Most Game Boy Advance (GBA) fans would tell you that the SP is the definitive iteration of the console line, but when it comes to the nearly identical AGS-001 and AGS-101 models, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two at first glance if you don't know what to look for.
What are the differences between the Game Boy Advance SP AGS-001 vs the AGS-101?
- Frontlit screen which can be toggled on and off via the Screen Light Switch (otherwise referred to as “Brightness Button”)
- The screen appears grey when powered off
- Much brighter backlit screen with additional brightness setting via Screen Light Switch
- The screen appears black when powered off
- Released in North America in three exclusive colors (not including special edition consoles): “Graphite,” “Pearl Blue,” and “Pearl Pink”
While those are the obvious cosmetic differences between the two models, there are other subtle and even non-visual distinctions. For example, the backlit model often sells for significantly more than the 001 due to its brighter and generally more desirable screen. (To see more on pricing, visit our continually updated article – What Is A Game Boy Advance Worth? – which fully breaks down the typical cost of both models.)
Still, if you're browsing through GBA SP consoles online, it might be a bit more difficult, at times, to discern for yourself which model you are looking at. The exclusive AGS-101 colors aren't too different from other standard AGS-001 units, and some retailers do not directly state if the listing is for one model or the other. So, how can you easily tell the difference?
How To (Easily) Tell The Difference Between The AGS-001 And AGS-101
Well, let's start off with the most obvious answer – check the model number on the back of the console (pictured above and circled in red). AGS-101 units will read like the image above, and the AGS-001 will have its model number in the exact same location.
However, if you're purchasing a new or complete-in-box unit, there is also a pretty easy way to differentiate between the two models without taking the handheld out of its packaging. All AGS-101 consoles shipped with the text “Now with a BRIGHTER backlit screen!” (see image below) on the top-right corner of the box. AGS-001 units will not have this text.
Now, that's all well and good if you can see the console for yourself (or if the retailer has images of the model number in their listing), but online listings without this information might be a bit trickier. Luckily, Nintendo made it easier on us by releasing the AGS-101 model in three exclusive colors in North America – “Graphite,” “Pearl Blue,” and “Pearl Pink.” Additionally, Toys “R” Us released two limited edition backlit consoles – a “SpongeBob SquarePants” model and a “Limited Edition Pikachu” model. All other colors and limited edition consoles (at least in North America) are AGS-001 models.
As stated previously, however, some of these exclusive colors are similar to those on the frontlit models – so make sure to carefully discern the official color before purchasing. As a helpful guide, the AGS-001 model was released in the following colors in North America (not including limited edition consoles): Cobalt Blue, Flame (red), Onyx, Platinum Silver, and Midnight Blue.
Things are slightly trickier in Europe, however, where Nintendo also released the AGS-101 in three different colors – “Surf Blue,” “Pink,” and “Tribal” – but not all of those colors exclusive to the backlit model. In fact, only “Surf Blue” is a backlit-exclusive color. And to make things even more confusing, European AGS-101 boxes do not feature the “Now with a BRIGHTER backlit screen!” text.
That being said, new and complete-in-box backlit models are still distinguishable by their packaging in Europe. AGS-101 models feature large images of the console on the front of the box, whereas the “Pink” and “Tribal” frontlit models (see image above) feature a smaller image of the handheld on the sides of the box with floral or tribal art respectively on the front.
So, if you're looking to buy a used Game Boy Advance SP online in Europe, but you aren't sure which model you are looking at, I would recommend contacting the seller and ask to see a picture of the model number. Luckily, however, most third-party sellers on sites like eBay and Amazon will likely have this information either in the listing title itself or the description.
It might sound like a lot of things to keep track of, but it is helpful to have this console knowledge in the back of your mind – if for no other reason than to be a discerning buyer and not overpay for a console (or conversely, be able to spot an incredible deal when you see one).
Do the AGS-001 and the AGS-101 play the same games?
Yes. The screen is really the biggest difference between the two models. Other than the display, the slight cosmetic differences, and the price, these units are virtually identical.
So, is the AGS-101 worth the extra money?
Well, that all depends. Prices fluctuate, but the difference between the two models is generally significant when it comes to cost. If you have an extra $30-50 (depending on the retailer and other factors detailed in our link above), then go for it. The backlit screen does make an immediate, noticeable difference when it comes to picture quality. And since the display is the thing you're going to be looking at while playing these games, I think it's reasonable to splurge for the 101 if you have the extra money.
For those technically savvy, however, screens can be replaced and upgraded. Backlit screens are for the console are on sale online, so feel free to check those out if you want to upgrade the display on your current model. And it works for the original Game Boy Advance as well, if you prefer that form factor over the SP's clamshell design.
Either way, both consoles are great pieces of portable technology, with displays that are much better than the original Game Boy Advance hardware. Seriously, you cannot go wrong either way. I would also suggest checking out the Nintendo DS (or DS Lite) since the console is also backward compatible with GBA titles.