If you’re thinking about buying a new portable game system, you’re probably deciding between the Nintendo Switch and the New Nintendo 3DS XL. While the PlayStation Vita has some solid games, Sony seems to have forgotten its portable system and thus it’s not too popular.
We’re here to help you figure out whether the Switch or 3DS is better for you. Read on to learn about both systems so you know which one to get.
An Introduction to Both Devices
Let’s get some basic details out of the way before diving into the specifics of either system.
The Switch is Nintendo’s newest console. It launched in March 2017, and its central gimmick is that it’s both a home console and portable system. The system’s internals are all inside the tablet, so you can take it anywhere. Or using the included dock, you can plug the system into your TV and play on the big screen.
A Nintendo Switch costs $300 and doesn’t include any games. Check our review of the Switch for more details.
The Nintendo 3DS first launched in March 2011. This portable system uses the same dual-screen form factor of the Nintendo DS, though it’s a distinct system from its predecessor. A 3DS’s top screen can display in stereoscopic 3D without the need for glasses, and the bottom screen is touch-enabled.
Nintendo has released several models of the 3DS, including the New 3DS XL, which features some enhancements over the original model, and the New 2DS XL, which can’t display in 3D. We’ve compared every 3DS model if you’re interested in more info. Except for certain bundles, you won’t find a game included with either.
In this article, we’ll only consider the two best options: the New Nintendo 3DS XL ($200) and the New Nintendo 2DS XL ($150). Check our reviews of the New 3DS XL and New 2DS XL for further info. Note that below, “3DS” refers to both systems for brevity.
Thinking about buying a Switch? Here are all the details you should know about the system.
While Nintendo’s last home console, the Wii U, was mostly a failure, the Switch is having an amazing run so far.
In its first year, two hit games The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey landed on the Switch. While those are the standouts, other Nintendo-published titles like Splatoon 2 and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle are excellent too.
And the Switch is no stranger to indie games, either. It received ports of indie hits like Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge, as well as some exclusives like the charming Golf Story. The Switch offers several great games and has a promising future too.
Because the Switch is a portable console, you’ll probably want to invest in a screen protector, carrying case, or both. The large screen is susceptible to scratches if you’re not careful, and it won’t fit easily in a pocket or small bag. The Switch has two Joy-Con controllers that you can use to play in several ways.
When you’re on the go, you can attach them to the sides of the system. You can also remove them and hold one in each hand, or even hand one off to a friend for multiplayer. For playing at home, you can click the controllers into the included grip for a more traditional experience, or purchase the Pro Controller separately.
You can expect “between 2.5 and 6 hours” of battery life on the Switch, according to Nintendo. Of course, this depends on several factors, such as what game you’re playing, how bright your screen is, and if you’re connected to a wireless network.
Graphics and Performance
The Switch comes with an integrated 720p screen in tablet mode and outputs at full 1080p HD when docked to a TV. When docked, many games perform better since the system doesn’t have to worry about consuming battery.
With the recent ports of games like Doom (2016) to the Switch, it’s amazing to see how developers have adapted demanding games to run on portable hardware. The Switch can’t compete head-to-head with the PS4 or Xbox One, but its games look great in their own right regardless.
Drawbacks of the Switch
While many of our concerns about the Switch seem like distant memories after several successful months, the system certainly isn’t perfect. For one, the system’s internal space is paltry. A mere 32GB of on-board space means you’ll probably have to buy a microSD card if you plan to download a lot of games.
While the system UI is slick, it’s still somewhat half-baked: you can’t customize it with any themes. The eShop has plenty of great games on sale, but navigating to them can be a bit of a pain. And while Nintendo has added the ability to use wireless headsets, such as the PS4 Gold Headset, you can’t use Bluetooth headphones. Meanwhile, the first streaming app (Hulu) just came to the Switch more than six months after release.
Nintendo hasn’t officially launched the paid Switch Online service yet, so playing online is free for now. While network features work fine, Nintendo’s solution for voice chat for Splatoon 2 is laughably clunky compared to the simplicity of the PS4 and Xbox One.
Finally, there’s no Virtual Console support yet either. This functionality lets you play classic games from Nintendo systems of old on your Switch for a low price. Hopefully this comes soon so gamers of all ages can revisit the treasures of the past.
New Nintendo 3DS XL
We now turn to Nintendo’s dedicated portable system, the New Nintendo 3DS/2DS XL. What does it offer that might tempt you away from buying a Switch?
It’s no understatement to say that the 3DS has one of the best game libraries of all time, especially for a portable console.
The system offers 3D remasters of N64 classics like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Majora’s Mask 3D, and Star Fox 64 3D. It has new installments in core Nintendo franchises like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and Super Mario 3D Land. You can play a full-fledged Smash Bros. game in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, and Mario Kart 7 for on-the-go racing. Sun and Moon are some of the best Pokémon games in years.
