The Game Boy Advance SP, like the Game Boy Advance, uses a 32-bit ARM processor with embedded memory. This processor powers a 40.8mm high, 61.2mm wide 240x160 pixel screen and is capable of displaying 511 colors in character mode, or 32,768 in bitmap mode. What does all that mean? Basically you have a Super Nintendo with a SuperFX chip built into a device smaller in all dimensions (including thickness) than the average adult male palm.
The graphics are incredibly impressive given the technical limitations of the screen size. Nintendo's long-term investment in the handheld market has created a legion of very capable developers who are able of extracting the most from this platform. Indeed, the graphics have become so impressive that the only area I find lacking is the sound - and remember, this is all relative.
Even if I omit the issue of the weak built-in speaker of the GBA SP (It's actually much better than I expected, given its size), the sound output of the Game Boy isn't terribly impressive. As previously stated, I brought alone headphones not knowing that the Mad Catz kit would provide ear buds. The buds are marginally worse than the internal speaker, while the headphones are clearly an improvement, but it's still obvious that the system would benefit from good amp. Of course, a good amp would also take up precious internal space and drain the battery much quicker. This in turn would cause Nintendo to compensate by including a larger battery and suddenly, instead of a handheld gaming device you have a notebook computer.
Looking into the mouth of madness
Useful for shooting out game paks
The belly of the beast
While we're on the topic, the battery has gone through some changes. Instead of using AA batteries, there's a single rechargeable lithium ion battery included with the GBA. Did you catch that? Lithium Ion
. Lithium ion is easily the most efficient battery design commercially available. It's light, takes up very little space and holds up to three times the voltage compared to nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal-hydride. Also unlike nickel-cadmium, lithium ion has no memory effect.
In fact, any extra costs sustained in purchasing an SP are almost immediately returned by the extra value and convenience of having a lithium ion battery. The battery lasted with full sound volume and backlighting for almost 4 hours. Now, not having a chance to test if it was fully charged before take-off, we can't say if that is the best it can do, but even so 4 hours is very impressive giving the extra charge used up in powering the headphones and light.
Overall, the Game Boy Advance SP is a significant improvement over the original. It's more compact and the flip-top protects the screen from damage, though the shape design changes made is slightly less convenient (particularly the shoulder buttons.) I still had no trouble playing either Castlevania or Golden Sun, and consider the screen protection and the presence of backlighting a fair trade for the higher cost and less comfortable design.