5 Reasons Not to Buy a DSi (But Why I Probably Will Anyway)

Nintendo DSiNintendo DSiImage by momentimedia via Flickr

Last week Nintendo announced a new iteration of their highly successful DS handheld and, while many mainstream outlets had a field day, the response from the gaming community – and, for that matter, the Japanese stock market – was a resounding "huh?!"

With the impending release of this system upgrade being something of an open secret, it wasn’t so much the device itself that seemed to cause the head-scratching as it was the odd specifics of its new features and the strange direction in which Nintendo elected to present it.

This newly christened DSi is an obvious member of the DS family, with its stylus and minimalist clamshell design, but Nintendo would seemingly like us to believe that it is a wholly different animal.

Even amid insistence that the system has a place alongside the DS Lite on American retail shelves, at least for the foreseeable future, I’ll wager that many, like me, can’t help but wonder if this device will prove to be the new face of mobile gaming. And, if so, wouldn’t it be prudent to get onboard early?

Well, I guess that depends on how these new features stack up. Let’s take a look, shall we?

  • How about the camera? The most highly touted modification to the DSi is the inclusion of two – count ’em: two – digital cameras. In addition to the one visible on the exterior of the unit, the DSi also boasts a second camera on the inside of the system continually pointed at the player. Sadly, these cameras weigh in at a scant .3 megapixels, and pictures are saved at a mere 640×480 resolution. So, while it might be fun to warp and scrawl atop your pics via the touch screen, it’s doubtful whether the image quality of your DSi photographs will be superior to those taken with the camera already integrated into your current cell phone. [EDIT: While several sources have reported that the DSi cameras were both 0.3 megapixels and others said 3 megapixels, Electronista has cleared up the confusion: the interior camera is a 0.3 megapixel VGA camera, while the external camera is a 3 megapixel.] 
  • What about the bigger screens? Of more interest to gamers is the increased screen size of the DSi. Its 3.25 inch diagonal screen width stands out as a noticeable increase from the 3 inches of its predecessor. However, despite this enhanced physical real estate, the screens are virtually indistinguishable from a technical standpoint, as the DSi still boasts twin TFT LCDs of identical resolution to those of the DS Lite. You can, however, expect these bigger screens to burn through your valuable battery charge at an increased rate.
  • What about backwards compatibility? While the screens are larger -– requiring an increase in system length and width –- the DSi is slightly thinner than the DS Lite. It is of note that this slim-down comes at a cost: in this case the removal of that old standby the GBA cartridge slot. (Yes, this means add-ons like that the knuckle busting fret board attachment for the recent DS Guitar Hero title will be incompatible.) Instead the DSi features an SD card slot in addition to the standard DS game cartridge slot.
  • Will it play MP3s? One purpose of the addition of this SD slot is that the DSi will also act as a music device. Notice that I said music device and not MP3 player. Rather than MP3 playback, the handheld will instead support AAC files. While the AAC file type is often described as having superior sound quality to the ubiquitous MP3, it certainly lacks its familiarity. And while the addition of functionality like speed and pitch control for songs sounds interesting, it’s also doubtful that the machine will be replacing your iPod when it comes to music playback.
  • So what can I download? The system also features on-board flash memory for use in storing titles procured from the newly revealed DSi Shop. This little brother of the current Wii Shop channel will likely have both the strengths (the potential for lots of interesting new titles as well as for a backlog of games from earlier systems) and the weaknesses (slow rollout and a lack of sufficient demos) of its older sibling. So, while you’ll be able to play these new offerings as well as your current collection of DS titles on your DSi, all DS/DS Lite owners will really be missing out on is the downloadable love.

All things considered, the DSi seems to be a mixed bag. It certainly adds some functionality, but much of it appears mediocre at best. Picture and music support seem incidental as opposed to integral, and info concerning features like superior sound quality and the promised integrated web browser seem scarce. (And, as anyone who’s used the app can corroborate, saying that the browser will be superior to the original DS Browser cart is dubious praise.)

From Nintendo’s insistence that the system will be the company’s "third platform" –- a role previously filled by the recently abandoned GBA -– to statements like those of NOA’s Cammie Dunaway to our own Game Life blog in which she announced that the DSi would continue in the tradition of Nintendo’s handhelds by not being region locked … maybe … even the Big N seems a little unsure why we should be excited about the product. And yet, for some reason, I am.

In recent years Nintendo has taken to revamping systems with features that should arguably have been integrated from the get-go, and summarily wowing us with their newest flavor of shiny plastic. And, at least with regard to their handheld lineup, the trick has been working. There are gamers out there chomping at the bit to hand the company money for devices that, in one form or another, they already own. I know this to be true because I am such a gamer.

I was an early adopter of both the original DS and the DS Lite, not to mention its forerunner the Gameboy Advance. Hell, I even imported a GBA SP just to get it a few months before the North American release. To my mind, I do this not because I’m a totally rabid Nintendo fanboy (although that’s an accusation I’ve faced in the past) but merely because I’m an avid gamer-on-the-go with a unique love for Nintendo’s robust portables. Even when they’re slightly less robust than I’d like.

So now, after this lengthy diatribe about how the DSi may well not be worth the $180+ they’ll be asking for it on American shores, I will admit to you that I’ll probably buy one anyway.

As a fan of Nintendo, a handheld gamer, and a gadget guy, I simply can’t resist the allure of new plastic.

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