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New Nintendo 2DS XL hands-on: this is the 3DS that always should have been

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The New Nintendo 2DS XL came as a surprise to the tech world. In the lead-up to the release of the Switch, Nintendo said its new portable hardware and its old handhelds would coexist. But as the Switch became Nintendo’s fastest-selling console, many wondered if the 3DS and the 2DS would gradually make their way toward the sunset. That isn’t the case.

Let’s temporarily put aside questions of Nintendo cannibalizing the handheld market. The New 2DS XL may be the best handheld hardware Nintendo has made since the original DS in 2004.

Despite the 2DS branding, the New 2DS XL bears a much stronger resemblance to the New 3DS XL than it does to the original budget 2DS. In fact, from an internal hardware perspective, the New 2DS XL is essentially a New 3DS XL: it features the same faster and more powerful processor; the same large screens; NFC support for Amiibo; a full set of Nintendo’s L, R, ZL, and ZR shoulder buttons; and a C stick. Instead of the awkward wedge shape of the 2DS, the New 2DS XL features a clamshell design similar to every other member of the DS and 3DS line.

The biggest difference between the New 2DS XL and the New 3DS XL is in the name: the New 2DS ditches the stereoscopic 3D gimmick of the 3DS entirely, opting for standard two-dimensional displays. The trade-off is in the price — at $149.99, the New 2DS costs $50 less than the $199.99 New 3DS XL.

Industry-wide, 3D gaming has failed to catch on. So the 2DS will be, for many, an improved version of the product at a lower cost. This may mark the end of Nintendo’s interest in its experiment with glasses-free 3D. Two-thirds of the current 3DS line now consists of more traditional 2D screens — and recent releases like Pokémon Sun and Moon didn’t even support the 3D feature.

There are other benefits to ditching 3D. The screen half of the device is notably smaller and thinner, presumably by cutting out the 3D hardware. (The front-facing camera remains but it moved to the center of the hinge. Ditto the dual cameras — those have been moved to the bottom half of the portable near the shoulder buttons.) The plastic is a sturdy matte similar to the Switch, the top of the case has a great tactile striped texture, and the shiny bright blue accents make it easy to flip the screen open.

The New 2DS XL also improves on the New 3DS design in a couple of ways. In addition to the smaller design, the microSD card slot has been moved to alongside the cartridge, meaning you no longer have to remove the back to add more space. And unlike the New 3DS models, Nintendo says the New 2DS will come with a charger.

My one misgiving about the device is the hinge, which can be adjusted between three positions: one at a right angle, one completely flat, and one somewhere in between. But each of the positions has a little give to it that can cause the screen to wobble when moved around. I know, small problem.

With the Switch now available, the New 2DS XL reminds me of the Game Boy Micro. Nintendo’s swan song for the Game Boy Advanced line had incredible hardware, and was ultimately eclipsed by the DS. But even if Nintendo decides to stop giving attention to the 3DS line of products and slows its pace of new games, the 2DS XL will still be the best way to catch up on the incredible back catalog for the handheld device. There may come a time when Nintendo focuses its efforts on the Switch, but right now, the 2DS XL is a nice alternative for handheld fans at half the price of its sibling and with hundreds more games.

The 3DS had a difficult launch, taking years to find its audience. But Nintendo learned from the process. The New 2DS shows the company doesn’t need to double down on gimmicks — this is the best 3DS the company has made yet, and it doesn’t have 3D.

Update: Clarified the camera placement