Nintendo DSi review: Nintendo DSi

The DSi Sound application gives you the ability to record and edit sounds by providing easy-to-use, yet powerful tools. You have the ability to increase and lower pitch and speed, even use a collection of preinstalled audio filters that will transform your recorded segments. These pieces can be saved internally or onto your SD card. The DSi Sound application also allows you to play your own music, even distort it as well. However, the device can only currently play AAC files. Unfortunately, MP3 and other audio file lovers won't be able to get in on the fun. Additionally, you won't be able to save your edited music.

The audio editing tools are easy to use, yet surprisingly powerful.

There are also a few familiar faces in the DSi's interface, as Pictochat (a way to chat and draw with local DS systems) and DS Download Play remain intact. You'll access Download Play to sync up games with local DS systems. A DSi system can still play with any version of the handheld.

The DSi has the ability to connect to any 802.11b or g Wi-Fi router or hot spot. Strangely enough, we found it quite difficult to find settings that allowed us to connect to a security higher than WEP. Those settings are actually buried in the system, forcing you to choose "Advanced Settings" on the main "Internet Connection Settings" screen. We're not sure why this functionality is so hard to find, but using connections 1-3 won't allow anything higher than WEP. Once you access the advanced menu, you can manually set up a connection using higher encryption such as WPA and WPA2. You'll have the ability to scan for hot spots that support encryption above WEP, and then you'll just need to enter a security key. Alternately, if your router supports AOSS, the DSi can connect that way as well. You also have the option of using a Nintendo Wi-Fi USB connector (sold separately) that will allow for an easy Internet connection to the DSi.

The success of the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console and WiiWare platform has led to the handheld equivalent called the DSi Shop. Nintendo has explained that this will be the online hub for downloading DSi exclusive games and applications made by first- and third-party developers. Nintendo gave us some hands-on time with a variety of these titles, some that use the DSi's camera in-game. The pricing structure of these titles will range from free to upwards of 1,000 DSi Points (100 points = $1). As a bonus, any DSi owner who connects to the DSi Shop before October 5, 2009, will get 1,000 free points to spend. Also, a free Web browser will be available when the store launches April 5.

Once you've successfully connected to the DSi Shop, you'll be greeted with an interface very similar to the Wii Shopping Channel. Nintendo Points can even be used in both shops, though they can't be transferred. You can either add points with a credit card or a store-bought Nintendo Points card. There are various ways to browse the titles available, such as by title or by price.

Download speeds on the DSi Shop were very reasonable; things moved along quite swiftly. That said, we did notice that Internet activity definitely had the most impact on battery life--more than any other feature on the DSi.

One of the first free applications offered is an Opera-powered Web browser. It works well enough, though you won't be watching any video or seeing any flash functionality at all.

We should note that you cannot play downloaded applications and games straight off of an SD card. Any game or application you'd like to run must first be copied to the DSi's internal memory first.

Editors' note: This review contains updated information regarding playing and storing downloaded games and applications.

Under the hood, the DSi has also received some hardware improvements. Here, the main processor has doubled, from the 67MHz found inside the DS Lite, to 133MHz. Its RAM has quadrupled, going from 4MB to 16MB. Don't let these numbers fool you, though. We didn't notice much, if any, difference in performance between systems when we played the exact same game. We imagine this upgrade was just necessary to satisfy the hardware demands of the cameras. That said, Nintendo has hinted at DSi "enhanced" games. These titles will perform on any DS, but may provide extra features when played on the DSi.

Nintendo has admitted that the DSi's battery will not live up to the impressive performance of the Lite, which was able to provide close to 19 hours of play time on the lowest screen brightness setting. Instead, the DSi will hold a charge for around 9 to 14 hours depending on screen brightness and usage of power-hungry features, such as the cameras. During our testing, we never found ourselves disappointed with the battery life, but DS Lite users may notice a slight increase in charging frequency.

It's no secret that pirated software was a large problem for the DS Lite. Various hacked cartridges found their way onto Internet, allowing for a way to play illegally downloaded games. The DSi has, for the time being, found a way to thwart these devices, also benefiting from an updateable firmware.

Since the DSi is the third iteration of the DS system; it leaves the question, "Who should buy it?" Owners of the original DS should definitely consider the upgrade. The changes in design and improvements in screen size and brightness coupled with the access to the DSi Shop are more than enough reasons to take the plunge. That said, current owners of the DS Lite may want to reconsider. The DSi Shop will be the best reason to upgrade, so you'll need to decide if that's enough of an incentive. Of course, if you don't already own a version of the DS, this is certainly the one to get.

The DSi is priced at $170 and is available in either black or blue. It's $40 more expensive than the current DS Lite. The device is certainly a step in the direction of gadgets like the iPhone and iPod Touch that have access to exclusive stores for downloading games and applications. One thing is for sure: the Nintendo DSi is the company's most ambitious and solidly designed portable systems yet.

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