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Nintendo DS Handheld Game Console

Editor's rating (1-5):
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(original Nintendo DS)
Where to Buy (Nintendo DS Lite)

Reviewed January 2005 by Marc Morgan (contributing writer) and Introduction by Lisa Gade (Editor in Chief)

Read our Nintendo DS game reviews

Introduction

The Nintendo DS, when first announced, was big news. It smacked of innovation, being the first dedicated handheld gaming device to feature two displays with one being a touch screen. Very cool-- but there's more: the DS has integrated WiFi wireless communications and a microphone that can be used in game play. It can play new DS games as well as Game Boy Advance games, but not the older Game Boy Color and earlier games. It only costs $149. Excellent! And of course, the Nintendo Game Boy line of products have been overwhelmingly popular with young and not so young gamers for years. Case in point, this review: written by Marc who is in his late teens, and our Editor in Chief, for whom the teenage years are but a fleeting memory. Unfortunately, the DS became even bigger news when it was released in the US for the Christmas 2004 shopping season in inadequate numbers. Nintendo couldn't get the units out in volume and the 1.2 million made available by Dec. 31 weren't nearly enough to meeting soaring demand, with only a fraction of those units were available before Dec. 25th. Now the units are in stock at most retailers. Fortunately our reviewer Marc Morgan had the presence of mind to pre-order his DS so he was able to contribute to this review back in December. We decided to hold off publication until the rest of the world could get their hands on one too.

We rarely cover dedicated gaming devices here at MobileTechReview. After all, PDAs make excellent gaming machines while doubling as the perfect way to organize your life and stay connected. They have vivid color touch screens which are larger than Game Boy and DS displays and faster processors. So why cover the DS? It's innovative and will move the handheld gaming experience to new (and better) territory. It has a touch screen, and given our PDA heritage, we're attracted like a moth to flame to any device with a touch screen. The DS has gaming ergonomics while PDAs generally do not. There are plenty of PDA games for PDAs (take a look at our 250 PDA game reviews if you don't believe us), but even those can't compare to the wealth of titles available for GBA. The Tapwave Zodiac aimed to be both a PDA and a gaming machine, but the limited number of tier 1 titles for the Zodiac have relegated it to the niche market. Lastly, the DS is fun, and not every gadget need be a serious device .

If you're a Game Boy fan or are shopping for someone who is, seriously consider upgrading to the DS. It can play existing Game Boy Advance titles, has a rechargeable battery and backlighting that's actually adequate unlike the Game Boy Advance SP. Parents will no longer worry about their children's eyes and older folks will be able to see the screen. The improved screen and backlighting have brought out levels of color and detail in GBA games that were lost on the SP and original Game Boy Advance machines. Want to know more? Read on!

Nintendo DS and games

Above: the Nintendo DS closed, with strap attached.
Game Boy Advance cartridge (left) and DS cartridge (right).

 

 

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Design and Ergonomics

Closed, the DS looks like a GBA with a case/cover over the screen. It looks a little squarer though and requires larger hands since the bottom corners are not rounded off. On the front edge from left to right, you'll find the volume slider, embedded microphone, GBA cartridge slot, charge indicator light, power/wireless indicator light, and headphone port. Both the left and right sides of the DS are smooth, with no buttons or sliders. The back, from left to right has the R button, the stylus, the wrist strap, the DS game card slot, a port for the power adapter, and the L button. When opened, on the bottom, from left to right you'll find the power button, D-Pad, touch screen, Start button, select button, and the A, B, X, and Y buttons. The top clamshell features another (non-touch) display surrounded by stereo speakers. The DS cartridge slot is smaller than the GBA slot, and the cartridges are a bit larger than SD cards. To insert the cards, you push it into the slot until you hear a "click" sound. To get the card back out, you push it down again, and it will pop out. The GBA slot works like a normal GBA, you need to pull the card out.

Nintendo DS

Performance

The DS features two processors: one ARM9 and one ARM7 running at 67Mhz and 33MHz respectively. The unit has 4 megs of memory, a BIOS, a system clock, and it stores preferences and your name. It even stores your birthday to give you a pleasant surprise on the big day! The games play smoothly, load smoothly and do not lag. I have yet to play a game over the built in wireless, but those who have report that the games play smoothly using multi-card-play and single-card-download-games. Currently there are no expansion options, but it is rumored that the GBA slot will be used for extra memory or other expansion options.

Display and Sound

The DS features two 256x192 pixel, 0.24mm dot pitch, 3" TFT color LCD screens, one of which (the bottom) is a touch screen that works with stylus and finger. They are both capable of displaying 260,000 colors and 3D graphics. Both the screens are backlit and easy to see outside and indoors, and in the dark. You can see both screens at many angles, but straight-on is the best viewing angle. When open, the top screen can be either locked at 180 degrees flat with the other screen or just less than 180 degrees to have a slight angle. I found that having it locked at just less than 180 degrees is the best to see both screens clearly. Also, usually the top screen is used for the action in a game and the lower screen is used to display maps, menus and controls. When playing DS games, you can use the included stylus or the thumb "stylus" attached to the wrist strap to control your character. The thumb stylus is really a flat, smooth plastic disc that works surprisingly well. When a GBA game is playing, it will play on the screen you select from the options menu, and the screen that is not in use will turn off. I found that the graphics were clearer and brighter in the DS than on the GBA. The DS features stereo speakers that can offer a simulated-surround experience. You can clearly tell the difference between left and right speakers during game play, and some games (such as Metroid Prime) take advantage of this and you can tell where an enemy is by the sounds made. You can also use any headphones on the DS.

Games and Software

The DS comes with a demo of Metroid Prime: First Hunt, a first person shooter, and the full version is going to come out in March 2005. At press time, a handful of tiltles are available. These include: Super Mario 64 DS, Madden NFL 2005, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005, The Urbz: Sims in the City, Ridge Racer, Spiderman 2, Mr. Driller, DS Ping Pals and Asphalt Urban GT. Nintendo's web site lists many forthcoming popular titles. Look forward to ports of your favorite N64 games, as the DS has the power to play them. You can play multiplayer games via the wireless feature built-in on the DS and some games only require one card to be there at a time to play wirelessly.

Battery Life

DS has a 850 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. The battery is user replaceable and lives under a door retained by a single screw on the bottom of the unit. The battery lasts for about six hours of game play with the backlight on, and charges in about four. When you close the unit's screen, the DS goes into sleep mode and uses very little power.

Wireless

The DS features 802.11b wireless using Nintendo's own driver. The device doesn't include a web browser or email and is currently limited to Nintendo's bundled PictoChat wireless text and picture messaging. Unfortunately, a router cannot be used to play online as the connection is only peer-to-peer (DS to DS). The wireless is used for playing multiplayer games, chatting via PictoChat and using the DS Download Play, a built in feature that allows you to play a DS game without the card as long as someone else with the game has it in their DS.

Conclusion

A great set of screens that are much brighter and sharper than previous Nintendo handheld machines' screens. The touch screen is great and will lead to more innovative games, as might the integrated mic. Wireless communications mean that you can enjoy multiplayer games as well as chat via text and hand-drawn messages. Good battery life. Affordable price. Backward compatible with all GBA games. The only drawback is the unit's size and angular design which will be hard for very young players and those with small hands.

How does it compare to the Sony PSP? We've only played with the Japanese version of that handheld gaming console but we can tell you that the PSP is a more elegant and gorgeous piece of hardware. The screen is simply stunning, larger and the game graphics are excellent. The PSP also has a faster processor, but the downside to that speed and display is shorter battery life than the DS. That said, the DS is less expensive and more innovative thanks to the dual screens, touch screen and mic for interactive gaming. It's not an easy choice!

How does the DS compare to PDAs and phones, especially gaming oriented ones like the Tapwave Zodiac and Nokia N-Gage QD? It doesn't. The DS is simply a gaming machine and lacks the organizational, syncing and communications features of those devices.

Price: $149 US

Web Site: www.nintendods.com

Comparison Shopping: Where to Buy

 

Specs:

Display: 2 Backlit, 256x192 pixel, 260,000 color, 3" diagonal reflective TFT LCD screens. Lower one is a touch screen. 2D and 3D video acceleration.

Battery: 850 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. Lasts 6 to 10 hours on a charge.

Performance: One ARM7 processor and One ARM9 processor. 4 megs memory.

Size: 5.85" wide, 3.33" long, 1.13" tall.Weight: 9 ounces.

Audio: Built in stereo speakers with virtual surround sound, mic and headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b using Nintendo's proprietary driver. This peer to peer networking is used for multiplayer gaming and sending messages via PictoChat.

Software: PictoChat wireless messaging application. Clock and calendar. Metroid Prime: First Hunt (first person shooter) demo included.

Game Cartridges supported: Has two slots: one for Game Boy Advance games and another for DS game cartridges. The DS is not compatible with Game Boy Color and earlier games.

In the box: Nintendo DS with battery installed, two styli, wrist strap with "thumb stylus" attached at the end, instruction booklet, charger and Metroid Prime DS demo cartridge.

 

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