Review: Nintendo DSi offers evolutionary, not revolutionary, upgrade over DS Lite

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When Nintendo released the DS Lite in June 2006, it was a drastic upgrade over the previous model, the Nintendo DS (short for dual screen), which had come out nearly 18 months earlier.

The two screens on the DS Lite were a lot brighter and easier to see, and the sleeker, smaller redesign made the unit feel more modern and compact. It was an amazing transformation that helped sell more than 75 million units and made the DS Lite the premiere hand-held game system.


Hitting stores today is the latest incarnation, the Nintendo DSi. Though it has some great new features and abilities, the DSi feels more like version 2.5 than a total reboot like the DS Lite was. That’s OK -- the improvements are worthwhile additions to an already great product.

Physically, the DSi is about the same size and shape as the DS Lite. Instead of a shiny gloss finish, though, the DSi comes in matte black and matte light blue (at least initially). The matte finish feels almost sticky to the touch compared with the slick coating on the previous version. That’s not necessarily a good thing for a hand-held game system.

The screens on the newest version are slightly bigger and brighter, but the change isn’t as drastic as the last upgrade. The DS games still play and look the same.

Gone is the ability to play Game Boy Advance games using ...

...a slot in the front; its real estate is now used to house an SD card reader. It’s a welcome trade. Now the photo and music storage of the DSi is limited only by the size of the removable memory chip you stick in the unit (but which must be purchased separately).

(Another note: This version, like the two before it, uses a whole new power adapter with a newly shaped plug, meaning more old plugs are heading for landfills across the globe. Thanks for being green, Nintendo.)

The three biggest improvements are the addition of two cameras, an audio reader and a new operating system that adds the ability to purchase and download games wirelessly in a way similar to the WiiShop, Nintendo’s online store for its wildly successful Wii platform.

First the cameras: With two tiny lenses attached to the unit -- one on the front pointing to the person holding the DSi and one on the back pointing away -- users can snap photos and use the creative photo editing software that’s included to manipulate the pictures.

The 11 different options produce a lot of fun results. (Our favorite is the “merge” function that blends two pictures to form a hybrid of the two faces, like some photo booths do. The outcome is usually hilarious.)

The photo editing software is simple enough that even a 6-year-old can figure it out in about 20 minutes.

And while the cameras’ resolution is tiny by today’s standards at only 0.3 megapixels, the possibilities of snapping a cute photo to upload to your Facebook page (using your trusty SD card and a computer) will surely be loved by teens worldwide.

The other great improvement is the Nintendo DSi shop, which also launches today. Gamers can redeem points for quirky, original games that are downloaded and installed on their unit, much the way Apple Inc.'s App Store works. A variety of games (with a variety of prices, from free to $8 each) will roll out over the coming months. As a perk to try it out, anyone who purchases a DSi and connects to the store before Oct. 5, 2009, will get the equivalent of $10 to buy games. (We’ll be using our credit for “WarioWare: Snapped!,” a strange collection of mini-games that uses the camera to force the player into some offbeat faces and movements and will be a must-purchase for anyone who picks up a DSi.)

Additionally, a music application not only records sounds but also allows users to manipulate songs from the SD card. Now, playing with the pitch of “Mamma Mia!” has never been more possible.

The bottom line is just that. Are the new features and cameras worth the extra $40 this unit costs compared with the previous model? For die-hard Nintendo fans, the answer will be a resounding yes. But for the DS Lite owners without a lot of disposable income in these rough economic times, you’re not missing too much.

Grade: A- (Improved, yes. A must have? Probably not.)

Price: $169.99

-- Pete Metzger

Top photo: The Nintendo DSi, which was officially released today.

Photo credits: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times