The Nintendo 3DS is easily the most anticipated handheld gaming system since the original Nintendo DS was released in 2004. Though the Nintendo DS has gone through four separate iterations (the original "Phat" DS, DS Lite, DSi, and DSi XL), the 3DS will be a clean break from the previous DS series, introducing new hardware and software mechanics that will separate it completely from previous hardware iterations, according to Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aime. So what exactly is the 3DS?
At first glance, it's hard not to look at the 3DS as just another DS system, as the two have several visual similarities. The 3DS features the same clamshell design as previous DS models, and uses the same dual-screen technology pioneered by its predecessor. However, when the DS is closed, you will notice that it is a little bit heftier than the DSi/DS Lite models, and you will also notice that instead of one camera lens on the outside, there are two cameras that work together to allow users to take low-res 3D pictures. Though these changes to the exterior certainly are cool, the real good stuff is on the inside.
Once you open the 3DS, you'll notice it again features two screens. However, instead of the screens being identical in size, the top screen is actually proportioned in a 5:3 widescreen format and is 3.53 inches across, which makes it just a hair bigger than the bottom screen, which features the more traditional 4:3 aspect ratio and measures 3.02 inches across.
The top screen's new widescreen format is there to help facilitate cinematic 3D effects for both games and, eventually, movies. The top screen has a resolution of 800×240 pixels (400×240 pixels per eye) that uses pixel overlay to produce a 3D effect that is known as autostereoscopic 3D. This 3D effect can be seen without glasses and looks absolutely amazing. On the several occasions where I have been able to demo the Nintendo 3DS, the best way I can describe the feeling of watching 3D content on the 3DS is as a "magical" experience.
Of course, there are a few caveats to the technology. You have to have your head positioned directly in front of the screen and within a certain distance to experience the effect. However, it's not exactly hard to get into the right position, and every time I held the 3DS - it didn't matter whether I was sitting or standing - I was able to experience the 3D effect with no trouble. This may change once 3DS systems hit peoples' homes, but for now, the technology seems to work well in most positions.
If you don't like the 3D effect, there is also a slider on the left side of the unit that allows you to scale down or completely remove the 3D effect altogether. Although I personally preferred the 3D visuals, after lengthy playtimes, I can see how looking at the 3D images could be tiring, so the inclusion of this slider is certainly a good thing.
Aside from screen size, another big improvement to the handheld's basic design is the inclusion of an analog nub. Dubbed the "Slide Pad" by Nintendo, this nub is small in stature (it's only a bit bigger than the PSP's nub), but it is easy to move, and in our hands-on time with the 3DS, extremely responsive. The slide pad does not replace the DS' regular D-pad however, and you'll notice that the d-pad is placed smartly below the slide pad.
As for what the 3DS is packing under the hood, it sports a custom PICA 200 processor which has been rumored to be twice as fast as the DSi's internal processor. This will result in much higher visual quality and fewer loading screens. The 3DS also features an accelerometer and a gyroscope which will allow for motion-controlled gaming similar to that featured on the iOS platform.