Nintendo DSi XL system review. Does this supersized DSi pack super value for your dollar?

DSi XL review screenshot compared to DS Lite
Today Nintendo has launched the newest member of the DS family, the Nintendo DSi XL. This is the second generation of DSi system, with the original DSi releasing in November of 2008.

The DSi XL contains all of the features that the original DSi has, with all of the new features being cosmetic (for the most part).

Naturally, the biggest new feature of the DSi is the large screens. These screens are 90% larger than those of the DS Lite (which is the system I am upgrading from with the XL). It is apparent right off the bat that the screens are much larger than before, and at first grasp the system almost looks like a mini-laptop. Though obviously, the screens are not nearly as big and the system is about double the size (a little under) as a DS Lite.

The screens are impressive, and everyone I showed them too ooed and ahhed over how nice it looked. Playing old games really does bring a new life to them, although it won’t fundamentally better the experience necessarily. It’s more like if you upgraded your TV to a bigger size. Would you then want to re-watch all your favorite movies? It depends, but the answer is no, you probably wouldn’t re-watch them all just because you have a bigger TV. Because although it may make the picture nice and larger, it doesn’t necessarily add anything to the experience per se.

But when you do play your old games, it does make a difference. You may even see things that were smaller and went unnoticed before. I played Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword on the new XL and I was surprised at how it changed things a bit simply because you have more room to swipe the stylus.

Although the DSi XL doesn’t offer anything new that the regular DSi doesn’t have. Those who don’t have a DSi are in for some really cool features, which I will list below:

* The DSi XL includes two cameras. One of them is located in the center of the unit when it is opened, and allows you to take pictures of yourself. The other is located on the outside of the unit, facing away from you. The cameras are 640×480 and although it is only 0.3 megapixels, the photos come out surprisingly good. As long as what you are taking a pic of is fairly close to you. The more distant the object the blurrier it will be. It’s also worth noting that the cameras do not have a flash, which may majorly limit where and how much you use the cameras. I tried to take a picture in the theater while seeing Avatar with my 3D glasses on, and couldn’t even take a pic of my brother sitting next to me.

* The screens are not only huge, but they also offer clear viewing from off angles. This was designed to easily allow you to play your portable DS games while allowing others to see what you are doing more easily. Nintendo even encourages playing some games by simply setting the DSi XL down on the table so others can watch! But since the screens are so large, it is easier for people sitting next to you to see, especially since the screen is now clear even from a side angle. Ultimately Nintendo hopes to make the DS more social with this bigger design. It also allows small text to be easier to read.

* As is obvious, the DSi XL contains two screens, a top screen and bottom screen. The bottom screen is a touch-screen, allowing you to play games and manipulate objects on-screen by tapping, tap and holding, or sliding. It also allows for easy writing in games and all kinds of unique ways to play the system’s over 1,000 games. Additionally, the bottom screen has a matte finish for easy gripping and reduction of fingerprints, while the top screen features a glossy finish (which fingerprints easily).

* The DSi XL includes an SD Card slot that replaces the GBA game slot from the DS Lite. So although you can’t play Game Boy Advance games, you can view photos or listen to music that is stored on a SD card. However mp3 files are not supported (Supported AAC file formats include .mp4, .m4a, and .3GP filename extensions). You also cannot watch video files on the system. However there is a chance that the system could be updated to play video. The SD Card Slot also lets you transfer any photos that you’ve taken with the DSi cameras to the SD card slot and viewed or transferred to a computer.

* The DSi XL comes with Facebook Photo Upload Support built directly into the system. After syncing up with your Facebook account, you’ll be able to select the option to upload photos to Facebook once signing in. Note however that this integration with Facebook stops there. There is no User Interface or Facebook viewing like on Xbox 360, you simply and only can upload photos. In fact it doesn’t even confirm to you that a photo has been uploaded which seems a bit sloppy.

