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Those fingers and thumbs keep moving
Member Name: SWSt
Date: 06/08/09, updated on 06/08/09 (86 review reads)
Advantages: Easy to use, huge collection of games, good compact design
Disadvantages: Slow internet access, doesn't play Gameboy games, battery indicator light easy to miss
The Nintendo DSi is an update of the earlier Nintendo DS, a portable gaming device which allows you to play games on the move. I'm not going to go into a load of technical detail about the console, partly because I don't understand it and partly because you can get that elsewhere. Instead, having had one for a good few months now, I'm hoping to give you some idea of what it's actually like to use.
The DSi is pretty well designed. It's around the length of two standard mobile phones, although slightly thinner. It has a flip-lid and opens up to reveal two LCD screens - one in the base and one in the lid, which allows for a bigger display than a single screen. Other than that, the main difference between the original DS and the DSi is that the latter is slightly lighter and can connect to the internet using wireless networking.
The DSi is pretty easy to carry around in your pocket. Although it is bigger than a standard mobile phone, it could by no means be described as heavy and can easily be slipped into a shirt pocket without causing any unsightly bulges. The plastic casing feels reasonably strong and I've certainly dropped mine a couple of times without causing any damage other than a few scuff marks. That said the plastic will only offer limited protection and I suspect there are plenty of examples of cracked screens or broken lids out there.
There is a price to pay for the increased portability as the battery life has decreased over the original model. I find a full battery charge (around 2 hours) gives approximately 10-12 hours of gaming. This is not too bad, and unless you're going on a very long journey, you should find you don't need to carry the charger around with you most of the time.
It does have one very annoying feature. Whilst there is a battery strength indicator, this is only available only on the main options screen. When playing a game, there is no real warning that the battery is about to die. One of the three display lights located between the two screens does turn red, but it's hard to spot this. I was recently playing a game and hadn't saved my progress for a while when suddenly the screen went blank and my console died, leaving me howling in frustration.
There's another compromise been made over the DSi's design. The earlier DS could play games Nintendo Gameboy games. On The DSi, this slot has again been sacrificed to make the unit smaller and lighter. Of course, the DSi has a massive collection of games available in its own right, but if accessing the back catalogue of Gameboy games is important to you, this will be a factor in which one you buy.
The nice thing about the DSi is that pretty much anyone - however technophobic - should be able to take it straight out of the box and start using it. The first time you use it, it takes you through the set-up process which not only helps you change all the relevant settings but also gets you used to the touch screen controls. Some limited software is provided, although it tends to be a little gimmicky and won't hold your attention for long. There are also two cameras, but the resolution of these is a meagre 0.3 megapixels. Kids might like the option available in some games to use one of your photos in-game, but it's not about to replace your normal camera.
What works really well is the touch screen control system. A thin pencil like stylus slots into the back of the DSi and you remove this to operate it. Initially, it's a little strange to press the stylus onto the screen to select something, but it soon feels very intuitive. The DSi is very responsive and you only have to press lightly for it to spring into action. A slight concern is that after a while, the stylus does start to feel a little loose when put back in its slot and mine has fallen out a couple of times. This makes it a little too easy to lose (although a spare one is provided and replacements can be bought).
There is a more traditional directional pad (D-PAD) and buttons if you don't like the touch screen, but I actually find using the stylus far more intuitive and easy to use. The D-PAD feels quite cramped and it can be all too easy for your finger to slip off a button at a crucial time leading to frustrating in-game deaths.
The 2 screens of the DSi are very good. The colours are crisp, clear and bright and although they are quite small (3.5 inches), the graphics on games can be surprisingly detailed. As with any portable screen, it doesn't fare too well in direct sunlight and you can sometimes find yourself contorting your body into all sorts of strange positions to try and provide some shade so that you can see what's on the screen!
The small screen size does mean that the DSi is not particularly suited to complicated or long games, as staring at the screen for too long can hurt your eyes. However, if puzzle games, or games that you play in quick bursts are your thing, then the DSi probably has some of the best titles available for it.
Where the DSi scores over its predecessor is in its ability to use wireless networks to browse the internet. On my home network, I found this very easy to set up using the on-screen prompts, but I've never successfully set it up on a wi-fi network outside my own home. Internet access is also pretty slow - even relatively simple pages take at least a minute to load and the DSi regularly gives up half way through to protest that it is out of memory. Having internet access is a nice bonus, but only if you use it infrequently and for relatively simple sites. If online access is vital for you, there are better devices available.
The internet access also allows users to download games from Nintendo's DSiWare range, for a small charge. This service has been up and running for a good few months now and I find it very disappointing. Only a handful of games have been released and they are definitely aimed at the younger end of the market. Each console comes with 1000 free points (worth £10) and I haven't even been remotely tempted to spend mine yet. If you're looking for remakes of classic 8-bit games, you'd be better off with a Wii.
The DSi is not a massive leap forward over the DS. With a retail price of £130-150, it costs quite a bit more than the original model. Which one you buy will depend on which features are most important to you. If internet access and increased portability are more important, go for the DSi. If you want to be able to play the massive back catalogue of Gameboy Advance games, then you need the slightly older (but cheaper) DS.
© Copyright SWSt 2009
Summary: DS v DSi? Depends which features are most important to you