Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nintendo DSi

Nintendo DSi
Screen Size: 3.25"
Dimensions: 133mm x 73.9mm x 21.5mm
Weight: 214g
Camera: 0.3 Megapixel (x2)
Photo Quality: 640px x 480px
Inputs: DS games, SD cards

Perhaps the most controversial system launch in modern times, Nintendo answers the questions that no one asked with the DSi. Talking to most people about the system elicits lukewarm responses, or outright anger. The DSi is an "upgrade" to the existing line of dual screen portables that boasts larger screen sizes, the ability to download games and applications off of a new service called DS Ware, 2 cameras, and a SD card slot for storing pictures, music, and DS Ware content. Gone is the GBA hardware slot, which many believe is a crime, and in its place is a bunch of features that actual gamers don't want or need. I sure love controversy, and I've been wanting an excuse to upgrade from the ergonomically painful DS, so here are my thoughts.


The screens are noticeably larger than the old ones. It won't blow anyone away, but they are a nice bonus to the package. Since I didn't own a Lite, the brightness of the display will take a little getting used to. But with five different brightness settings, there's not much worry.


The speakers are supposed to be much improved this time around, from the DSLite. Although the volume is not loud enough if you wanted to blast your music, the sound comes out pretty clear. One issue I had with the old DS is that at low volumes, there was a lot of distortion, which was one irritation of mine. These issues are gone here. With headphones, the audio comes out pretty nicely as well.


The slot for SD cards have an interesting design. You have to first swivel the covering, then pull it out a little bit, before inserting the SD card upside down. It snaps in cleanly. The nice thing is that the DSi supports SDHC format, which means as of now, you can have up to 32 GB of storage. That's a huge amount of space. My laptop's harddrive has less storage. One drawback for the DSi is that the DSi cannot plug into your computer in any way. That means if you want to do any file transfers between PC and DSi, you have to have a SD card reader on your PC, remove SD card from DSi, transfer it to the card reader, make your changes, and then put the card back into the DSi. It's inconvenient to have to do it that way, and if you don't already have a reader, you're going to have to buy one.

If you don't want to bother with SD cards, the system comes with 256MB of internal storage.

Once again, these storage solutions are only for photos, music, and DLC for now.


In the old DS and DSLite, when you turned on the system, you had 3 options: start up DS game, start up GBA game, or go into system settings. They overhauled the bootup menu so that it's now a horizontal scrolling series of icons that include system settings, camera, starting DS game, music player, etc.

Although some items can be easily navigated with the buttons and D-pad, annoyingly, there are quite a few functions that are touch-screen only.

DSi Shop

From now until October 5, Nintendo is giving away 1000 free DSi Points, if you purchase the system.

I haven't taken advantage of it yet, but I may give Wario Ware Snapped a shot. I did try the DS Ware store for downloading the Opera browser. Unlike the DS/DSLite version, this one is a free download.

The store is organized in several categories, like most popular downloads, downloads searchable by first letter, etc. Then it gives you a brief description of the product, followed by the price in DSi Points. It's not unlike the system used by Microsoft's XBL. Once you download an item, it shows up as an icon in the bootup menu.

I got a chance to fiddle with the Opera browser a little bit. Like the old DS one, it does not support Flash, and sites that use it will cripple and sometimes crash it. But on the plus side, it loads websites much faster than the old browser did. Unfortunately, the browser itself is much simpler with one screen used for navigating the webpage, and the other used for a zoomed-in view.


The DSi sports two cameras. The positioning is actually quite clever, with a standard camera, and an internal camera that points back at you for self-portraits. You can switch between the cameras with a button. The major gaffe was only have 0.3 megapixels to work with for both. The pictures look great when displayed on the DS, but transferred to a PC and the picture flaws are glaringly apparent.

