Nintendo 3DS vs Smartphone Gaming: Which Wins?


Nintendo has released the 3DS, the next generation of its mobile gaming console and successor to the immensely popular DS, at an interesting time for mobile gaming. Smartphones and tablets are getting into the hands of new consumers faster than ever. Each one of those devices is seeing more downloads of apps than ever, and a huge proportion of those apps are games, like Angry Birds, Doodle Jump or Tiny Wings. Games like those garner tens of millions of downloads, sometimes for relatively low development costs, and Nintendo knows as a result it’s going to have a huge problem attracting developers and consumers to its mobile platform in the very near future.

Nintendo has responded by adding 3-D capability, better graphics and a 3-D camera to the proven dual-screen format of the Nintendo DS. It hopes to become a platform for high-quality games and an entirely unique experience with the help of 3-D, but does the 3DS have the potential to help it maintain its position as the leader in mobile gaming? ?Let’s find out.

The first thing anyone familiar with previous-generation Nintendo DS devices will notice in the 3DS is its very similar feel to its predecessors. Aside from a few aesthetic tweaks, the 3DS feels almost exactly the same in hand; it’s solidly built and feels just right. While the bottom touch screen is nearly exactly the same as the DS and still very responsive with the stylus, Nintendo made the top screen a bit wider and, more importantly, added 3-D capabilities to the screen.

Nintendo uses parallax barrier technology, which effectively sends two different images to each of your eyes resulting in the perception of 3-D, and it also means this is a glasses-free, 3-D device. Given the performance of 3-D TVs that require glasses, Nintendo seems to have made the right decision with the parallax barrier, but many people question whether 3-D technologies, in particular, parallax barrier 3-D, actually work and whether it results in a headache for the user.

After using the 3DS for a while, the answer to the first question is definitive: The technology works and is actually some of the best 3-D I’ve ever experienced. It’s very cool to just walk up to a device and see the screen in 3-D. The main problem people will face is moving around with the device while using 3-D; the parallax barrier technology means it only works in a specific range or a “sweet spot”. Most of the time, it was fine for me when I was using it normally, but there was some shadowing if you moved even a little sometimes, and your eyes would take some time to refocus. This could get particularly annoying if you’re on a train or bus but if you’re just sitting on the couch, it should be fine.

The answer to the second question is a little more complicated; after I used the device for about 30 minutes with the 3-D on, I began to feel a headache coming on. It was enough for me to turn off the 3-D, which you can do easily with a slider on the side of the screen, and I continued to enjoy the game with 3-D off. Some people I gave the device to said they could easily use the device with 3-D on for an hour, while others couldn’t even use it for five minutes without feeling nauseated. It seems like it’s definitely possible to feel uncomfortable using 3-D on the device, but how long that would take is subjective. People I talked to who said they felt sick during movies like Avatar were generally the people who began to feel nauseated after only a few minutes of using a 3DS. The only thing I can say for sure is that the 3-D works and works well.

The game I was most impressed by is one that comes pre-installed on the device. The Nintendo 3DS ships with a very cool augmented reality game involving a simple card and the cameras on the 3DS. The concept is simple: You lay the card down on a surface and point the device at the card. The game recognizes where the card is and brings the real world into the game; on the screen you can see shrubbery and targets virtually placed onto the surface where you placed the card. You shoot the targets to advance in the game, and it keeps getting cooler. Sometimes?the game “creates” a hole in the table and other times it “flips” it over. This initial game is very simple and can only keep you occupied for a few minutes, but the concept is there, and Nintendo promises many more games that utilize augmented reality more heavily. Another interesting, but short, feature was the 3-D camera. The picture-taking was easy and fun, but the photos are obviously only 3-D on certain displays. I was only able to try them out on the 3DS screen itself. It was definitely a novel idea that was fun for a few minutes, but it got old quickly and older as soon as I realized that I was only going to be able to look at the photos on the 3DS.

The other games I played, like Super Street Fighter IV and Pilotwings Resort, all seemed to utilize the 3-D and it was very cool to have it on, but I eventually got a headache and had to turn it off in all the games. The games were all still very good without the 3D, but at that point, the console isn’t much different from the previous version of the DS. And this is where the real problem with the device comes in.

The 3DS does enter a market that may be on it’s way out. When you walk into a retail store, you see the 3DS, but not too far away is the iPad 2 or a smartphone. Even though the iPad 2 is double the price, it has many games with very competitive graphics and user experience to the 3DS and an interesting gaming attraction that the 3DS doesn’t have: a large capacitve touchscreen. Aside from the gaming, the iPad 2 can also double as a very capable computer for some consumers, which could easily justify the extra cost when choosing between the 3DS and the iPad 2. After using both, I would say the comparison between the two is justified, and it’s a decision that many people will make. Particularly, people who consider themselves casual gamers will face this problem a lot more.

