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28 Days Later: Nintendo DSi

It's one thing to do a tech review the day a product comes out. But it can take a while to learn the ins and outs -- and discover the all the bugs -- in a new gadget. With that in mind, we're launching a new series called '28 Days Later,' wherein we'll put tech of all types through four weeks of abuse to see if that new gizmo lives up to its early hype. We kick it off with a long-term view of the Nintendo DSi portable game console.

The promise:
The DSi is Nintendo's update to the absurdly popular DS Lite, which was itself the update to the absurdly popular DS. The DSi adds more RAM, two cameras (one facing outward, one facing towards you), and the ability to download games over Wi-Fi. It's also 12-percent thinner, a bit longer, and now clad in a sweet matte finish. The speakers are better quality, and the dual screens are slightly larger and crisper. So now that we've spent some time with the device, how does it hold up?

What we liked a month ago:
From the start, the DSi feels good in your hands. The interface is slick and more configurable -- you can move icons around and customize your wallpaper, for example. The ability to buy games on the go is hugely convenient and clearly the way forward for any portable device. A new slot takes an SD card for storing games, music, photos, and curious downloadable apps, such as an animal-themed calculator.

The DSi also has a host of amusing built-in programs that make use of the cameras and better audio capabilities. With one, for example, you use the stylus to pinch, flatten, and stretch pictures of your friends. Likewise, you can also morph audio tracks by speeding them up, slowing them down, or changing the pitch -- from Johnny Cash-low to chipmunk-high.

What we didn't like a month ago:
Both the DS and DS Lite had slots for old Gameboy Advance (GBA) titles. Yet the DSi, despite being roughly the same size as the DS Lite, ditched the GBA slot. The camera is suuuuper low-res (0.3 megapixels), and you can neither e-mail photos to your computer nor import images from other devices. The free, downloadable Web browser is rather sluggish, and it doesn't support Flash -- making many pages and most Web video unviewable. Oh, and in order to listen to tunes, you'll have to convert your MP3 files to the AAC format (or buy non-copy-protected AAC downloads from iTunes). It's probably not worth the effort, unless you can't go for even an hour without hearing The Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow."

What we like now:
Our first impressions still ring true: The DSi is extremely well-designed. The rubberized exterior not only allows a firm grip during long play sessions, but also resists fingerprints. The interface is vastly improved, with far-better navigation. And unlike with past DS models, you don't need to restart the device after playing a game. (You just tap the power button to return to the home screen.) The upgrades to the screens and speakers are subtle, but you'll appreciate the difference after long hours of gaming.

What we don't like now:
The DSi's battery life is shorter than that of the DS. We find ourselves busting out the charger more often. And it's stupendously lame that older chargers aren't compatible (especially for those of us with DS and DS Lite power bricks laying around). Nintendo's decision to change the volume slider to up-and-down buttons is also annoying: Quickly sliding the volume down to mute (something you do quite often with a portable device) is much more convenient than holding a button for a few seconds.

And after a few weeks, the novelty of the image- and audio-morphing applications wore of. We went searching for fresh diversions. But while Apple's App Store has been teeming with offerings since day one, Nintendo's store -- dubbed "DSiWare" -- is still rather barren.

Bottom line:
You will almost certainly dig the DSi. The hardware is great. And the new operating system, with all of its various apps and diversions, provides plenty of fun. If you're still pounding it out on an original DS, it's a worthwhile upgrade. That said, if you've got a DS Lite, play lots of GBA games, and don't give a Goomba about cameras and gimmicky apps, you should probably stick with your old gear.

$170. It's tough to find a deal on this one, so expect to pay full price or very close to it.

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