Monday, April 4, 2011

My 3DS Impressions, Part 2

The Logistics
I'm not sure how to describe what I mean by the included topics in this part of the impressions/early review. Other points of the hardware that don't quite fit in with Interfacing or the next part on the "experience" that is the 3DS.

AC Adapter
The lowly AC adapter. So important for enjoying the 3DS, but such a minor concern. The AC adapter has a cord about 3 inches shorter than the DS lite's charger if I'm not mistaken. Judging by multiple pictures from Google Images searches, this is the exact same AC adapter as the one that shipped with the DSi and DSi XL. This is kind of unfortunate. Not only does it have just enough bulk that it can take up three outlet slots on many power strips, but it also means that the 3DS wasn't given a cable for charging that could have given it a faster charging time and/or bigger battery. On the bright side, the non-new charging jack lets you use some accessories meant for the DSi and DSi XL.

Using the Cradle
They did add a new method of using the AC Adapter, and I think it's actually a very smart addition.
The AC adapter plugs into the back of the cradle and allows you to easily drop and charge the 3DS. Contrary to early conjecture, the cradle does not use inductive charging, but instead has a pin that's depressed by the 3DS' weight, which pushes metal contacts into the 3DS to charge. The 3DS has a short battery life compared to the rest of the entire DS series of handhelds, and there's no denying it. By including the charger, it makes it easier for most people to charge their system on a daily basis. In my experience, you do need to charge after the days that you use it so it will be ready for another day. For me, using the charger lets me keep the AC Adapter plugged into an outlet that's behind some furniture, rather than storing the AC Adapter in a drawer, bringing it out when I need it and having it strung across the floor since I opted for an outlet that was easiest to access. Depending on your setup, this might be an occasional bother if you need to fish the AC Adapter out from behind a particularly tough spot to access and bring it with you.

Microphone and Location
The original DS had a microphone located to the bottom right of the bottom screen, and so it is again with the 3DS. The quality seems improved from the DS and DS lite, though it could be a benefit of the added RAM that would allow for higher quality recording. The DS lite, DSi, and DSi XL have the microphone in the center in the hinge, and for all the games that ask you to "blow into the mic" I would always miss and have to readjust where I was blowing when I used a DS lite, so I'm glad the mic is back at the bottom.

Headphone Jack Placement
The headphone jack is now squarely in the center of the bottom of the 3DS. I know there were early observations that when the 3DS is used as a music player, then the new placement would prevent you from  putting it in any pocket, which I don't think is entirely accurate because the old placement (same side, but to the right) would cause problems as well. The new location keeps the headphone chord as out of the way of your hands as it can be while playing 3DS games. Also of note is the complete removal of the jack that allowed you plug in a head-set with a microphone and opt to use that microphone instead of the one in the 3DS. This doesn't necessarily mean the 3DS doesn't support plugging in microphones, since there are other designs that would look like a regular headphone jack from the outside, but it does mean it won't support the headsets you may have bought for your DS.

Wrist Strap Locations
Who would have guessed that the new locations for attaching wrist straps would be one of my favorite features about the 3DS? On the DS and DS lite the point for attaching a wrist strap is at the back, next to where you insert DS games. On the 3DS, there are now two, located on the bottom of the unit (same side as the headphone jack). It's super easy to secure a wrist strap since one side is completely open, which is much improved over the frustrating design of the DS lite's wrist strap location. It took me a bit to realize why there were two and why the new location was awesome, but these locations let you actually use the wrist strap while you're playing the 3DS. Much like the wrist straps included with all Wii Remotes, it's an added security that you won't drop your $250 while you're playing it; you can go from closed and StreetPassing, to open and gaming without ever taking it off or wrist. You have the preference of attaching one on the side for your left wrist, one on the side for your right wrist, or both in case you know the reason you can't have nice things.

Stylus and Stylus Placement
Nintendo has implemented a telescoping stylus in the 3DS, which means you pull it apart to make it longer, or push it together to smaller. Extended, it's longer than the DSi stylus, and retracted it's shorter than the original DS stylus. It has the same girth as the DS lite stylus, and will infact fit into the DS lite. They've also moved it's storage slot back to the top like the DS. But unlike the DS they moved it to the left side (if you're looking at it from the face with the screens). I'm right-handed as far as writing and using a stylus is concerned, so I'm reaching for the stylus with my right hand if I'm not thinking about it. That's not necessarily a problem though. My problem with it is that it's actually locked in relatively tightly, and you only have a small lip to grip onto to take it out. This means I usually rotate the system about 80 degrees clockwise so I can use a nail to get it out, or flip it around so the back of it is in sight and I use my thumb-nail to take it out. The alternative is a lip that isn't flush with the system, and that means it's easier for the stylus to be pushed out accidentally, but I would take that risk. As well, the black end of the stylus is designed in such a way that it rubs and irritates my skin next to my index finger's knuckle. I have to hold it a bit differently than I normally would to avoid this, and I haven't adjusted just yet. The stylus has a nice look, with black on both ends, and what I assume is metal for the shaft; it feels high quality. There is only one included with the stylus, and I haven't seen Nintendo selling Nintendo branded stylii replacements in stores. A quick look at the online Nintendo store shows that it will cost you $3.75 for one of these stylii before shipping, handling, and tax, which seems high (it is) but the DS lite and DSi stylii also cost that much.

