Nintendo DS Lite

Seen the Lite?

Typical Nintendo. With the DS selling so well that it's practically apologetic about it, it announces a new version and releases it before anyone's had a chance to complain too bitterly.

Not so typical Nintendo: the DS Lite has virtually nothing wrong with it. It is, almost without qualification, the perfect encapsulation of all the DS's features. At least until they do the next version anyway.

Even so, you're probably wondering what the point is in buying one. After all, the Game Boy Micro may have been a handsome answer to a question no-one asked, but it was still a question no-one asked. Well, by that token, the DS Lite is a tall dark handsome stranger with your pants in its hand, and you can't even remember leaving the house, let alone sidling up to anyone hopefully.

Or something. Actually that's a bit sinister. It's a very pretty handheld with a very bright screen and a lot of improved design features - let's put it that way.

Comparing it to other handhelds (and we've spent a fair bit of time doing that for our photo feature - and yes those are my hands), the footprint doesn't even cover the top screen of the original DS. It's over a centimetre smaller on each axis - but the biggest reduction is from left to right.

little

Little and large.

The top's very glossy, with the DS Lite's cute two-screen logo embossed on the top and the battery and Wi-Fi indicators visible at the right of the hinge - with the screen open or closed.

Moving around, the volume slider and headphone sockets remain in the same places, but the power button has now moved out from inside onto the right-hand side, where it uses a PSP or laptop-style flick-slider to switch on and off.

Next to the power button is the slot where the new stylus hides. The new stylus is a bit of a revelation - it's longer and slightly broader than the original, and, as the start of something of a theme, the change makes a big difference for good. It's not quite like holding a pen (and anybody who's adjusted to using something like Namco's Pac-Pix stylus may still find it a bit short), but it's much less like fiddling with a toothpick. If I lose this one in the pub I probably will cry.

Cartridge slots remain where they were - although the GBA slot now has a small dust protector, which even has little teeth on the inside. It's the same colour as the DS itself, and you'll need to stow it in a pocket if you're playing a GBA game. That said, you're less likely to leave a GBA game in place than you were before, as the cart protrudes about a third of the way. Amazingly, this is about the biggest complaint I have about the Lite.

Before we head inside, there's room for the others - and they're not exactly deal-breakers. Firstly, the underside is as glossy as the top, which is a bit weird since your fingertips tend to get a bit slick after a while clasping it. Or at least mine do. Eat healthily and exercise and the DS Lite has one less thing wrong with it! Yay!

outgrown

Game Boy's growing out of his clothes.

Which leaves the final thing - the power connector is different to all Nintendo's previous handhelds (including the recent GB Micro, although the two appear similar in photographs). Those importing a Lite will need a step-down transformer to charge the Lite, and those waiting for the UK model will need to set aside yet another plug socket - at least until somebody does another of those handy USB charge cables.

And so to the inside. It's nice on the inside.

For a start, it's not glossy; it's just smooth, and the top-screen panel is slightly concave, whereas the lower half is flat-faced apart from the buttons and the touch-screen, which is slightly raised. The whole thing is a mass of simple, elegant lines and curves.

Another improvement is in the physical relationship between the two screens - the top screen is no longer as high above the bottom when the console's laid flat. While the gap between the two screens is about the same - with the microphone now helpfully sandwiched there instead of down on the right - the layout looks and feels less awkward to play on.

Button-wise, Start and Select are now down in the bottom-right corner, which might take a little getting use to, while the d-pad and face buttons are spongy rather than clicky, and the d-pad itself is slightly smaller on each axis. This is arguably preferable, and doesn't seem to have a negative impact anywhere - in fact, pushing in and out of turns in Mario Kart feels a touch easier.

But, after all that teasing, easily the biggest improvement of the lot is one that you might not imagine - simply, the screen is magnificently bright. No, we didn't fake that photograph. It's the best screen Nintendo's ever included in a handheld. Twice in one go. The colours are strikingly bright, and there are now four brightness settings accessed using the little lightbulb icon in the bottom-left of the menu screen, which previously toggled the backlight.

osu

Osu!

We never really complained about the old DS screen, but put next to its younger sibling it draws howls of derision. Really, howls - we're not showing it to girls any more, they hurt our ears. It and our enemy the sun appear to have found some mutual respect, too. Unlike the PSP, when I sat in Victoria Tower Gardens on a sunny day in March (wait, the sunny day in March) with the sun beaming at me from above, it was quite possible to complete a couple of tricky levels on Ouendan using the highest brightness setting. It's not optimal, but the glare is barely distracting despite the screens' relative angles.

The screen also feels more resistant to your stylus strokes. Got your current DS handy? Pick up your stylus and run it over the original DS screen and try to bring it to a precise halt - it's relatively hard not to overrun. The new touch-screen feels a bit rougher, and while this is peculiar at first, it's very useful in games like the aforementioned Ouendan, which relies on small, precise and rhythmic strokes.

Really, I've got very few criticisms. We've not measured battery life properly yet, but I've been playing with it since last week, revisiting game after game and showing off the brightness of the screen to people, and it's still up and running on its original charge. Meanwhile my iPod has run out of juice three times.

In other words, it feels like a healthy figure. Which leaves the way GBA carts stick out of the bottom and the new power adapter. And our greasy hands.

As for colours - you may have noticed I went for the "Arctic Blue" or "Andrex puppy" colour. And you might question it. (Let us say, for the purpose of this paragraph, that you in fact have.) Well, first of all, that's a bit much coming from someone in that shirt, and second of all, I decided I wanted to surf the wave of new technology, form the vanguard, cut edges and something about envelopes; all without getting mugged on the Tube thank-you.

So ha ha indeed. I'd still rather have a DS Lite than a DS. Even if it is the Armitage Shanks edition.

Nintendo DS Lite is out now in Japan in three colours. Prices range from just under 100 to astronomical amounts from clever people exploiting Tom's impatience on Tottenham Court Road. It'll be out over here in time for the summer holidays.

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