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The North American Nintendo DSi
Japan has been enjoying the new DSi for a few months now, but they have only been in (and out) of American stores for a month or so. At $170 US and $200 Canadian, what are you getting out of it?
Well, start with a DSi Lite. Make it a bit wider, taller, thinner and lighter. Make the screens slightly bigger. Add a couple low end cameras and a low end music player, along with some amusing and dramatic editing tools. Give it a nicer chip and more memory, even if it still isn’t enough to browse anything but the simplest web pages.
The most interesting addition is the ability to buy and download games from the DSiWare Shop, but the selection is pretty dismal for the time being. Let’s look at these improvements more closely, as well as some of advantages the DS Lite still holds.
Like all of Nintendo’s hardware, the DSi is very well packaged and includes a couple board feet of lumber’s worth of cards to get you to sign up for Nintendo Power. You also get the power adapter and an extra stylus.
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Look and Feel
The increased surface and reduced thickness are barely noticeable to the eye, but have made an impressive difference to how easy it is to hold and use the DSi. Those with large hands will particularly appreciate the change. The bigger screens are also nice, and look good in all but the glariest conditions.
Many are knocking the matt plastic now used instead of the DS Lite’s glossy finish. While it is true that the matt finish picks up stains and scratches more easily, it also makes your fingers pick up the DSi more easily. More importantly, you are also less likely drop it. I will take scratches over a drop any day. Also, glossy plastic is everywhere.
Available in black and some kind of turquoise robin’s egg blue option, the blue option has also taken some flack. We’re getting into questions of taste, but, when combined with the matt finish, I find the blue has a kind of retro thing going for it. It’s a game system, not a suit for a funeral: give the black a rest.
The game cartridge slot, power adaptor input, attachment point for a wrist strap, and L and R buttons can be seen in the picture of the rear of the unit. An SD slot is on the right side, with a dust cover. You will want to keep a cartridge in the game slot, as there is no protection for it when empty
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Features Are More Fun than Functional
The camera and sound features are fun, but you really can’t expect a good gaming system to also be a good music player and camera for under 200 bucks. Most new phones have better camera and music quality than the DSi. That’s really not the point though.
As additions to the game system, they are solid entertainment. Your cell phone doesn’t let you distort your friends face and add captions, and it won’t let you make your music sound like a parakeet is signing it. For young and old users, it is a fun and cheap introduction to digital photography. You will be buying them a nicer camera soon if they get into it at all though.
WarioWare: Snapped is the only game that incorporates the camera, enabling you to catch hats by darting your head underneath them or swat at falling coins. It’s not very deep, and the requirement to put the DSi down on a table and step back from it certainly calls the notion of mobility into doubt. Hopefully, we will see more games that can take advantage of the cameras. Let me steer a motor cycle by tilting my head, while I shoot at enemies with the stylus.
The internet browser speed can still be measured in ounces of molasses per hour, and you will run out of memory trying to load larger web pages, leaving blank sections behind. (Note that the blue ring in the pictures is a trick of the camera and light, not a problem with the screen.) It’s a nice touch if you need to look up a phone number at a hotspot but don’t have or want to fire up your laptop. And you don’t have another MID with you. The most interesting facet of the wireless connectivity, though, is that the DSi can download DSiWare, which we discuss on the next page.
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DSiWare: Why You Will Probably Buy a DSi, Later If Not Sooner
In the previous pages picture of the DSi box, you may have noticed a sticker advertising the DSi Shop. Actually, just for logging on to the Shop from your DSi, you get 1000 (ten dollars worth of) points. The DSi Shop is a store you access online through the DSi itself. If the web capabilities didn’t sound promising enough to get you to set up the DSi on your network, the DSi Shop should. It contains DSiWare: games and some apps, like the web browser, which is free, and some simple things like a Calculator dressed up with Animal Crossing characters, for 200 points.
Think the iPhone’s App Store, but with Nintendo quality control. Don’t get too excited though: the comparison is only complete with the qualification that the DSi Shop hasn’t gotten much stock in yet, and the shelves are pretty bare. The most expensive things in there for now are 800 points, so it isn’t like you will never have to go to the store for a DS cartridge again. Most of the DSiWare for now is made up of small games or smaller versions of DS games. You can get light weight versions of games, usually with an “Express" suffix, like Dr. Mario, or just the Math part of Brain Age, or small but fun original titles like Art Style: Aquia.
Early Wii buyers were also greeted with limited WiiWare options, prompting many to wonder if there was any point to the Wii’s ability to get online. Looking at the Wii Shop’s selection today, you would be hard pressed to find anyone with that view point. Granted, WiiWare has been very heavy on classic console re-releases, but DSi can do something similar, and possibly more.
On the classic front, there is a lot of GameBoy and GBA content ripe for recycling. But the DS has always been a more casual and puzzle game oriented platform then the Wii. Now think of casual and puzzle games for the PC. Digital distribution for these kinds of games has been the preferred option for many developers for several years.
The casual and lower cost nature of games you are likely to find on a DSi lends itself to digital distribution. Couple this with the classic content and Nintendo can stuff the DSi Shop to the gills with quality stuff in short order. Yes it is conjecture, but the ground work is there: the shop runs and the downloads work just fine, and Nintendo did a good job of fleshing out their WiiWare selection. It’s not unreasonable to predict similar success for the DSi Shop
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Blue DSi vs. Red Herring
The biggest pet peeve for many will be the loss of support for GameBoy Advance software. If you are still fond of these games, you will have to hang on to your DS Lite. Others will be put off by the reduced battery life. Running the cameras, WiFi, and turning up the brightness on the screen take a ridiculous toll on running time, getting it down to about four hours. If you aren’t using the cameras or WiFi, The runtime is still shorter than a DS Lite’s, but not by too much, about an hour.
What I found most disappointing was the WiFi itself. Setup is usually really easy, but there are some routers that will have you jumping through hoops, and others that just won’t work, period. This boggles the mind: we have IEEE standards for a reason. If you are one of the unlucky owners of a router the DSi won’t play with, you are stuck doing your downloads at a hotspot or friend’s house. At least until you cave and buy a router, or Nintendo caves and puts out a fix. An incredibly incomplete list of unsupported routers from Nintendo is here.
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The DSi is better than the DS Lite, but not by enough to force an immediate upgrade. The cameras and sound features are amusing, and the DSi Shop works, but you can wait for more titles to appear before parting with the cash. If you are deciding between a DSi and DS Lite, get the DSi and you’ll thank your self.