January 03, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Gary Eng Walk on the redesigned Nintendo DS

No videogame connoisseur disputes the quality of the games that are available on the Nintendo DS. The portable device is not even 2 years old, and it’s already inspired a spectacular lineup of quirky hits like Nintendogs, instant classics like New Super Mario Brothers, and even educational addictions like Brain Age. Its physical appearance, however, is a different story. Hopelessly chubby and bulky, the homely handheld made it clear from the start that it wouldn’t be winning any industrial design awards. Making matters even worse, the DS’ arch rival, Sony’s PlayStation Portable, is a convincingly sleeker machine that would feel right at home on a Star Trek ship. Though just a baby, the DS was in dire need of an extreme makeover.

Enter the DS Lite, a vastly improved unit that has gone through a dramatic Cinderella-like transformation. While its signature trait, the double-barrel screens, are the same size as those on its predecessor, DS Lite weighs 20 percent lighter and is smaller in every dimension. The clamshell design remains, but now when you flip it open, it feels more like an Apple MacBook than an unabridged dictionary. The Lite plays the same exact games as the Phat (a nickname coined by the Nintendo intelligentsia) and didn’t get a graphical upgrade, but because it does have dramatically brighter screens, all of your old DS and Gameboy Advance games will have a new sheen to them when you fire them up on this curvy machine. Even the more minor cosmetic changes — Nintendo relocated the microphone and made the buttons match the ones you’ll find on the new Wii console coming out this fall — are striking. After taking a mulligan with the first DS, Nintendo finally has a portable device that has knockout looks to go along with its knockout games. A

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