Nintendo DSi Review
By Sandy Berger on June 15, 2009
When Nintendo came out with their DS handheld gaming system, the dual-screen (DS), touch screen and microphone were revolutionary. Now Nintendo has introduced a new entry in the DS line – the Nintendo DSi. The “i” or “eye” represents the addition of two cameras. The Nintendo DS Lite is still available at $129.00. The new DSi is currently selling for $169. We decided check out the advantages of the new Nintendo the DSi to see if it is worth the extra cost.
As shown in Figure 1, the Nintendo DSi comes in an attractive box. As indicated by the red sticker on the box, when we received our DSi, Nintendo had a promotion offering 1,000 points which could be used to purchase games in the Nintendo DSi store. The selection of games is quite limited. At this writing there were only 20 games listed and’’ most of them were not too exciting. However, it is expected that the number and quality of the games in the DSi store will increase rapidly.
At the current time the DSi comes in only two colors, black and bright turquoise blue. We reviewed the blue DSi. As shown in Figure 2, the contents of the box include the DSi, a Quick Start Guide, an Operations Manual, an extra stylus, and a charging cord. The plug on the charging cable folds down nicely. This not only saves space, but makes the charger easier to pack when you want to take it on the road with you. Unfortunately, the charger uses a new connection, so you cannot use the cable from the DS or DS Lite with the DSi. So far, every new version of the DS has used a different charging cable.
Figure 3 compares the original Nintendo DS in silver, a Nintendo DS Lite in black and the new DSi in blue. As you can see the DS Lite and the DSi are considerably smaller than the original DS. Yet the DS Lite and the DSi are similarly sized, with the DSi only slightly larger than the DS Lite. The DSi is 5 25/64" x 2 61/64" x 3/4" (13.7 x 7.49 x 1.89 cm). The DS Lite is 5 15/64" x 2 29/32" x 27/32" (13.3 x 7.39 x 2.15 cm). The two units are approximately the same weight at about 7.5 oz (214 g). By the way, we've already posted a review of Nintendo DS Lite, and you may want to check it out.
Even though it is similar in size, the DSi is slightly thinner and feels better in the hand. Nintendo also has given the DSi a matte finish compared to the shiny DS Lite. This makes the DSi a little easier to grip and also eliminates all of the smudges and fingerprints that constantly appeared on the DS Lite.
The size of both screens has been increased from 3” (diagonal) in the DS Lite to 3.25” in the DSi. As shown in Figure 4, this is only a slight increase, but it does make a difference when game playing.
As you can also see in Figure 4, the main layout of the controls remains the same, with only slight adjustment to the hardware, which will be covered in the next section.
The biggest change in the DSi is the addition of two cameras, support for a removable storage card, and added audio capabilities, which we will discuss in the next section. In order to incorporate these new capabilities in a similar-sized unit, Nintendo removed the GameBoy Advanced cartridge slot. The GameBoy was Nintendo’s main gaming device previous to the Nintendo DS. So where you can play GameBoy cartridges on the Nintento Lite, you cannot do so in the DSi. If you have a lot of GameBoy games, this may be a reason not to upgrade to the DSi. However, we do not fault Nintendo for removing the compatibility with older games. As technology improves, we sometimes have to move on and make way for the new.
Nintendo has implemented a more powerful chip in the DSi. It has an ARM9E CPU clocked at 133 MHz, as compared to the ARM9 at 66 MHz in the DS Lite.
As one might expect, because of the cameras and other new features, the DSi battery does not last quite as long as the battery in the DS Lite. However, Nintendo still rates it at 9-14 hours at the lowest brightness, 8-12 hours at low brightness, 6-9 hours at medium brightness, 4-6 hours at high brightness, and 3-4 hours at the highest brightness. This is still adequate to get a full day of gaming for most users. As in the DS Lite, the battery is user-replaceable and can be removed by unscrewing two screws on the bottom of the device, shown in Figure 5.
One of the biggest new features of the DSi is addition of the two cameras. In Figure 6, you can see the outside camera on the front cover. Next to the camera lens is a small indicator light that glows when the camera is in use. On the upper left corner of the front cover, you can also see the indicator lights. Since these are on the hinge of the device, they can also be seen when the device is open, as shown in Figure 6. This indicator lights are from left to right, the wireless in use indicator, charge indicator, and power on/off indicator.
Figure 7 also shows the stereo speakers on either side of the upper screen. The lower screen is a touch-screen. To the left of the screen is a four-way control pad. Under this is a power on/off button, which also acts as a reset button when a game is running. This is a useful button that can take you back to the main menu, but we found it too easy to hit by accident during a game and would prefer to have a dedicated button in a different location for that function.
To the right of the lower screen is a control pad with A, B, X, and Y buttons and a Start and a Select button. On the spine of the device between the two screens, you can see the inner camera and the microphone opening.
The back side of the DSi, shown in Figure 8 has Left and Right buttons on both sides. These buttons along with the inside controls and the stylus on the touch screen are used for the various functionalities that are available in each game. In the center of the back side is the game card slot. The DSi will play all of the DS games except for a few like Guitar Hero, that need the use of the old Game Boy Advanced slot.
To the left of the card slot in Figure 8, you can see a place to attach a wrist strap. To the right of the game slot is the AC adapter connector.
The right side of the DSi, shown in Figure 9, has a lone control for the volume.
