Nintendo 3DS vs. the DSi: A Comparison

Two portable gaming systems for two different generations of games

The Nintendo 3DS, which was launched in North America in 2011, is the successor to the Nintendo DS family of handheld gaming systems. The Nintendo DSi simply upgraded some of the Nintendo DS Lite hardware features. The Nintendo 3DS plays a separate library of games and includes a special screen that shows off 3D graphics without the need for special glasses. We tested both systems to find out how they compare.

Nintendo 3DS vs DSi

Overall Findings

Nintendo 3DS
  • Supports 3DS and original Nintendo DS games.

  • Autostereoscopic 3D graphics.

  • Newer models still in production.

  • Slightly more expensive.

Nintendo DSi
  • Plays all games for the original Nintendo DS.

  • Nintendo has discontinued support.

  • Can be purchased used for cheap.

The DSi and the original model of the 3DS are no longer in production. However, other variations of the 3DS are still made, including the New 3DS and New 2DS XL. New games are also being released for the 3DS while the original DS family has been officially retired by Nintendo.

Hardware: The Nintendo 3DS Is More Powerful

Nintendo 3DS
  • Superior non-3D graphics.

  • Built-in gyroscope and accelerometer.

  • Touchscreen controls.

  • Powerful built-in web browser.

Nintendo DSi
  • Touchscreen controls.

  • Slim, light-weight design.

  • Web browser supports JavaScript but not Adobe Flash.

The top screen of the 3DS displays game environments in 3D, which gives the player a better sense of depth. The 3D effect immerses the player in the game's world, but it also affects gameplay. In the game Steel Diver, for instance, the player sits behind a submarine periscope and fires torpedoes at enemy subs. Using 3D, it's easy to tell which enemy subs are closer (and more of a threat) and which are farther away. You can turn down or turn off the 3D effect entirely.

In certain 3DS games, you control the on-screen action by tilting the 3DS unit up and down or by turning it side-to-side. This is done with the built-in gyroscope and accelerometer. Not every game uses these features, however, and many that do also let the player use a traditional control scheme. Star Fox 64 3D is an example of a 3DS game that makes use of the accelerometer.

Games: The 3DS Supports More Games

Nintendo 3DS
  • New games are still made.

  • Download and play DSiWare games.

  • Purchase new and classic games online.

Nintendo DSi
  • Doesn't support Game Boy Advanced games like the original DS model.

  • No new exclusive titles coming out.

If you buy a Nintendo 3DS, you won't have to leave your DS library behind. The 3DS plays DS games (and, by extension, DSi games) via the game card slot in the back of the system.

Both the DSi and the 3DS can download DSiWare. DSiWare is Nintendo's term for original, downloadable games developed for the DSi. Both the Nintendo 3DS and DSi can download DSiWare as long as you have access to a Wi-Fi connection.

The Nintendo Virtual Console is only accessible on the 3DS through a Wi-Fi connection. In addition to new games, you can purchase and play classic Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and NES titles on a 3DS.

Extra Features: The DSi Comes up Short

Nintendo 3DS
  • Take and share 3D pictures.

  • Stream movies with the Netflix app.

  • Download free demos from the eShop.

Nintendo DSi
  • Supports most original DS peripherals.

  • Play multiplayer DS games with 3DS users.

The Nintendo 3DS comes preloaded with software including the eShop, the Mii maker, and an internet browser. You also have access to augmented reality games such as Face Raiders and Archery that use the 3DS's cameras to bring backgrounds to life and place them in virtual worlds.

With its two external cameras, the Nintendo 3DS takes pictures in the third dimension. The Nintendo DSi takes pictures too, but not in 3D. The 3DS also plays MP3 and AAC music files from an SD card. The DSi plays AAC files from an SD card, but it doesn't support MP3 files.

Final Verdict

Unless you're a collector of portable gaming systems, there's no reason to purchase a DSi since the 3DS gives you access to the same games and features plus a bunch of others. If you have an original DS, skip the DSi and upgrade to the New 3DS XL.