The Hottest DCEmu Posters
GBA SP Review
Thanks to EAGB Advance
for the review
Buy your GBA SP in all colours from Lik
For a long time now there were rumors that Nintendo was going
to release a new back-lit GBA. Nintendo, however, stubbornly
denied the rumors and so sales of licensed and unlicensed
external and internal light accessories like the Afterburner
continued to sell well.
In early 2003, and from almost out of the blue, Nintendo
announced that it will indeed release a new back-lit (actually
front-lit) GBA. Before pictures of the new GBA was released,
rumors were once again rife on what the new model would look
like, with some speculating that illumination would be provided
by an external adapter and others that it will be based on
a totally new hardware architecture with even more buttons.
Well, it's 14th February and the GBA SP has been released
in Japan. Without a doubt, reactions to the new GBA SP has
exceeded all expectations. The most surprising change, of
course, was the new clam-shell design and compact form factor.
In this page, I will attempt to show the GBA SP from various
angles, compare it to the current GBA and give you some of
my hands-on experience. If you want a detailed specification
sheet on the GBA SP, you can get it from the Nintendo Web
Size Comparison With GBA
With the GBA SP closed, you can see that in terms of length,
the regular GBA is undoubtedly longer. In terms of thickness,
they are almost the same, except for the noticeably protruding
buttons on the GBA. It's amazing isn't it, how technology
has progressed and how much Nintendo has managed to shrink
When the GBA SP is opened, you can see that it's transformed
to the traditional vertical oriented GameBoy. In this instance,
the SP is a bit longer than the GBA. As you will note, the
SP is split nicely into two halves, the bottom is the control
section and top is the display section. Now, because the SP
display has less of a border around its screen, it does seem
to have a smaller screen than the GBA although they are exactly
the same. Nintendo has done a fantastic job of making the
SP lightweight and also in terms of weight distribution, balancing
it just right so that when the SP is fully extended, the unit
does not feel top or bottom heavy.
One of the many things that you will have to get used to
with the new SP is the placement of the L and R shoulder buttons.
They are really small and somewhat delicate; there's a probability
that they could break from constant use. The way that they
are positioned at the edge of the unit also makes me worry
that they might come off when accidentally dropped.
Looking at the compact SP you might think that it will be
difficult to handle the unit when playing. But if you look
at the picture, you can see that the SP is actually very secure
in my hands and easy to handle. You might, however, get tired
faster, especially your index fingers on the L and R buttons
because of the somewhat awkward "G" shape that you
will have to maintain. When I say "G" shape, I mean
the shape that is formed by your thumb and index finger when
you hold the SP unit. For people with small hands, this shouldn't
be too much of a problem, I guess.
Because the SP folds in half, the buttons are all recessed
to prevent damage to the screen. Consequently, the buttons
are now much more shallow. Looking at the picture, you can
see the marked difference in protuberance between the GBA
cross-pad and the SP cross-pad. As such, this might make fast
moving games a little more difficult to control. Games that
require multiple button presses or accurate diagonal movements
like in fighting games might also be a problem.
Another thing to note is that the 'Start' and 'Select' buttons
is placed further from the cross-pad. You need to extend your
thumb all the way down to hit these buttons. In most RPG games,
these buttons are often used to access menus, and with the
SP layout, it makes things a little more harder. But I think
that this is something that one can get used to over time.
Power and Battery Life
The GBA SP's power switch and power-on LED indicator can
be found on the right side of the unit. Like the conventional
GBA, this LED turns from green to red if the battery charge
becomes weak. A new LED, the charge indicator, has been added
right beside the power indicator. This charge LED glows with
an orange light if the unit has been plugged-in using the
included AC Adapter to charge the battery; the light disappears
once the batteries are fully charged (about 3 hours is considered
a full charge time). You can also play the GBA SP while the
battery is charging.
At the bottom of the GBA SP is a sealed panel than contains
the rechargeable battery. Normally the battery life can last
up to 10 hours on a full charge (18 hours without turning
on the light). While the battery life is adequate, there could
be times when it could run out during long car rides or travel
times, and unless you have access to a nearby electrical outlet,
you're stuck with a dead GBA SP. The battery can be charged
around 500 times, after which its efficiency can degrade to
70%. If the battery's efficiency continues to deteriorate,
it must be replaced, which will entail bringing the GBA SP
to a Nintendo Service Center; it would've been easier if we
can change the battery ourselves.
Sound, Volume and connector ports
To the left of the GBA's controls can be found the volume
control. Unlike the familiar dial volume control of the GBA,
this time a sliding-type control is used. I don't really prefer
this, since you can't get the kind of precise control you
have with a dial; there's a tendency for you to unwittingly
turn the slider to the max setting, which can result in a
sudden ear-splitting surprise. The GBA SP's speaker is mono
as usual, but you can enjoy full stereo sound when using headphones.
