DS Phat vs DS Lite

Creativity to Simplicity
August 04, 2014
One decade ago, Nintendo gave birth to one of the most well-known portable gaming devices of all-time: The Nintendo DS, a revolutionary handheld that changed the way we would view portable gaming forever, with its dual screen action and two additional face buttons which add onto the gameplay experience even further than any Gameboy beyond the original. Today, we take a look at how the Nintendo DS is within Nintendo's choice to go from creative devices to simple machines as they enter the twenty-first century.

This article is also a more in-depth comparison between the original Nintendo DS and the Nintendo DS Lite redesign, to see just how different these two really are but up close. Which is also why I named it as such, because I am mostly talking about the differences between the two devices, but it still builds up to how much Nintendo changed their way of manufacturing things. And maybe along the way you will see a few things you did not know were different between the two and will reconsider what you think about the first Nintendo DS.

Here, I present to you two Nintendo DS' of the DS Family: The (nicknamed) DS Phat and DS Lite, which will go under the collective names of Phat and Lite for the rest of this comparison. Their appearances bear a rather significant overhaul in design in just a year of the DS' life cycle. Following the redesign, creative design was lost in most Nintendo consoles to follow. Now, before I move on further, I want you to take an honest look at both of these handhelds, and tell me: which one feels like it was made more by Nintendo, and not lead by a third-party developer? With that being said, let's first move on to the most discussed difference between the two to start off.

Top Screen

The Phat had a pretty normal screen, with a front-light and reflectiveness kind of feel to it. Upon launch, the screen's front-light seemed pretty basic. Heck, no one even knew about lights until it was mentioned of their changed placement, which became more prominent when the Lite adopted it: the back-light. Just by simply placing the light behind the screen, it increased the quality much more as it was lighting the pixels themselves to give more vibrant and beautiful colors, rather than placing a light on the front and giving the colors a very drained and dark feel to them. You know things get bad when a light makes the game feel DARK. Light should not make us feel dark, folks.

Aside from the screen brightness topic, another difference not so heavily talked about are the speakers. Well their quality isn't as good as the Lite's, they are much louder and are better for when you really want to hear that shell hit your friend in Mario Kart DS and there is a crap load of stuff going on in the background that is pissing you off to the extent of having to actually blast your DS.

The hinge on the Phat looks pretty awkward at first glance, given that it is placed directly in the middle leaving the edges exposed. The hinge itself, however, is much stronger and sturdier than that of the Lite's. In fact, if treated well and not flopped all the time, this hinge has much more strength than that of the Lite's, and makes the screen more durable as a result and unlikely to break.

Fun Fact: Just as the SP got a back-lit model In late 2005, the Phat got one as well, though it was pretty late in the device's life cycle and nobody knew about it as it was not advertised as the SP's was, which had an ad, reading: "Now with a BRIGHTER backlit screen!" on each box. As a result of the lack of notice, the Phat models with back-lit screens are much more rare to come across as they contain the high quality screen of a Lite alongside the clunky design of a Phat, for those who preferred holding a Phat and wanted a better screen quality experience. Only those who purchased a one year late would be able to experience this resplendent screen on their original DS and also did not have to go through the struggle of buying a DS Lite as it already had a solution to the most common problem with the DS Phat: its front-lit screen. Also, the speaker quality was improved and sounds similar to the DS Lite.

The Lite had a visually noticeable difference on its screen in comparison with the Phat. Let us take a look at the differences in the screen itself: gone is the black bezel that previously surrounded the Phat's screen.

The speaker is significantly smaller than the Phat's is, with dot placement being a total of twelve, six on each side; well the Phat had a surprising total of fifty-six, with twenty-eight on each side, allowing for much louder input.

The now-rectangles are placed on the sides instead of the top as they were on the Phat. Some complained that this was a bad placement as it resulted in more scratches on the screen. And I call them rounds and rectangles because I do not know what else to call them.

Finally, the mic was placed directly in the middle of the Lite, rather than on the bottom as seen on the Phat, the reason of which was that it seemed more natural to be there. The mic will be talked about more later on.

Bottom Screen

The Nintendo DS' most well known feature: its touchscreen. And the Phat did successfully give us a useful touchscreen, which I did not think was hard to use as most Lite fanboys say. If you haven't noticed yet, don't the Phat's non-reflective screens remind you of the original Gameboy's screens, during the days when they were green and white? I always thought it was weird that mine had that kind of tone on the screens, even though the screen itself when turned on looks fantastic and not what you would expect from the way it appears when turned off.