On the flipside, I get it. I totally get what Nintendo was aiming at. These gadgets are completely irrelevant to us young adults (or old adults) who have tiny Cybershots and huge hunkering Canon SLRs. What Nintendo has done is brought digital photography to the younger generation. This is pretty evident when you look at the available camera filters on the system. You can add preloaded frames, word bubbles, cat whiskers and ears (thanks to some fancy face-detection tech), coloring, etc. Even though I wouldn't really use these features, I think the wealth of camera options is pretty amazing. It might not be practical to me, but if I were a teen, I'd think it was super-cool.

Example 1 Example 2 Example 3

On the other hand, the cameras may be more crucial than simply taking funny pictures with your teenybopper friends. I've seen videos of Wario Ware Snapped and it uses the face detection features as a method of control. That game tracks your head movements, and your on-screen character reacts accordingly. This opens up a wealth of interactive gaming content, similar to what the Wiimote offers the Wii. Nintendo's Snapped game is just a DLC teaser, but it shows a little bit of the possibilities available to the system. If developers can utilize the camera lens to include motion-detection, can you imagine how amazing a Fatal Frame game could be? I'm really excited at the gameplay possibilities.


The DSi only plays AAC files. It's a mis-step for sure on Nintendo's part. I don't know if they were being cheap or what, but it almost seems backwards for them to offer a music player, but only support a single format that hasn't been universally adopted. I almost think it would have been better to not offer a music player at all.

But after I got over that initial hump, I started to learn more about AACs, and realized they offer better sound quality than mp3, result in smaller file sizes, and require less resources for decoding. So aac is better for players and listeners alike, and totally changed the way I thought about the format. Now I am thinking about ripping all my CDs in aac from now on. But while I've become comfortable with an aac-only player, I still do think it was sheer stupidity (or stubbornness) on Nintendo's part to not support the mp3 standard.

As for the player itself, it recognizes your file folders (up to 7 layers of nesting, in fact!). So you can keep your music organized by artist, by album, all in one folder, however you like. Play options include a host of options like shuffle (folder only), shuffle (all folders, all songs), resume (folder only), resume (song only) etc.

The top screen features the display of the song, showing artist, title, time elapsed, etc. The DSi has support for Japanese tags, which is good for me. There are also a bunch of visualizations available, ranging from standard frequency bars to psychadelic images to Excitebike. The bottom screen has all of the controls, like skip, rewind, play/pause.

The way the DSi handles closing the lid is pretty logical. If you flip it closed, and there are headphones attached, you can continue listening to your songs. If you close it, and there are no headphones attached, ie it's playing audio through speakers, it will enter sleep mode. Unfortunately, Nintendo has not offered any external controls for the music. So if you want to skip a track, you cannot just press L/R. The reason is because L/R is mapped to something else...

Nintendo has added some audio manipulation tools in addition to strict playback. You can add filters like "radio" which adds static and flattens the audio to sound more like mono. My favorite is 8-bit Game which... well... makes your song sound like an 8-bit game. You can also record your own sound effects, and cue up those while a song is playing. And you can change the speed and/or pitch of the song pretty easily with the stylus. But perhaps the most useful of all is the addition of percussion instruments mapped to L and R. While listening to songs, you can tap the L/R buttons to either follow along with the beat or add your own rhythmic freestyle touch. It gives the songs an added layer of interactivity, which can be really cool. L and R are usually different sounds, and you can swap percussion instruments with X/Y, so you have some creative freedom there.

Example 1 Example 2

The only thing about playing music is that it only performs in music player mode. Once you exit, the music stops. That means you cannot listen to music while taking or viewing photos. It also means you can't listen to your music while playing a game.

Odds and Ends

Although Nintendo does not mention this, supposedly some hackers found out that the processor and RAM has been upgraded quite a bit from the DSLite. This could explain why the Opera browser runs so much faster.

Power button functions like modern consoles. That is, you press it, and the system resets. If you want to fully power-down, you have to hold it a few seconds. The advantage of course, is having some sort of reset built-in to the hardware.

The volume used to be handled via a slider in the DS and DSLite. Here, the volume comes in the form of up/down buttons on the side.