Nintendo DS vs DS Lite vs DSi: What Are The Differences?


DS Family

The Nintendo DS was a revolutionary handheld when it released – and a phenomenon that saw several hardware revisions and sold more than 150 million units. But with all of the different revisions to the original Nintendo DS hardware over the years – DS vs DS Lite vs DSi – it can be difficult to figure out which handheld is right for you.

What are the differences between the Nintendo DS, the DS Lite, and the DSi/DSi XL?

Nintendo DS

  • The original model in the DS line of consoles
  • Backward compatible with Game Boy Advance
  • Up to 10 hrs of battery life

Nintendo DS Lite:

  • Sleeker and slimmer redesign
  • Also backward compatible with Game Boy Advance
  • Up to 19 hrs battery life
  • Adjustable brightness settings

Nintendo DSi / DSi XL:

  • Plays DS games but NOT Game Boy Advance games
  • Adjustable brightness settings
  • Compatible with DSiWare games and DSi Web Browser (however, please note that DSi Shop has ceased activity as of 2017)
  • Bigger 3.25-inch (4.2 for the XL) screen compared to the 3.0-inch display on the original DS and DS Lite
  • Up to 14 hrs on a single charge (17 hrs for the XL)

Additionally, Nintendo itself has made a handy chart to compare and contrast all of the technical specifications for their DS family of consoles (see the image just below).

DS Console Specs Comparison

While those are the major differences between each of the various DS consoles, which is the best? Which is right for you? Well, when it comes to the DS family of handhelds, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer – but there are certainly pros and cons to each iteration.

Nintendo DS

Pros

  • It’s cheap!!
  • Backward compatible with Game Boy Advance

Cons

  • Not the most aesthetically pleasing Nintendo handheld
  • Worst battery life of all the DS consoles
  • No adjustable brightness settings
  • No built-in web browser

If you only look at the “pros” and “cons” section, it might appear that the original Nintendo DS isn’t worth buying – but that simply isn’t the case. While there are a few knocks on the original DS, they’re all relatively minor. For example, its battery life might be the worst in DS family of consoles, but 6-10 hours on a single charge is likely more than adequate for most users.

Sure, it’s a bit bulkier than the other models, but design is more of a personal preference sort of thing anyway. And while adjustable brightness is nice to have, it is certainly far from a necessity. The built-in web browser would be nice too, but Nintendo does offer a web browser cartridge (see pricing on eBay); so, that’s not much of a loss either.

Honestly, the biggest problem with the original DS, at least in comparison to its successors, is that none of its pros are really that big of an advantage over any of the other iterations. Yes, the DS is often the cheapest option, but none of these handhelds are too expensive. (It should be noted, however, that prices do tend to fluctuate, so visit our continuously updated article – How Much Is A Nintendo DS Worth – to stay up-to-date with the entire family of handhelds.)

And while backward compatibility with the Game Boy Advance library of games is definitely a plus, it’s an advantage it shares with the DS Lite. And the DS Lite comes in a much sleeker package, and with a few extra perks too (but we’ll get to that in just a minute).

Bottom Line: There is absolutely nothing wrong with the original DS, but there is very little that separates it from any of the later revisions. Maybe there are people who are nostalgic for the original model – but other than that, it doesn’t offer anything you cannot get on another DS. The prices aren’t typically all that different, so there is very little incentive to pick up the original over the DS Lite.

DS Lite

Nintendo DS Lite

Pros

  • Slimmer and sleeker than the original model
  • Nearly twice the battery life (on the lowest brightness setting)
  • Adjustable brightness setting
  • Backward compatible with the Game Boy Advance

Cons

  • No built-in web browser

The DS Lite is probably the most sought after of the DS systems these days given its laundry list of pros. Even for those looking for Game Boy Advance consoles today, the DS Lite is often a cheaper entry point into the GBA’s gaming catalog. And it’s arguably a better option considering the DS library of games is massive and features a ton of must-have titles.

With the addition of the brightness setting and the added battery life, this console is a step up in pretty much every regard over the original DS. Again, the DS Lite doesn’t have a built-in web browser, but (as with the DS) the web browser cartridge pretty much turns this flaw into a non-issue.

It should also be noted that some of the best limited edition consoles and color variants came to the DS Lite exclusively. In fact, the DS Lite saw more color variants and special editions than both the DS and DSi.

Bottom Line: Unless you don’t care about backward compatibility, the DS Lite is probably the console to grab here. The DSi and DSi XL have their perks as well (which we’ll get to in just second), but the DS Lite’s access to two fantastic game libraries makes it quite appealing – and a great deal too.

DSi / DSi XL

DSi & DSi XL

Pros

  • Bigger displays
  • Solid battery life
  • SD card slot

Cons

  • No backward compatibility
  • DSi shop has been discontinued

The bigger screens on the DSi and DSi XL respectively are easily the best selling point for these consoles today. The XL is obviously a little bigger than the standard DSi, but it generally comes at a slightly higher price point when buying used online. That being said, prices for both consoles are pretty reasonable today. In fact, standard DSi units go for about the same as the original DS (likely due to the fact that the DSi doesn’t support backward compatibility).

The lack of backward compatibility, however, is quite a bummer. It was somewhat easier to swallow when the DSi shop was up and running, but Nintendo is, understandably, no longer supporting it. But if all you want is to play DS games anyways, the larger screens are a big bonus.

Also, like the DS Lite, the DSi and XL feature some pretty cool colors and limited edition designs. The consoles themselves are as sleek as the Lite, and they are both great platforms to experience the DS’ incredible library of games on.

Bottom Line: If you think that bigger is better, the DSi (or probably the DSi XL) is for you. If you want access to access to the Game Boy Advance’s excellent gaming library in addition to the DS’, then maybe take a look at the Lite or the original DS.

Bobby Anhalt

Bobby is the founder of Retro Game Buyer. He adores video games and is passionate about sharing his knowledge, thoughts, and opinions on nostalgic retro titles.

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