The left side, shown in Figure 10, has a slot for the stylus and a place for the SD card. The SD card slot is new on the DSi, giving it addition storage capabilities.
The DSi comes with an entirely new interface which is miles ahead of the previous DS interface. As shown in Figure 11, small boxes show up for the menu choices. From left to right you have System Settings, DS Game Card, DSi Camera, DSi Sound, DSi Shop, DS Download Play, PictoChat, and Downloaded Games. You can use your stylus or the control arrows to scroll through them and make choices. You can also drag them to new locations with the stylus. The new interface is smooth and user-friendly. Another big improvement is the fact that you can now change games through the interface rather than having to restart the device.
We use the connectivity of the DS Lite mostly to play games with other nearby users. Although you can get online with the DS Lite, it only allowed you to access WEP or unprotected Wi-Fi networks, which most folks are smart enough to avoid.
The DSi now also supports WPA encrypted Wi-Fi connections. We could not get the connectivity going with a WPA network by simply following the icons on the DSi or the instructions in the manual, but we were able to get it going by following the online instructions at the Nintendo website.
Once online, we immediately downloaded the free Opera web browser. The browser has been reworked and actually could be used for some simple browsing. We found ourselves willing to use it for simple functions like finding sports scores. The dual screens come in handy on the web because one of the screens shows you the part of the web page that is magnified on the other screen. So you don’t get lost when navigating through the page on a small screen.
After investigating surfing on the DSi, we visited the DSi store where we used the free points that came with the DSi to download several games. As previously mentioned the number of games is very limited. We downloaded WarioWare Snapped!, which looked like the game that took the best advantage of the camera, but found it cumbersome to play. However, we loved the fact that the game took pictures of you during the play and showed you those after the game was over. This was amusing and quite fun. One of the keys to the success of this device will be whether more games that take advantage of the camera and sound can be developed.
Unfortunately, we quickly found that surfing the web and visiting the DSi store were the only things that we could do over the WPA network. You can only play online with others if you are using an unprotected network or a network with the pathetic WEP protection.
The DSi store functioned quite well, but we found that you can only play DSiWare games from the internal storage, so when your DSi fills up, you have to shuffle games between the memory card and the DSi. This is totally unacceptable. The good news is the DSi supports firmware updates. Nintendo recently sent a firmware update to the Wii that allows it to play games from the memory card. We can only hope that they do the same for the DSi.
Aggravatingly, the Nintendo Wii and the DSi cannot share Nintendo points. You have to purchase point s that are used for either the Wii or the DSi, but not both. One pool of Nintendo points that could be used on either machine would be highly preferable.
Since the DS has dual screens, it is only fitting that it also has dual cameras. You can use one to focus on yourself and the other to take pictures of others. The cameras are actually a great addition that is designed strictly for fun, as fitting for Nintendo. The 3 megapixels is adequate quality for playing with the pictures. If you have adequate lighting the pictures are pretty good.
The camera is very easy to use. You can bring up the camera by using the Left and Right shoulder buttons, shown in Figure 8. You can then press one of these buttons again to take the picture or you can use the onscreen buttons to take the picture, to switch cameras, or to go back to your previous location, as shown in Figure 12.
After you take pictures, you can play with them. The DSi has 11 different lenses that can distort, mirror, add/or remove color, and do a wealth of the things. You can doodle on a face, add objects, add speech bubbles, make a person look angry, etc. You can even compare two faces. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get the pictures out of the DSi. You cannot email them or upload them to a photo site from the DSi. You can, however, take out the SD card and move them to your computer. You can also put the SD card in your Wii and play with them more or send them to your friends on the Wii Photo Channel.
The DSi also has enhanced sound capabilities. You can record your own voice or any sounds of your liking and play around with the speed, pitch and other effects. You can add sounds like electric motors, trumpets, and parakeets. It is surprisingly captivating. However, the sound clips are limited to 10 seconds and we wished for longer clips.
You can also play music on the DSi. Just move your music to your memory card on a computer, and insert the card into the DSi. Unfortunately, the DSi only supports unencrypted AAC music files. If you have an iPod and play only AAC files, this will not bother you. If, however, if you have a collection of MP3, you will have to use iTunes or another music editor to turn your music files into AAC format before the DSi will recognize them. What a pain! MP3 has become the most recognizable and most widely-used music format. It’s a shame that Nintendo doesn’t know that.
Although there is no ability to adjust the music with an equalizer, the music sounds quite good through the DSi or through its stereo headphone/microphone jack, which is found on the front side of the DSi, as shown in Figure 13.
Nintendo DSi main specifications are:
With two cameras, a memory card slot, a music player, a faster processor, an online DSi store and better WiFi Internet connectivity, Nintendo has added a lot to their handheld gaming device. They also have done an excellent job of revamping the interface and making it easier to use. There is no doubt that the cameras and sound-recording and playback are fun in themselves, yet the viability of this device depends on future games. If Nintendo can grow its DSi store and get game developers to put on their thinking caps, there could be some dynamic games coming.
However, even if future games don’t take full advantage of the hardware features, almost all of the great DS games already on the market can be played on the DSi. So the additional USD 40 to purchase this device over the DS Lite will not be wasted.
The only folks who will want to stick with the DS Lite are those who have a large collection of Game Boy Advanced games that they want to play on a DS device.