Review: Nintendo DSi lets you have a blast with photos

Review: Nintendo DSi lets you have a blast with photos

Summary: Back when I was in college in 1989 my mom gave me the original Nintendo Gameboy device and I thought it was one of the coolest gadgets around. I still have that original Gameboy, but on Sunday I went out and bought my second Nintendo portable gaming system that is quite a departure from that large chunky device. The Nintendo DSi is now available for sale in the US for a MSRP of $169.99. It comes in matte black or baby blue and I picked up my black model at WalMart for $169. After having spent almost two days with the device, I wanted to give you some of my impressions and walk you around the device in case this is something you are considering. Take a look at my YouTube video below and through my image gallery to see product photos and photos taken with the DSi.

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Back when I was in college in 1989 my mom gave me the original Nintendo Gameboy device and I thought it was one of the coolest gadgets around. I still have that original Gameboy, but on Sunday I went out and bought my second Nintendo portable gaming system that is quite a departure from that large chunky device. The Nintendo DSi is now available for sale in the US for a MSRP of $169.99. It comes in matte black or baby blue and I picked up my black model at WalMart for $169. After having spent almost two days with the device, I wanted to give you some of my impressions and walk you around the device in case this is something you are considering. Take a look at my YouTube video below and through my image gallery to see product photos and photos taken with the DSi.


Image Gallery:A look at the hardware and images taken with the Nintendo DSi portable gaming device. Image Gallery: Black matte DSi Image Gallery: Nintendo gaming units

My daughters have the Nintendo DS and DS Lite models and this next generation does have several differences over these models, including the use of two 0.3 megapixel VGA cameras, larger displays (3.25 inches compared to 3 inches), SDHC expansion slot, longer and thinner form factor with same width, loss of the Game Boy Advance cartridge slot, improved speakers, and reorganization of some of the buttons and indicator lights (shown in my video). I personally really like the matte finish on the DSi that reminds me a lot of my original Zune 30GB. This type of finish is quite durable and seems to get fewer scratches and blemishes than what I have seen on glossy coatings.

Box contents and out-of-box experiences: The Nintendo DSi comes in a densely packed box that contains a thick manual, Quick Start Guide, warranty papers, Club Nintendo flyer, extra stylus, the DSi, and A/C adapter. There is no carrying case, lanyard, or SD card provided.

I took out the black DSi and hooked it up to the charging so I could start playing. The device felt great in my hand and later that day I threw it in my back jeans pocket and it fit comfortably with a bit thinner form factor than the DS Lite. I can't say enough how I like the matte black finish on the device either. The camera lens cover is not protected and I do wonder if that will become scratched up over time.

The power button is now an actual button, where it was a slider toggle before. A single press of the power button takes you back to the "home" screen and you have to actually press and hold it down to power off the device.

Specifications:

  • Dual 3.25 inch displays (one touch and one non-touch)
  • ARM 133 MHz CPU
  • 16MB of RAM
  • 256MB of internal Flash
  • 802.11b WiFi
  • Two 0.3 megapixel digital cameras
  • Advertised 14 hour gaming battery life with 840 mAh battery
  • SDHC-compatible card slot for photo storage, music, and download software backups and data

Let's get playing: After charging up the DSi, you press the power button to turn it on and are then immediately taken through a setup wizard. The setup wizard has you set things like your username, a display message, time, date, birthdate, and more. After that you are taken to the "home" screen that has a bunch of icons that you can scroll through with the directional pad or by tapping on the lower display. You can tap and hold and drag the icons in any order that you would like. Out of the box there are icons for

If you place a game cartridge in the slot, the game icon will appear in the menu system and you can tap on it to start playing. I found gameplay to be the same as on the DS and DS Lite, with a slightly larger display making things a bit bigger. Gameplay is fairly consistent between the devices.

Fun with the cameras: I think the main differentiator between the DS Lite and the DSi that people will notice is the inclusion of the two VGA (0.3 megapixel) cameras. At first I wondered why you would want a camera, or two, on a device like this, but Nintendo has done a super job with the software and me and my kids have spent 80% of the time goofing off with just the camera functionality over these last two days. Nintendo gives you the option of using either camera (by tapping the Switch button on the lower display) so you can take photos of your self or others. When you first launch the camera application you are walked through a tutorial and after that you are presented with 11 different lens options. The 11 lenses are normal, distortion, graffiti, color, colorpad, mirror, mischief, emoter, merge, resemblence, and frame. These different lenses really can be quite fun and I imagine that young and old alike will get a kick out of the photos you can take. Check out some of mine in the image gallery.

In particular, I found the color lens to be quite amazing and here is how it works. The image through the lens appears in black and white. You then tap something on the image on the lower display and everything with that color appears in that color while the rest of the image remains black and white. For example, my daughters blue shirt turned blue when I tapped it along with the sky. So anything blue in the image turns blue while the rest of the photo remains black and white. You can do this for multiple colors and at times it can get kind of messy so you may want to stick with just exposing one or two colors.

The emoter lens was funny too as it changed the image emotion (angry, happy, sad) right as you were viewing the image through the viewfinder. I actually didn't realize I changed to this mode and kept telling my oldest daughter to stop making weird faces and just stand still for the picture. I then looked up and she was smiling perfectly while the viewfinder showed me a scewed image, too funny.

