There's a new handheld Nintendo DS on the market. The DSi XL is almost exactly like other handheld Nintendo DS machines. It plays DS games. It does a bit of web surfing. But this one is bigger and heavier.
The DSi XL is a fine gaming system for kids and casual gamers. But it's getting harder to take the DS seriously, because of the following:
A) No DS game comes close to rivaling any great game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. To wit: Lately, I've been playing two instant classics, God of War III and Just Cause 2, on PS 3 and Xbox 360. I dare you to name a single DS game that's 20% as brilliant or addictive.
B) As you may know, though, the Nintendo DS is the best-selling game system in America. Why? Because kids and casual gamers play it.
But casual gamers now have a viable alternative. You can spend $200 on a DSi XL - or you can spend $200 on an Apple iPod Touch, which plays tons of casual games, plays music, video and web video, and surfs.
Okay, so Apple games are even more horrible than most DS games. But if you're a casual player, what do you care? You're just trying to play a light little nothing now and then.
So, here comes the Nintendo DSi XL. The screen is 4.2 inches, larger than the DS Lite's (3 inches) and the DSi's (3.25 inches). It comes with two nice puzzle games, Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters and Brain Age Express: Math.
Two built-in cameras let you take photos. But my mobile phone already does that, and my phone fits in my man-pants pockets. The DSi XL does not.
Plus, there's a WiFi Opera web browser, although it is not possible to download video and music software, so you can't use YouTube, Pandora or Slacker. I couldn't download books from Gutenberg, either.
You can download DS games, like Scrabble - for "800 points," which means you use your credit card to buy points ($10 for 1,000 points at a time). Points remain a dumb turnoff that plagues both Nintendo and Xbox 360.
You can transfer songs onto an SD memory card, then listen on headphones. But I can do that on my BlackBerry and iPod Touch much easier.
Do you see where I'm going?
Essentially, if you're not old enough for an iPod Touch or iPhone (or if you want to play Nintendo-specific games, like Mario titles), then DSi XL makes sense for you.
Personally, I play the DS's Civilization Revolution on every plane trip. But I prefer my regular DS, because it weighs less and is easier to hold.
By the way, Nintendo is reportedly releasing another DS within the next year or so: A 3-D DS that doesn't use glasses. It relies on optical illusions. We'll see if that DS is the real game-changer.