Nintendo is almost ready to bring its new 3DS and 3DS XL handheld consoles to the UK, having announced a release date of 13 February during a recent Nintendo Direct broadcast for Europe. They both, among other features, offer greatly improved glasses-free 3D screens and wider viewing angles and that could win them an all-new audience as handheld gaming battles with smartphones and tablets for market dominance.

Pocket-lint has had a chance to play with one of the first new 3DS XL consoles in the UK and, even on first impressions, it provides a much better experience than the existing model - especially when 3D is switched on.

We will be reviewing the handheld in the coming weeks, but we wanted to give you a quick insight into its charms beforehand. And as we also have a current 3DS XL knocking about, we thought we'd even check them out in a quick head-to-head comparison.

Although the prices of each of the new handhelds are yet to be official revealed, we suspect the larger flagship device will be around £180, which is not exactly cheap in this day and age. However, unlike the last generation version, the metallic blue edition we got our hands on feels more substantial and premium.

There are some significant design differences. For a start, it has a more squarish build, with less curves than the original. It is also fractionally wider when viewed from the front.

The cartridge slot is in a completely different place, on the bottom-front of the console, not top rear. As is the power button and the stylus holder. However the biggest changes to the unit itself are new ZL and ZR bumper buttons at the top and a small thumbstick on the right-hand side. This is an addition that makes the Circle Pad Pro accessory - released for the original 3DS XL - redundant, and it's compatible with some of the games that have extra dedicated controls.

Select and Start are now smaller buttons on the main control part of the console rather than at the bottom of the lower screen, so you are less likely to hit them when you want to tap the Home button. And the power socket is now top and centre. The console now takes microSD cards instead of standard SD cards for additional storage.

There's also a significant addition internally too. Nintendo has added an NFC reader for Amiibo support. Unfortunately at the moment the functionality is not activated. That will come with a system update closer to release, when you will be able to use your Amiibos with Super Smash Bros initially. We'll check that out when we review the console fully.

There are other technical benefits to the new 3DS Xl as well. The processor has been beefed up and that is apparent when boating the system up and loading games. It does feel faster all round during our initial tests.

And then there is the new top screen. We have to admit that we turn the 3D off on our existing 3DS XL - well, more often than not anyway. Unless you keep your head still, the crosstalk fails and it just looks blurred or doubled up. That is far less in force with the new model.

As well as the screen being better - it looks more vibrant in a quick comparison - there is head tracking tech on board that uses the front-facing camera to see where you are looking. That adjusts the glasses-less 3D to keep up with your movements. It doesn't work so well if you shake your head like a rabid dog, but in normal play is so much better than the last generation screen that you will be happy to leave 3D on at all times.

Automatic brightness is available this time too, but we found ourselves turning that off as it fluctuated a little too much for our liking.

We can't wait to give the new 3DS XL a proper work out, with Super Smash Bros and other latest titles, but until then things are looking very promising indeed. And in 3D.