Product: Gameboy Advance SP
I, like many of you probably are thinking right now, thought that the GBA SP was nothing more that a marketing ploy to sucker in people who had already purchased a GBA. Sure, it folds up into a tiny box, but it's still an additional $99 for the same handheld in a different shape and with a few more features. Over the holiday season, I finally broke down and did a trade-in deal at a local game shop, my old trusty GBA for a GBA SP, and by the end of the day, I was kicking myself for not having doing it sooner.
The first thing anyone is bound to notice about the GBA SP is its size. To put it in dimensions, it's about 3" x 3" x 0.75", or about half the size of a regular GBA. This compact size still retains all of the features and buttons seen on a conventional GBA, though in a slightly different layout, and is small enough to comfortably fit in anyone's pocket. What makes the GBA SP able to have such a small size and profile is the folding screen, which is not only the reason the GBA SP is so small, but while folded up, the GBA SPs screen as all but immune to getting scratched, making third party screen cover add-ons obsolete. The hinge that connects the screen portion to the rest of the GBA SP feels much sturdier than it looks, opens and closes smoothly, and has a mechanism to make it stay open or shut, depending on the current situation. The only downside to the hinge is that it doesn't actually seal the screen, so after a couple of hours in your pocket, you are bound to find tiny bits of dust gently stuck to the screen.
The layout of the GBA SP is much different than its predecessor. The L and R buttons form the top corners of the GBA SPs shell and are much smaller than on a regular GBA. Since there is no screen between them, the D-pad and the A and B buttons are now close together and are also protected when the GBA SP is shut. Start and Select are found near the bottom edge, which are not only recessed like the rest of the buttons but are also very small, which can make finding and pressing them difficult in games that require you to do so quickly. The on/off switch is on the right side of the shell, and the volume control is no longer a wheel but a slider, which takes up residence on the left side of the shell. For the first time on a Nintendo, handheld games load from the bottom in order to make room for the two ports on the top of the shell as well as the clip-holes found on the GBA to allow for the connection of the same add-ons that you can use on the regular GBA.
One of the main features that the regular GBA can't hold a candle to is the new SP's backlit screen. Though technically not backlit and actually lit from the bottom, the lighting hits the entire screen evenly and doesn't look uneven at any point. The light can be toggled on and off via a small button near the top of the face of the shell, so that when you don't need the light to see the screen, you don't have to use it and consume valuable power. The smoothness of the lighting puts any add-on for the regular GBA to shame, and finally allows a person to lay or sit in any position they want and always see a perfect screen. The only two downsides to the light is that it does consume almost as much power as the rest of the handheld when on, and the colors look ever so slightly washed out. However, the washed out effect is only barely noticeable and doesn't detract very much from the quality of the screen.
Another big feature that the SP carries is a built-in, rechargeable battery pack that is concealed under a cover in the rear that is secured with a small screw. There are two status LEDs on the right side of the SP's shell: one is green during normal use and red when the battery pack reaches a dangerously low level, and the second lights up when the battery is recharging. To recharge the battery pack, you simply plug the AC adapter (included) into the larger port on the top of the SP's shell. After about 3 hours, the status light goes out, and the battery pack is fully charged. Though untested due to the system only being out for less than a year, the battery pack is purportedly good for 500 charges, after which the battery doesn't hold as much of a charge. Still, 500 charges roughly equates to a few years of usage, since an SP can run for about 9 hours with the light on and for 16 hours with the light off.
All of the features and compatibility found with the GBA is mimicked in the GBA SP, with a few notable exceptions. Like the GBA, the SP can play all Gameboy, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy Advance games, and there are no games that are specifically meant for the GBA SP. When playing older Gameboy games, you can choose a color palette to use to replace the shades of gray, just like on a GBA. However, GBA games that let you tilt the controller to control gameplay are no longer compatible. They still fit and run on the SP just fine, but since they are on the bottom and upside down when compared to a regular GBA, the gameplay is adversely affected.
As a whole, if you don't have a GBA system yet and are looking for one, the GBA SP is worth every penny of its $99 price tag. The built-in rechargeable battery pack means you no longer need to shell out money for batteries every week or two of use, and the lit screen lets you play anytime, anywhere, under any lighting conditions. For those of you who already have a GBA and are looking to upgrade to the SP, many stores like Gamestop and Electronics Boutique have trade-in deals. Such trade-ins will rarely get you a free ride to an SP but are likely to get you more than halfway there. All in all, the Gameboy Advance SP is much more than a simple marketing ploy to get gamers to spend twice as much money for the same handheld, with a good deal of features that the GBA simply cannot match, a tiny design that makes it even more portable than its predecessors, and the same compatibility and quality that are required by gamers on the go.