And that’s just the start of the awesome 3DS library. Since the 3DS is backwards-compatible, you can play all Nintendo DS games too. And thanks to the Nintendo eShop and Virtual Console, plenty of indie games and retro favorites alike are available to download.
Gimmicks and Portability
As the name suggests, the main draw of the 3DS (originally) is that it features a 3D display on the top screen. While some games have made great use of this feature, the fad all but died off and thus many modern 3DS games don’t display in 3D at all. You probably won’t care much about the 3D after seeing it a few times. That’s why Nintendo created the New 2DS XL: it packs the same upgrades as the New 3DS XL without the 3D.
Both the New 3DS and New 2DS have cameras, though the quality isn’t anything to get excited about. You can view pictures taken with the 3DS cameras in 3D, but it’s mostly just another novelty.
Taken with Nintendo 3DS camera, no edit, average lighting, raw footage.
Models: Adrian Ramos & Josh McKissick pic.twitter.com/sAquQOy5e5
— ? (@Sebastian03) November 7, 2017
Aside from the 3D, the New 3DS doesn’t have any gimmicks. Like the Switch, it features Amiibo support so you can scan your figures for in-game bonuses. It also has a stylus for tapping the resistive touch screen, while the Switch features a smoother capacitive touch screen that’s fingers-only (like your phone).
Both the New 3DS XL and the New 2DS XL feature a clam-shell hinge design, making them easy to slip into a bag. You can expect 3.5 to 6.5 hours of battery life on a charge for both systems, depending on brightness, use of 3D, and network connectivity.
Performance and Extras
Being an older system, the 3DS isn’t going to win any awards for amazing graphical fidelity. Its top screen is only 240p. While this sounds awful (and looks poor when you see it on full-screen video online), the display quality on the system itself is actually pretty smooth.
Both New models feature some upgrades under the hood, resulting in faster load times across the system. They also have two additional shoulder buttons and a secondary control “nub” that some games take advantage of. Speaking of which, a select few games, such as Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, are only available on the New 3DS models and not the originals.
Unlike the Switch, the 3DS has several extras that aren’t related to games. You can download media streaming apps like Netflix and YouTube, though we can’t imaging most people will want to watch a movie on the 3DS’s screen. Even without games, the 3DS has a few built-in titles like Face Raiders, which is basically a tech demo of the augmented reality feature.
The New 3DS and New 2DS come with a small amount of onboard storage that can fit a few demos or smaller downloadable games. If you need more, you can purchase a bigger microSD card than the 4GB one included with the system.
The 3DS has proven itself as an amazing portable games system. Its biggest drawback, then, is its questionable longevity. It 2011 release was a long time ago, and it clearly doesn’t have the graphical power to compete with the Switch or other modern consoles.
As of late 2017, the 3DS is still kicking. Nintendo released Metroid: Samus Returns in August, a reimagining of the Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus. November also brings Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, enhanced versions of 2016’s Sun and Moon.
Nintendo hasn’t announced anything about the end of life for the 3DS yet. Aside from some remakes and DLC, there aren’t any major 3DS games announced for 2018 yet, so we’ll see what the year holds.
That’s the only major problem with the 3DS now: nobody wants to buy a system and find out it’s not getting any new games. However, as we’ve said, there are enough games on the 3DS to last you years. Buying it now might not guarantee years of new releases, but it does let you enjoy years of prior ones.
What’s the Best Option for You?
We’ve talked about the biggest differences between the Nintendo Switch and the New 3DS and New 2DS XL. If you still can’t decide, here’s a summary:
- The Switch and the 3DS, despite both being portable, are really two totally different systems.
- The Switch is still the “home” console technically, while the 3DS is a dedicated portable. Both offer a lot.
- Get the Switch if you want to play games on your TV, can’t wait for Zelda and Mario, and don’t mind the price.
- There’s no way to play 3DS games on your TV, which makes playing at home a little inconvenient. Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey are two amazing games, and you can’t play them anywhere else.
- Get a New 3DS XL or New 2DS XL if you’re short on cash, want a more expansive library of games right away, or want to play retro games.
- There’s no telling when Virtual Console will come to the Switch, and the 3DS already has dozens of retro games available. Most 3DS games also cost $40 each, while Switch games are $60.
- Get the 3DS if you need on-the-go games.
- The Switch is a portable system, but it’s not as convenient to carry around as the 3DS due to its size. And the battery life is shorter, meaning you’ll have to carry around a battery pack or look for an outlet often.
Ready to Buy a Nintendo Portable?
Our general recommendation: Buy a New 3DS/2DS XL now and enjoy the awesome 3DS library. If you can wait to play the big Switch games, another several months could bring a money-saving bundle, and more Switch games will release in the meantime. It’s a win-win.
If thinking about Nintendo system has you nostalgic, take a trip back in time with the definitive guide to every Zelda game.
Do you own a Switch or a 3DS model? Which one did you purchase, and why? Let us know what Nintendo games you’ve enjoyed recently down in the comments!