• Nintendo DSLite Hardware Review

    Weíre now long past the point where itís good enough for gadgets to do something cool. For todayís iPod generation, they also have to look good doing it.

    While the original Nintendo DS was far from being the ugliest piece of gaming kit ever invented, in todayís more cosmetic-centric market the design was more of an Ugly Stepsister than Cinderella. Only released in 2004, the heavy-looking design certainly aged quickly and while it made the DS stand out, it was often for all the wrong reasons. And while looks certainly have no bearing on the quality of playable titles on the system, in a time where appearance and street-cred seem to be just as integral as what an particular piece of equipment can do, it was arguable that the DS was trailing last place in the beauty pageant.

    Not any more. The DS Lite is Nintendoís answer to those who felt the original design had become outdated next to Sonyís handheld. Out goes the old bulky style and in comes something much more sleek.

    The first thing that strikes you when you unpack the DS Lite is how much better it looks in real life than in photos. Indeed, even the photos here donít do it any real justice. The case is no longer a dull, flat colour but has more of a satin sheen not entirely dissimilar to that of the PSP (and just like the PSP this means it's a magnet for fingerprints and greasy smears).

    Overall the dimensions of the system arenít that much smaller and while itís only lost a few millimetres here and there these tiny reductions make a whole lot of difference. Gone are the clumsy joins, protruding trigger buttons (which now sit in line with the rest of the case) and the difference in size between the top and bottom sections of the casing. The DS Lite is now an almost perfectly smooth rectangle with any protrusions kept to an absolute minimum. In fact, minimalistic would be an apt description for the new design with as much as possible neatly tucked away to help retain its elegance. There are no more jarring lines or indents. Everything feels smooth and looks crisp. The ace up the sleeve of reducing the DSís flab is certainly that the top screen is now slightly inset into the case, meaning it closes flush with the bottom section.

    The stylus store is now located at the side of the unit rather than the top which, no doubt as a result of an internal rejig, allows for the stylus itself to be two to three millimetres longer and a tiny bit thicker. It doesnít sound a lot, but the result is that the stylus doesnít feel as fiddly to hold as the previous incarnation, making a difference for those who struggled with the original pens.

    Unlike that for DS cartridges, the GBA cartridge slot on the original design left a sizable gap in the bottom of the machines casing. Nintendoís designers have created a nice little workaround to this on the Lite by having a removable cover that can be taken out when a GBA Cartridge is inserted. The noticeable downside of the DSís dieting is that the larger GBA cartridges now protrude from the bottom of the unit and while again weíre talking in terms of millimetres rather than inches, it does somewhat spoil the Liteís appearance having an oversized cartridge hanging from the bottom.

    Itís also worth noting that the socket for recharging the unit is a different shape to the previous version so itís no longer possible to use an original Game Boy Advance or old DS charger. Opening up the flip top of the system reveals that the streamlining has not stopped with the exterior. The surface of the original DS panels always felt a bit large and sparse but now, due to the reduction in size, everything seems much closer together without actually being cramped. The buttons have also been given a slight tweaking thanks to the insetting of the top screen (removing the need for the indented sections that previously flanked either side of the touch screen). This means the buttons and D-pad now protrude outwards more and no longer feel flat (even the Start and Select buttons are now circular) with button presses a lot more tangible and responsive.

    The power button has been relocated as a flip switch on the side of the unit (which despite fears of the system being switched on accidentally, has still yet to occur) and the microphone is now situated on the hinge between the top and bottom screens. All this drawing together and relocating of buttons makes the screens actually feel bigger, even if there is no real difference in terms of size between the two designs.

    The aspect of the screens where the two designs actually differ is the upgrade that has been given to Liteís display capabilities. The Lite truly shines (no pun intended) over the original with everything appearing much sharper and clearer than ever before. Even the touch screen, which had a tendency to be somewhat fuzzy on the older model, is pin-sharp. Gaming on the Lite now becomes a whole new experience thanks to this improved clarity.

    Whereas before users were only given a choice of the backlight being on or off, now there are four levels of brightness to play around with. Itís not until youíve played with these settings and witnessed how bright and vibrant the new screens are, that you realise how dull and lifeless the old DSís capabilities were. Going back to the older design for any length of time after using the Lite is certainly a difficult task.

    Despite weighing less than the original, the Lite may still pose a problem for those who had difficulty when using the system for any period of time. Again it is often best to use the Lite with it resting on something for support, although this is not always necessary (or possible) all of the time. Suffice to say if you didnít experience any trouble with the original system then the Lite certainly wonít introduce a handling issue, while some who previously struggled may find things easier during prolonged bouts of gaming.

    The only area where Nintendo have neglected to upgrade the DS Lite is the speakers. The sometimes-tinny output from the original system still remains with no clear difference between the two. That said this is nitpicking when compared to everything else thatís been achieved.

    The DS Lite is a superb example of how to rework a system design and while it may have been done for reasons of vanity, the end result is something which is undeniably stunning and highly desirable. Is it worth the extra money for those who already own a DS in fine working order? That will depend on how much of a gadgetphile you are, but you can bet thereíll be a sudden surge in the number of 'accidentally' dropped systems which then 'need' to be replaced with the Lite.