With combined sales of around 100 million Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS lites one would wonder if Nintendo needed to develop a third iteration of their dual screen money printing machine but they have done it anyway. Have Nintendo improved on the already popular DSlite enough to warrant a new model and an increase in price? We’ll find out in my review of the Nintendo DSi. Assuming you know what the DS is we’ll skip the lengthy description of its two screens and stylus touch control.
So what have Nintendo changed from the second DS incarnation we all know and love, the DS lite? The biggest physical change of note is the removal of the Game Boy Advance slot. Now that Nintendo are confident that the Game Boy brand has been safely superseded by the less gender offending DS moniker they’ve taken the chance to strip out the legacy hardware and software which in many respects was holding the DS back. The fact was that GBA games have long since become a thing of the past and the GBA port was mainly being used for hardware devices such as the Guitar Hero on Tour hand grip and the Rumble cart.
With GBA out of the way Nintendo were free to look to the future and incorporate new technology into the DS Lite to bring it up to date in line with the more recent Nintendo Wii home console. Other physical differences include an increase in the size of both screens by a quarter of an inch but no change of screen resolution. Whilst this is an improvement, the DS screens still look teensy against the PSP’s giant widescreen display.
The DSi is now thinner and lighter than the DSlite but just like the PSP it’s still quite a wad if you plan to carry it in your back pocket all day; there’s a long way to go before it matches the GBA micro in terms of portability. The DSi is also coated in a matte finish, which in my opinion feels a bit weird and a little sand papery to the touch, but it’s not too bad and not something radically off-putting. I actually prefer the previous glossy coating of the DS lite and wasn’t too worried about the fingerprints – they were easy to wipe off. The DPad and buttons have all had a little change to make them click in when you press rather than a smooth press down. You could say they feel more digital now as opposed to analogue (although of course they were still digital buttons before). There are some other button changes but nothing drastic, not worth going into OCD detail about here.
Onto the cameras; the DSi features two low res 0.3 megapixel cameras (one internal and one external) which means you can take photos of things you’re facing as well as pictures of your own ugly face without having to turn the DSi around and guess where the lens is pointing. The cameras aren’t just for your holiday snaps though, as both cameras can be used by special DSi software, such as the new WarioWare Snapped downloadable game, which in the not so distant future could see a whole host of new interesting software using photos in interesting ways. It has to be said – the DSi cameras are quite low quality, and pictures only tend to look half decent when taken in brightly lit areas – photos taken in low light situations look quite horrid. Although the DSi is physically capable of capturing video with the cameras, Nintendo decided not to add the option. However it’s only a matter of time until it becomes available as either part of a firmware update or a downloadable application from the DSi Ware store.
A lot of people complained that the DS fat and DS lite had poor sound through its little speakers. Personally I was never too disturbed by it, as using earphones was the only true way to hear the music and sounds properly with the DS (or any portable device). Nintendo’s improvements to the speakers are noticeable here though, with much better clarity and less distortion. Finally we have the general specification bump: system RAM has been quadrupled and CPU speed greatly increased – it’s the addition of 256MB of internal flash memory which is the coolest. Just as with the Wii, the internal storage will allow for downloadable content (games and apps) to be stored on the system for instant access, or transferred to SD cards via the new SDHC slot which allows for a further 32GB’s of storage.
The DSi has been revamped with a new operating system which looks and feels much more like the Wii Menu system you are probably already used to. Instead of a grid of channels, the DSi features a single row which can be scrolled left to right. By default, 7 channels are preinstalled, these are the: Settings Menu, DS Game Boot, DSi Camera Channel, DSi Sound Channel, DSi Shop, DS Download Play and PictoChat. Glossing over the System Settings and DS Game channel, here are the more exciting features:
- The DSi camera channel is your hub for everything photo. After an interactive tour you will see a lovely calendar on the top screen. Your photos are displayed here, on the date that they were taken (there’s a slideshow if you’ve taken more than one photo on a particular day), along with any memo’s you’ve created. On the bottom screen you have nice big buttons which will allow you to view your photo albums stored on the DSi itself, or on a SD card which has been inserted. Your other choice is to go into camera mode – where obviously you can take photos, but also manipulate them in real time with a choice of eleven different lenses (or to be more precise, effects). Most of them are a bit silly (like putting a Mario Cap and Moustache onto your face), but they are also rather well implemented, and make clever use of basic face tracking and recognition technology. The nicest feature for me is that a random photo from your library will be displayed when the DSi menu is loaded, making the DSi feel much more personal to the owner. Photos can be moved to PC, Wii or another DSi by SD card, but other DSi owners can also use the Wireless Exchange option to transfer pictures using Wi-Fi – neat.
