Console: Swan Crystal - Japan
Discontinued: Shortly thereafter
The Swan Crystal was practically the same as its predecessor, the WonderSwan Color. The major difference was that the LCD used in the Crystal is the same type found in many flat-paneled TVs and therefore provided sharper contrast ratios. In plain speak, the screen was more vibrant and looked better. It was backwards compatible with the previous two Swans and could be played for 15 hours on one AA battery. The GBA's dominance would scare it into submission.
Console: GameBoy Advance SP
Slightly more than half the size of the original GBA, this version folded in half like earlier Game & Watch units or - as we’ll see later - the DS. Interestingly, Nintendo opted to omit a headphone jack. So you either had to buy specific headphones or a special jack. Two years after its release, a newer model of the SP featured a backlit screen - perfect for nighttime playing. Also, the latest iterations of Pokemon - Ruby and Sapphire - hit Japan one month after the SP went on sale, bolstering sales.
Discontinued: The phone service continues
Although Nokia is immensely successful as a network communications brand (its the 5th most valuable global brand according to BusinessWeek), their venture into the gaming market has proved disastrous. Ugly for both a phone and a handheld, the N-Gage cost twice as much as the GBA SP and was three times as much of a joke. The most basic function of inserting a game was a chore: you had to pop off the phone’s plastic cover and the battery compartment just to slide the game card in. Somehow it managed to nab known franchises like Sonic, Tomb Raider and Tony Hawk. It still sucked, though.
Designed to run off an updated version of the Palm OS, the Zodiac received all kinds of awards from tech magazines for merging PDAs with gaming. However, due to pressure from its direct competitor, the DS, Tapwave decided to stop developing for it.
Console: PSP (PlayStation Portable) - Japan
Discontinued: Still going strong
With Nintendo eating up the handheld market, it made sense for Sony to try and take back territory. It had the console market by the balls, so why shouldn't it have a handheld? Enter the PSP - complete with wide widescreen, analog nubbin for 3D gameplay and multimedia capabilities never before seen on a handheld (stuff like internet, cross media bar, mp3 player, connectivity with other Sony products). The PSP also had the distinction of playing an optical disc - the UMD - which played not only games, but movies.
But even with stellar hits like Metal Gear Portable Ops, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Daxter, Crisis Core and a hell of a lot more, the PSP trails the Nintendo DS in sales even now. As of December 2007, it's behind by about 34 million.