Nintendo's redesigned handheld gaming system outshines its predecessor and—in terms of iconic cool—cuts an iPod-like figure
Nintendo's heavy DS handheld gaming system has gone on a diet. The bulky, unstylish console has reemerged as a slim, light, and chic piece of consumer electronics appropriately dubbed the DS Lite. Sure, it's been available for a few months—but it's nonetheless worthy of a closer look. On looks alone, the redesigned system gives Sony's (SNE) PlayStation Portable a run for its money. But Nintendo didn't just give the DS a makeover. Inside and out, the new system soars past its predecessor, making Nintendo's system as cool to own as an iPod.
It's so stylish, in fact, that at first glance you might be fooled into thinking Apple (AAPL) had a hand in the design. It has the iPod's simple, sleek structure and trademark glossy white coating. You can't go wrong imitating the masters of computer chic. Nintendo surely didn't here.
Just as striking as the DS Lite's outer appearance is the device's diminutive size. Nintendo cut a considerable amount of bulk from the system, making the Lite 42% smaller than the original DS. Unlike the first DS, this incarnation can actually fit in your pocket without making you look odd. The Lite also weighs about 20% less than the original DS, yet feels very solidly constructed.
The improvements on the original continue once you're past the clamshell covering. The "Start" and "Select" buttons have been moved to a more convenient location below the regular face buttons, and the power button has been shifted to a sliding control on the side. The microphone is also now right in the middle of the unit, between the two screens. That helps a lot in games that require audible commands. The DS Lite's stylus is stashed on the side, rather than behind, the unit, making it easier to grab. And since the tool is 1 cm longer and 2 mm thicker, it's easier to maneuver during play.
But you won't see one of the most notable changes until you turn on the unit. DS Lite lets you choose from four brightness levels, whereas the original DS only let you turn off the screen's backlights. When I replayed a game like Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Lite, the intensity of colors on the brighter screen made parts of the game noticeably more vivid. I kept finding myself thinking, "So that's what it's supposed to look like."
Another improvement: longer battery life. Unless you play on the highest brightness setting, the Lite trumps the original DS's six to 10 hours of battery life. But I can't imagine a situation where you would actually need to play with the Lite on its brightest setting. Just looking at the screen at that brightness for a few minutes made my eyes hurt. A four-hour charge leaves the device charged for as long as 19 hours, Nintendo says.
If you don't own a DS already and you like games on the go, you need to pick up a DS Lite. At $129, it's the cheapest fun you'll have when compared with the upcoming $600 PlayStation 3 from Sony or even Microsoft's (MSFT) $400 Xbox 360. Even if you already own a DS, you might consider picking up a DS Lite if your original is a little worse for wear. Or, if you're tired of getting outstyled by iPod-toting and PSP-playing tech geeks, a DS Lite will raise your status a notch.
Nintendo recently announced that DS and DS Lite sales worldwide have passed 21 million since the DS's initial release in the fall of 2004. I expect we'll be hearing about quite a few more sales milestones in the months ahead.