The DSi is the third iteration of Nintendo's popular dual-screen handheld gaming system. It boasts a number of new features -- twin cameras and audio playback, for example -- that make it more of a personal entertainment device than a mere handheld games machine.
It's available now for around £150.
On first inspection, the DSi looks almost identical to the DS Lite, but there are several key differences. Although slightly longer and wider than the Lite, the DSi is 12 per cent thinner. It also trades the Lite's glossy black finish (the Lite and DSi are also available in white) for a grainy, matte black that virtually eliminates fingerprint smudging and gives it an almost retro aesthetic.
The DSi sports two cameras. The first of these lives on the outside of the clamshell lid, facing away from the user, while the other lives on the hinge, facing the user. The left side of the device boasts a couple of digital volume adjuster switches, while the right sports an SD card reader. Gone is the Game Boy Advance cartridge slot that lives on the bottom of the Lite.
The speaker grilles on the Lite, which consist of six small holes on either side of the uppermost screen, now take the form of two single, oval-shaped openings, which help to deliver louder, clearer sound. The DSi's twin screens are 83mm (3.25 inches) across the diagonal -- an improvement on the 76mm (3-inch) displays on the Lite.
The DSi sports a new, improved menu system, reminiscent of Apple's Cover Flow interface on the iPod touch and iPhone. The lower display shows a series of horizontally grouped icons -- each representing an application -- and a speech bubble above the centre-most icon, explaining its function. Icons can be browsed by swiping a finger, or the stylus, horizontally across the display.
The most useful icon will probably be the one for running whatever game you've inserted into the console's main slot, but other applications -- specifically designed for and pre-installed on the DSi -- will catch your eye long before you've launched any games.
The first of these, DSi Sound, allows you to record audio with the built-in microphone and then -- if it pleases you -- modify the speed and pitch of the recording until it either sounds like a chipmunk or a Dalek with a sore throat. It's utterly pointless.
More usefully, DSi Sound doubles as an audio player for your digital music collection. The system is capable of playing files encoded in the AAC format -- the same format used by Apple for its iPods. As a result, it's compatible with DRM-free iTunes Plus tracks, which is commendable. But it lacks compatibility with MP3 files, which -- from our perspective -- makes the application almost redundant, unless you're willing to convert your MP3 collection to the AAC format. The amount of music you can store depends entirely on the size of the SD/SDHC card you've bought to go with the console.
The DSi Camera application allows users to take snaps with either of the DSi's cameras. It's also possible to use up to 11 different 'lenses', or effects, including 'graffiti', which applies speech bubbles to your pictures, and 'mischief', which superimposes a cartoon pig's nose, a moustache or comedy eyes onto your own features. It's fairly pointless, but kids might like it. For a few minutes.
The DSi can be connected to the Internet via its integrated Wi-Fi module. To do this, users must access the DSi Shop menu, which gives you the option of downloading free and paid-for software upgrades -- known as DSiWare -- including a Web browser. DSi Browser, as it is known, was co-developed by Nintendo and Opera, and fine-tuned specifically for the DSi hardware. Further applications -- simple games and such -- will appear over time.
PictoChat, the instant-messaging software bundled with the original DS, makes an appearance on the DSi. Unfortunately, Nintendo seems to have missed a trick by not enabling videoconferencing -- the application is as basic as ever, and only allows communication via text, smilies and simple drawings.
The DSi provides a basically identical user experience to that of the Lite. Although the slightly larger displays benefit text-rich applications such as the 100 Classic Book Collection, the fact that the resolution of the displays hasn't improved from the Lite's 256x192-pixel output means the advantages are minimal.
The new displays bring some drawbacks, including greater power drain. At the lowest brightness setting, Nintendo says you can expect between 9 and 14 hours of use, which is some way off the 19 hours that the Lite is capable of. We wouldn't recommend using the minimum brightness setting unless you're using the device in a totally dark room, though -- not unless you want to strain your eyes.
The DSi's cameras aren't very good. They've a maximum resolution of 0.3 megapixels, which equates to 640x480 pixels, or a picture 2.5 times the size of one of the DSi's displays. That's probably fine for kids or adults who don't know any better, but most camera phones are capable of taking images at a resolution of 1.3 megapixels (1,280x1,024 pixels) or higher.
We wouldn't advise potential buyers to ditch their Nintendo DS Lite for a DSi -- at least, not yet. The DSi's music-playback functionality is mediocre and its camera features are a disappointment. Perhaps in the future Nintendo and third-party developers will be able to take advantage of the DSi's unique features but, at this stage, we'd only recommend the DSi to people who don't already have a Lite.
Edited by Charles Kloet