It's poor for playing music, but good for playing with it
While Sony has always proudly claimed that its PSP and Vita are as good at playing music and movies as they are at playing games, the 3DS can't quite boast the same - at least, certainly not for the latter.
Its Nintendo 3DS Sound app is great for messing around with your music - simply use a PC to drop some MP3 files onto an SD card and load them up in Nintendo 3DS Sound to not only hear them playing but also change the speed and pitch, play them backwards or add drum sound effects over the top of them. You can also choose from a selection of visualisers on the top screen, some of which can actually be controlled using the shoulder buttons and Circle Pad.
One is a Starwing-type effort in which you fly a plane around and fire its guns, while another is a fully working Game & Watch football game where you have to keep the ball up for as long as possible. It's a great way to not just listen to your music, but play with it too.
There are also four filter effects - a radio one makes your music sound horribly compressed, an echo does what it says on the tin, a karaoke effect tries to remove the vocals to leave you with the instrumental (with varying success depending on your choice of song) and an 8-bit effect turns the song into an NES tune (again, the effectiveness depends on the song - try basic instrumental stuff). It's fun, and going through your MP3 collection to experiment with the different effects should while away some time.
If you'd rather just have your music playing in the background while you do something else, the 3DS becomes less useful. It's too bulky to be a useful MP3 player, its folder system is too basic and there's no option to listen to music in 3DS Sound while also playing a 3DS game. As a result, unless you want to actually mess around with the music, we'd recommend sticking with a dedicated MP3 player or smartphone.
Video features have been deeply disappointing
When the 3DS was first announced at E3 2010, Nintendo's president Satoru Iwata stated the system would be capable of displaying 3D Hollywood movies. He revealed partnerships with Disney, Warner Bros and Dreamworks, saying that while he couldn't yet confirm exactly what sort of content would be available, there would be more information to follow.
Nearly three years after that announcement, we're still waiting. Instead, all 3DS owners have is the Nintendo Video app (which constantly rotates four free short video clips each week, some of which are repeats) and a selection of 89p animated shorts. The much-publicised deal with Sky ended up being a bunch of short adverts on the Nintendo Video app showing off Sky 3D, and the Eurosport app that was originally made available on the eShop turned out to be a lot of bad-quality sports clips with horrible post-processed 3D and was quietly scrapped at the end of 2012.
This lack of video content would be fine if it was possible to add your own full-length movies to an SD card and watch them in some sort of viewer, but sadly there's no way to do this. The only compromise is to take basic AVI files (no fancy codecs like DivX or anything), rename them to fit in with the 3DS photo gallery's odd naming structure and play them through the photo gallery as if they were videos you recorded yourself - though, again, these videos can only be a maximum of ten minutes in length.
As for streaming content, the eShop does at least have a selection of game trailers for games that are upcoming and already out, and Nintendo Direct broadcasts are made available to re-watch on 3DS after they've been shown online.
American 3DS owners are slightly compensated for the lack of full downloadable movies with a Netflix app, allowing them to stream films and TV shows anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection, but to date this app isn't yet available in Europe - and neither are any similar apps already available on the Wii such as LoveFilm or the BBC iPlayer.
Even the official Pokémon TV app, which was recently added to the iOS App Store and provides a selection of Pokémon cartoons and movies for streaming, isn't available on the 3DS despite the obvious sense in doing so.
StreetPass is clever but games should use it better...
While the 3DS sits in sleep mode it's still constantly trying to connect with other systems (assuming the wireless switch is on). If it does find another 3DS with wireless that's also activated, it'll trade StreetPass data across - including Miis, some basic information and any game-related StreetPass info that's been marked for sharing. This info could be anything from lap times to special items for use in the game.
The system's built-in StreetPass Plaza is the main reason for StreetPass and is a compelling little addition. Every time you pass someone their Mii appears at the gate of your StreetPass Plaza, gives you a personal greeting and enters, joining the ranks of previous Miis you've encountered. A built-in map also lets you check off the various nationalities of fellow 3DS owners you've passed.
After meeting other players in the StreetPass Plaza, you can then use their Miis in the system's two built-in StreetPass games, StreetPass Quest and Puzzle Swap. The former is an RPG that encourages you to StreetPass with people multiple times to build up the strength of their Mii characters, whereas the latter instead encourages you to StreetPass with as many people as possible in order to find and collect pieces of 3D jigsaw puzzles.
Both games are entertaining and while StreetPass Quest can become repetitive after you've completed it once, it does keep you coming back with the promise of letting you unlock more hats for your Mii. There are 73 different types of hat that can be unlocked in StreetPass Quest, each of which can be put on your Mii so others will see it when they StreetPass you.
Unfortunately, while StreetPass Plaza is a fun little diversion, this rarely extends to 3DS software. For the most part, StreetPass features in games are either a waste of time (Super Mario 3D Land gives players access to a bonus room), or unoriginal (lap times in Ridge Racer 3D).
On rare occasions, StreetPass functionality can be useful (Resident Evil Revelations unlocks new stages in Raid Mode), but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Our favourite example of how the system can be helpful when done properly is the upcoming Fire Emblem: Awakening. This lets you make your own team of ten characters and send them to people you pass. They can then either buy items from your personal shop, battle an AI-controlled version of your team or, interestingly, recruit your custom character to their own single-player team, where they remain until they die.
As Fire Emblem is a series famous for its 'permadeath', this is a clever way to replace lost characters. We'd be delighted if more games used StreetPass in an original way like this, but as it is for most of the time you'll be using it for StreetPass Plaza and not much else.
...while SpotPass isn't being used enough
SpotPass is a service through which Nintendo delivers content to the 3DS through your Wi-Fi connection while it's in sleep mode.
Videos are added to the Nintendo Video app, downloadable content is added to games (or, more often than not, hidden content already on the cartridge is activated) and messages about upcoming games and services are posted to the notifications section of the 3DS menu.
It's a great idea in theory as not only does it make things convenient for the gamer since everything's updated while the system isn't in use, it also allows Nintendo to stay in touch with its userbase and send them promotions and messages about games they may be interested in.
Unfortunately, the service isn't being used quite as regularly as we'd hoped. It started off promisingly enough, with Capcom sending players codes for special trophies in Super Street Fighter IV, Team Ninja sending regular free Dead Or Alive Dimensions costumes and, oddly, Nintendo Of America sending famous presidents and their dogs to US copies of Nintendogs + Cats.
These days SpotPass isn't being used as often, though some games still make use of it. Fallblox sends players the occasional new level, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is in the process of sending daily puzzles for the first full year of the game's release, and the upcoming Fire Emblem Awakening sends new characters and maps.