The Pros and Cons of the Nintendo 3DS vs. the Nintendo 2DS

They are more alike than they are different

An illustration of Nintendo DS with the differences between 2DS & 3 DS explained.

Lifewire / Miguel Co

Nintendo's 3DS line of portable gaming consoles has evolved since its release in 2011. The current models active at the end of 2017 — the 2DS and the New 3DS — play the same games, but they differ in some of their hardware specifications.

How the 2DS and 3DS Consoles Are Similar

The Nintendo 2DS functions almost identically to the Nintendo 3DS and its successors, the New 3DS and the New 3DS XL.

Although they look like distant cousins, their inner workings are basically the same. For the most part, anything the Nintendo 3DS can do, the 2DS can do, too.

They are both able to:

  • Play Nintendo 3DS game cards: When you buy a Nintendo 3DS game at retail, the game card works with both the Nintendo 3DS and the Nintendo 2DS.
  • Go online: Both devices are capable of connecting to Wi-Fi using the internet access built-in to their web browsers. Both systems support online play where available, including games like "Pokemon X" and "Pokemon Y."
  • Access the eShop and Virtual Console: Whether you want to download indie games and major releases from the Nintendo 3DS eShop or have a little retro fun with some 8-bit NES classics from the 3DS Virtual Console, either the 3DS or the 2DS meets your needs.
  • Be backward compatible with the Nintendo DS library: If you have a sizable Nintendo DS library you'd like to revisit, you don't have to choose between the 2DS and 3DS. Both devices are fully capable of playing Nintendo DS game cards.
The Nintendo 2DS XL, left, compared to the Nintendo New 3DS XL. These two models are the current offerings as of late 2017.

How They're Different

All that said, there are still some key differences between the 3DS and 2DS.

  • The 2DS is cheaper than the 3DS and 3DS XL: The Nintendo 2DS's most alluring characteristic is its price — usually half the price of the 3DS XL.
  • The 2DS can't display 3D images, but the Nintendo 3DS can: The Nintendo 2DS is unable to project 3D images, which is one of the big reasons Nintendo can offer it for less than the 3DS or 3DS XL.

Is the 3D functionality of the 3DS console necessary for enjoying its games? Certainly not — games run on the system regardless of how high the 3D slider is turned up. The 3D projection augments the experience, and some players find it's handy for gauging the depth of tricky jumps in 3D platform games like "Super Mario 3D Land." Many people keep the 3D turned off on their 3DS to save battery power, although 3D makes the graphics pop in certain games, which is fun to behold.

  • The Nintendo 2DS and 3DS screen measurements are identical, and the 3DS XL screens are larger: The screens of the 2DS and 3DS are approximately the same size: 3.53 inches (top screen, diagonally) and 3.02 inches (bottom screen, diagonally), but the 3DS XL screens measure 4.88 inches for the top screen and 4.18 inches for the bottom screen. Using the term "screens" is a bit misleading. The 2DS uses one large screen that's divided by plastic borders.
  • The Nintendo 2DS feels thicker and more "plastic-like" than the Nintendo 3DS or 3DS XL: The Nintendo 2DS is shaped almost like a plastic wedge of cheese. It's thicker near the top where the L and R buttons are situated and thins out toward the bottom screen. It's still lightweight compared to a regular 3DS and comfortable to hold, but it takes some getting used to if you're used to the 3DS.
  • The Nintendo 2DS can't close like the Nintendo 3DS: Something to keep in mind if you're the type of gamer who takes your portable game systems everywhere is that the Nintendo 2DS features a tablet design, which is different from the hinged clamshell design of the Nintendo 3DS and 3DS XL. The 2DS screens are unprotected and subject to potential scratches from banging around in a bag or purse full of change and keys.

    Neither the Nintendo 3DS or 2DS ship with headphones.

    Choosing Between the 2DS and the 3DS

    Choosing between the Nintendo 2DS and 3DS depends on where you are with 3DS ownership. Some considerations:

    • If you've been seesawing over getting your own Nintendo 3DS but find the price a barrier, the Nintendo 2DS is an affordable buy that gives you access to the 3DS library and the DS backlog of epic games.
    • Even though you can disable the 3DS 3D slider, the 2DS is still a good option if you're not interested in 3D imagery.
    • If you already own a Nintendo 3DS or 3DS XL, but your kids keep borrowing it and returning it covered with sticky fingerprints, the Nintendo 2DS is a durable, child-friendly gift that will make any youngster happy and give you and your 3DS peace of mind.
    • Are you a collector of portables or game systems in general? The Nintendo 2DS should make an interesting addition to your collection.

    If you're an older player who knows how to take care of your devices and for whom money isn't an issue, you should choose the large-screened Nintendo 3DS XL. While the 3D functionality isn't the runaway hit Nintendo probably expected it to be, it still enhances certain games. You'd be surprised how much it adds to The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

    The 3DS clamshell design is preferable if you're a commuter. Putting your Nintendo 3DS to sleep is a matter of closing it instead of toggling a switch, and when the 3DS is closed, its screens are protected. You can buy carrying cases for the Nintendo 2DS, but unzipping the case and pulling out your device is a bit of a hassle if all you want to do is check your StreetPasses.

    Whichever model you choose, be confident that both the Nintendo 3DS and 2DS are capable of playing awesome games.