Nintendo adds high-end Game Boy to lineup

Nintendo of America introduced Tuesday a new Game Boy handheld targeted at adult gamers: The Game Boy Advance SP, a system with a flip-top design, rechargeable battery and lighting features intended to extend its portability.

The new Game Boy's changes are almost entirely aesthetic. Beneath the hood, it's the same Game Boy Advance system that has sold more than 11 million units in North America since its launch, and it will run all previously released games. But with the sleek new look -- the unit will debut in metallic cobalt and platinum -- Nintendo hopes to lure business travelers, college students and other players willing to pay a bit more for appearance.

In North America, the Game Boy Advance SP will be released March 23 with a retail price of US$99.95, around US$30 higher than the Game Boy Advance's price tag. Japan will get the new system first, on Feb. 14, while Australia and Europe will be launched in late March.

The screen is a 2.9-inch LCD (liquid crystal display), identical to the Game Boy Advance's, but the unit itself will be one of the smallest gaming handhelds available, with a depth of around 1 inch and a size of 3.33 inches by 3.23 inches (2.54 by 8.46 by 8.2 cm). The system weighs around 5 ounces (141.75 grams).

One major change in the system is its rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which Nintendo officials estimate will handle 18 hours of continuous playing with the unit's light off, or 10 with it on. Recharging takes three hours.

Also new is the system's front lighting, intended to make the system useable both in dark rooms and bright sunlight.

Game Boy Advance SP will complement, not replace, the Game Boy Advance, according to a company spokeswoman, who said Nintendo will continue producing the Game Boy Advance and hold its retail price at US$69.95.

In 2002, approximately 30 percent of Nintendo's U.S. hardware sales came from the Game Boy Advance, officials said.

One analyst attending the launch event said the rechargeable battery and lighting improvements are good ones, and should help Nintendo tap new audiences for its handhelds.

"It doesn't look revolutionary, but it's a nice evolutionary improvement, the kind of thing you expect to see after a product has been on the market for a while," said Sean McGowan, managing direct of equity research for Gerard Klauer Mattison's consumer group, in New York.

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Stacy Cowley

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