Four years after the original Nintendo DS hit the UK, the third generation of the dual touchscreen gamer is here with a bag of new tricks.

Bigger but smaller

At a glance the DSi looks the same size as the DS Lite, but it’s actually bigger and smaller. It’s 2.6mm thinner but 5mm wider, while each of its screens has grown from 3in to 3.25in.

As before, it’s just the lower screen that’s touch-sensitive and both retain the 256x192-pixel resolution. It feels more solid than the DS Lite, partly thanks to the higher-quality plastic casing.

Double vision

For the first time, the DSi introduces cameras into the mix. There are two lenses, but each captures stills at just 0.3MP. The resulting 640x480 snaps look okay on the DSi screens but they’re far too small for printing.

It’s more about fun than photography – face-detection smarts are on hand to add taches and specs, and the stylus can be used for realtime distortion effects – and it opens up new possibilities for integrating players’ faces into games.

No GBA port

Beneath a flap where the power switch used to be is an SD/HC card slot, while the chunky old Game Boy Advance port has been dropped.

This new storage option allows pics can be imported and exported, but it’s also the gateway to the DSi’s all-new music playing features.  Elsewhere it’s business as usual, bar the tweaked volume control and a new mains input that’s incompatible with the DS Lite charger.

Gameboy shopping

A friendly scrolling dock of icons greets you on power-up – an improvement over the DS Lite’s austere gambit. This will fill up as you add applications and games downloaded via Wi-Fi from the DSi Shop.

Thankfully, Pictochat remains for those times when all you want to do is exchange crude drawings of certain body parts with other DS users in the vicinity.

Music playback is one of the DSi’s big new features, but inexplicably it won’t play MP3s – it’s AAC or nothing. Playback is harsh and digital-sounding, but you can have a bit of fun with its built-in effects and play-along instruments.

Fiddly browsing

As for web browsing, Opera is now a free download from the DSi Shop, but don’t expect full web compatibility – it won’t work with YouTube for a start. It’s okay for occasional use but, like the DS Lite version, it’s slow and fiddly.

We almost forgot – it plays games too. The hardware has always struggled with 3D, and it’s the same with the DSi. As before, it’s best at RPGs, old-school platformers and shooters, and stylus-controlled brain trainers.

It’s a shame, then, that Nintendo’s portable gamer didn’t take the opportunity to move further ahead of the competition. The bulkier PSP-3000’s gaming and multimedia power makes it look like something of an antique and, despite a weaker games library, the iPod Touch is now right on its tail.

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Nintendo DSi review

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