I am not sure how well the resemblence image recognition works as it varied quite a bit between our family members even when a couple of us look a lot alike. There are several recommendations in the full manual for improving accuracy though, such as don't tilt your head or wear glasses, so I need to spend more time following these to see how well it does.

BTW, the DSi cameras have face recognition integrated into them so in some of these lens modes the photo cannot be captured unless there is a human face in the picture. We tried to see how much our dog resembled us, but it wouldn't recognize the dog's face or capture the image.

I wish the cameras were at least 2 megapixel quality though since they would be more useful for sharing with family and friends. That said, I can see adults and kids having a great time with the cameras for hours and hours on the DSi and this functionality alone may be worth the $40 difference over the Nintendo DS Lite.

The camera shutter sound also works whether or not you have the volume completely down or not so don't try to take any spy shots in a quiet environment or you will get caught.

What's that crazy sound?: A mic is included on the DSi like in older models, but some new software lets you have fun with recorded sounds and music stored on the SD card. You can record your own voice or that of others and then run the output through 12 crazy filters. The creation you make can also then be saved as a new sound. The 12 filters available are named Helium, Robot, Parakeet, Transceiver, Tunnel, Electric Fan, Low Harmony, High Harmony, Synth Harmony, Trumpet, Whistle, and Buzzer.

Pitch and playback speed can be messed with dynamically by tapping on the pitch/playback rectangle as music or recordings are played. There are four quadrants to speed up or slowdown each of these two parameters.

You can also mess with the AAC music files you have stored on your SD card and apply four different filters, including Radio, Instrumental, 8-bit game, and Echo effects.

You can listen to your music without any distortions or messing around too, but it has to be AAC files as MP3 files are not supported. I was a bit disappointed to see this since most of my music is in MP3 format after buying it from Amazon. I think you can convert MP3 to AAC in iTunes though so it shouldn't be too difficult to get some of your music into a format for the DSi if you really want to. Music will also playback on your headphones if you close the lid on your DSi so you really can turn it into a portable audio player if you want.

As you can see in my video, the GDGT podcast was in AAC format so I listened to it and messed around a bit with Ryan and Peter's voices to have some fun with the application.

Uses for WiFi connectivity: We have the Opera browser package ($30) for the DS Lite and now you can browse with this Opera-based browser for free on the DSi. Interestingly, the browser is not included on the device and you have to visit the DSi Shop to download and install it. I think this actually may be better in the long run since you can easily update the browser in the future since browser updates seem to be a regular occurrence with changes in Internet content. I had to actually update my DSi system software to connect to the DSi shop too in order to get the browser.

The browser works pretty well, but I did run into low memory warnings when browsing the full versions of my ZDNet blogs and then trying to visit the full Gmail site. While browsing mobile formatted sites I saw none of these errors and the browser actually when quite fast. Google Reader and Gmail's basic HTML site were very functional. There are two browsing modes in Opera and I prefer the Overview mode where the full site appears on the upper screen and the zoomed in area on the lower display. The Column View mode scrolls the site across both displays.

The browser uses up 97 blocks in the system memory and my device reported that there are a total of 1024 blocks available for storing applications you download from the DSi Shop. There are currently only 6 titles in the DSi Shop, including the web browser, so there isn't much to download at the moment. Available titles include WarioWare Snapped!, Bird & Beans, Brain Age Express: Math, Master of Illusion Express: Funny Face, and Art Style AQUIA.

Applications appear to cost between 200 and 800 points and there should also be some free optins available in the future. If you visit the DSi Shop and sign up for an account before 5 October 2009 then you get 1,000 free points to use in the DSi Shop. You can also purchase points with 1000 points available for $10, 2000 for $20, 3000 for $30, and 5000 for $50. You can have up to 20,000 maximum points in your balance or $200 worth. Wii Points Cards can also be used as Nintendo Points Cards.

You can also use the wireless capability for DS Download Play to play others with DS, DS Lite, and DSi devices if you want to share a game cartridge and both play the game. I also saw that you can download the latest game demos to the DSi through the Nintendo Channel on the Wii console so I need to connect to my Wii and see how this works soon. There should also be DS Download Stations at retailers to download demos and other data wirelessly.

The DSi lets you still use the PictoChat functionality and actually slightly enhances it by letting you now use color in your messages. If you communicate with DS or DS Lite units they will get your messages in color too.

Final thoughts: I held out picking up a Nintendo DS Lite and am pleased with my DSi purchase. While there are higher resolution gaming systems available and my iPhone can play games, there is something to be said for the Nintendo durable devices that you can play for hours on end and through in your bag without worrying too much about it breaking. The photos manipulation software is really pretty fun and gets me and my girls laughing like crazy with some of the effects.

The DSi Shop is still way in its infancy so it will be interesting to see what eventually appears there. With millions and millions of Nintendo portable gaming owners I can see this really taking off in the future.

If you already have a DS Lite then I am not sure it is worth the cost to upgrade to the DSi. If the photos were higher quality I could see it being a bit more compelling, but you can't do too much with these VGA quality images and the fun and novelty may wear off over time. Then again, the larger displays for gaming could be important to you too and the gaming experience is again top notch on the DSi.

Topics: Mobility, Browser, Hardware

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  • 3D Pictures?

    I wonder how long it'll be before someone writes an app or hack for the
    DSi to take a stereo picture by both cameras going off at the same time.
    Then, you can put on your favorite red/green glasses and make your very
    own 3D images! :D
    WarhavenSC