More Details On The Nintendo 3DS’ Battery Life

By Ishaan . January 27, 2011 . 8:29am

Shaders, which is a term for software instructions that calculate graphical rendering effects have a great deal of influence over how good or bad a game can look. Programmable shaders, in lay man’s terms, allow a developer more freedom with regard to how their game calculates light and shadow data, thus increasing the kinds of effects they can achieve. The 3DS doesn’t utilize these.


Instead, it uses a range of commonly-used fixed shaders, which, judging by the 3DS games we’ve seen so far, appear to be doing a good enough job of making games look visually impressive. A recent Iwata Asks interview with some of the system’s hardware designers reveals that this decision was made to conserve battery life. This ties in with the power consumed by the 3DS screens’ backlight.


LCD screens, such as the ones on the Nintendo 3DS, use an internal light source known as a “backlight,” which illuminates them. Stereoscopic 3D visuals deliver a separate image to the right and left eyes, thus halving the the amount of light delivered to each eye. 3D visuals require that this backlight be increased in brighten to deliver a 3D image that appears as bright as a non-3D one.


Due to this, the 3DS includes a power saver feature, according to Ryuji Umezu (pictured above) of Nintendo’s Research and Engineering department. This feature controls the brightness of the backlight depending upon the brightness of the in-game screen being displayed. When the in-game scene is darker, the backlight, too, dims, allowing for power to be conserved.


Umezu says that setting the backlight to the brightest level and turning the power saver function off will give you about three hours of battery life. However, if you turn the power saver function on, battery life increases by about 10-20%. Setting the backlight to the darkest setting will give you around five hours, although, the power saver mode makes less of a difference in this case.


The system’s 3D visuals have an effect on battery life, too. With the backlight set to the brightest setting, toggling 3D on or off can make a difference of 25% to battery life. Streetpass functionality and Wi-Fi have an effect on battery life as well. Nintendo previously revealed that the system could take up to 3.5 hours to complete a full charge.

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  • It is still shocking to me that in one instance the time to recharge the battery outlasts the time to run the battery down. I guess I will be down in the 3.5 hour lifetime range as I usually play with the second highest brightest settings on the devices. The brightest washes the color out while the dim the color is gone. Oh well, the price we pay for power, lol!

    • MakoSoldier7

      I would imagine the only time it would really get it in the way is if your playing on a long flight, or train ride, because if your just playing at home chances are your using the charger at the same time.

      but i guess the whole point of a portable gaming system is for it to be, hehe, portable…

      • Exkaiser

        But, even then, long train rides often have outlets.

        At least, Amtrak trains all do.

        • MakoSoldier7

          very true, same with planes i guess.

          • Caligula

            I’ve flown countless times, and I’ve never once been on an airplane that offers outlets.

            Would be nice, though.

          • You must select the wrong flights or something, I thought the airliners tell you if your plane has outlets or not. (then again if youre in the CONUS and flying to other places in CONUS then the there is plenty of time to charge the device in the airport board the plane and then charge if you need to have a layover or something.

          • I’ve never been on a plane with outlets, either. I noticed one on CalTrain when I was visiting SF and thought, “Wow, that is nice of them.”


            It depends on when the plane was built and where you sit. First and business classes have had the privilege of outlets longer than the economy class, but more expensive flights with major airlines that use newer planes probably have outlets for the economy class.

  • Well I’m not gonna sell my DS Lite anytime soon, so I’ll still have a back-up when it comes to travel gaming– most airplane rides I’m on don’t tend to last longer than a 3DS charge, anyway, and I’ve taken the habit of bringing my chargers to any sort of gathering or trip.

    I think I’ll be fine. 3D is more for something at home, anyway, all things considering.