There are clearly both good games and bad games on either platform. I did notice the games on the 3DS in general had a lot more polish; they all seemed finished, full-featured and rarely crashed during my play. But, iPad 2 games were very hit or miss depending on who made the game and how popular it was. You’ll likely to be very happy buying a game in the top 10 paid games chart in Apple’s App Store, but randomly buying a game with few reviews can be disappointing. This is slightly offset by the price; games are much cheaper on the iPad 2: an average of $2 per game vs $40 dollars for the Nintendo 3DS, but that doesn’t excuse low-quality games. The quality of games on the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace is something that’s changing rapidly with games like Angry Birds and Real Racing 2 HD, but many of the games are still short bursts of entertainment as opposed to long-form games with an immersive, expansive story arch. The long-form game has yet to come to smartphones or tablets in large numbers, and the absence of those types of games is the biggest falling for the iPad 2 as a gaming platform. There are a few games that are paving the road, like Sword & Sworcery EP, but the platform still needs its Mario series.

Nintendo promises the 3DS will have things like an app store, a browser and Netflix soon, but none of that is here right now. It’s very hard to compete with the iPad 2 and even harder to compete with smartphones or the iPod touch, devices that match on price and serve many more functions, without these features. Whether the Nintendo 3DS is worth it or not really boils down to whether or not you feel $250 is worth the intermittent 3-D play that may give you a headache and the new games the device will offer. If you enjoy getting into games that have long, complicated stories and will be 3DS exclusive, then you’ll probably like the 3DS a lot more. However, if you were considering getting the device as a casual gamer to play on the subway from work, you may be better off investing in a smartphone, like an iPhone or Android device, or a tablet, like the iPad 2 or Motorola Xoom, that? offers tons of short, cheap and fun games and a lot of other functions.

Ali Shah is currently a Computer Science major at New York University. He makes mobile apps under and you can follow him on Twitter at @blackrabbit.



as a 3ds owner i can tell you that when i first turned the system on and saw the 3d my eyes bugged and i thought i’d get a headache… there is a VERY simple remedy for this:
turn the brightness down… like down to setting one or two (out of five) and put power saver mode on.
there results were staggering for me: absolutely no eye-strain, even during 1hr+ long play sessions and the colors were much more accurate; viewing the 3d effect became much easier and more natural looking.
the device comes (just like most all hd tv screens) with the brightness cranked. i think manufactures do this so that when you first see the screen (especially on, say, a brightly light showroom floor) everything seems to pop a bit more… but this is almost never a setting you’d use in pretty much any other environment.


It’s amusing that people are still writing these kind of articles to get more views. Smart phones vs dedicated consoles? It’s a laughable matter.

These two have very different audiences. Just about everyone needs a phone, and smart phones are the hot thing. People get games and apps because they happen to have the phones. They won’t rush out to buy an iPad2 or an iPhone 5 just to play Angry Birds on them, will they? That leads to my next point, another game depression.

Games and game consoles have been doing better than other years even with the higher prices. There’s also a lot of jobs in the industry and a lot of money being generated by the industry. We have events like E3, add campaigns, game events, etc. Now look at the phone games. Because it’s mostly indi games, they don’t really advertise games on TV nor do we see major events for those games. Then there’s the cheap apps and the free ones. Most of downloaded games are the free ones supported by adds. They are essentially game demos with adds on them. Then there’s the rip-offs and the apps like the one where you pee using the gyrosensor, which is tagged as a game. The more apps like those they have, the harder it will be for developers to publish their games there.

Also, you can’t have a big budget game like MGS4 on smart phones, because that would increase the price on the game. Phone games that are successful are the ones that are free or cost $1-$3. And don’t expect “fans” to get the sequel. They are different from the core audience.

By core, I don’t mean neither hardcore nor casual audience; I mean the real wheels of gaming. Before all this casual thing, the core audience was the one supporting gaming all these years and buying the games. After the casual thing is over, the core audience will still be there for gaming. Don’t expect them to go play SSF4 on the iphone over the 3DS version or the console version where they can use an analog stick. They are the ones lining up on launch day to get their gaming systems to play games for it. They are also the ones passing on the digital version to get that limited edition, retail version. And then there’s the core games.

Handhelds, those from gaming companies and smart phones, have two critical drawbacks. One is the battery life. While raw power can be enhanced even further, batteries for handhelds have not progressed that well, unless it costs you a whole eye. The second one is overheating. You can add as much power as you want on a handheld, but it will eventually reach a limit. That limit is battery life (again) and overheating issues. More power generates more heat, and handhelds do not have a cooling system. You still need your phone to make calls, but it doesn’t really matter if you dedicated gaming system dies on you. Also, those consoles are designed for gaming, while phones will die quickly while playing an intense game.

