Note to Nintendo: I'm going broke with all the different versions of your gaming handhelds. With this third iteration of the Nintendo DS (that's since December 2004), the Nintendo DSi tacks on a number of extra features while slimming down. It's a two-lensed digicam, it's a sound mixer...and, yeah, it still plays games on its two screens. So when the DSi launches April 5th to the tune of $170, should you buy one? Let's count down some of the things we love--and hate--about this new mobile gamer. And break down what it means to you.
1. SLICK DESIGN
LOVE: The DSi keeps roughly the same dimensions as the DS Lite while slightly increasing the screen size (the new touchscreen measures about 1.96 inches by 2.59 inches; by comparison the DS Lite's touchscreen measures 1.81 by 2.4 inches). It has a slightly textured coating--an almost Lenovo ThinkPad-like rubbery-ish coating that makes the machine comfortable to touch.The new style puts the power button on the front face and moves the volume control to the side. All handy little changes, for sure. And it's good to finally see SDHC card support in this gaming handheld, as well. Thanks to these changes--and the removal of the GameBoy Advance backwards compatibility slot (which we'll get to in a second)--the DSi gets a hair thinner than the DS as a result.
HATE: Kiss backwards compatibility goodbye: The GameBoy Advance slot is gone. Such is the price of progress. I suppose I can live with the fact that we're getting cut off from older games. What I don't get, though, is why, with every single redesign of a Nintendo DS, the company changes the pin-out of the device so that you need a different charger. Would it really kill Nintendo to have a standardized plug to pull power from? And, while we're at it, why not use plain-ol' mini-USB cables? They work on everything from MP3 players and digicams to the Sony PSP. That's saying nothing of hooking that mini-USB cable into a computer to let you easily navigate files sitting on your device's memory card. I can do that with cameras, and I can do that with smartphones. Why not with a DSi? And that is as good a segue as any for....
2.THE MUSIC PLAYER / SOUND EDITOR
LOVE: It is a fully functional music player. Well, fully functional in that you can play back some audio formats. The DSi can play AAC files (with .m4a, .mp4, and .3gp file extensions). But what's gonna rope in some creative chip-tuners and budding DJs are the small audio recording and mixing abilities of the DSi. You can store up to 18 different 10-second sound bites. From there, you can add a couple of goofy effects, change speed and octave--or just have a stable of sound samples on hand whenever you're around town. Hey, you never know when you'll need to hit the Sad Trombone.
HATE: So going back to what I said a few moments ago, let me be crystal clear: AAC playback. It doesn't support the MP3 format! Not even iPods are that locked down. There better be an update at some point to make that happen. I'd also love to also see more audio editing capabilities and some way to sample remix and offload the sound samples you record onto an SD card.
3. THE DIGITAL CAMERA
LOVE: Two tiny 0.3-megapixel cameras (one facing outward, one pointing at the user) allow you to take pictures, while software lets you add effects and edit images. A host of crazy features enable you to do everything from futzing with faces you snap to selectively stripping out colors. Then you can take those edited images over to your computer with an SD Card. Overall, the two cameras do a servicable job, and I can wait for some of the applications like WarioWare Snapped that'll take full advantage of the two lenses.
HATE: The 640-by-480-pixel resolution cameras are perfectly capable of creating something suitable for Facebook. Not that you're expecting to print family photos with these shots; also, the camera is best suited for well-lit areas--so don't expect to craft any stellar shots in a dimly-lit bar. But why do I have to keep my expectations low? $100 cell phones have better-resolution lenses. Hey, I can dream.
4.STORAGE AND DOWNLOADS
LOVE: Nintendo finally decides to add internal storage for saving games on a device. Yay!
HATE: A meager 256MB of storage. Really? I just bought an 8GB SDHC card for 20 bucks.
LOVE: Nintendo finally has a download store for DSi games--appropriately named the DSi Shop Channel. It's accessible on the device through any wireless Internet connection. Unfortunately, I can't tell you much more about it right now. The store doesn't open until April 5th.
HATE: Applications must run off the sparse internal storage. If you download something and save it to a memory card, you'll need to copy it back onto the unit's internal 256MB of storage to run it. At least that's the way it was when the DSi launched in Japan last year. There is, however, one glimmer of hope. You see, last week during GDC , Nintendo announced a smart move: The latest system update allows you to save your downloaded WiiWare and Virtual Console games onto an SDHC card. And to play those games off the card, since the Wii has little internal storage. What a concept! Now if some rocket scienists at Nintendo are reading this--do the same thing for the DSi!!
6. THE INTERFACE
LOVE: Nintendo learned a couple of valuable lessons from the Wii. So much so that the new navigation looks like a modded, mobile version of what you'd find on the home console. Boxes that scroll along the bottom show all the features/games/applications available....and a number of open boxes await your favorite downloads. Of course, since it's so closely emulating the Wii interface, don't be surprised if there are frequent system updates to foil system hackers from crafting homebrew games.
HATE: Of course, as a huge homebrew fan, the first thing that I had to do was test out my R4 cartridge (1.25 build) to see if I could play any of my homegrown games on the DSi. Absolutely no luck, it won't read the card. Now I know that the big concern about these things is that it's some gateway to pirating games. You know what? So was a VCR. So is a DVD-R. Does this mean you should punish homebrewers? OK, I'll step down off the soapbox for a sec. I'm not saying that Nintendo has any obligation to open up its platform (hint, hint), but it sure would be nice to see some of these freely made apps for the NIntendo DS work on a DSi. Any chance that'll happen? Well, I'll bet that some industrious modders will figure out a workaround well before Nintendo will allow it officially.
The Nintendo DSi still has two X-factors to be checked out before we can pass any kind of final judgment on the device. The first is the DSi Shop Channel, which, as mentioned, won't open it's doors until April 5th, the day that the console ships to stores. The other problem is more of a practical test. We need to stage a gaming horse race to see how the battery life compares--better, worse, or the same?--with earlier versions of the handheld. Check back to PC World.com, and we'll give you the official word soon enough.
Pros: A slimmer, sleeker multimedia-minded Nintendo DS; two Webcams
Cons: Skimpy internal storage; only AAC music format supported
PCW Rating: Pending
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