The iSmart Premium was announced a short while back and though the team behind it is completely new, there was still a small amount of buzz surrounding the product. Hardly revolutionary in anyway, the cart features the standard features, including real time save and real time guide, however, the excitement comes from the fact that the iSmart Premium is one of very few carts on the market that has the full source code released.*This means that coders and programmers are able to pick apart the firmware and menu and design their own as they please.
Early on, it was discovered that the iSmart Premium was immensely similar to the already widely available EZ Flash Vi cart.*The EZ Flash Vi, designed and manufactured by the EZ Flash team has been around for years, and as unpopular as it may be, it has received much praise.*The iSmart Premium clearly borrows significantly from the EZ Flash Vi, but also contributes fresh ideas to the menu and design.*In this review, the EZ Flash Vi will often be compared to the iSmart Premium.*Though seemingly a clone, it is important to realize that I have confirmed with the EZ Flash team that the iSmart Premium is using some of the software and hardware with full permission.
Though I am going to refer to the EZ Flash Vi, you don't need to know much about it to read this review.
- Design -
The sample of the iSmart Premium I had was a pre-production model.*Not only was it without packaging, but the actual production run has been tweaked for a better fit.*I have received a few pictures of the packaging from the iSmart team and it seems like fairly standard packaging with a metal MicroSD reader.*The metal MicroSD reader was bundled with early versions of the R4 as well as the newer versions of the EZ Flash Vi and is fairly reliable for a freebie.
It's unfortunate that my sample didn't come with packaging.
The iSmart Premium itself varies widely from the EZ Flash Vi in that it has dropped the thick outer casing of the EZ Flash Vi, and furthermore it has somehow rid itself of the chips that were sticking out of the casing.*The result is a very flush and smooth cartridge.*The design of the cartridge is very similar to that of the second version of the R4 DS.*Much like the R4 DS, the MicroSD slot is springless and very smooth.
As seen here, the EZ Flash Vi has chips sticking out, while the iSmart Premium is completely smooth.
The cartridge is made to fit like an original Nintendo DS game cartridge rather than for sheer strength and durability.*While the EZ Flash Vi felt solid, the iSmart Premium does have some minor flex when you push into it.*Some could argue that it is for better or for worse, but it is obvious that the cart pops in and out of the DS with ease.*It is important to mention here that the pre-production sample I had was not making proper contact with the DS causing some detection issues, however, the finalized version has been adjusted to ensure proper contact.
I have placed tape on the back of the contacts to make it connect better, I assume the final tweak just made the casing thicker at that part as it worked well for me.
- Software -
The iSmart Premium shares many similarities with the EZ Flash Vi, and in that respect, much of the software available for the EZ Flash Vi is completely usable for the iSmart.*As the iSmart Premium is still relatively new, the software library is limited to simply skin editing, and therefore users must still rely on EZ Flash software for the text editor.
The iSmart Premiumís skinning engine is handled by two pieces of software.*There are technically two menus in play on the iSmart Premium, one that is an overview of more general features like GBA, NDS and settings, while the second menu is focused on running programs specifically, for example, DS games.*The first menu is handled by an editor called the iSmart Menu Editor.*Basically the shape and feel of the menu is all set, the only things you can change are individual pictures for the background and icons, the software isnít actually needed as these pictures are just bitmap images in a folder, though it is nice to have an editor to keep it organized.*
The editor only allows for changes in the background and the icons.
The more focused menu is handled by the iSmart Skinner.*This program is almost identical to the EZ Flashís skinning program, though it felt a little more stable in my brief tests.*It is important to note that this skinner is highly customizable.*Unlike the previous menu, the icons here can shift positions, sizes, they can even disappear altogether.*I can honestly say that this program is relatively decent in that it is simple to use and offers a fair amount of options, but doesnít get too intimidating.
All of the icons placements and sizes can be swapped.
Unfortunately the iSmart Premium doesnít have its own software for the real time guide option.*This function allows you to pull up pictures and text at any time in a game and is usually used to pull up walkthroughs or guides.*The EZ Flash version of the conversion software is available, but I would have thought that this is the first program the iSmart team should have ported over.*The issue is that the EZ Flash teamís editor outputs .WLK extension as opposed to the necessary .SST files required on the iSmart Premium.*Though they are identical, you do have to rename the extension (the last 3 letters of the filename) to make use of it.
The iSmart Premium also lacks the multiple lines of firmware the EZ Flash Vi has.*The EZ Flash Vi has a stable 2.0 series of updates and a new experimental 3.0 line.*The iSmart Premiumís software is based on the 3.0 software and suffers dearly for it.*The experimental 3.0 software is highly unstable on the EZ Flash Vi and is completely new.*Most users should and would opt to use the 2.0 firmware until things are sorted out.*For iSmart Premium users, it is a shame that the software offered is mirrored as the EZ Flash Vi open beta software, and includes all the bugs and freezes that come with it.
