Nintendo Switch versus Nintendo 3DS: The Differences Defined

While Nintendo has repeatedly claimed that the Nintendo Switch will not replace the 3DS, it is hard not to see the competition between the two. If you do not have any of the devices yet, there is almost no chance that you would pick both up; it’s most likely one or the other.

Released in the first quarter of 2015, the Nintendo 3DS replaced the old 3DS and has been Nintendo’s main dedicated handheld game system for some time now. The two-screened handheld console lets you enjoy a host of OEM and third party games on the fly.

“Sort of” joining the 3DS in this category is the Nintendo Switch which is a new game system that features a hybrid design. The new design allows it work as a traditional console and double as an on-the-go handheld game system. The Nintendo Switch is a fully functional mobile gaming system until you dock it whence it connects via HDMI to display on a TV, becoming a full blown console.

Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime stated in an interview that:

In our view, the Nintendo 3DS and the Nintendo Switch are going to live side-by-side, they’re going to coexist just fine. We’ve done this before, managing two different systems.

However, this does very little to quell the obvious battle that is brewing between both devices. Also, a quick look at Nintendo’s history shows that the last time they tried this experiment, with the Game Boy advanced and the Nintendo DS in 2004, the Game Boy line quickly ended up dead.

At this juncture, it is clear that you have to fall solidly behind one device which will almost definitely annex the other. The question is which device is your best choice?

To make your decision easier, we compare both of Nintendo’s options for portable gaming, the 3DS, and the newer Switch, to evaluate which of them is the best choice for you. We are pitting both consoles against each other to see how the stack up in features, specifications, battery life, performance and game availability. Will the 3DS continue to reign supreme, or will the Switch rapidly annex the older device?

Also, if you already own or plan to own a Switch then check out our list of the best Nintendo Switch accessories you should buy.

Nintendo Switch versus Nintendo 3DS: Design and build

Nintendo Switch handheld version

Aside from new buttons and a C-stick, the Nintendo 3DS essentially retains the designs from the previous release with the same name. The handheld console is available in two versions both with dual displays; the small-sized 3DS which feature a 3.02’ bottom display and a 3.53’ 3D-capable display up top and the 3DS XL which sports a larger 4.18’ and 4.88’ screens. The top screens on both devices reach a resolution of 800×240.

On the other hand, the new Nintendo Switch carries a massive 6.2’ that features a crispier 720p resolution. Ditching the traditional button-on-console placement, the Switch comes with Nintendo’s proprietary Joy-Con controllers that attach to both sides of the console in a modular fashion and can also use them as standalone controllers. You can use both controllers with separate hands or connected them to the Joy-Con grip controller in a similar modular fashion to create a single, albeit oddly shaped, traditional controller.

While this does work as a traditional controller, it is still quite small, and if you are a hardcore gamer, you most likely need to shell out money for a pro controller. Unlike the controllers on the 3DS, the Joy-Con controllers come with dual joysticks and come with a built-in advanced HD rumble motor that greatly improves upon traditional in-game vibrations adding effects that simulate real to life feelings.

This feature opens the door to a whole new kind of gaming. Unlike the 3DS the Switch does not come with a stylus. However, it does greatly improve the screen responsiveness from the older console and adds multitouch.

Storage-wise, the Nintendo Switch does one over the 3DS as the console comes with 32GB of onboard storage as opposed to the older device which has none. However, compared to latest offerings in console such as the PS4 and the Xbox one, the storage on the Switch is considerably meager. This storage seems particularly tiny when you consider that top games available for the Switch, such as the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, are over 10GB in size. Fortunately, the Switch support memory cards of up to 2TB.

You could also go the traditional route and use cartridges. The Switch supports a cartridge system just like the 3DS. However, the Switch does not offer backward compatibility like the 3DS offers with even older devices.

Connectivity and multiplayer

Splatoon 2 for Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch features a part portable and part home console in a bid to bridge the gap between handheld and home gaming; in this sector, the newer console completely trumps the older handheld console. To use the Switch to TV mode, you have to dock the phablet-like device into the dock that comes with the device. You can easily attach and remove, even in-game (without pausing), the handheld from the dock using the same modular pattern used with the Joy-Con controllers.

The 3DS on the other hand, will not interact with your TV at all. With the Nintendo Switch, you also get a tabletop mode using the kickstand attached to the back of the device, and the handheld mode for mobile gaming.

Nintendo has always been strong on the multiplayer from and it continues this tradition with both consoles. Both the Nintendo 3DS and the Switch can connect up to 8 similar devices to allow for endless multiplayer fun. Thanks to the ingenuity of the Joy-Con controllers, you also get the ability to play dual player multiplayer games using only one Switch console.

