By JP Mangalindan
January 12, 2011

The new 3DS might look milquetoast, but it’s Nintendo’s latest stab at doing what it does best: Videogame innovation.

In March*, Nintendo launches the 3DS in the U.S. If all goes according to plan the handheld console will one-up previous Game Boy iterations and Sony’s Playstation Portable with more advanced hardware, most notably a 3-D screen that doesn’t require the clunky glasses consumers now associate with 3-D TVs, movies, and games. (Note: Nintendo says the 3DS is part of the “DS family.”)

On the outside, the 3DS bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor, the DSi, a lightweight, plastic clamshell handheld device lithe enough to slip into your back pocket, but so benign-looking so as to pass for a toy, albeit a high-end one. Similarly, the 3DS weighs in at 226 grams and measures 5.3-inches wide, 2.9-inches long and less than an inch tall when shut.

Here’s a list of confirmed features:

  • Two screens: a 3.5-inch 3-D screen with an 800 x 240 pixel resolution — 400 pixels for each eye. Again, no glasses required. A second 3-inch non-3-D, touch screen with a 320 x 240 pixel resolution rests on the 3DS’s bottom half.
  • Several augmented reality games will come pre-installed, along with at least six AR “cards” which these games can interact with.
  • The 3-D Depth Slider lets players crank up (or turn down) the level of 3-D as easily as you would turn up the volume with an analogue slider. For instance, if you slide the 3-D effect all the way down, you’re left with a normal 2-D image.
  • Three cameras: two on the outside of the chassis which combine images to create 3-D photos and a standard VGA camera on the inside that takes candy bar phone-like 2-D pics.
  • Sleep Mode WiFi: Nintendo’s latest can download new game content – stages, ghost data, rankings – and communicate with other 3DSes within proximity while turned off. So hypothetically, a player with a 3DS in his bag could automatically swap Pokémon with another player’s 3DS while walking down the street.
  • A motion sensor and a gyro sensor enabling motion-based game mechanics not unlike those found in iPhone or iPod Touch games. Players could arguably use tilt the Game Boy to steer left or right while driving, or shake it to dodge opponents in one-on-one fighting games.
  • A 2 GB SD Card for storage.
  • A speculated price point of between $249 and $299 in the U.S., significantly more than the Nintendo Wii console’s current $199 price tag.

Fortune senior writer Jessi Hempel interviewed Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aime at CES, who walked her through the ins-and-outs of the 3DS:

[cnnmoney-video vid=/video/technology/2011/01/11/bst_nintendo_3ds.fortune]

*Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, the unconfirmed release date of March 11th was published. Nintendo has said that the 3DS will be released sometime in March 2011 in North America. The sentence has been corrected.

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