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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Handheld games console face-off
Handheld consoles have come a long way since the Nintendo GameBoy, offering better graphics and more functions. On offer is something for everyone, from multimedia capabilities of the Sony PSP to the quirky gameplay of the Nintendo DS.

Click the links below for our guide to the current crop of handheld consoles.

GizmondoGame Boy AdvancePlayStation Portable

N-Gage QDGame Boy MicroNintendo DS

Packed full of gadgetry, the Gizmondo is an enigmatic machine. Attempting the difficult job of breaking into a market where Nintendo and Sony already have such huge brand recognition, the Gizmondo provides gamers with an alternative console choice.

GIZMONDO STATS
Features: Camera, Bluetooth, GPS, GPRS, MP3 and video playback, SMS, MMS, gyroscopic controls
Processor:400MHz ARM9
Memory: 64MB
Graphics: NVidia GoForce 4500 with 1.25MB RAM
Screen: 2.8"
Weight: 181 grams
What sets it apart is its comprehensive set of features. It includes a camera, text messaging capabilities and GPRS support, as well as Bluetooth and MP3 and video playback.

Without doubt the most interesting innovation is the in-built satellite navigation (GPS) system. As well as being able to find your position and local information, the GPS system is also being used in games. Titles such as Colors, for example, allow gamers to team up locally and battle other nearby Gizmondo owners.

Released in March 2005, a week after the launch of the eagerly awaited Nintendo DS, the Gizmondo has yet to become as well respected as its Sony and Nintendo rivals. This may have something to do with the console's weak launch line-up, which boasted only a few well-known titles and no real must-have game.

Recently, doubts over the manufacturer's finances and an aborted US launch have cast doubts over the console's future.

There is still hope for the Gizmondo, however. Tiger Telematics, who make the machine, have promised to launch one game a week to provide its owners with a constant flow of titles. In addition, big name studios like Electronic Arts and Microsoft have agreed to develop games for the platform.

With the right games making use of the Gizmondo's extensive feature set, there is definite potential for the console to provide a genuine alternative to Sony or Nintendo.

The latest in Nintendo's Game Boy line, the Game Boy Advance (GBA) SP is a refined version of the original GBA.

GBA SP STATS
Processor:16.8MHz ARM7
Memory: 288KB
Screen: 2.9"
Weight: 143 grams

Building on the popularity and fanbase of the original console, the GBA SP can play any GBA or GameBoy game, giving it an impressive library of titles with which other handhelds find it hard to compete.

The machine, which was released in March 2003, is now beginning to show its age. Although the number of games available keeps people playing, the impressive graphics of new games on platforms such as the Nintendo DS and PSP have tempted gamers away from the console in recent months.

The GBA SP has seen some high quality titles during its lifetime, with old GameBoy staples such as Tetris featuring alongside more recent hits like Advance Wars and Wario Ware Inc. With the release of the GameBoy Micro, which is based on the same technology and will play the same games, the SP seems set to go into well-earned retirement.

This year's most anticipated gaming release in the UK, the PlayStation Portable (PSP) has been on sale in Japan since December 2004 and in the US since March this year.

PSP STATS
Features: Wi-fi, MP3 and video playback, web browser, USB 2.0
Processor: 333MHz MIPS R4200
Memory: 32 MB
Graphics: 166MHz GPU with 2 MB RAM
Screen: 4.3" widescreen
Weight: 260 grams

Sony says it delayed the European launch because they wanted to make sure they had enough to fill the shelves. The figures back that up; in the first two days of sales alone in the US, more than 500,000 consoles were sold.

Building on the success of the PlayStation 2 console, the PSP boasts some impressive specifications. Many launch titles make use of its power to deliver some of the most impressive graphics ever seen on a handheld console. This, combined with the fact that titles like MediEvil: Resurrection and WipeOut Pure, are based on already successful franchises, will help ensure the PSP's rapid take-up.

But Sony is not focusing purely on gaming with the PSP. Alongside its main processor is a dedicated multimedia chip to deal with playing high resolution video on the PSP's widescreen display.

Sony has persuaded film studios to release DVD titles on Universal Media Discs (UMD), which the PSP uses to store games. This turns the PSP into a portable DVD player, provided you can find the film you want in UMD format.

Films and music can also be played from a Sony Memory Stick, though a short battery life of about three hours can be an issue.

Additionally, the console is equipped with wi-fi, and the software has been updated to include a web browser allowing access to the internet.

There have been games on mobile phones since the late 1990s, but Nokia's N-Gage is so far the only attempt to explicitly combine a game console and a mobile into one device.

