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Geek Gifts 2009: Nintendo DSi

Are you looking for a multi-faceted, touch-screen, hand-held gaming device for either yourself or your kids? Well, even if you're not, the Nintendo DSi might win you over with its long battery life, portability, and built-in camera and sound applications.

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Before I dig into the review of Nintendo's DSi, I have to confess that I’m already a DS junkie. My son introduced it to me a couple of years ago, when he begged for one as a birthday gift. He already had a Nintendo GameBoy, and that was pretty fun, so what was the big deal about the DS, right? It turned out to be a pretty significant improvement.

I received my own DS as a birthday present last year. Sharing is nice and all, but the ability to PictoChat (send messages between two DS devices) is even better. Not surprisingly, the Nintendo DSi has even more really cool features. Here are some of the things you can expect to see right out of the box:

Features

  • Dual LCD screens: 3” (W) x 2” (H)
  • Headphone / Microphone connectors and stereo speakers
  • Inner and outer cameras
  • Touch technology
  • SD memory card slot
  • DS game card slot
  • AC adapter connector
  • Wrist strap attachment
  • Wi-Fi capability

What I like

There’s a lot to like about DSi. Let me start with the simplest of things, like the start button, which used to be a slide tab on the side but now is a push button located inside the case, on the left-hand side of the lower LCD screen. The battery life is also phenomenal, especially in comparison to other gaming systems.

The other things I really like are the built-in Camera and Sound applications. Seriously, you could spend hours playing around with all of the photo and audio editing options that are immediately available when you power up the system. I know I did. Be sure to check out the links below to view the photo gallery and listen to the Sound sample recording.

  • Nintendo DSi photo gallery: Not only have I put together photos of the actual DSi device, but I also included some snapshots – and modified snapshots – that were taken with the DSi Camera application. You can capture images facing you (like pictures of yourself) or Switch the view to take pictures in front of you (like a normal camera). There are 11 lenses to choose from: normal, distortion, graffiti, color, colorpad, mirror, mischief, emoter, merge, resemblance, and frame. You can even take a "normal" picture and then Edit it in the DSi Camera Album – and this is where some crazy fun happens, because you can stretch and distort an image by pulling and dragging the stylus across the touch screen.
  • Nintendo DSi Sound sample: Okay, so this recording is kind of cheesy, but it should give you a pretty good idea of all the things you can do with DSi Sound. My friend Jack, who is seven years old and helped me record some audio samples, spent a very long time playing with the Sound application. I think younger kiddos enjoy that (i.e., recording your voice and then listening to it over and over and over again) more than us older folks. Did I mention that the DSi has headphone and microphone connectors? :-D Similar to the Camera application, DSi Sound gives you the ability to edit or alter sounds. You can even play .mp4 or .m4a music files from a SD card and modify them as well.

What I don't like

The list of what I don’t like is much shorter, and none of them are deal breakers. Actually, I don’t think it’s completely accurate to say “What I don't like,” because it’s really "What I don’t like as much as the Nintendo DS." This includes the Volume controls, which used to be a slide tab on the front edge but now is a push button located on the side. For me, the slide volume control is faster and easier to adjust, especially when you’re in the middle of a game.

The other feature that I'm not crazy about is the LCD brightness controller. In the DS, the brightness of the screens was controlled by a little lightbulb that appeared on the screen when you powered up the system. When you tap the lightbulb with your stylus, the screen brightness changes -– and you keep tapping it until you find the lightness or darkness that you prefer. However, in the DSi, you have to hold down the Select button and then click the plus or minus sign on the Volume control to adjust the brightness. You can also follow a couple more steps to get the same desired affect: power on the system, click System Setting, select Brightness Settings, and then tap plus or minus. None of these methods is as easy as the original DS, so I think Nintendo actually went a step backwards here.

Last but not least, it wouldn't be right if I didn’t mention the DSi wireless capability. While I think it’s cool that the DSi can connect to the Internet, it’s not very practical for anything other than downloading games from the online DSi Shop. Mark Kaelin tried it out, and he said that it was a little slow to connect at first, but the process of downloading games was fairly simple. My experience wasn’t as positive, because I actually tried to navigate to TechRepublic and check out some of the discussions on the site. The screen is much too small, and the area on the site that you can actually view is even smaller, so you have to pan around an awful lot to get to where you want to go.

Bottom line

The Nintendo DSi -- a multi-faceted, touch-screen, handheld gaming device -- is officially my favorite gaming system to date, and that's saying a lot. I own Sony’s PSP, PS2, and PS3, plus I have free access to the Nintendo Wii at work.

The portability factor, accompanied by the long battery life, makes it a really great gift for gamers – children and adults alike. And while DS games tend to be pricey, the built-in Camera and Sound applications will keep you (and your kids, when you finally take a break) entertained and creative.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: ***
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: *****

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

1 comments
magmau250
magmau250

I purchased the DSi shortly after it came out. I had to because I have owned every incarnation of the DS to date, so why not?! Personally, I love the matte finish and the new back light setup. Well, to be accurate, the Game Boy Micro first used this setup, where you hold the select button and push either up or down on the volume button to increase or decrease the brightness level of the back light. This allows you to change the lighting of the game on the fly without having to restart the game. The only game I ever knew of that allowed you to do this was Super Mario 64 DS. So far, DSWare has been pathetic, but hopefully that changes soon. The DSi is a whole other monster when compared to the DS Lite in terms of hardware, with increased RAM and CPU clock speeds. When Nintendo begins releasing DSi specific games, we will finally be able to see what this system can pull off! Until then, $170 is quite a jump up from the $130 DS Lite, hopefully it will have been worth it in the end.