* The DSi XL can connect to the Internet via its built-in Wi-Fi support. You can connect online via a wireless hotspot or at home using a wireless router. You can also wirelessly connect to other players and play multiplayer games, trade items, or use the built-in Pictochat feature to wirelessly text/paint chat with users in your vicinity who are also using Pictochat. In addition to being able to play games that support online play or connect to the DSi Shop using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection where you can purchase and download DSiWare games and apps, you can also browse the Internet using the DSi XL browser. Although you can theoretically visit any site on the web (the system has parental controls built-in for all aspects of the system as well), the system has such low RAM that you run into page-loading issues easily, and the system does not support Flash, so you cannot watch videos on most web-sites. The loading for the web was generally slow when I tried it. As such, the browser is not recommended except for the simplest tasks like reading pages or checking e-mail (you can even have trouble with Facebook or Myspace, not to mention Youtube being useless). Hopefully the browser will be upgraded with greater support later on.

* The DSi XL has a Main Menu which allows you to sift through games or Apps installed on the system. Installed apps, games and option icons appear on a horizontal line that you can easily sift through using the touch-screen, buttons or scroll bar at the bottom.

* The DSi XL, like the regular DS and DSi before it, also features a microphone in the middle of the system when opened. The systems clamshell design also allows you to suspend games by closing the system, and start playing again when you open it. The system features two R and L shoulder buttons, A, B, Y, and X face buttons, a directional pad, select and start buttons on the bottom right, volume buttons on the left side and a small power button on the bottom left (press it to return to the Main Menu, hold it to turn the system off. Press it when off to turn it back on). The headphone jack is on the bottom of the system, the SD Card Slot is on the right side of the system and DS Game Cards slide into a port on the top. The Power Adapter jack is also on the top of the system. To flip between stages of brightness, hold down the Select Button and press the Volume Buttons up or down. Decreasing brightness will give you much more battery life.

* The DSi XL supports the DSi Shop where you can purchase any games or applications (called “DSiWare”) using Nintendo Points, which you can purchase directly from the system using a credit/debit card or add points by buying a Nintendo Points card at a store. The DSi XL comes with one App pre-installed (Photo Clock, which is simply a clock that displays photos you have saved in system memory, also features alarms) and includes two pre-installed DSiWare “lite” games (Brain Age Express: Math and Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters). Also included with the system is a neat little program called FlipNote Studio, which allows you to create animations with your own drawings that you can then save or share with friends. Pricing for DSiWare titles range from 200 Points ($2) for most Apps (which generally change cosmetic features or add simple new functionality like a Calculator) to 500 and 800+ Points ($5 and $8+ respectively) for most games.

Here is a European Nintendo DSi XL video that shows off the differences between the DS Lite and regular DSi to the DSi XL.

These are the biggest features of the DSi XL, but even if you own any games, you can still have some fun with what is pre-installed on the system.

With DSi Camera (the first icon after the DS Game Card icon on the Main Menu), you can have fun with pictures using a mini-editor of sorts. This is also where you can find a calendar, that lets you write notes using the stylus and see what photos were taken on a particular day.

Once you enter DSi Camera, you’ll see two options (with the calendar displayed on the top screen): Camera and Album. You’ll also see an SD icon in the upper right hand corner, where you can transfer files to an SD Card and switch back and forth between the SD Card and DSi XL system memory with the System button on the top left.

Selecting Album will take you to your system memory album, where you can view photos you have taken with either one of the DSi’s two cameras (you’ll also see how many photos you have taken total listed on the “Album” button itself). You’ll see a horizontal line with all your photos, with the most recent photos appearing first. Photos are sorted by date taken, and can be further sorted using three stickers (Star, Clover, Heart). Hit the Facebook button to upload a picture to Facebook. Tapping the screen arrows to the left or right will allow you to cycle through the photos. Hit the Slideshow button in the upper right-hand corner and a slideshow of all your pictures will play on the stop screen.

You can change how they are viewed and in what order using the Settings button by tapping the screen during the slideshow. You can have the slideshow display pictures in the order you took them or randomly, you can have the pictures move on just the top-screen, both screens or standstill, and you can cycle through four different styles of music that will play during the slideshow (Memories, Whistlin’, Sparkle, Showtime or Off/No Music).

