At home and playing with a brand new system.
I picked up the Nintendo 3DS on launch day in Japan, and I was happy with my selection of Cosmos Black. The front lid has a nice black to dark gray gradation on it and the back cover is closer to dark gray. It's not a bad selection of color, in my opinion. Once I booted it up, before trying out any of the installed game software or Street Fighter, I first decided to tinker with the settings.
The first thing the system does is show you a 2D screen asking for initial settings such as time and date. During this sequence the system also introduces you to the 3D element - it tells you to put the 3D volume up all the way and then the 3DS logo springs back from 2D into 3D along with a box helping to stress depth behind it. My main goal in exploring all the settings menus was to find out whether I was already able to transfer my DSi software to my 3DS. Unfortunately, that's not something Nintendo has ready yet - selecting the 'Data Transfer' option from the settings screen displays a message indicating that this functionality will be available in a future software update. Along with this, the web browser, which is accessed from an icon in the upper right of the home screen, and certain other features have their spot on the system GUI reserved, but are not yet functioning until said update.
The home screen is originally one row of icons, just like the on DSi, that acts very similarly to the Wii's Home screen. One feature is that the Home screen has two icons in the upper left corner that allow you to change the number of rows shown on screen on the fly - one button to increase the number of rows and one to decrease. You can increase the number of rows of icons from 1 up to 6 - thus increasing the number of icons shown on screen at a time. Next to those two icons is the brightness icon. You can choose from 6 brightness settings and either enable or disable Low Power Mode.
An interesting Home Menu Easter egg is that it responds to the accelerometer - certain forces applied to the system affect the rotation of the icon of the currently selected item showing on the upper screen, speeding it up temporarily. Continuing on from the previous explanation, to the right of the icon row buttons are the game memo, friends list, notifications and Internet browser buttons. Interestingly (or perhaps, obviously), the game memo function can only be used while playing a game. If a game isn't in progress the message, "There are currently no paused games available" is displayed.
From the friends list you can change your Friend Card, which shows your Mii, name, friend code and other information such as what game you are currently enjoying, what your status is and what you're playing currently. The notifications screen acts as a more streamlined version of the Wii's notifications menu. It displays a table view of messages the system has for you. New messages have a dot on them. This screen was also the way Nintendo chose to reveal certain aspects of the GUI to the user - for instance it was on this screen that I found out about the icon row buttons and that I could swipe with the touch pen to pan the icon view, like on the DSi.
From a hardware standpoint, input has its pluses and minuses. I really like the touch screen compared to earlier iterations of the DS - I can apply much less force to the screen to get the input I desire. Being an iOS junkie, I am now accustomed to being able to barely brush the touch screens of my devices (since they're capacitive, not resistive) in order to achieve the input I desire. It would sometimes bother me going back to the resistive touch screens of my DSi and DS Lite and having to remember to push down harder. While the 3DS uses the same resistive tech, it seems more responsive, and I like that. Unfortunately I'm not quite used to the positioning of the Start, Select and Home buttons underneath the touch screen - often I'll go to hit one of the buttons but because of their positioning, just a tad removed from below the touch screen, I often end up pushing the frame of the screen and not the button I'm aiming for. This gets annoying when I'm trying to start up Super Street Fighter IV on the title screen.
The face buttons and the L/R buttons all feel good and respond well, which is pleasing. Unfortunately I have a DSi that has had the R button go out on me twice - once after I had Nintendo fix it - and because the 3DS uses the same design I am slightly afraid that this may happen again with the 3DS. I sure hope not. The biggest gripe I have, however, is in regards to the placement of the D-Pad and the Circle Pad. The first title that I picked up for this system is a fighting game - and fighting games require that you have complete control over your character's input or else you aren't able to pull off the moves you need to excel (especially when you play on the highest difficulty setting, as I do). Part of this may be that I've been a D-Padder since the days of SFII on SNES, but using the Circle Pad for precise input proved fairly difficult for me. I couldn't successfully pull off Shoryukens for the life of me, which was odd because I've always been a hardcore SF'er. When I booted into training mode of SFIV I found out that all my input was rotated by a certain number of degrees: i.e. - I would try to input F, D, DF and I was actually inputting DF, DB, D. I found out that I have to actually position my hand in a very exact position if I want to be able to input everything correctly.
Luckily the 3DS has a D-Pad, so I could default to the more digital and precise input of that. While I am now adjusted to using the D-Pad, I have found that because of its location so low on the device, less of my hand can comfortably secure the back of it and I have a bit of trouble comfortably applying the force I need to push the D-Pad in the direction I desire successfully. This is now the way I play SF, but it just feels a bit uncomfortable compared to other control layouts.
The 3D screen looks good, and I haven't once felt sick from playing it. I played for somewhere around four or five hours on Sunday and not once felt disoriented. That being the case, it's obvious that less light is emitted for each pixel when running in 3D mode because everything is a bit darker. My other problem was regarding the "sweet spot" - while I rarely felt disoriented from losing the 3D effect (I don't think I really lost it much to begin with) - if you rotate the device a bit to the left or right, the corresponding side of the screen starts to appear darker. I'm sure this has something to do with the physical way the pixels are arched in order to display to the proper eye - but it was similar to turning the screen to the point that you don't see it anymore. At times I had to be careful to make sure not to turn the device much even though I was in the heat of the battle doing my best to pull off complex combo motions on the D-Pad. Because of the positioning of the D-Pad, it's hard to grip the system on the left side in order to keep it stable while you're using the D-Pad and this was a related consequence of that positioning. When using the Circle Pad I had a much better grip on the system and this didn't happen as often.
The 3D slider does its job just fine. In addition to being able to adjust the 3D volume with it, to its left are the letters 3D, and when the 3D is displaying these letters light up green to indicate to the user that the top screen is currently using 3D. The first time I got my hands on the 3DS was during Nintendo World in January. At that point in time I had the 3D turned up all the way and sometimes felt a bit disoriented due to the distance between elements. At the time I remember also thinking that it felt weird to read 2D characters overlaid on top of the 3D content. After playing with the 3D volume this weekend I found that by turning the 3D to about three quarters of the way up I no longer felt the discontent I had related to these phenomena. I realized that when having the 3D turned all the way up I was distracted by elements that my eyes weren't focusing on and had to deliberately look at them to keep them in focus, whereas dropping the volume just a tad completely eradicated any such feeling.
The telescoping stylus feels good to hold. It feels solid and the extra length makes it easier to maneuver. The only complaint I have in regards to it is that of what other reviewers have been saying - having to store it on the left in the top-back makes for pulling it out a hassle. I tend to open the system and then pull out the stylus, and on other iterations of the DS that was relatively natural to do because of its location. However this time around I have to completely change the way I hold the system briefly to do this. While it's not something that's going to wear on me to the point that I feel worse about the system itself, it's still something I do notice.
These are my thoughts on the system itself. In the coming days I will also provide some thoughts on the pre-installed software and Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition.