Nintendo DS Lite

Way back in Spring of 2006 I asked my editor, Bryan Chaffin, if he would like a review of the Nintendo DS game system.

"Eh," he said. "This is an Apple centric site. Why would we post an article about Nintendo gadgets?"

I then directed him to the press release of the DS Lite, the revamped hand held system that appeared to take its design cues from Apple.

"Oh," he said. "Sure, write it up and lemme take a look."

To write up the system I had to get my hands on one, and that proved to be not as easy as Iid hoped, the systems were selling like Tickle-Me Elmo during the 1996 Christmas buying season. Also so many things were happening at Apple at that time that I had to put the DS review on the back burner.

Looks Great, Less Filling
Two weeks before Macworld 2007 I did finally get a DS Lite and the extremely popular game, Brain Age, and Iive been a happy camper ever since. Why? Because it is my considered opinion that if Apple were to make a hand held game system that cost about $100 it would look and work a lot like the DS Lite, and thatis high praise.

Colors! Whatis not to like?

I use to play games a lot back in my Atari days, I even had (and still have) the Atari Lynx handheld game system; I had some fun times there. In those days Nintendo offered Gameboy, a wee palm-size game console with a monochrome display and more games than you could shake a skunk at. Nintendois little gamer trounced its competition for the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of the portable gaming public, which, at that time, was mostly pre-teen boys.

Since then there has been several iterations of the venerable Gameboy, and a whole new system that was suppose to give mobile gamers a new dimension in play, The Nintendo DS Game Console. The DS Lite improved upon the original DS system by giving it brighter screens (there are 2), and reducing the size of the unit significantly.

MacBook Lite?
When you pick up a DS Lite the first thing youill notice is its clean lines and sparse exterior; controls and ports are few. In fact, the DS Lite reminds me of a shrunken MacBook.

Typical DS Lite

Upon closer examination youill find the power switch and stylus on the right, two game buttons, power port, and a game slot on the back, volume, headphone jack and another card slot on the front. All designed to blend in and almost disappear in the unitis plastic skin.

Open the DS Lite and again you get Apple-like sparseness; two screen 3-inch screens dominate the interior surfaces. On either side of the upper screen are six tiny holes behind which are stereo speakers. The lower screen has a i+i game pad on the left and six small buttons on the right. In the center of the spine is a small slit for the mic, and on the right are two slit-like status lights. Thatis it.

While the DS Lite is smaller and lighter than the model it replaces, you wonit forget it is in your pocket; it weighs in at nearly 8 ounces. While it is anything but light you should? remember that this is a gaming system, not a cellphone; it is suppose to used with two hands, primarily by youngsters. It has to be rugged to survive in pockets and backpacks along with the other paraphernalia of childhood. So, the plastic is thicker, hinges are heavier and the whole thing is weightier, and thatis not a bad thing; the DS Lite feels solid in your hands, not flimsy or fragile.

The Apple inspired design cues donit end with the looks of the system; plug in a game cartridge and power it on and you soon find that, as opposed to my first impression, using the two screens seem logical and something youid expect Apple to think of.

The upper screen is for display only, so information and status is usually shown there, while the lower display is a touch-screen and adapts itself to accept various types of input depending on the application. Sound familiar? If you saw Steve Jobsi keynote then youill know that the do-all touch-screen is one of the features of the up coming iPhone. While the DS Liteis touch screen is not nearly as sophisticated as iPhoneis, it can perform some impressive feats. For instance, it seems to be a whiz at character recognition, accepting and successfully translating my hen-scratchings into something intelligible well over 90 percent of the time.

Using the DS Lite is a cinch; just power it on and in less than 5 seconds the system is ready for action.

I Got No Strings To Tie Me Down...
The DS Lite also has built-in WiFi, but it is woefully underutilized in this system. WiFi lets you connect to other DS owners during multiplayer games or use the Picto-Chat built in app. This all works well, but this is WiFi, wireless Internet connectivity; whereis the web browser? Whereis the email?

Again, we need to remember that this is a game system originally aimed at kids; surfing the Web is likely a pretty low priority in their world. The thing is, with the introduction of Brain Age (more on that in a minute), Nintendo is selling more DS systems to adults who do want to surf the Web.

Well, on this front, thereis good news and bad news.

The good news is that there is, indeed, a version of the Opera browser for the Nintendo DS, which means that the Internet and web-based email is available. Hallelujah!!!

The bad news is that Opera for the DS is currently only available in Europe. Donit ask me why only in Europe

The good news is that Nintendo has recently announce that a browser will be available for the DS n June of this year (2007). I donit know if itis the Opera browser one something Nintendo put together, but it is very good news.

The DS Lite can run for many hours between recharges. Nintendo says you can anywhere from 5 to nineteen hours of continuos play time from a fully charged DS Lite, which varies due to screen brightness, WiFi usage, and other variables. Iive had my DS lite for about a month and a half, playing with it maybe fifteen to twenty minutes daily, and Iive only had to recharge it three times.

Head All Full Of Stuffini...
In an effort to broaden the DS Lite audience Nintendo has released several adult oriented games, the most popular of which is Brain Age; a collection of brain training games thatis addictive and is actually good for you. Other games aimed at the 30-plus crowd are Big Brain Academy (more mind teasers) and Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (a playable detective novel). Expect more soon because Nintendo has discovered that the DS has caught on with the older generation.

My highest (Lowest) Brain Age Score

Bottom Line
DS Lite now comes in three colors; black,?pink, and white, so if youive got a birthday or other special gift giving (gift getting?) occasion coming up, a DS Lite with Brain Age may be just the ticket. Itis a excellent gaming system with an increasing selection of game titles that will appeal to just about anyone, even folks who donit normally play games.

Review Item DS Lite
Manufacturer Nintendo
Price US$129.99