Rick has seen the light! Find out what he thinks about the AfterBurner kit for the Game Boy Advance inside.
If the Game Boy Advance has any one glaring flaw (no pun intended), it’s the lack of an internal light. The reflective screen is great when you’re playing in the daylight or have plenty of ambient illumination, but otherwise the screen is very hard to see. Light attachments tend to be uneven and create “hotspots” of glare on the screen. So when word came out about a possible internal modification to add a light source, the community was ready. Soon after, Triton Labs released the “AfterBurner”, a front-light similar in quality to the light found in most high-end color PDAs.
Unfortunately, the process of installing the AfterBurner requires soldering and cutting, a couple of things people aren’t likely to have the skill (or guts) to undertake themselves on a $70-$100 piece of hardware. The few that did install it said the process was easy, but that it was hard to eliminate the dust between the anti-reflective film and the fragile LCD screen. But otherwise, the reviews were quite favorable; the AfterBurner was a winner!
To solve the installation problems, several websites popped up offering to install AfterBurners for a fee. The prospect of getting it done by a “professional” is certainly alluring, but it is worth the money? After contacting one such installer, Your Happy Place, to see if a professionally installed AfterBurner could possibly be worth the price, a GBA was shipped via USPS Priority Mail. After receiving the GBA back just over a week later, the answer is simple. Hell Yes.
The GBA shipped out on a Monday, and was received back the following Wednesday by UPS 2nd Day Air. That makes the total transit time nine days, but the turnaround to get the job done was only five days, which is quite speedy. However, a two-week turnaround time is reasonable, and should be expected.
Most AfterBurner installations include a dimmer dial, mounted either under the power switch or on the lower left-hand side. This GBA was fitted with a recent enhancement, the “Stealth” Dimmer chip v3, by Division 6. Basically, this makes the dimmer controls activated by holding Select and pressing the L or R buttons (a Select+A/B combo is possible as well), getting rid of the dial and making the GBA look like a stock unit. The digital dimmer works flawlessly, allowing you to control how much light is on the screen, and respectively, how much juice is sucked down by the screen. But just in case you walk away and leave your GBA on, the chip will shut off the AfterBurner after five minutes. The chip also stores the dimmer setting, so you don’t have to reset it after every power down. It even maintains these settings with the batteries removed. It’s a very slick enhancement, and one you should look into as an alternative to the dial.
Battery life for the GBA with standard alkaline batteries is 15 hours. At 100% brightness, battery life for those same alkaline batteries drops to about 9 hours, but this is dependent upon your dimmer setting. Nintendo does not endorse using rechargeable batteries, due to the possibility of “electromigration”, which is where the tiny wires that carry the charge can break when heated. This isn’t a likely occurrence, and to date there hasn’t been a documented case of rechargeable batteries causing this kind of damage. It’s possible that you will get longer battery life out of a good pair of Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries, rated at least 1600mAh (milli-ampere hours). You’ll probably void your warranty, but you did that when you got your AfterBurner installed anyway, so what’s one more risk?
Of course, what everyone really cares about is the quality of the light and the quality of the installation. The light is perfectly even across the screen (even in the bottom corners), but does wash out the colors slightly at 100% brightness. Kick that down to about 50-75%, and the screen is lit very nicely, with just a little washout.
YourHappyPlace did a superb job on the installation, as there is nary a speck of dust to be found. When the screen is off, there is a bit of odd discoloration on the screen compared to an unmodified unit, but this is likely due to slight imperfections in the AR film or the light guide (which guides the light across the screen, natch) rather than an installation flaw. Regardless, it can’t be seen with the unit on. In fact, you’re going to have a hard time seeing anything with the unit on, since you’re going to be smiling so hard your cheeks will pinch your eyes closed. An AfterBurner properly installed will wow everyone that sees it, and instill lust in all those who find out about it.
While the AfterBurner probably isn’t as good as any sort of lighted GBA that Nintendo could produce, until they do, it’s certainly a great option if you’re willing to spend the money. Your Happy Place did an outstanding job on both the installation and the service. They’ve just opened up again to perform installations after clearing their backlog, so if you’ve wanted to get your GBA modified with an AfterBurner, do give them a look.