GameBoy Advance SP

A number of years ago I worked on the Apple Newton, one of the first PDAs. It was over-hyped and (sigh) frankly buggy and difficult to use in many respects, and the competition saw these defects, fixed them and ran. Thus, Palm.

Apple didn’t have follow-through on its products. Every “1.0” had to be a success, or the product started to die politically. We’d shipped the first couple of MessagePads (ugh, what a name), and nothing remarkable was changing about the product. Meetings began to be interminable slices of hell, so I stopped carrying my Newton to meetings, and bought a GameBoy instead. I’d sit in meetings and dink with it (with the volume turned down, I’m not a complete asshole). GB was portable fun, and it definitely reflected my attitude towards what was going on in Newton; I could play games, or I could play games.

Fast-forward years and years….

My wife gave me a GameBoy Advance SP for my birthday, a day in advance of the official release date. She got up at some ungodly hour in order to get to the store in time to pick one up, which I am touched by.

A quick review:

– Nintendo got it right

The original GameBoy Advance’s was not right. Its display was terrible; you had to tilt it just right to catch the light, but you also had to avoid reflections, and some games were just too dark to play. The SP has a backlight, and it’s possible to play without noodling around to get the light right. Did I mention that the display is finally decent? Good.

The unit is tiny, and fits comfortably in a jeans or shirt pocket. The lithium ion battery is replaceable (just unscrew a port in the back). (I don’t know how long the battery really lasts, though). The charger adapter is tiny and is also pocketable. The unit has a nice feel; I keep wanting to open and close it again and again.

My only beef: No headphone jack; you have to buy a special cable. I don’t know if Nintendo ran out of board space for the jack, or whether they wanted to eke out an additional ten bucks of profit on each unit. It’s a minor irritation.

In an era of cruddy consumer electronics, it’s nice to see a product done right. Then again, Nintendo is probably barely making money on the base unit, and the unit has to last years, so profits can be reaped on the cartridges.

Zelda: A Link to the Past just rocks. I played an early version of Zelda on the NES, when I was home sick for two weeks solid. The game seems klunky at first, but when you’ve been in it for a while you realize how well-tuned and well designed it is. (After five or six hours of solid play, I’m probably only 20% of the way through, so it’s also a good value for entertainment).

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