Hands-on with the Nintendo DSi

Don Reisinger has the new Nintendo DSi for almost a week. Find out what he thinks of it and his opinion on whether you should pick one up.

Nintendo DSi
Is the Nintendo DSi worth your money? Nintendo

The Nintendo DSi arrived at my house last week. After playing a variety of games on the handheld, here are my thoughts:

Hands-on

Gaming
Based on the games I played--a dozen DS titles--I don't see any difference between it and the previous DS Lite. The games and the experience are the same. The DSi's screens are larger and the sound is better, slightly improving the gameplay experience, but other than that, I'm hard-pressed to see much difference.

DS games on the DSi shouldn't be much different, but Nintendo says compelling DSi-specific software is on the way. The company claims those titles will fully capture the functionality of the new handheld. I haven't played any of those titles, so I can't make a judgment on whether they will. Right now, the DSi, from a gaming perspective, is a new, hobbled, more expensive, DS Lite.

Cameras
The DSi sports two low-resolution (0.3-megapixel) cameras. The quality was just fine for a handheld device that's designed for gaming.

But you can also have fun outside of games. Once you snap a picture, you're brought to an editing screen where you can change the color of the image and otherwise modify its look. The DSi doesn't give you Photoshop-quality editing, but it's good enough for a mobile device of this type. I was able to make the pictures look much better with the help of some simple editing tools, like the color utility, which converts the entire picture to black-and-white and lets you add color to certain areas in the image. It's a great way to add some flair to a picture.

The DSi gives you the option to create distorted pictures. Whether you want to "swirl" the picture, create a mirror image, or produce a kaleidoscope, you can do it in just a few seconds. You can even choose where to "swirl" your image by running the stylus over the picture at the desired point. It's a lot of fun.

DSi Sound
The DSi's new feature, DSi Sound, which allows you to play AAC audio tracks on the device, is not all that great. While the sound quality is outstanding and it was nice to be able to play some music, the software doesn't support MP3 files, which is a big disappointment. And the DSi's voice-recording function only grabs 10-second clips, which certainly isn't enough for those who want to keep audio notes. DSi Sound is a nice idea, but it's not implemented well.

DSi Shop
I was not impressed with what the DSi Shop offered. Similar to the Wii Virtual Console, the DSi Shop allows you to buy games in the online DSiWare store. Those games (and other utilities like a Web browser) are available for a certain number of Nintendo Points, depending on the quality of the title.

Right now, the store has just a handful of games available. Most of the games are casual titles that you might never want to play. It does have Brain Age Express: Math available, though.

While it was disappointing to see just a few DSiWare titles, the service has promise. If Nintendo can add great handheld classics to the store, like any of the Zelda titles and most of the Mario games, the store will be a winner. But until then, it's useless.

Design
The DS Lite looks better than the DSi. Period. But that doesn't mean the DSi is ugly or that it's not well-built. Quite the contrary, I was impressed with the DSi's design.

Though the DSi isn't winning the beauty contest, it makes up for it in size. Its screens are larger, but the device itself is thinner. It's easier to slip into a pocket.

The DSi also has more refined interface elements. The outside camera is where it should be, at the top right of the top panel, and the L and R buttons are placed at the top of the bottom panel. You still have easy access to the stylus to the right of the bottom panel. The power button moved from the side (where it was on the DS Lite) to the inside of the device--much more convenient. The volume control is now two buttons, not the slider that the DS Lite had.

One thing that's conspicuously missing from the DSi, though, is the Game Boy Advance slot you'll find at the bottom of the DS Lite. It was a controversial decision for Nintendo to remove that slot, but the company claims the DSi is a complement to the DS Lite, not a replacement, so it felt no need to have the DSi support GBA titles. I'm not so quick to agree. The DS (or DSi for that matter) is designed to tag along with you on trips. Since I have a variety of GBA titles, I'll need to bring both to play my games. That stinks.

Should you buy it?

In the end, the only thing that really matters is whether you should buy a DSi. Normally, I could give you a simple "yes" or "no." But in this case, I can't.

The DSi is a great handheld gaming device. But if you don't care about Web access, you don't want to listen to AAC files, and the two-camera system has no appeal, you don't need it.

If you're happy with your DS Lite, I don't see any reason to buy a DSi. It's expensive ($169.99) by comparison and most of the compelling features it will offer--DSiWare and DSi-specific software--have yet to prove their worth. And if you still have a large stockpile of GBA games, don't even consider buying a DSi since it doesn't have a GBA slot.

But if you don't care about GBA games and you want to get back into the handheld gaming space with a Nintendo device, the DSi is the way to go. It will still let you play DS games, and its extras, like the two cameras and DSi Shop, give it compelling potential. Now, I just hope Nintendo can deliver on it.

Check out Don's Digital Home podcast, Twitter stream, and FriendFeed.

 

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