Special thanks to Gamekool.com for providing the review sample.
- Introduction -
The iPlayer’s release roughly nine months ago was predicted to spark a new generation of flash carts. The iPlayer had chips onboard that added to its processing power allowing it to do things that other carts could not. It marketed itself solely based on the fact that the extra power allowed it to play many video codecs without the need for conversion, separating it from any other cart in the market. Later on, a programmer nicknamed DarkChen that did what was considered impossible only a few months earlier, and that was to run a GBA rom without a slot 2 cartridge, and solely through the iPlayer. However, the iPlayer had a problem that prevented it from becoming popular, and that was the fact that the team refused to allow the cart to run commercial NDS roms.
The iPlayer was a fresh idea, and following right behind it is the EX4i and the DS TWO.
It was inevitable that carts would eventually come around that would incorporate the features offered by the iPlayer as well as commercial rom playback. It may have taken months, but we now have two competitors, the Supercard DS TWO as well as the EX4i DS. The EX4i DS is currently marketed as the cheaper solution of the two, offering the basic features. Unlike the Supercard DS TWO which has promises to implement features like the movie player, the EX4i DS fulfills all its claims straight out of the box and costs a little less than the Supercard DS TWO.
Will the EX4i DS turn out to be a good bargain?
- Design -
The EX4i DS arrived in a plain black and silver box with a clear tray inside. Nothing fancy, actually, it was kind of flimsy, but the overall design was decent enough. The accessories included are the same ones included with the original R4; a MicroSD reader, a case, and supposedly a wrist strap that I had not received. Considering the growing trend of simply including nothing now, the accessories that shipped with the EX4i DS was a welcomed change.
My box came a little crushed, so excuse the dimensions.
The bundled MicroSD reader is the metal one that comes with the R4 or EZ Flash Vi, they get scratched easily, they are sort of rugged feeling, but are definitely better than many of the plastic ones that are bundled with other carts. Having seen this particular reader bundled with past carts, I can say that this isn’t one that will break after a week or two of usage, but even then I’d recommend buying a reader with an actual brand sooner or later.
Freebies are always something to rejoice.
The case that comes bundled with the EX4i DS is not particularly useful for me, but it does what it is supposed to, it holds two games, and as an added bonus it protected the EX4i DS during transit. The accessories included with the EX4i DS are pretty much as good as it will get, so I’m happy in that respect.
Nothing irks me more than when a cart arrives damaged. With the case, the EX4i DS is practically guaranteed to arrive safely.
The EX4i DS itself felt pretty solid, it is slimmer than the Supercard DS TWO, but is still a tight fit for DS slots. It is definitely better built around the edges, and the MicroSD slot is top notch. It isn’t too tight or loose and isn’t spring loaded. The EX4i DS does not feel cheap, it is sturdy, the only downside is that it has chips sticking out of the front, which is true for the iPlayer as well as the Supercard DS TWO.
The EX4i certainly feels sturdier than the Supercard DS TWO and the iPlayer.
The EX4i DS has already undergone a hardware change after my first impressions to address the following issue, however I still need to mention this issue until I have fully confirmed the new batch. While the EX4i DS may feel slimmer than the Supercard DS TWO, it is still very problematic if you have a DSi. If you have a DS Lite, it works great, it slides in and out better than the Supercard DS TWO. On a DSi, however, it was virtually impossible to slide it in to begin with. The problem was not how thick the cart was, but rather, where it was thick. The placement of the chips on the EX4i DS clearly show a lack of planning because the parts that stick out hit parts of the DSi cartridge slot in such a way that prevents it from entering. After removing the sticker, the EX4i DS is just slim enough in the right places to put into the DSi, and after a couple of insertions, it loosens up. This is easily the biggest complaint I had with the EX4i DS, I can imagine how infuriating it must be for people as they try to jam their carts into the DS and ending up with a damaged DS or EX4i DS cart. If you have a DSi, be sure to remove the sticker prior to usage to avoid any damage. Thankfully the sticker is of decent quality and peels off rather easily.
You can see the edges that are slightly worn because it is being scraped against the sides.
- Software -
The EX4i DS is made by the R4-LI team, and there are definite similarities between the EX4i DS and the old R4 put out on the market. The firmware offered on the EX4i DS has the same file structure and uses all of the same user content. That is to say, any skins that worked on the R4 work fine on the EX4i DS, it uses the same cheat files and so on. You can take advantage of all the software made specifically for the R4 such as the cheat and skin editors. If you check out the themes from www.ndsthemes.com, you’ll have a gigantic selection already by using the existing R4 themes, while any software for cheats and skins found at www.r4ds.com will also work on the EX4i DS.
Here is an R4 skin made by newkira on www.ndsthemes.com.
While I generally take a few paragraphs in this section to describe the frequency of the updates, the truth is that the EX4i DS has not yet been released yet, and the sample used here is the earliest one available. The cart has yet to become public, and needless to say the firmware reflects it. While I was waiting for the EX4i DS, I noticed that the version numbers of the firmware has changed over time on their website (www.ex4ds.com), there were at least 3 or 4 revisions during the time I was watching, however only one firmware was put out publically for download, and I can only assume that was for the sake of this review. I will be sure to make a note to myself to update this review in a month or two to reflect future updates, but currently I cannot concretely state that this cart is updated frequently or not, as the team is relatively new and this product is also brand new.
