Nintendo announces DS Lite successor with built-in camera, the DSi (Off-the-cuff verdict: a worthless upgrade)


Apparently pushed into an early and perfunctory announcement by the veracity of this week's rumors, Nintendo announced this morning the newest iteration of the Nintendo DS, the DSi. And hey, what do you know: almost all of those rumors were right!

The DSI will retain its two screens and expand them, each now seventeen percent larger than the DS Lite's. Contrary to earlier reports, the DSi does not have dual touchscreens, but he DSi will gain dual cameras: one, a dinky .3MP camera on the outside of the lid, and an additional one built-in to the hinge, which will probably be used mostly for some sort of remedial Pictochat video conferencing.

Additionally, the DSi will feature an SD memory card slot, which should prove interesting once custom firmware hackers figure out how to run unsigned code off of it. Nintendo's also introducing DSiShop, a Shopping Channel for DS games and other software (DSiWare). Nintendo's using the timeless points method to set prices.

To allow for the shopping channel, the DSi will feature a built-in browser... I'm guessing Opera's. The DSi will also be usable as an MP3 player.

An unfortunate casualty of the DSi's slightly improved thinness over the DS Lite is that the GBA slot has been eliminated. That's a pity, not only because the GBA's game library has aged well, but because it means things like Metroid Prime Pinball's vibration pack or Guitar Hero: On Tour's guitar add-on won't work.

Unbelievably, the battery life is significantly worse than the DS Lite's, by up to 20%. That's unforgivable.

Japan will get the DSi in matte white and black come November 1st for around $180. There's no release date yet for the rest of the world. Nintendo's handhelds have never been region-locked though, so there should be nothing stopping you from importing one.

No word on whether or not the DSi will finally gain the ability to connect to WPA-protected wireless networks: my biggest pet peeve about the DS Lite.

Frankly, there's not a lot here to force (or even tempt) an upgrade. The improvements to the screen and thickness of the DS Lite are extremely marginal, the cameras are pretty crummy, the battery life is worse than its predecessor, and the loss of the GBA expansion slot isn't worth the slight benefit of being able to play camera-oriented games.

I'm relieved by the DSi's relative crumminess: I love my lime-green DS Lite, and would have loathed to part with it. It matches my favorite shirt.

(Numerous corrections here, thanks to my friend Brian "LOL" Ashcraft for setting me right on some key facts.)

Liveblogging the Nintendo Press Conference Liveblog [Kotaku]

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  1. I just bought a second DS lite for head-to-head play this week. Oh well, them’s the breaks. At least it was only $100.

    The mysterious black circle at the hinge could be an improved microphone. That’s where the mic is on the DS lite. Well, except for the fact that the little mark to the right of that looks just like the existing mic slot, only off center.

  2. I am totally pumped! I hope the matte finishes actually look good… The gloss is beautiful but it does attract the fingerprints like nobody’s business. All I can say is that they’d better put some WPA action into this thing…

    Also, Nintendo’s finally letting us run stuff off of our SD cards on our Wiis! All sorts of happy news.

  3. There is no evidence of a second touchscreen. Most sources are reporting only the bottom one remains touch-sensitive. Both screens are 0.25″ larger though, at 3.25″.

  4. Okay, this has been updated. Sorry about the confusion: I was seeing conflicting earlier reports on a lot of sites, so I misreported initially the dual touchscreens (not so), that Nintendo said it only had one camera (it has two) and didn’t mention the battery life at all. It’s gone from a grudging upgrade to a worthless one.

  5. Perhaps you underestimate the cunningness of Nintendo? What would you have said earlier about Nintendo releasing a bathroom scale for the Wii?

    The big deal is that the cameras are now in a specific game form factor, and not an optional addon. Hopefully, this would get developers to use them as a feature for more games, which could turn out frightningly well. Something so simple can become so big – remember barcode battlers? This is aside from the immediate potential of the inside camera for videophone or in-game avatar use – the problem up to now hasn’t been underuse of things like this; it’s been the *implementation* of them.

    The 17% screen size increase isn’t something to laugh off either, since one of the target audiences is “older people”.

    As for the loss of the GBA slot, I don’t see that as too big of a loss. Guitar Hero is but one game, and the library of games that support the rumble pack is admittedly small(though I like it for Picross and Space Invaders Extreme). The other accessories for the slot are pretty niche – there’s the Slide Mag Kid slider thing, the Love and Berry card reader, some other camera thing for a Face Training game, and the Arkanoid DS paddle controller. I’m probably forgetting 2-3 others, but again, those peripherals are only good for the game they came with and maaaaaaybe one more. I’m not too worried about losing a peripheral slot, because an SD slot is another potential peripheral slot… If you want the GBA slot to play GBA games…well…I’d see this as a good excuse to get one of those awesome GBA Micros.

    I agree about the WPA inability weakness of the NDS, but I’m hopeful that if the DSi includes a browser, it will include WPA support, as well as the RAM needed to run the browser (ah yes – a RAM pack for the DS Opera browser, I knew I forgot a Slot 2 device).

    On the downside, people may start accusing the DSi of being even MORE of a Chester magnet.

  6. No one’s going to make many games for a niche variation of an existing handheld, supporting ONE new feature: a camera. The Wii Fit comparison doesn’t apply: that only requires the purchase of a peripheral, not an entirely new system that barely differentiates itself from the current one.