As for the headphone jack, Nintendo seems to have adopted
a similar design with Bandai's Wonder Swan, in the sense that
there is no direct headphone jack available on the GBA SP.
Instead, a headphone adapter plugs into the back multiport,
the very same port that the AC Adapter connects to. Which
means that you can't listen to the headphones when the unit
is plugged-in, which can be somewhat of an annoyance if you
don't want others to be disturbed by the sound while playing.
The headphone adapter isn't also included; it's purchased
separately. Oh well, at least it's cheaper than the Wonder
Other external cables such as the GBA link cable and the
GameCube link cable can be attached to the back connector
port, located beside the AC Adapter multiport. However, while
you can use the link cable with the GBA SP plugged in or with
a headphone, you can't use these with the GBA to GameCube
link cable, as the connector will block the multiport. On
the other hand, the e-reader peripheral (the Japanese version
only) will no longer block the link connector port as it did
on the standard GBA.
The biggest feature of the GBA SP is of course, the built-in
light. Contrary to what others might say, it is not a backlight,
but rather a frontlight, located at the bottom portion of
the LCD screen. The front-light lights evenly and brightly
illuminates the entire screen with a faint bluish glow. The
light switch is conveniently located above the directional
cross-pad and the A+B buttons; it's a good thing that a separate
light switch was provided, unlike the old Game Boy Light models
that had the light switch integrated with the power switch.
However, the light also turns on when you turn on the system,
which can drain the battery fast - the battery can last a
good 18 hours on a full charge if the light isn't used.
To illustrate how the light makes a big difference in playing,
take a look at these three pictures of Mario Kart Super Circuit:
the top one was taken with the GBA SP light on, the middle
picture with the GBA SP light off, and the bottom picture
was taken from a regular GBA. It's obvious that the trees
can hardly be seen in the last two pictures while the lighted
one shows a substantial improvement.
Another more striking example can be seen here, in the popular
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon game, which was plagued by
one thing - gamers complained that it was literally too dark
to see anything in the game. The GBA SP alleviates this problem
somewhat, as the formerly dark levels become a bit brighter
with the built-in light.
The GBA SP's redesign places the cartridge slot at the underside
of the unit's bottom half, far away from the LCD screen where
the carts used to be inserted behind it on the top of the
old GBA. Cartridges for the old Game Boy and Game Boy Color
systems will run on the GBA SP, with some very minor exceptions,
such as the special carts with extra hardware, like the sensors
in Kirby's Tilt N' Tumble, which will make playing the game
difficult. Non-GBA carts, which are bigger, will of course
protrude from the bottom, but the e-reader device will look
awkward the most; the USA version of the e-reader will also
have an unsightly link connector protruding from it as well.
The new layout might also pose problems for existing third
party peripherals like cameras and TV tuners.
There is concern that constant opening and closing of the
GBA SP could loosen the hinge in the middle portion. The hinge
is actually very tight and secure, and is set to open the
unit in specific positions (see pictures); you can slightly
alter the angle, but the hinge will lock on the nearest set
position. Of course, it also helps to handle the unit with
care when opening it.
For those who enjoy using straps for handling or carrying
the GBA, 2 strap holes are provided on the GBA SP, on the
bottom left and right corners, right beside the shoulder buttons.
You can hook the strap string through these holes and out
the slots where the GBA to GameCube link cable attaches; while
it looks that you can't attach the GBA to GC cable while there's
a strap present, you can do so without difficulty.
If you want to know what cables and accessories are compatible
with both the GBA SP and the regular GBA, you can visit Nintendo's
web site here. In terms of specifications, the SP and the
regular GBA is almost the same, and even the opening logo
animation is the same.
In my opinion, overall the price of the GBA SP is rather
high. Also, the fact that it uses a special re-chargeable
battery is another problem, as it will have to be replaced
by a Nintendo service center. Unlike the old GameBoy, we could
simply buy batteries off the shelf, but in a way, Nintendo's
use of a re-chargeable battery for the SP is more environment
friendly in the long run.
On the other hand, however, you can't deny how compact Nintendo
has made the SP. Just look at the picture above and compare
the size of the SP and GBA packaging. So if you want a hand-held
in a compact form factor that is sleek, then the SP is definitely
your choice. As for me, I only hope that Nintendo will limit
the number of limited editions SPs that they release. There
is already news that a Limited Edition Final Fantasy bundle
is coming out and if more are released, then I will be bankrupt
because I'm a big collector.