November 1, 2008 - One of the major updates the DSi brings to the DS platform is full network connectivity. While featured only minimally in the original DS and DSLite, download content and firmware updates are at the core of the DSi experience.
You'll figure this out as soon as you first power up the system. Click on the DSi Shop icon from the main menu, and you're immediately prompted to run a firmware update.
The process for doing firmware updates is pretty much the same as it is on the Wii. For the non-Wii owners out there, that means pretty much hands-off, although a bit on the slow side.
As with the firmware updates, the DSi shopping experience is quite similar to that of the Wii, right down to the interface. After you select the DSi Shop icon from the menu screen, you're taken to a greeting screen which will presumably be used to list promotions, notices, and latest content in the future. From here, you can select to go to the main shopping interface, which currently includes a single category for DSi Ware software (no Virtual Console category yet!).
The main shopping interface also lets you add DSi Points, read the DSi shop manual, and access a settings menu. Aside from the manual, these other two areas are pretty useless at this point. The settings menu lets you record your Club Nintendo ID and check up on purchase history, things that will probably become more relevant once the store has actual content. The option for adding DSi Points currently takes you to a screen with a message noting that you won't be able to add points until actual paid content is available (some time in December).
The only piece of content available under the DSi Ware option at the moment is the free Opera browser. The download takes 85 blocks of your 1,024 block space. While not listed in the system's official specs, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said during a recent investor briefing that the internal memory consists of 256 megabytes, which is half that of the Wii.
The buying experience is similar to that of the Wii Shopping Channel, with the shop making it clear how many points and blocks you have remaining both before and after the purchase. The big change is what comes once you've made your purchase. The DSi's download screen replaces the 8-bit Mario sprite from the Wii Shopping Channel interface with the 16-bit Mario family, including Mario, Peach, Luigi, and Toad. The four run around tossing blue balls into a box which, once full, turns into a present. When you head back to the main menu, this present is waiting to be open, and reveals itself to be... the browser that you just bought. The present thing will likely be a lot neater once Nintendo builds up the download library and lets other people buy games for you.
Aside from the lack of content, the big problem with the DSi Shopping interface is speed. Regardless of our internet connection, it took us around 30 seconds to get into the store from the main DSi interface. Pauses of between five and ten seconds accompany almost any action you take in the store. It feels pretty sluggish. This is hopefully something Nintendo can improve with future firmware updates.
While the actual store interface may be slow, once you get download content onto your DSi, managing it is pretty smooth (or at least it seems to be smooth for our single piece of content). The main settings menu, accessible off the main menu interface, has a "software management" option This lets you view available memory and switch off quickly between applications stored internally and on SD. You can also select to delete software and copy between SD and internal memory. As with the Wii, the copy process feels just a bit too long.
Despite the speed issues, the shopping interface will likely be an invaluable part of the DS experience once download titles hit (and if WiiWare is any indication, there will be a lot of games). The same can't be said about the web browser at present, though.
Surfing on the Wii isn't the fastest experience. On the DS, it's pure torture. In addition to slow download speeds, with sites like Yahoo News taking over a minute to load up, the browser has difficulty rendering pages. You have to scroll extremely slowly, or you'll end up with blank areas as the page redraws itself.
Forget the slow rendering, though. Most pages we tried wouldn't even load completely. IGN is one example. Facebook didn't load either.
If you're looking to check your mail, you may be out of luck. Gmail loaded up to the login screen, but once we actually logged in, the browser attempted to load for a minute or so, then gave up after complaining about the page taking up too much memory. Hotmail let us log in, but the formatting was screwed up, and we couldn't actually click on anything.
Yahoo Mail did load, and we were able to send out mail. Not with attachments, though, as the attachment file selector wouldn't let us peer into the system's internal memory, or onto the SD card.
For those expecting multimedia content like YouTube, a warning screen prior to downloading the browser confirms no compatibility with movie files, music files, or flash.
On the bright side, going from the main menu into the browser is pretty quick. It takes about ten seconds to get to a screen where you can select to input a URL, conduct a search, open favorites, open history, and check settings. The fast speed for startup suggests that there could still be some use for the browser if someone would make a DS-friendly page, proportioned to fit the DS screen exactly, and completely devoid of high memory images and other flashy features.
With a DS-oriented sites, perhaps the browser could live up to the promise, posted in the browser's description text at the DSi shop, of offering a new "free style" of internet, where users can check news from their favorite sites while in bed, and update their blogs while viewing television.
For those who are already planning their DSi browsing sessions, settings available off the browser greeting screen include options to use Google or Yahoo as your base search engine, turn images on and off, toggle word-wrap on and off, toggle smart frames (a method through which the browser merges frames in framed pages together), delete cookie information and set a proxy. Turning images off does improve download speed although it doesn't seem to fix the page rendering issues.
While the browser will probably remain a secondary experience, the "I" in the DSi suggests that download content via the shopping channel is going to be one of the primary merits of Nintendo's third generation portable. The shopping experience isn't as smooth as we'd like right now, but regardless of that, a potential wealth of content, as indicated by the recent surge in Japanese WiiWare announcements, will make visiting the shopping channel a worthwhile evil.