.

Nintendo Sounds allows you to record and edit sounds and tunes.  Not really a gameplay feature but a cool one to have none the less.

Face raiders allows you to take a profile photograph of anyone’s face and map it to flying balls for some fun shoot-em-up time.  Several AR (augmented reality) games can be played with the 6 included paper cards to use the 3D cameras seemingly blend the real world into a set of mini games.

Both of these games have a definite ‘wow’ factor when first trying them out and showing them to others.  Seeing your face or two-dimensional card come to life is pretty awe inspiring at first, yet grows pretty old after a while.  Both games are great showcase software no but don’t offer much in the way of substance or replay value.  Wii Sports, which was bundled with the Wii console, arguably offered more gameplay, still they’re free and a nice addition to the handheld.

Other software features built into the unit include the Street Pass feature designed for your system to interact with other 3DS systems while walking around. In addition, with the Activity Log, the 3DS keeps track of the amount of steps you take and converts it into coins to purchase / unlock things in certain mini games.    Both features are great though aren’t taken advantage of in most of the launch games.

If you have a collection of DS software, the 3DS is backwards compatible with most if not all.  DS games tend to look fuzzier on the higher resolution screens than the original DS hardware but are still playable – though of course only in 2D mode.  Gameboy Advance carts can’t be used but Nintendo may offer them as downloadable titles along with original Gameboy titles in the future.

3DS games are available in a small cartridge format similar to the original DS, and in the future through Nintendo’s download service.   Of the 16 available launch titles – including the three virtually identical versions of Nintendogs + cats – there isn’t much quality gameplay to be experienced.  Retailing for $40, most of the 16 games are either quick ports or rehashes disguised as ‘sequels’, few substantially justifying a re-purchase to play in 3D on a handheld.

Rayman, Ridge Racer, Samurai Warriors, Pilot Wings Resort, Super Street Fighter IV, Super Monkey Ball, The Sims 3, and Madden are all games we’ve seen countless times before.

What’s more is that many of these games are available – sans the 3D of course – for mobile devices, and under $10.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with Super Street Fighter IV: 3D edition and I must say that it is the best one of the bunch despite falling into the same category of being a port.  The game’s graphics and 3D effect are striking and feature set, including online and local play, and street pass functionality which lets you battle out with virtual figures. If you are a fighting game fan and do not own Super Street Fighter IV, this is certainly a fine version of the game and might justify buying a 3DS right now.

That is not to say that all of the other titles are horrible, some like Nintendogs + Cats and Madden are fun if not derivative and shallow.  The problem is that the price of the current games and the system may not justify the purchase so early after release, even if the 3D is quite good.

Nintendo currently does not have a virtual store to buy games directly through the 3DS.  They have stated that an online store will be released at a later date.  I’m confused to the reason for its absence at launch but hopefully they will have it up sooner than later.

The Future of the 3DS

The success of any handheld gaming device or console ultimately comes down to the quality and quantity of the games available.  The 3DS has the potential to become a worthy successor to the DS and one of the better displays of 3D technology.  The problem right now is that none of the games really justify the $250 price tag of admission.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great device and truly one that is unique right now in the handheld market.  If you are dying to try out the technology I can say that it is well designed and truly makes the 3DS shine in that regard.  For most though, a video game system is about the games to play on it, and there lies the 3DS weakness as of right now.  Some great looking titles including the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Kid Icarus Uprising, and Resident Evil Revelations, and Metal Gear Solid 3 are set to be released this year and would make good candidates for the ‘killer app’ that the 3DS really needs to really succeed.

If reports of the ~$101 manufacturing cost of the 3DS are true then it’s only a matter of time before the console receives a price cut, especially with the proliferation of 3D handheld devices and Sony’s upcoming NGP. At $250 the novelty of the 3D may be justifiable to Nintendo but at around $200 the 3DS would be much easier to recommend.

As it stands now, unless you are dying to experience the 3D tech and/or are completely new to handheld gaming and have never played the various ports and rehashes, you could do well to wait for either a price drop or the release of some of the better games planned for the system.