Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP Review

Hardware

Internally, the SP is no different from the Game Boy Advance. You get the same processor and, for the most part, the same specs, but in a much more attractive and portable package. The screen has the same 2.41″ x 1.61″ LCD used on the GBA. The most notable improvement with the Game Boy Advance SP (AGS-001) was the inclusion of a frontlight, which at the time looked a hell of a lot nicer than the original GBA screen. For the uninitiated, a backlight illuminates the target area from behind. A frontlight illuminates the target area by shining light across the surface from the side/s. GBA owners have been able to add this feature with the addition of an Afterburner, or alternatively you can replace the original screen with a backlit screen for a much better viewing experience.

Nintendo removed the TRS headphone jack from the SP, which had been included on all previous Game Boy models. So Headphones designed specifically for the GBA SP will need to be purchased separately, or standard headphones can be attached with an optional, stereophonic adapter that plugs into the same port as the AC adapter.

As both AC adapter and headphones use the same port, it is not possible to charge the SP and listen to headphones at the same time with the Nintendo brand adapter. There are, however, third-party solutions, such as an adapter that “splits” into two different cords; the power jack on one side, and a TS headphone jack on the other.

Design

 

The Game Boy Advance SP has clamshell design, which protects the screen, speaker and buttons a whole lot better. Unlike the wider GBA, the SP fits into a pocket or small bag very easily. The hinge spring also insures that while it’s in a bag or packed away it will not accidentally open. It’s not the strongest spring in town, but it keeps the trap closed firmly.

The screen is recessed into the body about one millimeter, so when it’s closed it will not scrape against the D-pad or A/B buttons. The hinge allows for about 185 degrees of motion, but the screen is notched at about 170 degrees, which makes for an almost perfect viewing angle. You can play with it open less or more, but it really settles at the notch.

There are many different colours and editions of the console out there, which makes this very desirable system for any collectors out there – My personal favourites would be the Tribal Edition, NES Edition, Legend of Zelda Gold Limited Edition and the Mario vs Donkey Kong edition.

Ergonomics

The Game Boy Advance SP doesn’t feel as comfortable to use as the Game Boy Advance, and I definitely wouldn’t reccomend using this for long periods of time.

Battery Life

The SP can run on battery for 10 hours with the front-light on. Turn it off and you can push it up to 17-18 hours. A small button for turning the front-light on and off, can be found just below the hinge.

Most notably, this was the first Game Boy to ship with an internal rechargeable battery. An A/C adapter was included in the box to recharge the Lithium-ion battery, which can also be used with the original Nintendo DS. This was a big improvement over previous Game Boys, which before required replacing dead batteries with commercially avaliable AA batteries.

Software

Compatible with all Game Boy and most Game Boy Color games. Game Boy games can be played using the same selectable color palettes as on the Game Boy Color.

History

The Game Boy Advance SP was released in February 2003, it’s an upgraded version of Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance. The “SP” in the name stands for “Special”.

Nintendo was planning to have the SP be 3D-compatible, but the resolution of LCD was too low, resulting in the company scrapping it.

Technical Specifications

  • Size (closed): Approximately 8.4 × 8.2 × 2.44 cm (3.3 × 3.23 × 0.96 inches).
  • Weight: 142 grams (approximately 5 ounces)
  • Screen: 2.9 inch Reflective TFT Color LCD.
  • Resolution: 240 × 160 pixels.
  • Light source: Frontlight integrated LCD.
  • Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery.
  • Battery life: 10 hours continuous play with light on, 18 hours with light off; needs at most 3 hours recharging.
  • CPU: 32-bit ARM7TDMI with embedded memory.
  • Co-processor: 8-bit Zilog Z80
  • Memory: 32 kilobyte+96 kilobyte VRAM (internal CPU), 256 kilobyte DRAM (external CPU).
  • Color: 16-bit RGB (16-bit color space using 5 bits depth per channel), capable of displaying 512 simultaneous colors in “character mode” and 32,768 (215) simultaneous colors in “bitmap mode”.

Final Verdict

The front-light screen looks a hell of a lot nicer than the original Game Boy Advance screen, and even better so with the backlight screen inside the improved AGS-101 – later released in September 2005, around the time of the Game Boy Micro’s release. This is definitely a big imporvement over the GBA.

This is also the first Game Boy to ship with an internal lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which is another big improvement compared to previous Game Boys, that required AA batteries.

I don’t feel the GBA SP feels as good in the hands compared to the Game Boy Advance, but the SP definitely fits into a pocket or small bag a lot better than the wider GBA. The improved clamshell design, protects the screen, speaker and buttons a whole lot better too.

 

 

The biggest dissapointment with the SP is that Nintendo removed the TRS headphone jack from the SP, which had been included on all previous Game Boy models. To be able to use headphones, you need to purchase Headphones designed specifically for the Game Boy Advance SP, or get an optional stereophonic adapter for standard headphones that plugs into the same port as the AC adapter.

As both AC adapter and headphones use the same port, it is not possible to charge the SP and listen to headphones at the same time with the Nintendo brand adapter. Luckily there are third-party solutions, such as an adapter that “splits” into two different cords; the power jack on one side, and a TS headphone jack on the other. However this would all be unnecessary if Nintendo simply kept the TS headphone jack used in previous models.

My final vedict is, if you want a brighter screen, a battery you can re-charge, and better pocketability, then the Game Boy Advance SP is the one you want. However, if you want something that’s more comfortable to use for long periods of time, but are willing to sacrifice the re-chargeable battery, improved screen and better portability – I would reccomend the Game Boy Advance (AGB-001.) The GBA SP was a step in the right direction for Nintendo, and they later used the clamshell design in the Nintendo DS, 2DS XL, 3DS and 3DS XL.