With estimated unit sales approaching 100 million worldwide, Nintendo has proven itself time and time again as the industry ruler of the portable console market. With the DSi--the second refresh of the Nintendo DS--we're starting to see the company move in an evolutionary direction with its flagship handheld.
The DSi takes with it most of the features the DS Lite had to offer, but adds new multimedia capabilities. The DSi has been on sale in Japan since November 1 of last year and has already sold well over an astonishing 1 million units. Now that Nintendo has announced that the DSi will go on sale April 5 in North America, it certainly leaves everyone asking one big question, "Should I buy one?"
First, let's look at what exactly separates the new DSi from the DS Lite. In terms of actual form-factor, the difference between the two portables is negligible. The DSi is slightly slimmer, but you're not going to see the massive change in size like we saw when Nintendo upgraded the original DS to the DS Lite. What you may notice is that both screens are a quarter of an inch larger. The DSi hardware also actually eliminates the Game Boy Advance slot found on the Lite, so you won't be able to play older Game Boy Advance games or DS titles that make use of the port, such as "Guitar Hero: On Tour."
What the DSi does introduce is an SD card slot, two 0.3 megapixel cameras, and a brand new menu system. The new upgradeable firmware will be exclusive to the DSi and offers a DSi Shop online store, photo editor, music player (sorry MP3 fans, it only supports AAC files), audio recorder, and PictoChat. The DSi Shop is basically the portable equivalent of WiiWare, the online store found on the Nintendo Wii. From the DSi Shop you'll be able to download applications and games directly to the device's internal 256 MB of storage or an SD card. The DSi also features speedier hardware than its predecessors--its main processor doubles the speed of the DS Lite's and has four times the RAM, as well. Whether or not this will make a drastic change in performance remains to be seen. What we do know is that the DSi's battery life won't last as long as the DS Lite's.
Are all of these features enough to warrant an upgrade? In our opinion, the simple answer is "no." We don't think the feature set of the new DSi is worth the price if you already own a DS Lite. (Don't forget, the new DSi is $40 more than the current DS Lite.) We just don't see the DSi as being a legitimate music player or photo editor. That said, if you've yet to hop aboard the Nintendo DS train, there really isn't a better time to get on than right now. An already impressive library of games, plus the ability to play locally and online with friends, makes for a great user experience. If you're an owner of the original "fat" DS and Game Boy Advance compatibility isn't a deal-breaker for you, we fully endorse the step-up to the DSi.
One thing is for sure: it seems that Nintendo is trying to slowly invade the turf that the iPhone and iPod Touch have started to inhabit, being media players that support downloadable touch-based games. With the introduction of the DSi's multimedia capabilities, it seems we may be witnessing the beginning of a new handheld gaming battle.
The Nintendo DSi officially ships on April 5 in North America. With a retail price of $170, it'll first be available in either black or blue. Make sure you check CNET Reviews during the days prior to the DSi release for a full in-depth review.