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The Nintendo 3DS is the newcomer to the DS family which has now become a very large family and it can be hard to choose which one is right for you but I'll give you a quick break down on what each one can do for you.
Before we begin lets list the basics of which all DS models have. You get a dual screen setup with the bottom screen being a touch screen, a built in microphone and each system comes with a stylus. Now each model does has a unique difference which we will get into as we compare each model.
We'll start off with the DS Lite which I feel is the DS model that really launched the platform. It was an upgrade and a step up from the original DS which was much more bulky and didn't have the sleek design that the new DS Lite came with and a much brighter screen which was needed. One unique feature of the DS Lite is that it was the last of the DS to come with a GBA slot which was key for those that were upgrading from their Game Boy Advance or Game Boy Advance SP. This was the model that made the DS the game changer that it promised to be.
After the success of the DS Lite Nintendo decide to step up the game a little bit more but lose a little something with the introduction of the DSi. I had a DSi but I traded it in a year later for a DSi XL which both had pretty much the same hardware features with the larger screens as the biggest difference so we will use the DSi XL as the example for the DSi lineup. The DSi lineup came with a bit brighter of a screen, new dual camera setup with one internal and one external. Unfortunately no GBA slot which was a disappointment to many out there and signaled the end of GBA support and GBA games in general. For me that was a bit sad because two GBA games that I was still playing were Super Mario Advanced 4 which was Super Mario Brothers 3 (Greatest Mario game ever in my opinion), and also The Legend of Zelda: Minnish Cap was another great game with good replay value. For this reason I kept my Game Boy Advance SP and DS Lite around.
And now we are here with the new Nintendo 3DS and while its definitely a member of the DS family I wouldn't call it the new more powerful younger brother but more of a cousin in a new line of the family. The 3DS introduces powerful graphics that rival GameCube and Wii graphics. It also introduces real 3D gaming without the need of glasses with other new items such as an analog stick, a 3rd external camera to take 3D pictures and take advantage of augmented reality technology (AR), a new "Home" button in the middle of start and select and a 3D slider to adjust the depth of the 3D from all the way up to completely off and back to 2D and a accelerometer and gyroscope to round of the new stuff. With these new additions and the innovations from the DSi the 3DS is the most powerful and advanced DS system out there among the rest of the DS family.
Now in comparison when it comes to size the DS LIte, DSi, and 3DS are about exactly the same size and design and nearly the same weight give or take an ounce or two. The DSi XL is the big boy in the family and is a little bit heavier and not as pocketable as the others but the DSi XL main focus is no so much on pocketablity as it is it focused on users looking for a larger screen and gameplay area.
With 4 models to choose from you can really find the one that fits you. The Nintendo DS Lite is definitely for those with a large Game Boy Advance lineup that are not ready to move totally yet and still want to have the ability to player newer games and not have to carry two devices to do it. The DSi/DSi XL is for those looking to get their first DS system and want to wait to see where 3D gaming goes on the Nintendo 3DS and save a little bit of money and don't have a large GBA game lineup. The 3DS is for those that are ready to make the jump to 3D, gain the most graphics power out of all the DS family and still have the ability to play DS games and also have access to the eventually virtual console store to grab old Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, classic games and even Turbo Graphic 16 and Game gear games as well.
If you are in the market for the DS you will find that there is a model that will suit you. You can't go wrong with any of the models available and you will get a great gaming experience from any DS you choose