The meat and potatoes of the DSi XL’s photo capabilities though come from hitting the “Camera” button on the main menu or pressing the “Edit” button when you are on a picture in the Album gallery.

Here you have 11 different lenses, and some that include sub-options, which allow you to play with and manipulate your photos or manipulate the image before you snap a picture.

You’ll see a list of 11 lenses at the top of the screen. Tap one or use the arrows on the side to switch between Normal, Distortion, Graffiti, Color, Colorpad, Mirror, Mischief, Emoter, Merge, Resemblance and Frame. Once you’ve chosen what you want, tap the lens in the middle or tap Start. You can then snap a photo by tapping Capture on the bottom. Tap Switch to switch from the inside to the outside camera and vice versa. If you picked a lens, you’ll be able to play around with it.

Here is what each lens does:

Normal: This is the normal lens for taking photographs.
Distortion: This lens distorts the image and allows you to Distort by moving the stylus across the picture. You can create some really funny images with this, big head, big eyes, etc.
Graffiti: Use this lens to draw or write on the screen. You can also decorate with a few different stamps.
Color Lens: This lens makes the image black and white. Tap an area to restore color to that specific part of the photo while leaving the rest black and white.
Colorpad Lens: Use this lens to modify the existing color of a part of a photo (won’t work on black, white or gray parts). So for example, tap the colors of fruit to change them into funky-looking colors.
Mirror Lens: This lens turns your photo into a kaleidoscope. Rotate on the touchscreen to rotate the crazy image around.
Mischief Lens: Take a photo of a face and this lens will automatically add one of several different kinds of strange stamps. They include mustaches, hearts for eyes, teardrops dripping down the face from the eyes, cat whiskers, a cartoon mouth, sunglasses, a pig nose, eyeglasses and funky eyes.
Emoter Lens: This funny lens takes the emoticons that you use so often in chat, and applies them to real faces! For a very funky look. There are only three options here though sadly.
Merge Lens: This allows you to merge two photos (preferably faces) into one photo.
Resemblance Lens: Take two photos of faces and you can see how similar they are to each other.
Frame Lens: This allows you to select from 10 different frames or use an existing picture and clear away from it to create a frame that you can fit a new pic around.

The cameras for the DSi XL are also used in certain games, although right now there’s about as many that use the camera as there are that use the microphone. Which is not a whole lot.

The camera’s are a cool feature though, and they will be useful to anyone who does not own a digital camera of some sort. Although it’s to be noted that the cameras will not and do not take or record video of any kind and do not include a flash or night vision in any form.

Finally, the DSi XL includes a program called DSi Sound. This allows you to record 10 second clips, and manipulate them or music (if you have music stored on an SD Card). Additionally, if you do have music on an SD Card, you can use DSi Sound to listen to it.

Using DSi Sound, you can play with the sound or music. You can store 18 ten-second sound clips that you recorded with the DS microphone in system memory, and when sound is playing, you can manipulate it by making it deeper or higher pitched or slower or faster. You can also filter the sound and make it sound like a Parakeet, Electric Fan, Low Harmony or Trumpet. Although these are pretty throwaway features, it is really fun to play around with when you first get your new DSi XL, and friends will likely find it fun and cool to play around with as well. I got a lot of laughs when my friends were looking at the system and playing around with the sound and photo features.

Although you could also get some real use out of the 10 second recordings if you ever needed to make a quick recording to help you remember something.

Overall, the DSi XL is a pretty nifty system with a lot of features. However it feels like Nintendo took a half-step in the direction of the iPhone and PSP without fully embracing the step. So for example, the DSi can download Apps now, but you won’t find nearly the wide range of software that you’ll find on the App Store, nor as many useful products (like with the Wii, there is a ton of crappy shovelware).

