Is the Nintendo 3DS or the DSi Best for You?

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. Whereas the Nintendo DSi simply upgraded some of the Nintendo DS Lite's 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've tested both systems to 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.

  • Support has been discontinued by Nintendo.

  • Can be purchased used for dirt cheap.

The DSi and the original model of the 3DS are no longer in production, but other variations of the 3DS are still being made including the New 3DS and New 2DS XL. New games are also still 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 can display game environments in 3D, which gives the player a better sense of depth. The 3D effect helps immerse the player in the game's world, but it can also affect gameplay. In the game Steel Diver, for instance, the player sits behind a submarine periscope and fires torpedoes at enemy subs. By using 3D, you can easily tell which enemy subs are closer (and thus 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 can control the on-screen action by tilting the 3DS unit up and down or by turning it side-to-side thanks to a 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 being 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.

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

Thanks to its two external cameras, the Nintendo 3DS lets you take pictures in the third dimension. The Nintendo DSi can take pictures too, but not in 3D. The 3DS can also play mp3 and AAC music files from an SD card. The DSi can play 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 today since the 3DS gives you access to the same games and features plus a bunch of others. If you still have your old original DS, skip the DSi and upgrade to the New 3DS XL.