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Should You Buy the Nintendo DS Lite or the Nintendo DSi?

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If you walk into your local game store and say, “I'd like to purchase a Nintendo DS,” the clerk will ask, “A DS Lite or a DSi?” You'll want to be ready with your answer.

Though most Nintendo DS games are interchangeable between the DS Lite and the DSi, there are some key differences between the two. This list will help you make a choice based on price and functions of both units.

Note that the first model of the Nintendo DS—often referred to as the “DS Phat” by the gaming community—is a little bulkier than the DS Lite and has a smaller screen, but its features are otherwise identical to the DS Lite's.

The DSi can't play Game Boy Advance games.

Image © Nintendo
The Nintendo DSi lacks the cartridge slot that makes the DS Lite backwards compatible with Game Boy Advance (GBA) games. This also means that the DSi can't play the DS Lite games that use the slot for certain accessories. For example, Guitar Hero: On Tour requires players to plug a set of colored keys into the DS Lite's cartridge slot.

Only the DSi can download DSiWare.

Image © Nintendo
“DSiWare” is the general name for games and applications that can be downloaded through the DSi Shop. Though both the DS Lite and DSi are Wi-Fi compatible, only the DSi can access the DSi Shop. Online purchases are made with “Nintendo Points,” the same virtual “currency” used for purchases on the Wii Shop Channel.

The DSi has two cameras, and the DS Lite has none.

Image © Nintendo
The Nintendo DSi features two built-in .3 megapixel cameras: one in the interior of the handheld and one on the exterior. The camera lets you snap pictures of yourself and your friends (cat pictures are mandatory as well), which can be manipulated with built-in editing software. The DSi's camera plays a key role in games like Ghostwire, which allows players to hunt and capture “ghosts” using photography. As the DS Lite lacks a camera function, games that use snapshots can only be played on the DSi. The DS Lite also lacks photo editing software.

The DSi has an SD card slot, and the DS Lite doesn't.

Image © Nintendo
The DSi can support SD cards up to two gigabytes in size, and SDHC cards up to 32 gigs. This allows the DSi to play music in AAC format, but not MP3s. The storage space can also be used to record, modify and store voice clips, which can be inserted into songs. Pictures imported from an SD card can be manipulated with the DSi's photo editing software and, starting in summer 2009, synchronized with Facebook.

The DSi has a downloadable Web browser, and the DS Lite doesn't.

Image © Nintendo
An Opera-based Web browser can be downloaded for the DSi via the DSi Shop. With the browser, DSi owners can surf the Web wherever Wi-Fi is available. An Opera browser was developed for the DS Lite in 2006, but it was hardware-based (and required use of the GBA cartridge slot) instead of downloadable. It has since been discontinued.

The DSi is slimmer than the DS Lite and has a larger screen.

Image © Nintendo
The name “DS Lite” has become a bit of a misnomer since the release of the DSi. The DSi's screen is 3.25 inches across, whereas the DS Lite's screen is 3 inches. The DSi is also 18.9 millimeters thick when closed, about 2.6 millimeters thinner than the DS Lite. You won't break your back carrying either system around, but gamers with an affinity for slim and sexy technology might want to keep the measurements of both systems in mind.

Menu navigation on the DSi is similar to menu navigation on the Wii.

Image © Nintendo
The DSi's main menu is much like the “fridge” style made famous by the Wii's main menu. Seven icons are accessible when the system is out of the box, including PictoChat, DS Download Play, SD card software, system settings, the Nintendo DSi Shop, the Nintendo DSi camera, and the Nintendo DSi sound editor. The DS Lite's menu is features a more basic, stacked menu, and allows access to PictoChat, DS Download Play, settings, and whichever GBA and/or Nintendo DS games are plugged into the portable.

The DS Lite is cheaper than the DSi.

With fewer built-in features and comparatively older hardware, the DS Lite is a little cheaper than the newer DSi. The DS Lite typically sells for $129.99 USD without a game, whereas the DSi sells for about $149.99 USD without a game. This is just the suggested retail price; actual prices may vary from store to store.

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