The cute little Nintendo DS met with a chilly reception when it was originally announced, but in its two incarnations—the clunky original and the more streamlined DS Lite—it has quietly become one of the biggest-selling gaming systems ever. It’s shipped more than 100 million units, second only to the PlayStation 2. And Nintendo has been hard at work making improvements to the system, practically since day one. The new DSi doesn’t reinvent the system by any means, but it adds a few features that make it slightly more attractive.
The unit itself is almost imperceptibly smaller than the DS Lite (which was significantly smaller than the original), but the DSi actually has larger, brighter displays. (For those who don’t know, the DS features two screens—one touch-sensitive and one for viewing.) On the hardware front, the DSi adds two cameras, one aimed away from the user and one toward; it can also record sound. Both of those hardware developments are accompanied by software: Built-in photo and audio-manipulation software provides a bit of goofy fun, especially the photo settings that automatically smear photos to make faces look mad or happy.
In more adult-oriented improvements, the DSi adds an SD slot, so photos and music (in AAC format only) can be made more portable—snap some pictures with your DSi, and now you have a way to actually have them printed. (The cameras are only .3 megapixels, but that’s better than nothing.) More importantly, the DSi now offers the ability to download software via wireless connection. There isn’t much to choose from yet, but the Opera-based web browser works fairly well (though it’s a bit pixilated), and there’s a Brain Age game that features only the math sections from the popular title. Beyond that, the only other thing we downloaded was WarioWare: Snapped!, which uses the cameras for gameplay—or at least it’s supposed to. Getting the software to actually recognize your face (and positioning the DSi exactly right) is far more trouble than it’s worth.
Overall, the DSi is a logical next step for the little system that could: It still plays all the old favorites (there are dozens of essential titles at this point, including New Super Mario Bros., the Brain Age series, and Mario Kart DS, with more arriving weekly) and it offers some cute new improvements. There’s no need to replace a DS Lite with this model, but for those looking to join the handheld-gaming club, there’s no better place to start.