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The original Game Boy Advance has been hugely successful, but it has one major flaw: The lack of an illuminated screen. Now, with the arrival of the SP version, which has a sleeker, more compact design and a front-lit display, the omission seems even more glaring. But if you're willing to purchase an inexpensive lighting accessory or simply squint a lot, the original GBA costs $30 less than the new SP--and you'll probably find the device for even cheaper in the months to come. The original Game Boy Advance has been hugely successful, but it has one major flaw: The lack of an illuminated screen. Now, with the arrival of the SP version, which has a sleeker, more compact design and a front-lit display, the omission seems even more glaring. But if you're willing to purchase an inexpensive lighting accessory or simply squint a lot, the original GBA costs $30 less than the new SP--and you'll probably find the device for even cheaper in the months to come.
Good and bad news
For the most part, the original GBA is very similar to the new SP. The two units share the same 32-bit RISC processor and sharp, colorful, 2.9-inch, reflective TFT LCD. To put the power of the GBA in perspective, it performs at roughly the same level as a Super Nintendo. Luckily for Game Boy owners, the new GBA will accommodate your old games, as it's backward compatible. The sound, while obviously not CD quality, is a far cry from the blips and bleeps of years past. And the 240x160-pixel display looks beautiful--when you can see it, that is.
While it has a reflective TFT display, the GBA lacks any backlighting. Under normal or fluorescent lighting conditions in most rooms, it is nearly impossible to use. In fact, you'll have to go outside (which could be a good thing once in a while) or camp under a bright light in order to play. The only reasons we can imagine that Nintendo decided to omit backlighting would be to save money on production costs, extend the battery life as long as possible, or (most likely) both. In terms of battery life, the $69.95 GBA did fairly well, yielding 14.5 hours from two AA batteries when in constant use (and if you know anybody likely to play for 14.5 hours straight, please seek professional help for them). Nonetheless, the lack of backlighting is reason enough for us to not score the Game Boy Advance any higher.
Beyond the basic hardware
Comfortable in the hand, the GBA bristles with four keys that are logically placed for frenzied button-pushing. You could even mistake it as controller for a set-top console, which is actually part of Nintendo's grand plan. With a port located at the top of the device, you can hook this GBA into Nintendo's upcoming and have it serve as an additional controller. This port serves other purposes, too. Buying an additional cable will allow you to hook together as many as four GBAs for more competition from your neighbors.
An indispensable accessory
While there are additional accessories for everything from providing force feedback and stereo sound to magnifying the display image, the one essential is the $10 external light. The most useful such add-ons are Nyko's Worm Light Plus and InterAct Accessories' Glow Guard. We also like the Light Shield Advance.