Furthermore, I also mention DSi and DSi XL compatibility in this section, however bootstrap updates have yet to be confirmed. The EX4i DS works fantastic on the DSi and DSi XL currently, but it is unknown whether the cart can combat possible DSi updates that may block the cart. Once again, as this is a new cart, and even firmware updates have yet to be rolling out, it isn’t entirely unexpected that we haven’t seen a bootstrap update. Hopefully, I will get confirmation and update this section in the following few days.
We know that it works on the DSi right now for sure, I will have confirmation about the bootstrap updates in the next few days.
- Use -
The DSDatabase video review should give you a quick glimpse of the EX4i menu.
The EX4i DS’s menu looks very much alike to the R4 menu that many are familiar with. On a DS Lite the cart automatically boots, while on a DSi, you will need to click the displayed Star Wars icon.
Star Wars Lethal Alliance is, in my opinion, a better icon than Tak or Fish Tycoon.
After the split second load, the trademark R4 menu shows, with the three icons, one for games, one for multimedia, and one to boot a slot 2cartridge. Again, I should stress, those of you that have an R4 or have used an R4 will feel right at home, because the menu is identical except for two small changes made to accommodate the extra features on the EX4i DS.
I'm not sure about the rest of you, but seeing this classic look is very nostalgic for me.
Let’s begin by clicking the Games icon. You will get a list of games and folders on the top screen, and useful information on the bottom screen. The top screen is very simple list; it shows the file name and the size. The bottom screen shows the internal names and icons of the game as well as gives you a few settings. The settings include brightness (for DS Lite only), soft reset, and cheats. When you select cheats, you are brought into another menu that will let you select different cheats and the real time on and off settings. As with the R4 philosophy, everything is very simple to use, you can tap on the buttons or better yet just use the D-Pad and the A and B buttons to navigate.
Here is a list of GBA games, as you can see it's not quite as pretty as an AceKard or something with all the icons, but it scrolls by very smooth and fast.
The slight change the EX4i DS added to the traditional R4 menu is that the cart will also list GBA roms in the games menu. There aren’t any cheats available, and the internal icon and name are pre-set to generic GBA icon. NDS games boot in a second or so, while GBA games take up to 10 seconds to boot.
I'm not a huge fan of the boot time on the GBA games, but it is bearable.
Next on the list is the Multimedia icon. Upon booting, you’ll notice that it does not go straight into the homebrew application MoonShell as it does on the R4. Instead it lets you choose between the EX4Movie program and the traditional MoonShell. This is the other change present on the EX4i DS. Normally on an R4, you’d go straight into the MoonShell application which lets you boot a whole bunch of images, music and a single video format (DPG, a format designed specifically for the DS). I won’t go too much into detail, but MoonShell is a very slick player that is available on any cart released, and you can easily YouTube videos of it in action. Needless to say, with the EX4i DS’s extra power, it can run other things outside of MoonShell, which is why they made their own player, the EX4 Movie player. Obviously if you click MoonShell it’d boot into MoonShell while the EX4 Movie button will take you to their program.
I'm hoping the EX4 Movie Player is still in its early stages because it doesn't seem all that polished to me.
Assuming you click into the EX4 Movie program, you’ll face a 2second load time before being prompted into Movie or Music menus. They have the same options, and frankly I don’t understand the point of splitting the two menus as the only difference seems to be the fact that they list either only movie files or music files. When you run a movie or song the top screen either shows a splash screen (for music) or the video, while the bottom screen gives you the controls. The controls on the bottom screen are simple fast forward, rewind, pause/play and stop, as well as a timing bar for seeking purposes. Needless to say I was a little disappointed as the iPlayer offered a whole lot of options from subtitles to aspect ratios. For movies, regardless of your file, it will be stretched to fit, while there are no playlist features for music. It is a very barebones player. I feel that it makes much more sense to use the MoonShell application for music, as it is a vast improvement. Unfortunately you have no choice with videos.
Was this movie button really necessary?
Lastly, we have the boot slot 2 icon. If you are using a DS Lite, and also have a slot 2 cart, you can use the EX4i DS as a Passme device. I doubt many people will have use for this, so I’ll leave it at that.
Slot 2 is a feature for people with legacy carts, not entirely sure if anyone still has any use for it anymore.
- Functionality -
As we’ve come to expect, the EX4i DS ran all my NDS test files, they’ve even put up a list on their website with popular problematic games that work on the cart, which is definitely no bluff. I will keep this brief by saying that NDS game compatibility and lag should not be something you are worried about with the EX4i DS, it is standard that all games work, and EX4i DS certainly lives up to it. As the cart runs roms exactly like the R4, there aren’t a lot of special features, only cheats and soft reset, nothing else.
Nothing shocking, games work fine.
