TechRadar has been playing with the Nintendo DSi - the latest version of the massively popular handheld (which launches in the UK this week) - ever since we managed to get our hands on a Japanese import machine late last year.
Ninty's handheld has been ever-so-slightly improved in a number of ways, with the addition of a couple of new features such as two in-built low-res 0.3-megapixel digi-cameras and much improved music and audio recording and playback options.
While the DS Lite seemed in many ways an almost perfect handheld when we first saw it back at E3 2006, Nintendo's product designers have, impressively, managed to improve upon it by introducing a brighter screen, a fingerprint-friendly matte-finish and slimming down the form factor a tad. The DSi looks and feels fresh and modern and – interestingly – a little less like a games console than its predecessors.
Good value for gamers?
If you are a gamer then you probably want to know what would entice you to shell out another £150 on a new handheld, when the likelihood is that you already have a DS Lite that you are fairy happy with already. Is the addition of two low-res cameras and a few quirky new audio features really worth trading the old machine in for?
Well, if that were all the DSi was offering the gamer, we would have to advise you to stick with the DS Lite (though if you are still gaming on an original grey first-gen DS 'phat' it really is time to upgrade!).
Hardcore gamers may well initially pooh-pooh the latest offering from Nintendo, as there are no major AAA-games on the release schedule for 2009 that you really 'need' a DSi to play. And even though the recently announced Zelda (out later this year) is set to offer some camera-based features, Ninty has been quick to reassure gamers that these are not going to be essential to the gameplay. They are, in all likelihood going to be little more than fun gimmicks - much like waggling the Wii Remote to brandish your sword in the last Wii version of Zelda was. Fun, but hardly game-changing.
However, fear not fanboys, because the real unique selling point here is that, in addition to the above-mentioned improved audio/camera features, a slightly brighter screen and the removal of that old unwieldy GBA slot in favour of SD card support, it is far, far easier to get online with this latest handheld, with the DSi packing in an Opera browser to allow internet-on-the-go. Well, wherever you can find an open Wi-Fi connection, that is…
DSi's killer app
Most importantly, this means that it is going to be much easier to download demos and buy new games or fun utilities from Nintendo's new DSi store. This is really the DSi's killer app. And the fact that Nintendo UK plans to make the DSi store into, effectively, a virtual console system (a la the Wii's weekly game download service), with weekly updates offering instant access to older Gameboy, Gameboy Colour and DS titles alongside new, quirky minigames is why gamers are going to be happy that they made the trade-in.
Nintendo wants the DSi to encourage gamers away from carts and physical media towards buying downloads. Simply store your new downloaded games and utilities on the 256 MB onboard memory or an SD card. Which, as well as being loads easier for the consumer, also has the extra added bonus of combating the rampant piracy problem faced by Nintendo and its partners on DS.
Finally, if you are still not convinced, it is also worth noting that the first batch of DSi-specific games for download includes Wario: Photograph (imagine Sony's EyeToy, but on a handheld, and loads more fun) which – in our opinion – is reason enough to buy one!