On a related note, the iSmart teamís choice to release the SDK for the iSmart Premium has already yielded some results in the recent beta release of FishShell (credit goes to mbmax for letting me know about it).*FishShell is the Chinese version of MoonShell 2, and this alternate firmware can run on the iSmart, run commercial games and so on.*It is smooth and will support all the extra features of the iSmart in soon to be released future versions.*As this is unofficial, and still in beta, I am not going to cover it in the review, but check out the video, as there will be a brief definition.
FishShell looks like a very promising project.
I have also confirmed that the iSmart Premium is able to counter DSi and DSi XL updates by having a fully updateable bootstrap.*It will update in a fashion that is almost identical to the EZ Flash Vi in which you simply run the file and follow the on screen instructions.*That does require, however, that you have a method of running the cart, which is to say youíll have to update the cart before your DS.
Carts that were based on the EZ Flash Vi were unaffected in the last update
- Use -
This is a quick video that demonstrates both the main menu as well as a very brief segment on the FishShell beta 5.
Upon initial boot, youíll see the very first overview menu in which you can scroll through icons similar to the DSi firmware.*Scrolling left and right, your options are to boot Nintendo DS Games, GBA games (via the EZ Flash 3 in 1), run MoonShell for music and multimedia, boot a slot 2 device, or change your settings.
There are only a few options here, you can scroll left and right.
To go through the simple ones first, settings will let you change the language and skin options.*Additionally, if you have an EZ Flash 3 in 1, it lets you set the rumble strength as well as the mode (either rumble or for GBA linkage).*Thereís hardly a robust set of options, but it gets straight to the point.*The next option is to boot a slot 2 device.*As I am currently only using a DSi, unfortunately I am unsure as to what this does.*It either allows you to use the iSmart Premium as a passme device, or boot a GBA game from the second slot.*Lastly, the option to run MoonShell boots a homebrew application called MoonShell.*This application is standard among almost all flash carts and gives all carts the ability to view pictures, play music, and even play specially converted video files.
The other two options are to boot GBA and Nintendo DS games.*Both boot into an identical menu, one displays .GBA files, while the other boots the .NDS files.*This menu is the one that the EZ Flash Vi uses.*The top screen shows the list of games with mini icons on the side, while the bottom screen shows the game details and gives you various options.*As mentioned earlier, various skins have different features, so by default, there are buttons for backlight, settings, MoonShell and individual game options.*As the EZ Flash Vi only has this menu, and not the one mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are some overlaps for what buttons do.
The individual game settings allows you to toggle soft reset (the ability to return to the iSmart Premium menu in game), real time save (to save at any time in game), game guide (booting up text and pictures during gameplay), cheats and download play.*There isnít much to say, you move up and down, select your feature and click left and right to toggle.
I think this is about all the features you can expect in a budget cart.
Iíve mentioned a few times in the past about how much I like the EZ Flash Vi, and much of it is attributed to the menu.*It is fast, slick and responsive.*Pressing up and down scrolls smoothly but not overly fast, while left and right will skip by fives.*Games boot up relatively fast, and overall I am very happy with this menu.
The speed isn't too fast, so I guess the closer description would be smooth and slick.
- Functionality -
Putting this as bluntly as I can, the iSmart Premium is a little unstable for my taste.*Though it ran all the commercial roms I have tested, many of them experienced some form of problem or another with any extra features.*While I can blame this on the cart using beta software, the fact still stands that the features are practically unusable.*As a result, this drops the iSmart Premium back into the realm of carts like the AceKard 2i with very few extra features.
I'd leave things off if I were you. The RTS feature is hardly dependable.
Once again, being almost identical to the EZ Flash Vi, there were compatibility issues with homebrew games and applications.*Though well below average in terms of support, I would think for the average user it is still acceptable as there are ways of running major homebrew one way or another.
It is clear that the iSmart Premium is not quite up to boot in terms of compatibility.*I have high hopes for the cart as the beta moves on as the EZ Flash Vi has several stable lines of firmware that work great.
- Conclusion -
Already mentioned repeatedly are the similarities between the iSmart Premium and the EZ Flash Vi.*If you are deciding between these two, it is a tough decision.*The iSmart Premium has the advantage of having the SDK released and already developing unofficial firmwares, however you donít have the long track record from the EZ Flash team, nor do you have a stable firmware.*It is quite the trade.*Asides from the EZ Flash Vi, the iSmart Premium also competes with all the other budget carts like the AceKard 2i.
I'd highly recommend checking out other options before purchasing an iSmart Premium.
The iSmart Premium has a smooth menu and works decently.*The open source aspect has already attracted the talented creators of FishShell, and Iím hopeful that more will come of it.*And it does have an impressive list of features that may potentially become stable.
Impressive list or not, if it doesn't work, I'm not sure if it counts.
Of course the obvious flaws are the instability with features.*Thereís also the low compatibility with many homebrew files.
I would not recommend purchasing the iSmart Premium at the moment.*That is not to say that it is a bad cart, nor have I given up hope, but I am uncertain regarding the future of the cart.*I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for the cart and the development rather than purchasing it today.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the iSmart Premium, it definitely has potential.
- Score -
Design Ė 3/5
Software Ė 4/5
Use Ė 3/5
Functionality Ė 15/20
Tilt Ė 4/5