Unfortunately the movie codec support was not as good as I said it was in my first impressions. It pales in comparison to the iPlayer. To keep this relatively short, the EX4i DS does run all of the codecs advertised (RMVB, AVI, MOV, DIVX, MPEG, FLV, 3GP, AST and WMV) as well as other popular formats such as MKV and MP4. However, the performance is slightly worse than the iPlayer. To sum up the tests, we can rule out the obvious high definition content, anything that was 480p and higher fails to run. RMVB by far performed the best, you can have relatively high quality files and it will run it flawlessly, as with MOV and MPG files. FLV were relatively unplayable as they stuttered, and the same is true with MKV. MP4 with .H264 encoding fails to run properly, while some of my older MP4 files ran well. AVI files stutter if width was 640 or higher, but below that, it ran relatively smooth. The iPlayer was able to play my test file with a width of 640 just fine, yet the EX4i DS had stutters. Furthermore, seeking was a huge issue. Repeated seeking on anything that borders EX4i DS’s capabilities meant that the audio and video sync was jeopardized. Keep in mind that the exact same files and memory cards were used in the test as the iPlayer test.
Familiar scene, this was one of the videos I used in the iPlayer review to create a sort of benchmark.
I thought I should mention that video looks quite good on the DS. I have a YouTube video that compares the iPlayer’s capabilities to MoonShell’s DPG4 (which is the video solution for other carts on the market) that is very much relevant as the EX4i DS looks exactly the same. To sum up the video, DPG4 shows details a little better while the iPlayer or the EX4i DS is a little smoother. It’s nice to see that both options are available to someone who owns the EX4i DS as DPG4 will run on any cart.
I'm sorry, I didn't want to create an entirely new video with the exact same contents, so you'll just have to pretend that the cart in the video is an EX4i.
GBA compatibility was fairly decent. The EX4i DS is very much comparable to the iPlayer and Supercard DS TWO in that there are definitely problematic roms, but overall, they will all run sufficiently. I used two sampling techniques, the first is a systematic random sample of roughly 150 roms, and then a specifically targeted set of approximately 25 problematic roms.
Here are some of the problematic roms I've tested.
The results of the tests are roughly as expected. 94.6% of my random sample was able to boot up, which left 5.4% freezing at the start with a white or black screen. Each of the 148 randomly sampled roms was tested for at least 30 seconds of actual gameplay, but generally moving towards a minute or more. Of the entire set, a total of 12.2% had issues that could be deemed unplayable, which includes the ones that were not able to boot. Of course, I was rather strict in judging whether a rom was unplayable. For the test, any graphical or sound glitch that was more than a split second was immediately deemed unplayable, while any lag or stutter that lasted longer than an entire second or happened more than once within the test was also deemed unplayable.
Most games work, but compatibility isn't quite up there with the NDS side.
I also tested a few roms that GBATemp users had specified specifically as problematic roms. 4 of these overlapped with my random sample. The results are as follows:
Dragonball GT – Volume 1: Does not run
Golden Sun: Lags on the world map, as well as in battle
Golden Sun – The Lost Age: Lags on the world map, as well as in battle
Gradius Galaxies: Seemed to work fine
Pokemon Series: There is no real time clock support, but they do run
NES series or Famicom Mini: Does not run
Boktai – The Sun is in Your Hands: Does boot up, however, does not have solar sensor
Mario Power Tennis: Boots, but has extreme lag, unplayable by all standards
Rebelstar – Tactical Command: Seemed to work fine
Zone of the Enders – The Fist of Mars: Seemed to work fine
- Conclusion -
The EX4i DS is trying to woo customers by providing a similar feature set to the Supercard DS TWO and offering it at a cheaper price than the Supercard DS TWO. I guess the best way to say this is that you get what you pay for, the EX4i DS doesn’t have the polish the Supercard DS TWO seems to have and some bits of it seem to be attachments rather than fully thought out features.
The EX4 has an impressively long feature list.
The EX4i DS does have its advantages. It is definitely cheaper and it does everything right off the bat. Let’s face it, the Supercard DS TWO doesn’t have support for any video yet, and the EX4iDS does. The EX4i DS works as it should, it plays a lot of GBA games and videos, which means that the main reasons you would buy an EX4i DS does actually work as you hoped. I am happy with every aspect of the EX4i DS, and if there wasn’t a Supercard DS TWO or iPlayer to compare it to, I’d be completely pleased with the offerings.
I thought the EX4i DS was a decent enough cart considering the price.
Of course, the EX4i DS’s lack of polish is really what is holding it from getting a great score. I have no real complaints asides from the build, but I get a nagging feeling every time I look at the music menu and wonder where the options are, or when I boot a GBA game and think about what wonderful options are offered on the Supercard DS TWO.
I think the movie player needs a lot of work despite the fact that it works.
I am happy with the performance of the EX4i DS, and from what I hear, they are making improvements that are pretty significant in the next little while. There are definitely good reasons to go with the EX4i DS, and also clear reasons not to.
The problematic chip has already been dealt with apparently, so at least this is a team that reacts quickly to complaints.
- Score -
Design – 3/5
Software – 5/5
Use – 3/5
Functionality – 19/20
Tilt – 5/5
Overall – 35/40
Purchase your own EX4i at Gamekool.com.