  • Kacho_ON

    i’ll be not surprised if the next 3DS has improved battery power and maybe a slimmer design

    • PrinceHeir

      yup and i’ll probably wait for that model as well ^^

    • Planning to wait around for a Nintendo 3DS Lite? Your waiting may be in vain. Kenichi Sugino, the Nintendo 3DS hardware designer has quite clearly stated that “we don’t have any short-term plans for creating a more compact version of Nintendo 3DS like we did with Nintendo DS Lite.” Satoru Iwata, the President of Nintendo of Japan backed up this statement by saying that “we used all our tricks for Nintendo DS Lite – and more – for cutting down on size right from the start.” Maybe a 3DS XL is more likely?

      Yes i copy pasted that from nintendo3dsblog…

      • Zero_Destiny

        But why would any sane company go on the record and tell everyone “Yes, in a while we’ll release a new better model so don’t buy this just yet wait for that one or at least wait for the price drop.”? lol I think there will be a revision to the 3DS. Maybe it’ll be a 3DS XL like you said or maybe they’ll make one with more memory or something. I think a revision is inevitable though.

        • Jellybit

          They didn’t say they wouldn’t release a better model. They said they had no plans to release a more compact version. They certainly will release a better model, just probably not more compact. They don’t have to lie in that case. I expect one with better battery life and a better 3D screen.

      • As Zero Destiny said…do you really expect them to tell people NOT to buy this version because there’s going to be a new one coming in a year or two? Why would they tell the truth about this? It’d be completely financially counterproductive to do so.

        • Jellybit

          They can tell the truth and still release a revision. If they came out with a 3DS XL, or 3DS Ultra (with better battery life, a second analog pad, 32GB SD card, etc…), they’d still be keeping to their word about having no plans to release a SMALLER version of the 3DS. It’d also be counterproductive to lie.

  • Pretty weak. They could have at least included a higher capacity battery, at least give users the option to upgrade.

  • malek86

    5 hours with the lowest brightness is still not nearly as good as I’d wanted.

    Also, Nintendo has used fixed shaders since the GC. Just like friend codes, different discs, Wii Speak… I wonder why they can’t just do what other people do. Sometimes the common solution is the best one, rather than making a new one just for the sake of being different.

    • puchinri

      I’m confused, I thought that was just the backlight and not actual in game brightness? (Or maybe I’m technologically dumb.)
      Definitely not as good either way, but I thought five hours was still for the highest in-game brightness itself.

  • Yui

    So the maximum projected battery lifespan for the product is probably 6 – 6.5 hours. That’s not too bad, though I’ll probably end up only getting 3. :D

    What I’m worried about is the lifespan of the battery itself. If I’m regularly charging it just to make it go, what’s the point? Won’t the battery drain out remarkably quickly? 1000 charges at 3 hours per charge only goes so far compared to 1000 charges at 8 – 10 hours per charge. Can Nintendo improve the consistency of their batteries?

    (For clarification, I’ve been using my original launch DS since release, and right now I get, what, 3 – 4 hours battery life? It’d just be nice to know I don’t have to worry about that sort of thing with the 3DS. :D)

    • I dont think they expect people to hold onto launch units for that long. I think my turnaround time is two-three years and then I buy a revision.

      • Yui

        Ah, TS, if only I had the same sheer masses of money that you have. When I buy something, I have to make it last forever. ;P

    • puchinri

      Good point, the batteries lifespan itself is certainly something to consider. I can’t see it being something they have resolved already (fantastic if so), but maybe they’ll talk about that soon.

  • Release a higher capacity battery with the damn thing, as a separate item.

    That seals it though, I’m not getting a launch 3DS. Other factors were lack of money and no orange color.

  • GamerKT

    “This feature controls the brightness of the backlight depending upon the brightness of the in-game screen being displayed.”

  • Zero_Destiny

    Weak battery lol. Oh well I usually play somewhere in the middle anyways so the brightness won’t drain the battery too much. Plus I don’t see me using the 3D unless I have to for like gameplay elements. Not like I can afford the 3DS right now anyways, I’ll hold out for a revision or a Red one (lol)

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