Also noticeable below the touchscreen are two lights: one to indicate that the system is on, and one to indicate that it is charging. The first light is green all the time, until the system reaches critical power level as to which case, it will turn red. The second light is pretty self-explanatory: it's on when it is charging, and it's off when it is done.

The second thing noticeable is the mic, which only saw a main role in Nintendogs to teach the dogs tricks to win the competitions...or, you know, if you actually like to talk to virtual dogs to watch them do a programmed animation for your enjoyment. The mic had minor use in WarioWare: Touched! for its games that required you to blow. The mic itself is not really considered one of the greater new features of the DS aside from those two games, though it would have come in handy for voice chatting on Animal Crossing: Wild World. Though the feature was never considered.

And finally, the third noticeable thing is simply the device's title just below the right side of the touchscreen. I actually liked this, I don't know why it just felt satisfying to read it there than it would have on the outside.

The touchscreen on the Lite no longer features lots of grooves separating the buttons from the touchscreen, as the Phat did. And as you can see, that reflectiveness is no longer as visible as it once was on the Phat; and so it resembles the original Gameboy's style a little less now due to its black tint to help play better in bright areas that would reflect light on your eyes well gaming.

The aforementioned features of the Phat's touchscreen are done differently here. The mic is seen in the middle of the hinge instead of the bottom to give a more natural feel and the indicator lights are on the right side of the hinge.

Also gone is the Nintendo DS label on the bottom, due in part to either the screen having less room around it to fit it in or that they wanted to keep the simplicity in design.


Here, we can see a difference that should be known by hardcore Nintendo fans. If not, let me give you a little history lesson here. Ever since the N64 days, Nintendo had done something different with their buttons: they engraved the letters into them, rather than putting the letters next to the button as a basic font which was done with the first two consoles and original Gameboy. Ever since the N64 did that, all systems followed in pursuit to that aesthetic design (with the exception of the Gameboy Pocket).

The Lite said goodbye to the trademark engraved letter feel that was used in a lot of Nintendo consoles before it, in exchange for a simple, facile font over the buttons, to give the new handheld a more plain feel and to maybe reduce working time due to the process of engraving taking a little longer to do than drawing the letters on.

The final difference between the buttons is the placement of the start and select being below, rather than above like they were. The buttons are much smaller and their appellation is next to them, rather than on them, most likely due to the lack of space to put even a single letter on those tiny buttons. This is done in a similar style to the Gamecube as it too had a small start buttons.

Fun Fact: The face buttons are colored the way they are on the original Nintendo DS to homage the Super Nintendo, As Nintendo themselves realized how similar the control scheme was between the systems. Also, the original Nintendo DS and N64 were the only Nintendo consoles to engrave the Start buttons.

The traditional Nintendo D-Pad used for all systems, except the Gameboys (until Gunpei Yokoi's departure from Nintendo, where the Gameboy Pocket and all handhelds afterwards began using the D-Pad that began with the NES), was already changed when the Gameboy Advance SP came out a year prior to the Nintendo DS and the DS reused that D-Pad again, albeit with a line at the middle of each direction being the only difference from the SP style. Also visible on the Phat is the Power button, which is next to the D-Pad; and like the rest of the face buttons is also engraved.

The Lite's second biggest overhaul was on the D-Pad, where the D-Pad itself has experienced its fifth redesign and current that has simplified it to almost nothing in terms of looks. It no longer bears the trademark circle in the middle and well there is still one line on each direction, they're done vertically instead of horizontally. All consoles have adopted this new D-Pad design, and the basic style of the Lite, since its release with barely any change occurring to new consoles in terms of design. Also, the Power button is on the side of the Lite and it has to be slid up each time to turn the device on. There is also an arrow on the slider to show which way to slide it. I felt a picture wasn't necessary for it.

Clam Shell

The Phat has a very exotic design for its closed appearance. It uses a curved groove kind of feel for the top and also visible is that big hinge.

The Nintendo logo seen on all of their handhelds can be seen on the Phat at the most prominent it has ever looked before. Well previous systems engraved it in, the Phat gave it a more unique and shiny feel to it along with a very well-done finish.

The Lite gets rid of the curvy grooves we've come to love, and replaces them with flatness. Also noticeable is how extremely shiny the Lite is, mostly because it switched over to a glossy feel which feels somewhat uncomfortable to hold after long hours of play when your hands sweat and it becomes slippery. Also, it gets finger prints quite too easy, which is why I prefer holding the Phat.

Also gone is the Nintendo logo which has seemed to been replaced with the Nintendo DS' new trademark that started appearing in the ads for it: showing that it has two screens. This is actually the only creative part about the Lite, as those two screens stick out pretty well and are quite shiny.

