Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Buying Guide: Nintendo DSi

By Benedict Wee

I know it’s kinda late but this blog is new so I’ll just post it anyways. To buy or not to buy the DSi? (hey it rhymes!) I’ll go through a simple review, highlighting the pros, cons and the not-of-any-interest (which I call ‘meh’) aspects of Nintendo’s new handheld, finally summarizing if the purchase of the DSi is worthwhile.

Why I like it

Bigger Screens:
The DSis screens are 17% bigger than those of the DS lites (3 inches) at 3.25 inches. Big screens are always a welcome addition.

DSi download games/applications:
Ever got sick and tired of changing your DS game cartridges when you wanna change games? Me neither. But for those who find this task arduous the DSi allows you to download games from their online DSi store thus saving you time of swapping aforementioned carts. These games are however, not the immersive kind that you’re used to. They’re simple mini games targeted towards the non-gaming crowd but still, some of them incorporate the DSi’s internal camera in order to play them so it is pretty fun.

You can also download applications like the new (and vastly improved) Opera web browser as well as the Animal Crossing clock/calendar and calculator. Most of the downloadable stuff cost DSi points (which you have to purchase via credit card) but Nintendo will start you off with 1000 DSi points for your new system (available till October 5 2009) which makes the deal pretty sweet. 

Web Browser:
The DS lite’s Opera web browser was a badly made piece of junk that was expensive and had a poor user interface which was slow and clunky. The new DSi’s browser is an upgrade to that mess and it doesn’t require the purchase of any peripherals. Just head on to the online DSi store and download it via the DSi for free. Its performance is much better too.

SD card slot:
For SD cards (obviously) where you can store your (ACC formatted) music files, photos as well as DSi download games.


Music Player:
The DSi plays audio files but they’ve gotta be in ACC format which means a tedious conversion process via iTunes.  Also it seems that the DSi can only read up to 100 songs so your choices are limited. I’d stick with an ipod to cater to your music needs.

Dual Cameras:
The thought of two cameras (one on the cover, the other inside on the hinge next to the microphone) on the DSi would lead one to put this feature in the ‘pros’ section of the review but its disappointing resolution lands it in this category. Both cameras are 0.3 megapixels which makes me wonder why they even bother featuring them at all. In our current technological environment I’d expect at least 2 megapixel dual cameras even though they aren’t selling mobile cameras with that kind of resolution anymore. The low-res cameras won’t be able to take anything decent without a generous dose of lighting and what you’ll end up with most of the time is dark shadows on your screen where your friends should be.

The photo editing program included in the DSi is pretty neat though, but it is kind of pointless when you’re drawing funny faces on the aforementioned dark shadow-friends on the screen.

Voice Recorder:
Another not-particularly-useful-nor-fun feature of the DSi allows you to record your voice (up to 10 seconds) then play it back in varied tones using the synthesizer program. If you like to make one-sentenced swears like a chipmunk then this an application for you.

Why I do not like it

No DSi Cartridge Games:
Yes you can download games from the online DSi store but as I’ve mentioned before, they’re not your full-fledged games.  The debut of a new console should be complimented by software that shows off the improved graphic/processing capabilities of the system rather than push something trivial like downloadable games. When the Xbox 360 was announced, Microsoft marketed its upgrade from predecessor Xbox with great looking games like Perfect Dark and its Live! Arcade service (where you download old arcade games and amateur developer-made ones into the 360’s hard drive) was only listed as an extra feature. Sony did the same with its Playstation 3 and its online store.

The games are coming however, but it’s going to take a while. Nintendo has talked about it but they did not announce any titles which means you’re not going to see a full DSi cart game till probably next year. 

Region Lock:
What makes the lack of games worse is that when they are eventually released they’ll be region locked. Till the DSi, Nintendo has only implemented locked hardware and software on their home consoles which meant that we could play videogames that we would not usually get in this part of the world. A good example is Japan where quirky games like Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (the Japanese equivalent of Elite Beat Agents) and Super Robot Wars W, where you control different robots from famous series (Voltron, Gundam SEED, Full Metal Panic! etc..) are exclusive only to their native land due to licensing issues or the reluctance of western publishers.

Another big problem is that the region lock means that we’re usually at the end of the stick when it comes to getting games. Like Australia and Europe, our televisions, dvds and consoles are of the PAL variety. This means that games take longer to get published (because software in PAL regions are subject to multi-translations by law in the EU) and that the games we get are infinitely more expensive (due to the higher exchange rate).

This major fact alone should turn one off to buying a local set and resorting to importing or even worse, piracy.

No GBA slot:
Means that you’re going to have to stick with your DS lite if you wanna play all your old GBA games or use that rumble pack.

Really terrible battery life:
One of the proud features I used against the Sony PSP was that the battery life on a DS lite was incredibly long. On the lowest light setting you could play a game for about 15-19 hours before needing a recharge which made traveling with the handheld really convenient cause you don’t have to bring the charger. Even on the highest screen brightness it could last you 5-8 hours which is still amazing.

The DSi however lasts for about 9-14 hours on its lowest brightness setting and 3-4 hours on its highest. That is one whole tier lesser than its predecessor! It would be forgivable if the DSi was using different proprietary game software (the PSP uses a disc which takes a lot of power to spin and read) but they’re talking about the same DS games which you can play on your DS lite. It is not energy efficient at all.


Nintendo’s new handheld does some things right but many others wrong. At the end of the day the main purpose of having a portable console is to play games on it and the frills that the DSi offers aren’t appealing enough to tempt a gamer into making the purchase. The introduction of DSi downloadable games aren’t impressive (facebook has better ones and they’re free) makes this a hard sell to those who already have a DS. For non-gamers, the DSi should offer better bells and whistles (2 megapixel camera with flash perhaps?) and be slightly easier to use (why can’t I use mp3s to play my music?) because there are other daily devices out there -like mobiles- that allow them to the same thing and more.

If you already have a DS lite stick with it. If you’re looking to get into the handheld gaming scene get a DS lite or if you’re willing to wait, do so. Nintendo has a habit of improving the specs of their portables yearly so you might see an improved device announcement towards the end of the year. 


DS lite and DSi specs on IGN

Kotaku DSi Games are region locked

Kotaku Nintendo plans DSi only games

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