Best DS 2019: Nintendo 3DS & 2DS models compared

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Nintendo has released a whopping six different consoles within the so-called “3DS family” since the release of the first 3DS in 2011, for reasons known only to it. That’s basically one a year.

Only three of these models are currently on sale, with the rest having been discontinued, but figuring out what to buy is still quite a confusing process for potential 3DS buyers – unaided by a slightly confusing naming system.

Still, the 3DS is one of the best gaming consoles you can buy right now, and the best 3DS games are some of the best you can buy on any console, so there are still plenty of good reasons to get one.

With that in mind, we’re going to break down each of the 3DS consoles currently on the market – along with a brief discussion of the discontinued models – to help you figure out which 3DS you should buy.

Which 3DS and 2DS consoles are there?

First, let’s break down the six different consoles that Nintendo has produced:

If that all seems a bit much, don’t worry – you don’t really have six to choose from. That’s because the original 3DS and 3DS XL have both been discontinued, replaced by their “new” variants, and are now only available through second-hand retailers.

Even the new 3DS is ironically old now. Nintendo is discontinuing the model as the console is out of stock in most UK stores and no longer listed in the official 3DS family specs comparison chart – production has even ended in Japan, although not in other regions yet.

We’ll be breaking down each of the three consoles currently available – the New 3DS XL, 2DS and New 2DS XL – individually, with advice on who each console is best for and info on where to buy them.

Since they’re hard to find, we’ll briefly cover the discontinued models at the end of the article and give a few tips on how to track them down second-hand.

But before that, here’s a quick chart that breaks down the key features of all six models:

3DS 3DSXL 2DS New 3DS New 3DS XL New 2DS XL
2D or 3D? 2D and 3D 2D and 3D 2D only 2D and 3D 2D and 3D 2D only
Plays 3DS games Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Plays DS games Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Largest screen size 3.53 inches 4.88 inches 3.53 inches 3.88 inches 4.88 inches 4.88 inches
NFC/Amiibo reader Available seperately Available seperately Available seperately Built-in Built-in Built-in
Clamshell design Yes Yes slate Yes Yes Yes
SD card included 2GB SD 4GB SD 2GB SD 4GB microSD 4GB microSD 4GB microSD
charger included Yes Available seperately Yes Available seperately Available seperately Yes
Availability Second hand only Second hand only New Second hand only New New

New Nintendo 3DS XL

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For now, this is the only 3DS you can buy new that’s actually a 3DS – meaning it includes the optional stereoscopic 3D effect on the top screen.

Like all 3DS main consoles, it uses a foldable clamshell design with a touchscreen on the bottom and a larger 3D screen on the top.

As the name suggests, the new 3DS XL has larger screens than previous non-XL 3DS models, with a 4.88-inch display on the top and 4.18-inches on the bottom. That alone would make this a worthwhile upgrade if you’re coming from one of the smaller consoles.

In terms of buttons, you get the standard four-faced Circle Pad, D Pad and Start, Select and Home buttons. As a “new” 3DS, it also includes an extra set of shoulder buttons for a total of four (R, L, ZR, ZL) and the C Stick, a small knob that currently serves as a second stick.

The other big change for the “new” model is that it offers more RAM and a faster processor than the older models, meaning you can expect slightly improved performance and load times on most titles.

There are also a handful of games that require a “new” model to play, including some big titles like Fire Emblem Warriors and Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, and others that just play better on the “new” models thanks to the extra buttons.

Finally, the “new” models offer slightly improved 3D and support for Amiibo, Nintendo’s interactive toy that also works on Wii U and Switch and allows players to unlock new features and play options in certain games.

All of this means there are plenty of reasons to upgrade if you have an original 3DS or 3DS XL – you get better performance, more buttons, more games to play and potentially bigger screens if you don’t already have an XL.

However, if you’re looking to buy your first console then the only reason to go for the new 3DS XL is if you’re willing to pay a premium for stereoscopic 3D – otherwise you’re better off going for one of the cheaper 2DSs to decide models.

If it’s your first 3DS, it’s worth noting that for some reason the new 3DS XL doesn’t come with a power adapter – so you’ll have to buy one separately. A charger is included with the other two models.

Find out more in our New 3DS XL Review and order the console from Amazon.

