It's easy to misjudge Nintendo's often fanciful video game system redesigns.
When the Japanese game maker first unveiled the Game Boy Advance SP, a fancy iteration of the Game Boy Advance that folded in half, people loved the concept. And their initial impressions proved dead on, with the SP selling nearly 44 million units in six years.
But sometimes those gut reactions to slick design overlook the bigger picture. Take for instance the Game Boy Micro. The Micro, a sexy little take on the Game Boy Advance, hit stores three years after the SP. But despite the strong favorable initial reaction many people had to the portable, the Micro managed only to sell an abysmal 2.5 million units in its lifetime.
It wasn't bad design that killed the device, it was the timing, coming out almost a year after the Nintendo DS, a portable destined to become a 125 million unit gaming power house.
So what about the DSi XL due to hit stores this Sunday?
Again we have a device that on its surface seems to be an interesting new take on a popular handheld. But it's also a system that was made obsolete by Nintendo's announcement last week that another new portable, a glasses-free 3D handheld called the 3DS, will be hitting within a year.
It's hard to say whether the DSi XL will ultimately fail or succeed without first tearing down the good and bad of this week's new Nintendo gadgetry, which goes on sale Sunday.
While it's true that all of your DS and DSi games will work flawlessly on the DSi XL there is one problem, a very big problem. Any digital games you purchased through the DSi's online Nintendo Store won't transfer over to your new portable device.
The idea that by upgrading your handheld you are ensuring that you lose access to your entire back catalog of DSiWare games was so shocking to us that we had to verify it in the store, the manual and finally with Nintendo itself.
But unfortunately, it's true. At least for now.
Bigger Can Be Better
I had my doubts, lots of doubts, about super-sizing my DSi. Was the thing going to end up being too big to fit in my pants pocket, or shirt pocket, or jacket pocket, or hang around the neck of my dog. Apparently, no.
What about the graphics? Will a 90 percent larger screen with the same resolution, essentially making the pixels bigger, mean ugly games? Perhaps a smidgen, but not really.
In fact, what I've found is that I really do like what Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime calls those "big beautiful screens."
Wider Viewing Angle?
Fils-Aime says it, Nintendo of Japan president Satoru Iwata says it, even the ads say it: The DSi XL has wider viewing angles. What's that mean?
According to the company executives more people can gather around a single DSi XL and see what's going on, allowing them to play cooperatively or watch over a friends shoulder.
But the funny thing is that Nintendo doesn't provide any hard numbers for what exactly the viewing angle of the DSi XL is compared to the DSi. It's not in the manual, it's not on the site, it's not in the press releases. When I contacted the company directly they said they'd have to get back to me on that.
With no official numbers to compare, I devised a very unscientific test. I turned on a DSi and DSi XL, sat both on my desk in front of me and started to slowly turn them away from me until I could no longer tell what was on the screen. The end result? Not even discernible. If the DSi XL has a wider viewing angle it's not that big a difference and it's only because it has a much larger screen.
A Longer (or Shorter) Battery Life
Depending on which system you already own (if you own a Nintendo DS), the DSi XL has a longer or a shorter battery life.
The original DS' battery gave you six to 10 hours of play depending on use. The DS Lite's battery life ranges from five to 19 hours depending on which of the four brightness levels you set the device to. The DSi has a battery life ranging from three to 14 hours depending on its five levels of brightness. Finally, the DSi XL has a battery life of four to 17 hours depending on which of its five levels you use.
So depending on your system this is either a good thing or a bad one.
Not Much New Here
Even Fils-Aime is quick to point out that despite being a company that prides itself on reinvention and revolution, they didn't do much more than change the form factor for the DSi XL.
The XL has those big screens, it supposedly has a wider viewing angle, and a yes a bigger body, but that's about it. Specifically:
The screen is 4.2-inches compared to the DSi's 3.25-inch screens and the DS Lite's 3-inch screens . The device weighs 314 grams compared to 214 for the DSi and 218 for the Lite. The XL is 161 mm wide, 21.2 mm thick and 91.4 mm tall compared to the DSi which is 137 mm wide, 18.9 mm thick and 74.9 mm tall and the Lite which is 133 mm wide, 21.5 mm thick and 73.9 mm tall.
So, really, it's only a body redesign.
You might want to dismiss this, but personally I'm a big fan of how nice print heavy "games" look on the DSi XL. Recipe programs no longer have to to be squinted at, web browsing is almost a pleasure and the upcoming release of 100 Classic Books is bound to be fantastic on the over-sized screens.
The 3D Elephant in the Room
And now we come to the elephant in the room.
Like the Micro before it, no matter how sexy you might find the DSi XL it would be crazy to completely dismiss the fact that Nintendo preempted the device's U.S. launch with news of what can only be considered its replacement.
Not much is known about the 3DS yet, but the bullet points of what we do know all seem to be nails in the coffin of the DSi XL.
The 3DS will be backwards compatible with the entire line of Nintendo DS products.
It will be capable of producing 3D graphics without the need for special glasses.
It will be revealed, and playable, in June.
It will hit stores sometimes between now and March 2011.
Even if the 3D aspect of the 3DS is a complete flop, it will still be a newer version of the DS because of that promised backwards compatibility. You'd also think that Nintendo would take everything they've learned from previous models (including the DSi XL) and use them in their creation of the 3DS.
Where does that leave you?
If you're an early adopter, like me, a gadget collector or obnoxiously wealthy, then you may not care how quickly your $190 purchase may become obsolete once Nintendo's next big thing hits in less than 12 months.
Or maybe 3D doesn't float your boat and you'd prefer to get a bigger screen now.
Ultimately, the decision is yours. Hopefully, this article leaves you more informed than you were before reading it.
Me? Despite liking those twin big screens and the heft of the new device, I'd wait to spend my money until after I hear more about what exactly the Nintendo 3DS will be offering and for how much.
And I'd certainly hold off on any upgrading until Nintendo starts supporting transferable digital purchases.