Handheld Gaming Guide

Things have come a long way since 1989, when the godfather of modern handheld systems, Nintendo's GameBoy, hit the streets. The screen was a reflective LCD featuring black figures on a green background. There were two action buttons, an eight-way directional pad, and the game medium of choice was the simple but bulky GameBoy cartridge. Any gamer in their 20's or 30's today likely wasted countless childhood hours shifting Tetris blocks on the original GameBoy. But things are no longer as simple as they were back in the early '90s. Nintendo and Sony, two of the three current giants of gaming, have put their respective hats into the handheld gaming ring.  We’re here to fill you in on what to expect from each of the current handheld systems in terms of design and cost before you head in to your local retailer to take the plunge. For a comprehensive comparison between the PSP  and the DS Lite, check out our DS vs. PSP Buying Guide.

DS, DS Lite, and DSi

Nintendo released the DS in 2004 and replaced it with two redesigns: the smaller, lighter DS Lite in 2006 and the multi-functional DSi in 2009. The systems have the same basic hardware and play the same games, but the DS Lite and DSi include adjustable screen brightness, a larger stylus, better button design and a lighter weight than the original model. Additionally, the DSi features larger screens than its predecessors along with an SD memory card reader, a pair of cameras, a photo editor, media player, and enhanced connectivity with online applications such as Facebook and with the Nintendo Wii. This includes access to DSiWare, original games and software created to be downloaded and saved on the DSi. As time passes, the DS Lite is increasingly being referred to simply as the DS, as it is more prominent in the marketplace than the original DS. The DSi is usually referred to by its full name to distinguish its extra features.


We’ll start with the Nintendo DS (the DS stands for dual screen). This unique design is implemented by a notebook format featuring two vertically stacked screens; the lower of the two is a touch screen. The system features the standard directional pad, A, B, X and Y buttons along with two shoulder buttons. The layout should feel familiar for those who have toyed around with Nintendo’s earlier consoles, particularly the beloved Super Nintendo. Make a note that the original DS has largely been phased out in favor of the slimmed-down DS Lite and DSi. The revised hardware models feature the same functionality as the original but are much lighter and smaller in their dimensions.The DSi also adds new features, such as cameras, an SD card slot and a music player and photo editor.

The more traditional Nintendo GameBoy franchise is still hanging on with its latest iteration, the GameBoy Advance, which is now in its third design phase with the GameBoy Micro. The Micro is easily the smallest handheld ever created, as its dimensions are a tiny four inches wide and two inches tall, or roughly the same size as an NES controller. The standard controller configuration of two action buttons and a directional pad still apply. There’s also the GameBoy Advance SP, which was the first of Nintendo’s handhelds to apply a foldable clamshell design. The SP (short for "special") is the second design of the original GameBoy Advance -- commonly referred to as the GBA.

Sony has entered the handheld war with its stylish PSP, which stands for Playstation Portable. The system sports a gorgeous TFT LCD screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio: in other words you’ll be able to view content in widescreen format. The controller configuration is similar to the original Playstation controller (sans analog sticks, which came later in the console’s life cycle) in that it uses the standard circle, X, square and triangle action buttons along with a directional pad and two shoulder buttons. The original PSP was replaced in 2007 by the PSP Slim and Lite, which featured a thinner design and improved screen, and the Slim and Lite was redesigned again in 2008 to be named the PSP 3000, which has vastly improved screen quality, new buttons, and a microphone. Additionally, the PSPgo, an entirely new model with a different design and controls, will be sold alongside the PSP 3000 beginning at the end of 2009. This new PSPgo will not have a disc drive like the other PSP models, and its games will all be downloaded from the PlayStation store over the internet.


This is likely one of the heaviest factors to be weighed by most consumers, and in this regard Nintendo has the edge. Its Game Boy Advance SP and Game Boy Micro can be had for well under $100, and the Nintendo DS Lite and DSi retail for $129 and $169, respectively. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the PSP retails for $169. Additionally, PSP games cost $30-$40, while DS games cost between $15 and $30. Accessories like protective armor will increase the bill; fortunately, you can find steals on bundled products that get you well into the world of handheld gaming without breaking the bank.

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