Handheld consoleJan Birkeland | Tuesday, May 26 2009
The DSi is the second redesign of the Nintendo DS, originally launched in 2004. Together the DS and DS Lite have now sold over 100 million units since launch, making the DS the greatest selling handheld console of all time, and hot on the heels of the best selling console of all time, the Playstation 2. It therefore strikes me as a bit odd that the DS and DS Lite never made it big in New Zealand, taking into account our hunger for new technology and proximity to Japanese and Asian cultures. But that could be about to change if the DSi gets the appropriate marketing backing it deserves – from what we’ve seen this is a handheld that’s worthy of knocking the PSP out of the water.
The DSi follows the same design principles as its predecessors; packing two screens into a fold-out square. The bottom screen is touch-sensitive, and is flanked by the familiar d-pad and control buttons we know from as far back as the Super Nintendo and Game Boy Advance. The DSi shaves 12% off the width of the DS Lite, and feels lighter and nicer in the hand. The screens are 17% bigger (measuring 3.25 inches), but display the same 256 x 192 resolution. There are two cameras, one on the exterior and one next to the microphone on the inside hinge. The two cameras only have a 0.3-megapixel resolution, which is plenty for the DSi’s screen, but fairly useless if you want to extract them to, say, your PC. In addition to the onboard storage of 256MB, you can add space via the newly added SD/SDHC card slot (up to 32GB).
The majority of the changes to the new model are unseen, however. The DSi features an ARM9E CPU, clocked at 133MHz, an improvement on the previous ARM9 running at 66MHz. RAM is boosted to 16MB.
Nintendo has removed a few things to fit the new features in; gone is the GBA slot that enabled you to play older games on the DS Lite (no more Guitar Hero for DS, curses!). Nintendo also decided it didn’t like the look of the old charger, and has designed a new one (why?).
The cameras on the DSi, despite their low resolution, are actually quite brilliant, if only for a short time. Don’t get me wrong here, there’s no way the DSi will replace your DSLR or even mobile phone camera, but using the onboard software you’re bound to get some laughs and interesting results. In distortion mode, you can use the stylus to manually distort images, either in real-time or with shots you’ve already taken. Unfortunately, the DSi won’t recognise photos for editing that you’ve taken with a different camera. There are a multitude of effects you can apply, but the results definitely look better on the DSi screens as opposed to a computer monitor due to the low resolution.
The microphone, in conjunction with the onboard DSi Sound software, provides a similar, if not more useful, amount of fun. Using the microphone you can record sound or voices, albeit in ten second blocks, and tweak your voice using an emulator and different equalizers. Nintendo has said it might open this feature up for longer recordings, which could prove useful. There is also a bundled, low bit rate music player, which plays songs in the AAC format. It’s certainly no iPod killer, but would work in a pinch.
Overall, the novelty of the camera and music player will wear off for most people over 14.
The DSi has wireless capability (thankfully upgraded to access WPA2 secured networks), which is aimed at the DSi Shop. In the online shop you can buy and download games, using your Club Nintendo login. You get 1,000 points with the DSi when you purchase it, which is enough to download a few games. There are only a handful of games in the shop, but Nintendo says it will expand the library to perhaps include full length games. You might run into a problem here, as you have to copy games from the SDHC card to internal memory to be able to play them, and you’ll quickly run out of onboard memory with the larger games. You can buy other artefacts from the shop as well, including Nintendo Wii remote stands and, somewhat oddly, Mario-themed facecloths.
The real reason you should create a login to visit the store, however, is the free Opera browser download. Utilising both screens, you can browse the web with your DSi. The top screen gives you a wide view of the web page, while the bottom screen zooms in to a point where you can read the text. It’s a bit odd to navigate the web this way, but you quickly get used to it. There’s no Flash support, so YouTube is off limits. There’s
also the question of system memory; when loading pcworld.co.nz we would occasionally crash the browser due to low memory and the load size of the web page. The browser works well if you’re using it to check weather and news, but leave heavier browsing to other platforms.
Gaming on the DSi (which in my mind is its main task) works very well indeed. We noticed slightly reduced loading times compared to the DS Lite, but the real advantage in gaming comes through the downloadable games. At around $5, they surpass what we’re used to on the iPhone. Playing GTA Chinatown Wars (check the review on page 88) for extended periods of time, the DSi had a slight advantage over the DS Lite in how comfortable it is. The improved screens also provide for better gaming, and the control pad is as solid as we’ve come to expect from Nintendo hardware.
Recommending the DSi really comes down to a question of whether you already own the DS Lite. There aren’t enough improvements to warrant an upgrade, unless you can live with the lack of GBA support and you like new, shiny things. The only reason to switch would be downloadable DSiWare, and I would wait to see what comes on offer before buying into it. If you don’t have a DS or DS Lite, however, the DSi is highly recommended. It’s a great handheld gaming console, with some additional tricks up its sleeve. You don’t have to be a fan of Mario or Sonic either, GTA Chinatown proved that there are some ‘serious’ games out for the little handheld as well. If you’re after some gaming on the go, I highly recommend you get the DSi.
How to choose the best tablet for you
101 great websites:
You haven't heard of yet
We ask the pros for building tips