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Hands-on: DS Lite

Our dirty great hands caress Nintendo's sexy DS Lite hardware revision

Okay, let's get straight to the point: as far as we're concerned, the DS Lite is hands-down the best-designed piece of Nintendo hardware yet. If you don't already own the original version of Nintendo's DS handheld, then you probably owe it to yourself to pick up the Lite, when it becomes more readily available. What's more, even if you DO own DS original, the DS Lite feels significantly enough like an entirely different beast to warrant that upgrade.

Unlike Nintendo's other recent hardware redesign, the Game Boy Micro, the Lite feels much more like an essential upgrade than something you're likely to purchase on a whim when you're feeling flush/dejected/unexpectedly smaller. Starting with the most superficial difference, the DS Lite genuinely does look gorgeous. Of course, it's down to personal preference whether you favour the PSP's widescreen elegance or the Lite's minimalist curves, but both are definitely on an equal footing in the style stakes now. In fact, the DS Lite demonstrates an impressively assured change of direction from the company that brought a purple brick to a console market already high on Sony's slick razor lines.

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Whatever the Lite's publicity stills might suggest, the Crystal White version isn't quite as iPod as you might think. Instead of sporting a painfully scratchable all-over gloss, the Lite's fashioned from a fairly soft matte plastic - which we suspect is probably fairly susceptible to fingerprints if you're the kind of person who places stockpiling bells above personal hygiene. The plastic's exposed along the upper hinge of the DS - where the shoulder buttons, power socket and DS cartridge slot go - and also on the inside of the clamshell.

The handheld actually gets its iPod-like luster from the heavy-duty transparent covering on its front and rear - not only ramping up the Lite's aesthetic appeal, but also seemingly deterring scratches and blemishes in a way that Apple's MP3 player could only dream of. Elsewhere around the handheld's exterior, Nintendo's seen fit to rejig and refit the machine with some serious attention to detail. Gone are the flimsy knobs and buttons of the original DS, replaced with a volume slider which doesn't feel like it'll break off in your hand and a headphone jack which actually accommodates headphones, unlike the previous model, where the silver ridge obstructed all but the smallest intrusions.

Over on the right-hand edge of the console, you'll find the relocated power switch - sporting a PSP-like flick-mechanism - and a hole for that all-important stylus. As the stylus now sits horizontally across the DS Lite when not in use, Nintendo has increased its length and thickness, making for a far less hand-gnarling play experience. On the subject of hand-gnarling, the Lite's diminished footprint somehow manages to be far more ergonomic - its reduced height means it's much easier to reach the SP-style 'clicky' shoulder buttons without contorting your fingers into shapes that wouldn't look out of place in the Shadow Puppet Theatre of DOOM.

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In fact, you'll probably find the DS a whole lot less wince-inducing now that it has shed those few extra ounces. Although side-by-side comparisons don't suggest much of a size reduction, the machine's noticeably lighter in its latest iteration. What's more, the switch from crazy-angled layer cake to compact oblong form means the Lite is easier to grip and you won't strain your balancing wrist when you're slashing away with the stylus. Even the GBA port now sports a tasty dust cover, meaning you won't walk away from lengthy game sessions with its shape carved into your palms.

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