Nintendo 3DS: The Agony and the Ecstasy

As a fun gaming machine Nintendo 3DS gets so many things right, but as the latest piece of tech aimed at gadget geeks it falls short.


When I first tried the Nintendo 3DS last June at Nintendo’s E3 event, I was amazed. The 3-D worked perfectly–I saw Mario and Link moving through an immersive world. And the other features I tried were just as innovative: two cameras to take 3-D pictures, gyroscope and accelerometer for motion controls, Augmented Reality games.

At Nintendo’s press event on Wednesday, more great features were shown, including: the system’s built-in activity log, with pedometer; a coin reward system that’s similar to Xbox achievements for purchasing extras in games; a much improved online store, online play, and online updates for games. And just as the Nintendo DS allowed game developers to use the touchscreen and microphone for interesting gameplay, 3DS allows its game developers to use the camera and motion controls for new experiences–I got to aim Link’s slingshot by moving around my arms!

Nintendo 3DS

The Nintendo 3DS is an astounding game machine and will sell millions for Nintendo, but that will be despite $250 pricetag and its flaws as a gadget. It’s a device built for kids, not gadget geeks who want the latest and greatest tech.

The Nintendo 3DS can’t compete on that front. It has a pair of screens–the bottom has 320×240 resolution with a 3-inch diagonal; the top has 3-D with an effective resolution of 400×240 at 3.5 inches. In the resolution race it has already lost. The PlayStation Portable, a device that came out six years ago, has a screen that is 4.3 inches and 480×272–36% more resolution. Older iPhones and iPod Touches have a 3.5 inch screen, like the 3DS’s top screen, but a resolution of 480×320, or 60% more resolution. The iPhone 4, and the latest iPod Touch, has a retina display with an astounding 960×640 resolution, more than six times the resolution of 3DS. Android phones are also far higher-resolution, with the Evo 4G having with a 4.3-inch screen at 800×480 and even the HTC Dream, one of the earliest Android phones from 2008, possessing a 3.2-inch screen with a 480×320 resolution.

Comparing processing power, you get similar results. While Nintendo hasn’t confirmed the processor speed, rumors last September stated there were a pair of 266MHz CPUs. Meanwhile, the PSP from 2005 had a 333 MHz CPU. The iPhone 4 and most Android devices have a 1 GHz CPU, almost four times faster than 3DS’s processors. And phones coming out in the next few months, at a similar timeframe as the Nintendo 3DS, will have Tegra chips, with an equivalent of two of these 1GHz processors.

Nintendo has officially announced battery life, with a timeframe of 3 to 5 hours to play 3-D games and up to 8 hours of playing old DS titles. This is remarkably low. The old Nintendo DS could do 15 to 18 hours, the iPhone 4 and iPad can do about 10 hours of video or surfing over Wi-Fi, even the PlayStation Portable–criticized for its short battery life–gets 5 to 7 hours.


Many would call this an unfair comparison: It has a 3-D screen! It’s not a subsidized phone! It’s not in the same market as iPhone or Android! Apple is Nintendo’s biggest competitor in the portable space, with 1.5 Billion gaming apps sold as of September 2010. The 8GB iPod Touch isn’t a subsidized phone, and it is $230 and already out performs the 3DS (except for the 3-D screen)–and that doesn’t count the upgrade in hardware sure to come in the summer. The PlayStation Portable, a six-year-old device, costs $150 and out performs the Nintendo 3DS–and that is not considering the PlayStation Portable 2, rumored to be unveiled to journalists next week and launched by the end of this year. And lastly, Nintendo’s last handheld, the Nintendo DS, launched at $150 and can currently be had for $130.

The Nintendo 3DS is innovative and improves on the Nintendo DS in almost every way. When it launches on March 27 gamers will rejoice, including myself, at a new era for Nintendo and the dawn of 3-D gaming. As Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aime said, “It is a category of one.” And its uniqueness comes at a premium price, even if most of that money amounts to a huge profit margin for Nintendo.

Yet many gadget geeks will look at the price and the capabilities–under-powered screens, processors, and batteries–shrug, and wait for the inevitable “Nintendo 3DS X” with a better battery and bigger screen coming Fall 2012. Remember, it only took 18 months for Nintendo to release the improved DS Lite.

[Filming and editing by Adam Barenblat]


About the author

His work has also been published by Kill Screen, Tom's Guide, Tech Times, MTV Geek, GameSpot, Gamasutra, Laptop Mag, Co.Create, and Co.Labs. Focusing on the creativity and business of gaming, he is always up for a good interview or an intriguing feature.