Ah, kids and cars. There's nothing like the endless hours spent on a long journey to grandma's house with bored munchkins in the back seat, staring aimlessly out the window only to finally plead, "Are we there yet?"
Thankfully, in this high-tech day and age, handheld gaming systems are a sanity lifesaver for frustrated parents. These portable devices should keep the rugrats occupied until you get there.
- Available at: Future Shop, Best Buy, The Source, EB Games, Walmart and several other retailers
Being the first portable gaming platform with 3D content, the 3DS delivers an impressive experience for everyone without the need for any glasses.
While the 3D effect is undeniably fun and engaging, you should enjoy it in smaller doses. Nintendo has said that the 3D feature should be turned off for kids six years and younger. But even for adults, the effects can be disorienting.
One of the 3DS's best features is the slider on the right that controls the intensity of the 3D effect onscreen. Move it all the way down, and the game automatically switches to 2D mode. Every game will pop up a warning that it might be time to take a break from playing, usually after 30 or 40 minutes.
For kids who are of age, they will likely stick to a sweet spot for each game that they play, since the depth of field and pace of the action is more pronounced in some games compared to others. It's hard to say if it will affect youngsters more or less in a moving vehicle. The good news is that 3D can be turned off completely in the unit's PIN-protected parental settings.
Battery life is also a drain - literally. Nintendo says it can last up to five hours, but my tests proved otherwise. At most, you will get four hours, though it may even be less than that sometimes. This isn't ideal for a long road trip, and unfortunately, Nintendo continues to opt for a proprietary USB port without including a standalone cable that could plug into a 12-volt adapter to charge the unit on the road.
Interestingly, I found a workaround to this by using the Nintendo DSi adapter that comes with the Powermat wireless charging system. By attaching it to a standard mini-USB cable and a 12-volt adapter, I was able to charge the unit in the car without a problem.
Sony PSP go or Sony PSP 3000
- $179.99 (for PSP go)
- $129.99 (for PSP 3000)
- Available at: Future Shop, Best Buy, The Source, EB Games, Walmart, Sears and several other retailers
A 3D version of the PSP is rumoured for later this year, but at the moment, there are two versions of Sony's portable system that are still on the market.
The PSP 3000 is based on the original design of Sony's handheld unit, while the PSP go is a smaller, more versatile platform that has its own internal storage (plus a memory card slot) to store games, movies, photos, music and other media content.
The PSP go is not really meant as an upgrade to previous PSP units because it isn't compatible with older accessories, and there is nothing in place to transfer games or movies that are in the proprietary UMD disc format the PSP 3000 and earlier models use. Since the go doesn't have a UMD slot, all those older games simply won't work.
Newcomers to the PSP world might like the versatility the go offers, but kids, particularly teens, may have already made up their minds on what will work best for them. The 3000 or an earlier model almost certainly requires a bag or case to hold extra games and other accessories.
The beauty of either one of these is that they can also playback media files. If you have content the kids like already stored on either device, they can easily switch from playing a game to watching a video, for example. All the while, you're not hearing a peep from the back seat, which is arguably a must for a family road trip.
And because the PSP has an ad hoc mode that allows two units to "talk" to each other without the need for an Internet connection, this could enable two kids in the back to play together or share content. A mobile hot spot via a smartphone could always provide Wi-Fi on the road, if necessary.
Parental controls on either the go or 3000 are pretty much the same, and they can prohibit everything from purchasing downloadable content to playing games that are inappropriate for certain ages.
Both have proprietary plugs, but you can charge the go in the car using a USB adapter, while the 3000 can be charged this way, too, albeit at a "trickle" rate that takes longer to fill up the battery.
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