The cameras have lost their focus...
Another feature initially touted as a huge deal but ultimately put to the wayside was taking 3D photos using the handheld's two outward-facing cameras. While the idea of allowing people to cheaply take three dimensional photos was an exciting one in theory, in practice the cameras' low resolution (0.3 megapixel) mean that most pictures are unremarkable unless dealing with close-up subjects. Shots from distance - concert photos, for example - may as well be in 2D.
Oddly, there's no option to upload pictures directly from your 3DS photo library to Facebook, something that was possible on the DSi. Instead, you have to open the web browser, load the mobile Facebook site, log in and upload your pictures that way. It's extra hassle and does take a lot longer - especially when you have a number of photos you want to upload at once. It's odd that Nintendo would essentially remove a feature that was available on the less advanced DSi, but at least there's some consolation in the fact it's still possible, provided you jump through some hoops.
It's easy to forget the cameras aren't only used for still photos. A system update in December 2011 also made it possible to record up to ten minutes of 3D footage, but while this was praised at the time it was a feature that became quickly ignored. The video quality is fairly decent considering the 3DS's relatively modest RAM and its low-quality cameras, and its stop-motion feature, which lets you snap individual frames and join them together as a movie, is a hidden gem that more people should make use of.
The function to save videos to the SD card is also a welcome one but, much like with photos, it would have been great to be able to upload them directly to Facebook or YouTube. As it is, you have to remove your SD Card from the 3DS and retrieve the AVI file from a computer.
The 3DS obviously isn't going to replace your camera phone or point-and-shoot camera, then. Youngsters who aren't bothered about megapixels will still have fun taking 3D photos of their family, friends and household pets, and the sturdiness of the system also means there's less risk when dropped. Plus, the ability to draw 3D graffiti on photos you've taken is a pleasing silly bonus.
... and so has Augmented Reality
Yet another feature trumpeted by Nintendo during the 3DS launch period, Augmented Reality was an interesting addition to the 3DS bow has ultimately faded away. The six free Augmented Reality cards provided with the 3DS allowed you to tinker with a number of short AR games and apps built into the system, including a nifty little mini-golf game that turns your table into a number of morphing golf holes and a shooting game in which you have to destroy targets and a dragon.
While these features show off Nintendo's typical flair for imaginative ideas, and while the AR apps should keep you interested for a while - especially the photo apps which allow you to make Mii characters and Nintendo stars appear in the real world and pose for photos - the six cards will eventually be put aside and barely touched again.
It seems AR functionality was something Nintendo was hoping would catch on in various games. It has released compatible games such as Nintendogs + Cats, which features AR cards that can bring your virtual pet to life. However, only a handful of 3DS games in the past two years actually boast AR functionality.
What's more, most of these games, including Kid Icarus: Uprising, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir and PokÚdex 3D Pro- don't even use the standard AR cards provided with the system (which were supposed to be versatile) and instead use their own bespoke AR cards. More things to look after and not lose.
It's a shame, because the obvious impracticalities notwithstanding (don't even try it on a train or bus), the 3DS handles AR surprisingly well despite its low-res cameras.
The 3DS is slightly more portable than the Vita
Today's handhelds are often said to be too big to feel truly portable - but then again anyone old enough to remember the brick-sized Game Boy, Lynx and Game Gear will know this has always been the case. It's just that, in the age of smartphones, expectations have shifted.
While the standard 3DS is just about small enough to fit in (non-skinny) jeans, the XL is essentially as bulky as the Vita - though its clamshell design means that a carrying case isn't as essential as with Sony's system and its protruding analogue sticks.
It also suffers from the same two-handed problem: if you're in busy public transport and forced to stand while holding onto a handrail, there's hardly anything you can do with the portable. Smartphones, of course, offer a multitude of one-handed games and apps.
One way in which it does trump the Vita in terms of portability however is the 'bitty' nature of many of its games. While the Vita's main selling point is that it offers a console-like experience in the palm of your hand, the result is that few of its games are designed for fifteen-minute play sessions on the bus.
Nintendo, fully aware its system is mainly going to be used for short bursts of play, instead provides games designed with commuters in mind, with third parties following suit. Even series that are traditionally lengthy experiences, such as Resident Evil, are split up accordingly, with The Mercenaries 3D dealing solely in short action-packed stages and Resident Evil: Revelations offering bite-sized episodes.
Battery woes aren't the end of the world
Nintendo has enjoyed a proud history of handhelds with enormous battery life. Considering the original Game Boy had no backlit screen, a cheap monochrome display and basic 8-bit processor it's not surprising it lasted up to 30 hours on four AA batteries.
Handheld technology has improved much quicker than battery technology, however, and as result these days the 3DS, with its backlight, two screens, 3D stereoscopic effect, touch screen, microphone, stereo speakers, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectors and gyroscope, naturally drinks energy much faster. A full charge can be depleted anywhere between two and 4.5 hours, depending on the settings.
The 3DS XL has a longer-lasting battery, increasing the capacity to anywhere between 3.5 and 6.5 hours. In any event, the standard system's battery isn't exactly the huge disaster as the numbers may suggest.
While it's obviously not enough for a long flight, a battery life of a few hours is more than enough for daily gaming if you place the 3DS in its charging cradle at night. If it's really a hassle there are third-party peripherals that extend the system's battery life (be sure to read up on them before buying, though, because some are actually quite hazardous).
For most people, the battery life should be fine as long as you get into the same habit of charging it as regularly as you would your phone.
The operating system is clean and functional
Given Nintendo's reputation for adding secrets and surprises in its games, the 3DS operating system is surprisingly sedate and straightforward, with a resizable grid of icons and a row of smaller system apps (brightness, notes, friend list, notifications, web browser) running along the top.
While there are the odd little Nintendo touches hidden away here and there (blowing on the microphone while highlighting an app will cause its icon to spin round on the top screen), for the most part it's very much function over frivolity.
The performance of the OS is acceptable, offering far speedier navigation than on the Wii U. Games load fairly quickly depending on their complexity (we reached the Luigi's Mansion 2 title screen in 13 seconds while loading the Virtual Console version of Super Mario Land only took five seconds), while returning back to the main home menu takes as little as two seconds.
Some of its other apps and functionality, while useful to some, are ultimately forgettable. The ability to jump into a notebook app mid-game and take notes at any time is undoubtedly useful, but there haven't been many games to date that truly need it and consequently we'd wager the vast majority of 3DS owners have forgotten the feature exists.
The web browser, meanwhile, can be accessed at any time during a game, suspending the action and resuming once the browser is closed. This is a helpful feature though the browser itself is very basic, offering no support for Flash, video or music and only very limited support for HTML5.
Smaller sites load fairly quickly on the browser (you need a Wi-Fi connection, there's no 3G version of the 3DS like there is with the Vita), but larger sites either slow the browser down or flat out refuse to load fully. The CVG site, for example, doesn't load properly, meaning you have to load the mobile site instead.
It may seem odd that folders would be such a big deal in an operating system, but it took fourteen months to finally add folder support to the 3DS, a move that drew in priase from numerous dedicated Nintendo fans who wanted to compartmentalise their goods.
Folder creation is straightforward enough - you simply tap a blank space on the menu and choose the Create Folder option - though it's disappointing that the icon displays only the initial letter of the folder's name. It sounds like a minor niggle, until you have five folders each called 'G'.