The system includes cameras, but the camera doesn’t have a flash or night vision, is only 0.3 megapixels and can’t record video of any kind. The system includes a web-browser, but the RAM is so low that I couldn’t even load Giantbomb.com’s homepage properly, and there is no flash support so you can’t even watch Youtube videos with the thing. At least you can do that on the Wii’s Internet browser. The system finally allows you to listen to music out of the box, but then they hack off support for mp3’s (there goes my entire music collection, I’d have to convert it to AAC just to play them on the DSi!) and the DSi XL allows for viewing of photos from an SD Card, but not viewing of videos . . . . .

There is a lot to criticize and thus I CANNOT recommend the DSi XL as a replacement for the features that you will find in a PSP or iPhone.

HOWEVER, the system is cheaper than both of the above at $190, and if you do not have some of the features above (like a digital camera or an easy way to browse the web on-the-go) then by all means, they are icing on the cake.

So here is my final verdict: If you already have a DS Lite, then now is the time to upgrade to a DSi XL. Keep your old system though unless you don’t care about Game Boy Advance games, because you can’t play them on this system. But you CAN play the wide-variety of DSiWare games, even though there is also a lot of shovelware on the service as mentioned above. But there are some diamonds in the rough.
FOR EXAMPLE: an amazing App series is the Art Academy series that teaches you how to draw, not to mention the creative Flipnote Studio that’s already included. DSiWare games range from the classic Game & Watch titles, to a retro-styled Dark Void Zero actioner and Art Style: Pictobits puzzler, iPhone ports include Flight Control and Bookworm, and there’s a brand new Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! A fantastic-looking upcoming photo/sound/fighting DSiWare game is Photo Dojo, keep your eyes out for that. More is added to the DSi Shop every Monday morning.

For me personally, I’ve made a lot of use out of the cameras already, and I’ve already uploaded about 20 of the photos I took to the DS to my Facebook page (which are automatically sorted into a “DSi” folder). And since I don’t own an mp3 player, the music player capacity may actually come in handy (if the system goes loud enough to barrage my ears with my metal, that is). I am also upgrading from a DS Lite, so all of the DSi features are new to me.

For kids this system is great. It gives them a camera, Internet browser (with parental controls), and music capability in one system and it is cheaper than the PSP. But the PSP gives you a LOT more bang for your buck (downloadable movies, a full Internet browser, heck you can even call people with Skype PSP and you can view ANY files you have saved onto a Memory Stick, you aren’t limited to just photos and AAC music files) . . . but of course you can’t play DS game without a DS, and there are a TON of great DS games.
FOR EXAMPLE: Must-own games are the Mario Kart DS racer, the platformer New Super Mario Bros. DS (and Super Mario 64 DS), the rhythmic Elite Beat Agents, puzzling with Tetris DS, the sandbox game Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, the Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story RPG, the adventure The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (and Phantom Hourglass), the Metroid Prime: Hunters FPS, more RPG-action in Pokemon Diamond (Pearl, Platinum, SoulSilver, HeartGold), the actioner Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, fast platform-action with Sonic Rush, the strategic Advance Wars: Dual Strike, a strategy-RPG can be found in Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (or Chrono Trigger DS), the musical Guitar Hero: On Tour, the arcade-classic inspired Space Invaders Extreme, and the mini-games madness that is WarioWare D.I.Y.

So once again, whether you want to buy the system or not should really come down to how many games there are for it that you really want to play. I would not buy the system just for bigger screens unless you are going to sell your old DSi to buy the DSi XL, nor would I buy the system for it’s multimedia capabilities, which are lacking compared to the competition (but it’s nice that they are included).

Thankfully the DSi XL has some of the best games around, so the system is definitely recommendable just on that point alone. Add in the extra features, the DSiWare store, cameras and voice clips, Flipnote studio and a rudimentary Internet browser, and you’ve got yourself a nice “little” package.

REVIEW SCORE: 8.5

So what is included in the box when you buy a DSi XL? Find out in our DSi XL unboxing video.

Inside the DSi XL box:
* Nintendo DSi XL portable game system.
* Instructions, Quick Start Guide, Club Nintendo registration card.
* DSi XL charger.
* DSi XL large stylus pen.
* Three pre-installed DSi XL titles – Brain Age Express: Math, Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters and the Photo Clock App.