In 2009, I reviewed the Nintendo DSi, so when I heard that Nintendo was releasing a 3DS earlier this year, and that Bill Detwiler was going to crack it open, I quickly raised my hand to review the device if it was successfully placed back together – and it was.

As I disclosed in the DSi review, I’m a Nintendo DS junkie. I keep my DS in my car and take it with me whenever I have a dentist or doctor’s appointment, because it helps kill the time spent in waiting rooms (and I conserve the battery on my HTC Incredible by not playing Android apps).

The DSi was impressive, so I was prepared to be wowed by the 3DS, despite all the hype about 3D scams. Perhaps I’m still a kid at heart, but the 3D capability – without having to wear special glasses – is very cool. The price point and portability also help make it an easy contender for one of the top handheld gaming devices on the market.


  • Two LCD screens: The top screen displays 800×240 pixel resolution (400 pixels for each eye to create the 3D effect), and the bottom touch screen has 320×240 pixel resolution.
  • Motion and Gyro sensors
  • Analog control (with the Circle Pad on the bottom half of the device)
  • 3D Depth Slider lets you easily adjust the 3D settings (without the need for 3D glasses) or turn it off completely.
  • 3D camera, thanks to two outer cameras (it also has one inner camera).
  • AR Cards: The 3DS views the cards using the outer cameras so you can play AR games.
  • Adjustable stylus
  • Charging cradle
  • 2 GB SD Memory Card (included – and the 3DS is compatible with MP3 and AAC file formats)
  • Backward compatibility
  • StreetPass allows you to exchange data with other users you pass on the street.
  • SpotPass detects wireless HotSpots or wireless LAN access points.
  • Battery life equals 3-5 hours for Nintendo 3DS software and 5-8 hours for Nintendo DS software.
  • Color options: Aqua Blue, Flame Red, Cosmo Black
  • Cost: $169.99 (USD) (The Nintendo site lists which retailers sell the 3DS.)

What I like

I like a lot of things about the 3DS, including quite a bit of the built-in software. Here are a few of my favorite features.

  • 3D visual experience: When you first see the 3D capability of the 3DS, it’s definitely worthy of a few “Ooos” and “Ahhhhs.” We purchased one 3DS game – LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars – and I thoroughly enjoyed it for about a half hour or so. However, when it comes to 3D, too much really isn’t a good thing (see my bullet about 3D precautions in the “What I don’t like” section below).
  • Easier navigation: The Nintendo 3DS has a Home button that allows you quick access to features and functions. The Home button also makes it easier to pause or resume games or applications.
  • Motion and gyro sensors: A lot of newer technology includes this functionality, so I was glad to see the 3DS going in the right direction. Plus, I have some friends who move all around when they play with older Nintendo handhelds that don’t have motion sensors, and so now, leaning all the way to the right might help them accomplish moving their character in that direction!
  • Mii Maker: Really, it’s all about Mii. Nintendo has stepped up its game by incorporating the creation of Mii characters in the 3DS.
  • AR Games: By placing an AR Card on a table or other flat surface, you can use the 3DS to play various AR Games. The card transformed into a 3D image that breathed and moved, which was amazing and definitely a lot of fun.
  • Face Raiders: This built-in application was perhaps my favorite, and I spent hours playing it. You take a photo of yourself (or other people, animals… really, anything with a face) and then the game transforms the face into a moving target that you have to shoot and ultimately defeat. Probably the most entertaining thing about this app is that you take the photo and then see the transformation. I battled my dog, cat, and several stuffed animals, which made for a very hilarious afternoon.

What I don’t like

Some of the features that I raved about in my DSi review are also available in the 3DS – like the built-in camera and sound applications – but they are slightly different and not necessarily better. Let’s take a look at both of these features in greater detail, as well as some other not-so-great features of the 3DS.

  • Nintendo 3DS Camera: According to the hardware specs, the device “uses its two outer cameras to see the world in 3D, much like the human eye, allowing for the creation of 3D photos – and a similar 3D effect to that seen in Nintendo 3DS games.” You can use the 3D Depth Slider to control the level of 3D appearance, so sliding it to the minimum setting makes the photos look completely normal. This does have a cool factor, for sure, but my absolute favorite thing about the DSi camera application was the ability to change lenses and modify images – such as distortion, mischief, and emoter. Sure, you can add graffiti to your 3DS photos, but that’s about it.
  • Nintendo 3DS Sound: I was happy to see this on the 3DS, and like the DSi Sound application, it includes the ability to modify sounds – such as speed, pitch, and a few effects (parakeet, electric fan, low harmony, and trumpet). However, like the camera application, the DSi had more editing capability. Maybe I’m just a greedy consumer, but if I’m going to shell out my hard-earned money for the 3DS, I want to see the display in 3D plus have all of the features that shipped with the DSi.
  • StreetPass: It sounds good, in theory, to be able to put your device in Sleep Mode and it exchanges data with other users you pass on the street – but this really is only beneficial if a lot of people have a 3DS and carry it around with them (again, in Sleep Mode) everywhere they go. And while you can control what information you want to share, I’m left feeling a little dirty with random thoughts of stranger danger.
  • 3D precautions: A friend would get an instant migraine playing even a few minutes of a 3D game with the 3D Depth Slider pushed to the max. It’s no wonder that the first tab on the Nintendo 3DS contains health and safety information, cautioning folks that viewing 3D images by children 6 and under may cause vision damage. Also, everyone runs the risk of eyestrain, seizures, and motion sickness. So, while 3D capability is cool, I couldn’t play a 3D game for extended periods of time. It does get to be a bit much after a while.

Geek bottom line

The Nintendo 3DS is a relatively inexpensive touch-screen, handheld gaming device. In 2009, I announced that the Nintendo DSi was officially my favorite gaming system to date, and while the 3DS definitely has a cool factor and some very entertaining built-in apps, it didn’t have enough for me personally to dethrone its predecessor. However, the 3DS would still make a great gift for gamers of any age.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: ***
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: *****

For more reviews of tech gadgets, gizmos, games, and books, download the PDF of TechRepublic’s Geek Gift Guide 2011.