N-GAGE QD STATS
Features: Voice calls, GPRS, SMS, MMS, Bluetooth
Processor: 104MHz ARM4T
Memory: 3.4 MB
Screen: 2.1"
Weight: 133 grams

The N-Gage QD is a redesign of the original N-Gage, and was released in June 2004. The specifications of the machine have changed little, but the phone itself has been redesigned to make it more usable, and to address some of the problems which users complained of in the earlier model.

The result is a much nicer and more compact package, with more sensible positioning of microphone and speakers and less hassle required to change games. Though the original titles available for the system back in 2003 were disappointing, many which have launched since have been well received, such as Fifa Soccer 2005, Worms World Party and The Sims: Busting Out.

In other respects the QD is less impressive. Nokia has disabled MP3 playback on the new device, as well as removing the FM radio, at a time when more and more people are beginning to see their phones as valid multimedia devices. The lack of modern features like a camera and push-to-talk put the N-Gage QD at a distinct disadvantage compared to newer mobile phones.

While the Nintendo DS is designed to appeal to gamers who want new experiences from their consoles, the GameBoy Micro is aimed at an entirely different market: the iPod generation.

GAMEBOY MICRO STATS
Features: Customisable looks
Processor: 16.8MHz ARM7
Memory: 288KB
Screen: 2"
Weight: 85 grams
Aware that current consoles have a tendency to look clunky and gadgety to new users, the GameBoy Micro is Nintendo's attempt to emulate Apple and Nokia in making gadgets which are also fashion accessories. The GameBoy Micro weighs about the same as a phone, is roughly the size of an iPod, and comes with customisable colour front covers.

Despite this it is still a competent gaming machine, built on the model of the successful GameBoy Advance (GBA). This brings with it not only recognisable features, but also a formidable host of games to accompany its launch. Like the GameBoy Advance SP, the GameBoy Micro can play any GBA game, which includes Nintendo favourites such as Super Mario World as well as third party hits such as The Sims. Presumably to cut down the size of the console, Nintendo has however decided to drop support for original Game Boy games.

Whether Nintendo will manage to introduce a new wave of unlikely gamers to portable consoles with the GameBoy Micro is uncertain. Equally, current GBA owners may feel that buying yet another redesign of the same product is not a tempting prospect given the arrival of the Nintendo DS and the PSP.

The Micro is due to go on sale in the US in September, with Europe following in November.

The Nintendo DS ships without many of the gadgets which are taken for granted in modern consoles. It cannot play video or MP3s, browse websites or make phone calls. Rather than being an oversight, however, this is part of Nintendo's plan to create a pure and innovative gaming handheld.

NINTENDO DS STATS
Features: Touch screen in addition to normal screen, microphone, wi-fi, plays GameBoy Advance games
Processor: 67MHz ARM9 and 33MHz ARM7
Memory: 4MB
Screen: 2 x 3"
Weight: 275 grams
Central to this is the DS's most striking feature; its touch screen, which sits alongside a second, traditional display. This allows game developers to devise new ways for players to interact with the system, with often highly successful results. Games for the DS have included sections where the user must draw fluffy clouds to stop Baby Mario from hitting the floor. In the upcoming Nintendogs, players use the touch screen to stroke their virtual pets.

Far from being a gimmick, the addition of a touch screen and microphone to the standard handheld console template has meant that Nintendo can encourage millions of GameBoy owners to purchase another console. They have been careful to distance the DS from the GameBoy line, calling it a "third pillar" alongside the GameBoy Advance and GameCube.

Nintendo have further innovations in store for the console, including a scheme to provide wi-fi hotspots. This would increase the range of the console's multiplayer capabilities, allowing gamers to play with other users at hotspots around the world.

Whether the DS's position as leader of the handheld pack remains intact when the PSP launches in the UK is yet to be seen. The success of the next generation handhelds will depend to a great extent on whether they can develop a library of decent games to entice new gamers along.




VOTE RESULTS
Which is your favourite handheld?
Gizmondo
 6.81% 
GameBoy Advance SP
 8.14% 
PlayStation Portable
 74.12% 
N-Gage QD
 3.50% 
GameBoy Micro
 2.23% 
Nintendo DS
 5.20% 
19817 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

SEE ALSO:
Sony PSP has its European debut
01 Sep 05 |  Technology
Sony PSP sets sights on UK gamers
31 Aug 05 |  Technology
Sony promotes vision of mobile video
30 Aug 05 |  Entertainment
PSP sales hit 500,000 mark in US
08 Apr 05 |  Technology
PSP embraced by DIY technicians
07 Apr 05 |  Technology
Getting to grips with Sony's PSP
09 Feb 05 |  Technology


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