- The DSi sound channel acts as both a sound recorder as well as a playback device. Songs in AAC format can be played back from SD Card, and can even be remixed on the fly with the simple yet effective sound effect tools, such as speed and pitch change. Recorded voice (or other samples) can be stored, then loaded and played during song playback – which can result in either a glorious mess or fantastic new version of your favourite tunes. If you are clever enough to output the DSi sound via the earphone socket to your computer you could even save your remixes permanently on your PC. There are some other cool things you can do to mess around with your music whilst it’s playing – like turning the vocals down in a sort of Karaoke mode – but my favourite has to be 8-Bit mode, which makes everything sound like a NES or Commodore 64 game…which for retro geeks like me is the bee’s knees.
- The DSi shop channel is nearly identical to that of the Wii Shop Channel. You can go online and purchase new games and software using special ‘virtual currency’ called Nintendo Points, which can be purchased via credit card or special scratch cards sold in stores. The best news is that Nintendo load up your account with 1000 (£10/$10) worth of free points when you first visit the DSi shop, as a special gift (for a limited period). There are already some cool little games to buy, which are easily downloaded right to your DSi internal memory for keeps. Don’t forget you’ll need an active Wi-Fi internet connection, otherwise your DSi cannot go online. Currently there are rumours circulating of a Virtual Handheld Shop coming to DSi, which would allow you to buy classic Gameboy games. Hopefully this rumour will become a reality, but knowing Nintendo I wouldn’t bank on it just yet. The free Opera internet browser for DSi is available to download too, and is highly recommended for light web surfing, but lacks many features and the speed of typical PC web browsers such as Internet Explorer or Firefox.
- DS download play allows you to temporarily install DS demos to the DSI’s memory wirelessly from: the Nintendo Wii, other DS owning friends or special demo pods set up in Supermarkets and Game stores. This feature was available in the DS and DSlite, but many people didn’t know about it. This is also the channel you’ll need to use to play multiplayer DS games such as Mario Kart DS.
- PictoChat is another carry over from the original DS. It is a simple instant messenger application for local (not online) DS and DSi owning friends in a large group. Here you can wirelessly send messages and hand drawn pictures to each other. It’s not very good, and I’ve never met anyone who really used it.
The first thing to say is that the DSi will play all previous DS games that you can buy, except those that require the GBA slot, which is only a very small number of games. Another nice little feature is the ability to hot swap DS games and SD cards whilst in the DSi menu, without having to turn the DSi power off. In a similar manner, it is possible to change the brightness of the DS screens midgame, where previously you would have to quit to the old DS menu and reload the game. One thing worth mentioning is that due to the extra brightness and smaller battery capacity, the DSi’s battery life is a little shorter. It still offers around 14-20 hours of use per charge though (depending on the brightness level and amount of CPU power used by 3D gaming, or the Camera Channel lenses).
So, is the Nintendo DSi actually worth buying? If you are in the market for your first DS then, yes – the DSi is the best choice to go with – it has new abilities, and as it’s the latest model it is more futureproof (less likely to become outdated as soon as previous handheld consoles). If you have an older DS fat, the answer is also yes – the DSi is a fantastic upgrade. If however, you have a DSlite, then there is less of a reason to buy the newer model…unless you are interested in the possibilities that are opened up with the cameras, or the ability to purchase digital download games. Otherwise your DSlite will remain as effective as it is now as your DS and Game Boy Advance game player device. At £160/$170 the DSi is actually a trifle expensive – but so are many things in life. If the DSi sounds likes your cup of tea, then it is likely to be worth the money to you. If I had to award the DSi a score I would give it 8 out of 10.
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