Here is the top of the Phat. It has all the basics: slot to hold DS games, charging port, wrist strap placer, stylus holder and the trigger R and L buttons. These buttons have something unique about them, but I will bring it up once we move onto the next side of this DS.

Same basics as shown on the Phat, only now it appears as though the wrist strap placer loops on the top instead of top to back like it did on the Phat. The charger port changed so no longer is it possible to use an SP charger in case you lose your DS one. The stylus holder is gone and the trigger buttons have been flattened out to match the shape of the handheld.

If it hasn't caught your eye yet, they did engrave the buttons here so not all tradition is lost. And if you look at the hinge, you can see proof that the hinge on the lite is weak as the hinges are pretty small on it.

The Phat has a pretty odd shape to it if you haven't noticed already; it is square, yet round. And a lot sticks out in an awkward way, yet it feels exactly like something that Nintendo would do if you compare this to their past devices. Present on the backside is all the basic information and serial code numbers that no child probably gives a crap about. The way the text to show the slot numbers looks pretty cool; if it's one thing the DS Phat did the most it was engrave words, I rarely see anything that looks drawn on. Slot-1 looks pretty cool for showing the miniature DS cartridge and eject symbol on top of it, that was a nice touch to it.

Oh, right: the buttons. The triggers, as I mentioned before, have something unique about them. They do this curve thing, that you can now see better here, that makes them much more comfortable to press. They also click and that helps remind me that they aren't broken because it is that easy to figure out: if they don't click, they are broken; if they click, they're good. They feel much better than the Lite's triggers, both of which broke on my Lite after some time.

The noticeable difference here is that the text is switched a hundred and eighty degrees over. And that missing stylus holder is revealed to be on the side of the Lite. The Nintendo credentials are printed on the inside of the Lite's glossy coating, rather than as a placed sticker shown on the Phat.

The final difference between the two backsides is the GBA slot, which comes with a filler cartridge to give the handheld a completed feel to it and to avoid dust from packing in. The Phat did not have this issue as it was mostly a matte finish.

Once again, here is the GBA slot on the Phat. These pictures will go pretty quickly, description wise, since there is not much to show. You got your basic headphone jacks and volume slider on the bottom here, and once again that trademark design of the Phat with everything popping out.

That GBA filler slot really shines here as you can see it gives the system a more clean look here. The headphone jacks are more together and the volume slider has a different button that reminds you that when you turn the volume up, it gets louder. The amount of sarcasm in that last sentence will be determined by you.

Final Thoughts

That is about all I have to say about these handhelds. I never saw any good articles comparing the handhelds up close like this before, so I decided I wanted to do something like this with my Nintendo DS'. I hope you got a good read out of that, not some of my best work since all it was is showing differences between the two systems and a few fun facts about them. And I am sure it falls into the retro category, given it is within the early two thousands. At least, the Nintendo DS was not the one that followed.

The main point of this article is to remind us how much Nintendo changed in 2005, following their choices after the DS Lite to make things really simple and boring for their consoles' apparel. I suppose it is for the best, though, seeing as how the twenty-first century is full of boring looking things, though that's not to say technology hasn't improved. It just doesn't want to look fun and creative anymore. It is all about something being just adequate now, not as good as you can make it. That is the one reason why the nineties will always be my favorite decade, they gave us so much.

I am impressed though that Nintendo stayed the way they were until 2006, though, because the Gamecube, SP and DS were pretty awesome consoles. I mean honestly, I don't hate the Lite or the followups I just don't like their style that much, despite how much I have been bagging on the Nintendo DS Lite this entire time. The buttons still feel great, and work as they should, but they don't feel like Nintendo anymore. They don't have that creative and fun feel where holding the controller or handheld feels just as fun as playing the game. Just feels good enough now.

The games, though, they haven't lost their edge yet. At least, in sales. I don't think about us, the ones who have been playing these games forever. I think about the new generation just experiencing these games. Mario will truly never get old as long as we keep having a new generation. And he, along with all the other Nintendo characters deserve to live on for being such an inspiration in video games and in the way we see innovation. Nintendo is also the only company to stay true to their word for so long, that even now they are still just the same as they have been, with the exception of running out of ideas for their franchises a bit. If there was one word I could describe Nintendo as, it is gifted.

Well, thank you for reading all of this, if you pulled through and did not fall asleep. It truly is amazing how much something can change in just a year, isn't it? I apologize for my handhelds being dirty, especially the DS Lite which is filthy from lots of use. I hope you got a good read out of this. I hope you have seen the original Nintendo DS in a new light.
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