Nintendo will release the third version of the Nintendo DS in North America and Europe next month, the dual camera-equipped Nintendo DSi. Already available in Japan, we tested the North American version last week.
The Nintendo DSi brings with it a number of obvious cosmetic and functional changes. It's slimmer, but slightly wider. There are the aforementioned 0.3 megapixel camerasâ€"one on the outside, one on the insideâ€"and a slight bump in screen size on both displays. While it lacks a Game Boy Advance cartridge slot, it adds native SD memory card support.
There are also a host of user interface changes, including a more Wii-like "Channel" interface that lets DSi owners have access to built-in applications like the Nintendo DSi Camera, Nintendo DSi Sound and Nintendo DSi Shop. But it has lots of less obvious improvements that make it feel like a day-one purchase.
The power button, which has moved (again) to the front of the device and below the DSi's directional pad will ensure no errant turning on or off the device. It also adds the option for a soft reset of the DSi, making boot up times quicker should you need to reset a game or application.
The volume button, relocated to the left side of the hardware, makes for a much cleaner edge on the bottom of the Nintendo DSi. It's no longer a slider, but a plus and minus switch that should make it easier to find the volume sweet spot.
It also addresses one of my more nitpicky complaints, allowing for an easier adjustment of screen brightness that goes from maximum to minimum values. That's different from the multi-step cycle of brightness that the previous Nintendo DS hardware had â€" no second guessing about which is the brightest or dimmest setting.
Nintendo DSi Sound, which features AAC sound file support (sorry, no MP3s, gang), makes the hardware a capable on-the-go music player. If DSi Sound is in use, closing the screen won't put the system into sleep mode if headphones are attached.
My other favorite little thing about Nintendo DSi Sound are the retro visualizers. Built-in Super Mario Bros. and Excitebike visualizers create waveforms of coins or custom dirtbike tracks based on the tune being played. Users can even add to the music and play with the visualizers with rhythmic button presses. Sure, it's a fun diversion, but also a nice touch.
And while I can't see getting a great deal of use out of the Nintendo DSi Camera applications personally, the finesse with which they've been implemented is impressive. DSi Camera is incredibly intuitive, with a well designed interface throughout, simple but deep enough to personalize photos in seconds.
The camera quality, despite its rather paltry 0.3 megapixel resolution, looks better than I'd anticipated.
Building custom photo frames and manipulating pictures with decals and warp tools is definitely going to appeal to people half my age. This suite of socially interactive Nintendo DSi Camera apps is smartly designed, adding a feature set that will outperform digital cameras in adorable functionality if not visual quality.
Based on my brief hands-on time with the Nintendo DSi, my planned purchase (I need to replace my malfunctioning DS Lite anyway) is much, much easier to justify. With the upcoming launch of the North American DSiWare Shop, which we'll have more on once this embargo breaks, there's a lot more to like about the new DSi than I'd originally anticipated.
Keep your eyes peeled for more impressions as we get closer to the April 5th launch in the U.S.