Screen Brightness and Viewing Angle
I think the best way I can describe the brightness of the 3DS screens is to compare them to a handheld that I have in hand; the DS lite. Below is a "less than" flow-chart representation of each DS lite brightness (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th brightest) and each 3DS brightness (named 1 through 5, with 5 being the brightest). DS in red, and 3DS in green to make it more clear.

1 < 1st < 2 < 2nd < 3 < 4 < 3rd < 5 < 4th

To my eyes, anyway.
You'll note that the 3DS' brightest doesn't topple the DS lite's brightest, but you might not have heard that the backlight has to be brightened when the 3D is turned on for the brightness to appear to be the same as in 2D. This was revealed in Iwata Asks, and though it wasn't made clear how much brighter it needs to be, it makes sense that double or nearly double the brightness is required because of how the parallax barrier blocks the image on the screen for each eye to create the 3D effect. The 3DS alters this brightness for you when you flip the 3D on and off, so don't worry about having to adjust settings everytime you wanna see 3D.
The viewing angle is smaller than DS lite as well, but that's not much of a concern to me because of the very nature of how you hold and play a handheld. As well, the 3D has it's own viewing angle much smaller still, so I don't see any point in trying to get a super wide viewing angle for overall viewing.

Thanks to some people more tech savvy that I, we've nailed down that the 3DS has 128 MB of fast RAM to work with (though, knowing how Nintendo does things, there's likely at least 4 MB of embedded RAM elsewhere). If you pay attention to smart-phone tech, this definitely doesn't seem like much, but compare it to many gaming consoles and it impresses me; DS with 4 MB, PlayStation 2 with 32 MB, GameCube with 43 MB, Xbox with 64 MB, PSP with 32 MB (64 with later redesigns, but all games still had to work with 32 MB), Wii with 91 MB. We had a very early report from IGN that the 3DS only had 68 MB of RAM, and some screens from a stolen 3DS that showed it had 96 MB of RAM, so I think it's a big toss-up as to what portion of RAM the OS is always using. Like many devices, 3DS doesn't have true multitasking; it suspends the current software rather than running it in the background. While you have suspended software, you can currently open 5 applications on the 3DS while maintaining the suspended software; Game Notes, Friend List, Notifications, Internet Browser, and the camera (limited version of the 3DS Camera software). These are separated from the re-sizable, rearrangeable DSi/Wii Channel/iOS style icons and can't be moved. They carry their own data in the Activity Log software, so at least you'll be able to see how long you've been browsing the internet. If I had any requests for software to add to multitasking functionality then it would be a music player to allow for custom soundtracks in all games.

3DS Design and Aesthetic
There would be a lot to explain here, so I'll leave it up to you to get a good look at the device to see what I'm expressing my opinion on.
I picked up an Aqua Blue 3DS. The tri-layer, tri-color scheme is interesting and unique in the gaming hardware world as far as I know, and I like it for the most part, though because the way the top layer appears to change its tint and shade, I often feel the bottom or middle layer should be darker to give it an even gradient. I love the beveling all the way around the top and bottom not only for its look, but it gives the 3DS a natural fit in my hands where they come in contact with the edges of the system. The middle layer is recessed, and the top layer wider in all direction. I actually really appreciate this design. The volume control is on the recessed layer, and I've never noticed being at a different volume then where I left it because something pushed up against it. The SD card slot is on the bottom layer, but you can easily open the cover thanks to the slightly recessed middle layer. Because of the middle layer, I don't think the top layer needed to be extended as far as it is, and in fact, the top layer is surrounded by transparent plastic so it could have been smaller. One great thing about the bigger top layer is how it looks from the front; the shoulder buttons aren't visible. The pictures of the DSi and DSi XL always bothered me because you could see the shoulder buttons and I thought it gave the console a certain chunky quality. The black border around the top screen doesn't irk me as much as I thought it might; it's really a lot like the black-border that Nintendo gave all their handhelds until the DS lite. At E3 2010, we saw 3DSes with circle pads that matched the middle layer of the system. The grey color they have now isn't an eye-sore, but I definitely think the matching color circle pads had a better look. On the back of unit is a battery cover that is the size of the entire back of the unit, another first. I never really took note of the battery sized battery covers on Nintendo systems before the 3DS, but this new design is definitely an improvement to my eyes. There is also a rather inexplicable silver band (not metal) at the back of the bottom layer, between the shoulder buttons. It encompasses the openings for the slots for DS and 3DS games, the stylus, and the AC adapter, as well as the IR port and the openings for the pins that the cradle uses. It seems like a bizarre addition to me, but one that just feels right.

A Deep Rumble
A small note that rumble, haptic feedback, vibration, or whatever you want to call it didn't make it into the 3DS, and without any extra outlets for it, we likely won't see a first-party accessory to add it later. The DS Rumble Pak was one of those small additions that really made some games seem like real experiences, like the screen was your window into a shoe-box that the characters were bumping around within. The NGP hasn't been said to have it either, so I guess that rumble will remain a difference between handheld gaming and console gaming for another 5+ years.

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