As with the 3DS, you also get online multiplayer with the Switch. Unfortunately, with the Switch, Nintendo deviates from its long tradition of offering online gaming for free. The Nintendo online Switch service will come at a premium beginning in the fall of 2017. Online multiplayer will remain free on the 3DS and older consoles.

Switch and 3DS games

Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

When it comes to the number and availability of games, the older 3DS easily trumps the Switch as it has been around for much longer than the newer hybrid console. With the 3DS, you have a wide array of Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, and other third party games that are specially designed for the handheld available to you. Also, the 3DS is backward compatible with all the older games for the Nintendo DS.

The Switch is lacking in this department as it has only a few in-house titles to its name and is not compatible with any older games. Some of the game titles available for the Switch at the time of this writing include:

However, the Switch does promise a considerable better gaming experience to the 3DS as it will be running on full console quality. Also, the Switch features improved gameplay and advanced graphics all with high-end flagship titles that are specially designed to create an epic experience on the newer console.

Battery life

Nintendo 3DS XL with Mario

As with all things mobile, the battery is a make or break factor. While they have not attained perfection, Nintendo has done a great job of providing decent battery life on their consoles. You can get as much as three to six hours of battery life on the 3DS when playing native games, and even more playtime with older DS games.

Owing to more tasking performance and larger screen estate, the Switch offers a slightly subpar battery life with ratings of 2.5 to 5 hours of playtime. However, the Nintendo Switch sports a traditional USB type C port that allows for easy charging without the need for a proprietary connector. You and part the switch with a reliable power bank could get almost unlimited portable game time.

The price difference

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If you are still undecided on which device to pick up, the price might be a major deciding factor for you as there is a marked price difference between both devices. The Nintendo 3DS XL retails at (see current price) with no games included while you can pick up pricier bundles with a bunch of included games.

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On the other hand, the Nintendo Switch will cost you a great deal more with a base price of (see current price) for the barebones package. However, for the added price for the Switch, you get a lot more. With the Switch, you get a mobile console as well as one that doubles as a home gaming system when docked.

For the hefty price tag you get the Nintendo Switch console, left and right Joy-Con controllers, Joy-Con wrist straps, the Joy-Con Grip, the Nintendo Switch Dock, an HDMI cable, and an A/C adaptor.

On the available game titles, the 3DS games still retail for as much as $30 to $40 a piece. This pricing is not surprising as Nintendo game titles are known to hold their own and not lose value over time. However, Nintendo Switch titles require a higher cash splurge as they retail for as high as $60 each.

Accessories for the Nintendo Switch do not come in cheap as well. A pro controller will set you back a good amount of bucks, and an extra pair of Joy-Cons comes in at a hefty price as well.

Nintendo Switch versus Nintendo 3DS: Verdict

Nintendo 3DS XL versus Nintendo Switch

Choosing between the Nintendo Switch versus Nintendo 3DS can be a very tight call despite the obvious differences between them; it all boils down to what you want in a mobile gaming console and your take on the added functionality the Switch provides.

While the Switch will set you back considerably much more bucks than the 3DS, it does offer a few advantages. Firstly, you get a surprisingly similar battery life to the older portable console despite the added functionality, standard console-level gameplay, and higher resolution. Pair this battery performance with the standard USB type C connectivity, and you have got a console that is built to win at portability. Also, you get the Joy-Con controller which allows you to enjoy two-player games on the go without the need for an extra controller or Switch device.

However, on the other hand, the 3DS provides a larger database of games with support for a long list of native games as well as backward compatibility for older Nintendo games. Hence, it might take a long time for the switch to catch up on titles available.

If you want to enjoy as many games as possible, you are better off with the 3DS. However, if your interest is in getting improved graphics, silkier performance, and relatively more future-proof hardware, the Nintendo Switch is your best bet.

Pricing is a big factor here as well. Nintendo’s latest console will set you back much more than the 3DS and the Switch features more expensive game titles as well. However, the Nintendo Switch makes up for this with the added functionality of use as a traditional console with HDMI output to a TV. If you are excited at the prospect of continuing your portable play on your home media set, you should look at the Switch. Furthermore, the Switch also offers an arguably better portable experience albeit at a higher price.


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Anthony Ikani

Intrigued by all things tech, Tony is an avid follower of new tech, and a self-proclaimed technology enthusiast. You should follow him for a fresh dose of tech guides and reviews.
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