Nintendo 2DS

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The 2DS is a minor anomaly, but its main selling point is simply that it’s the most budget-friendly DS model out there.

Nintendo launched the 2DS in 2013 as a cheaper version of the 3DS and dropped the stereoscopic 3D effect to keep prices down and reassure parents concerned about exposing their children to 3D too young.

However, that is far from the only change. The 2DS ditched the DS line’s iconic clamshell design and instead opted to stack both screens in a single gradient block.

It’s more ergonomic and comfortable to hold than it looks, but there are still some downsides: it’s less portable because it can’t be folded, and you’ll probably want a carrying case to keep the screen scratch-free.

It’s also important to note that the 2DS is neither “New” nor “XL”. That means it has smaller screens (3.53in on top, 3.02in below) and doesn’t include a C Stick, extra shoulder buttons or the faster hardware, so there are some games it just can’t play.

One final small change is that regular SD cards are used instead of microSD, although like the other two consoles, a 4GB card is pre-installed.

The big result is that it’s really, really cheap. You can usually find one for £79.99/$79.99, often with a game included, and it comes in a wide range of colors and designs, making it even more ideal for children.

Essentially, this is the DS console to buy if you’re on a tight budget or if it’s a younger kid – it’s less likely to break, and if it does, it’s cheaper to replace it.

Order the Nintendo 2DS.

New Nintendo 2DS XL

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Nintendo’s latest DS console is something of a compromise between the other two – and for us, it’s the best of them all.

The new 2DS XL shares the same clamshell design as the new 3DS XL but refines it a bit with narrower bezels around the screens (making the entire console smaller and lighter) and some adjusted button, LED and cartridge slots.

Like the 2DS, it omits the stereoscopic 3D effect, but it still offers the XL screens, extra buttons, Amiibo support, and the faster processor and RAM of the new 3DS XL. This means that just like this console, it can play any DS and 3DS game – it just can’t show them in 3D.

Essentially, the New 2DS XL pairs the design and functionality of the New 3DS XL with the 2D screens of the 2DS – and the price drop to match, putting it between the other two models at £129.99 / $149.99.

For most people, this is the model we’d recommend, offering the best of both worlds – it’s almost as budget-friendly as the 2DS and almost as feature-rich as the new 3DS XL – especially if you’re not too keen on 3D.

Find out more in our New 2DS XL review and order the console from Amazon.

Obsolete Consoles

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Finally, let’s give a thought to the 3DS consoles left behind. Nintendo has officially discontinued two models and appears to be phasing out a third, but it’s still possible to buy them second-hand, so they’re worth discussing.

If you’re looking to buy one of these discontinued models you might want to check out our guide to buying vintage games and consoles, but we’re also including links to help you find them on eBay.

Nintendo 3DS

First off, the original 3DS, which launched back in 2011. This one features the same screen sizes as the 2DS (3.53in top, 3.02in bottom) but uses the clamshell design and has the 3D effect.

As an older model, it uses the slower processor and RAM, so it can’t play New 3DS exclusive games, nor does it have a C-Stick, ZL/ZR buttons, or amiibo support. However, as the oldest 3DS, it’s also generally cheapest to buy second-hand and we’re fans of its shiny metallic design.

Buy an original 3DS on eBay.

Nintendo 3DSXL

Released less than a year after the original, the 3DS XL is a slight redesign that includes larger screens – the same size as in the current XL models.

Aside from that and a slight aesthetic change, the design is pretty much identical to the base 3DS – although it does feature slightly longer battery life.

Buy an original 3DS XL on eBay.

New Nintendo 3DS

The new 3DS, released alongside the new 3DS XL, is slowly being phased out – it’s becoming harder and harder to find, and Nintendo has already stopped production of the console in Japan.

The new 3DS features the same tech and design as the new 3DS XL, it’s just packed into a smaller body and has smaller screens – although it’s worth noting that they’re slightly larger than those of the original 3DS.

If the New 3DS XL is a bit out of your budget but you know you want to play games in 3D, this is probably your best bet – it plays all the new 3DS exclusives and has an expanded button layout and amiibo support. You just have to make do with slightly smaller displays.

Buy a new Nintendo 3DS on eBay.

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