And who are we fooling? People will still buy Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc and will get the systems that those games are on. And I mean well made games. Do you see RE games doing better on phones? No, because what sells is Angry Birds. How about adventure and creative games? No, because what sells is Angry Birds. See my point? Even Pokemon Black and White have sold better than previous Pokemon games and those have been pirated like hell. And why would people need GB/GBA/PS1/ emulators on their phones if phone games are that good?

People have been predicting Nintendo’s downfall for the last 20 years; not they think that all consoles are dying. Get over it. Onlive is an online system. It does not compare to what a machine can do like the wii or maybe kinnect, which have been big. Plus the Internet infrastructure as a whole right now sucks hard.


To be honest I feel that mobile games have only a very small impact on handheld game systems sales. I do not think the target audience is the same with the two, and in general dedicated gaming systems usually have better games than phones, from what I’ve seen the 3ds does have better graphics than current phones, and handhelds will almost always have better controls than phones or tablets as well.

I think in terms of game developers, indie developers may have a better place in the tablet or mobile markey since its easier to make and distribute apps, while big companies will still want to develop for gaming platforms.

However, the commenter (not article writer) who said he thinks consoles (as opposed to handheld which the article talks about) and 50$ games are dying and people are going to be using smartphones/tablets and googleTV in the future is a laughable proposition. This will never happen at all. Not even close. In 2020, we will EASILY still have new consoles made by probably the same companies that we see now making consoles and they will still be doing as well as they are doing today, if not better. And how can you even think OnLive type services will become popular? I’ve never even heard of a single person that uses or wants to use the OnLive service.


you make the same argument core gamers make. reminds me alot of the article on IGN about Rovio’s statements & the outrage of the commenters.

I won’t go into the detail of how misguided your points are, only that you’re letting personal preference overshadow factual trends. the problem with you & others is that your living in the past while the rest of the world passes you by.


It’s the companies that want and will push on-live, the first advantage is the destruction of the used market. That cost them a lot of sales (true or not) and it will really hurt folks like Game Stop.
Then there is control of the distribution channel meaning more profits for the manufactures.

I agree that the console isn’t going anywhere soon but to ignore the impact of apple and android devices to the ds is a big mistake (again IMHO)

I know what I see at my sons sporting events and the gameboy devices are disappearing.


I have a 13 year old and while at Target the other day we looked at the 3ds, I can agree that this is a headache machine when using the 3d mode. My theory is that I’m having to do a lot more focusing to get the 3d experience and my eyes don’t want to do that.

I asked my son if we should put this on his birthday list and he said he’s good with his iphone (my old original iphone with no SIM card). He might be getting outside the age range for the DS and I asked if anyone in his 7th grade classes are talking about it and the answer is no. I think that his age group is more addicted to the iphone/ipod touch as a gaming device.

That said, we have every generation gameboy from the old green screen devices to the non-big screen DS. All have been fun but unless Nintendo does something drastic I doubt people are going to spend $50 on games anymore.

Jack C

Developer talent seem like the last ace in the hole that handheld console manufacturers have, but with the amazing growth we’ve seen in smartphone and tablets, developers can’t afford to ignore those platforms anymore. We’re already seeing movement in that direction, for example, with Square Enix opening Hippos Lab last month.

Handheld manufacturers need to think long and hard about the future of the industry. How willing will users be to carry around a multitude of, in reality, very similar devices? Will devices that are limited primarily to gaming be mainstream or fringe? How will carrier subsidies for smartphone and tablet hardware challenge handheld subsidies? What leverage will handheld manufacturers have on developers to force exclusives 5 years from now? How can the lessons that companies like Sega Corp have learned over the years provide insight into today’s challenges?

On a personal note, I’ve never been able to bring myself to buy every console, which has led to experiencing periodic pangs of regret at missed titles. One, in particular, was missing the sequels to Final Fantasy Tactics. Sure, there have been several options aside from picking up a GBA to play them, but interestingly, my move to an Android device was what ended up opening that door.


Ali, you have a promising career as a tech journalist ahead of you, so I mean this in a constructive way–you need to tighten up your writing.


handhelds & consoles have 1 more lifecycle each left in them, but the era of $300 – $500 console & $50 game is dying. sure the major franchises are thriving but the rest are failing & studio’s are shutting down like crazy. just going digital-focused in the next console round wont be enough, the entire business model is wrong in this new world.

by 2020 none of them will exist, people are crazy if they think we will still be using sticks & buttons on our Wii3, PS5, & Xbox 1440.

by then it will be smartphones/tablets for mobile & AppleTV/GoogleTV for the livingroom. I would also keep my eye out for services like OnLive as well, but I imagine the micro-console is only a transitional device with the ultimate goal being an “app” on aTV/gTV or the TV itself.

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