  7. Hopefully this drives down the price of the DS Lite to a point where I can justify replacing the Giant Blue Tank that is my original DS. The hinge has a crack and I now have to support the top half from swinging open to some sickening angle, like a father would cradle the head of a baby whose neck can’t yet support the weight of its giant, future-stealing head.

  8. @6

    I think you under estimate the ability of people to buy the same thing again. Look at the DS Lite and the iPhone 3G, neither of these were necessarily must have upgrades but plenty of people bought the upgrade. This is one of the rare areas in gaming where Japan has a great deal of influence; if they buy it in numbers even remotely close to those of the DS Lite you can be sure that there will be software that makes use of the camera. Initially it may be optional but as it moves on it will probably be required, not unlike the Gameboy Color.

  9. I’m sorry, but I totally disagree. The iPhone 3G was a must-have update for anyone who cared about mobile Internet; the DS Lite was a must-have update once you saw the new screen (an INCREDIBLE improvement over the original, probably by a magnitude of 10). There’s nothing even close to that on the DSi.

  10. People here seem to be concentrating on the hardware aspect of this announcement, but it’s the DSiWare aspect that caught my eye. This is a very big deal economically. In terms of man-months and equipment, games development for DS is cheap enough to make it an interesting indie platform, but historically it’s always been hamstrung by the high cost/risk of cartridge manufacture. Online distribution could help create a much more dynamic, experimental market.

    John Brownlee @ 6 said:
    No one’s going to make many games for a niche variation of an existing handheld, supporting ONE new feature: a camera.

    If you’re developing for DSiWare rather than physical (cart) distribution, you know in advance that all your potential customers have cameras, so this objection melts away.

    Also note that cameras can in principle be used as motion sensors for game control (see here for example) and the placement of the camera on the DSi looks about right for the job. That could go some way to mitigating the lack of accelerometers.

  11. The only really significant difference would be the SD slot. That’s removable storage in the base unit. Of course, there’s no guarantee about the ways in which it is actually usable.

    Otherwise – does “0.3 megapixel camera” sound that much better than “VGA camera”?

  12. This thing seems like a misfire to me. A camera? Really? Didn’t they make this mistake once already?

    And just for fun, from the wikipedia entry, a picture of a a Ford Tempo using the Gameboy Camera.

    It won’t entice me to replace my DS, especially the battery life reduction. They should have just integrated a Virtual Boy in there, and jumped the DS shark with gusto.

  13. oh great, now people can REALLY send you a picture of a penis.

    Other than that, the other additions are pretty neat – but the loss of battery life and the GBA port are unforgivable. I’ll pass.

  14. The engadget number is likely a typo; I’m almost certain that it’s impossible to make a 3 megapixel camera that small.

    That said, this is good news for me, since I’m hoping it’ll mean the price drop that finally pushes the DS Lite into my “impulse buy” territory.

    1. It wouldn’t be difficult at all to put a 3-megapixel camera in something that small. Cellphones have been doing the same for years.

  15. Engadget is completely, totally wrong. Gizmodo made the same report: it’s an error. It’s .3 (640×480, max).

  16. It really is a 640×480 (0.3 megapixel). I don’t think Nintendo needs anything more for a DS-centric camera on small DS screens. Unless they really think this is going to replace peoples cellphone/point and shoot cameras, though I doubt that.

  17. My wife took over the DS for the Face Training game, guess I’ll consider this as a year end present to myself just so I can get back to fooling with the Korg NS-10 cart. BTW for all those of you who say a camera feature is useless, you should hear the squeals of delight of someone seeing their face in a game.

    As #10 pointed out also, the possibilities of opening up a wider developer spectrum are pretty exciting. There have been some nice homebrew music apps for the DS which I’ve wanted to try but didnt wanna shell out the Yen towards an R3 or support its main use in any way. With any luck some nice music software might show up in the DSiShop.

  18. I agree with #8 – LOADS of people switched over to the DS Lite. A big reason for this is that DS units aren’t all that super-expensive, making them more accessible. As for the Wii Fit comparison, Wii Fit is $100 and currently works with 2-4 games, 1-3 of which most people don’t even know about. I don’t see the DSi exploding off of shelves on release, but I also don’t see the cost as a major barrier at all.

    #10 illustrates one of my earlier points exactly. (“If you’re developing for DSiWare rather than physical (cart) distribution, you know in advance that all your potential customers have cameras, so this objection melts away.”) If it’s a built-in part of a device, it’s not really that much of a niche feature unless the device doesn’t sell. Seeing as this is pointed at replacing the current model (it’s at the same price point), I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.

    He’s (#10) also right about the DSiWare thing enabled by the SD card slot among other things. I remember that it was either Nintendo or some other company that planned to make a DS cartridge that would take MicroSD cards and allow users to play videos or other media files that were purchased from an online store(and, no, I’m not referring to R4 carts and their ilk).

    Trumping all of this though, will be the software, and Nintendo has an excellent track record of 1st party titles that push their systems(seriously – how many people have a Wii and only Wii Sports? Sadly, lots.). If they have nothing interesting when they launch the product, it’ll definitely suffer. Being a betting man though, I think they’ll have something pop out within 1-2 months of its release that will get people to buy their stuff in droves. Again.

    On a side note John, how do you have a lime green DS? Did you get a case swap? I’m rockin’ a Noble Pink one myself – the manliest of colors out now.


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