I'm a man in my late 30s who used to enjoy video games, but between work, going back to school, and children, I just don't have time for gaming any more. So it's been ~5 years since I tried any gaming system, much less a handheld (which I've always viewed as worthless from a gaming perspective). Recently, I had a long business trip, and friends recommended the Nintendo DS Lite and Advanced Wars: Dual Strike. I bought both on their recommendation and I can honestly say it is a truly fantastic experience. It made the trip fly by, I wasn't even interested in the movie or reading. It even worked great to defuse my frustration about having to wait for an hour in a slow-moving security line. In this review, I'll write about the system, and will post a separate review about the game.
The Nintendo DS Lite blew me away. The last handheld game system I tried was many years ago, also a Nintendo product I believe, and I hated it. The screen was too small and too hard to see, etc.. This product delivers in spades.
Screen brightness: configurable and much, much better than previous systems. The screens are gorgeous to look at and will be visible anywhere except possibly with the sun directly shining on the screen.
Battery life was also a non-issue. I still don't know the battery limit. My record is ~12 hours on a single charge using the lowest screen brightness setting (still quite usable), and the system never complained about a low charge so for all I know it could last another 12. It was more than enough to play virtually non-stop on a transcontinental flight w/no access to power.
Boot time is lightning fast and makes this system extremely usable. From off to playing is < 15 seconds. In addition, you can put the game to sleep by just closing the lid & have it instantly wake up when you open again. This is a more important feature than it first seems, because it makes it possible to kill even as little as 5 minutes.
Stereo music is also quite nice. I recommend a tiny set of earbuds that can fit in a travel case for the game, but the speakers also work fine if you don't want to hassle with earbuds/headphones.
You can have a GBA game cartridge and a (shockingly tiny) DS cartridge loaded at the same time. In fact, this is used in some games, which unlock extra features in some newer games (including AW:DS mentioned above) and allow other cross-game interactions. One potentially big downside is that you can no longer plug in your GB Color or older cartridges. (So if you have old games you love, hold on to your older systems or buy a different Nintendo product to play them.)
The touch screen worked flawlessly, but honestly, I don't prefer using it. Until I try a game that makes great use of it, I'm just as happy using the direction pad and buttons.
Local wireless support is a fantastic idea, but I never had a chance to try it. You can download demos of games from game stores wirelessly, and you can play most games wirelessly, usually with just one cartridge for all players. The Nintendo DS Lite also supports wifi I believe, but I haven't had a chance to try that either. (Now if this thing could do email and calendar appointments...)
All in all, I am very impressed with this system and recommend it to any game player (casual or serious) who needs to kill some time. Works great on both buses for a daily commute and for transcontinental flights.
Worst aspect? I chose the black model and am very happy with it, but it does show fingerprints easily. Maybe the white would look better?