In 1998 Nintendo launched the Game Boy Camera, a tiny (at the time) digital camera that sat in the Game Boy's cartridge slot and took simple monochrome photos that could be edited and printed via the link cable and an optional Game Boy Printer, using a roll of thermal printing paper similar to a till receipt. In the years that followed, MadCatz released a device allowing backup of photos using a parallel port interface, however since then there has never really been a straightforward way to back up and share photos easily in this age of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Until now, that is.
Being sold directly by its manufacturer, small upstart company gameboyphoto, BitBoy is a tiny, unassuming black box that holds the key to accessing your photos from that Game Boy Camera, backing up images to SD card and allowing you to share wherever you like.
The initial run of 100 units becomes available mid-October. We got our pre-order in as soon as they opened up and, following discussions with gameboyphoto we were fortunate enough to be sent a unit early. There's always that fear when committing to an investment in a brand new product such as this, and with a $65 price tag it does seem to be asking a lot. When you receive the BitBoy, it feels very much like a short-run product. Dieter Rams stated that "good design is unobtrusive" and the BitBoy is about as unobtrusive as it gets. The case is 3D printed, with a matt black finish and no logos or fancy styling. It's a black box, albeit a very compact and neatly produced one.
It comes with all the necessary cables for charging and connecting to a variety of Game Boy models (apart from the original DMG Grey Game Boy, for which a separate cable is available) as well as a 4Gb SD card to back up your pictures from the off. The bundle is straightforward and contains everything you need, arriving fully charged for use and including a PDF of the instruction manual on a separate SD card. In fact, our only slight criticism of the product is that we feel the instructions could be a little more in-depth; however they are very clear and straightforward, helping the user get up and running as soon as possible. We expect the instructions to evolve as the BitBoy builds a community of enthusiastic users.
The real payoff with the BitBoy, and the part that really starts to justify the price tag, is the convenience and ease of use. It promises to make backup simple and it does that by operating with no external power supply, transferring images to PC, Mac or mobile devices with no drivers required. It switches on automatically when connected to the Game Boy, and there are two neatly-housed status LEDs to let you know what's going on. When disconnected from the Game Boy, it powers down automatically.
The internal rechargeable battery takes around five minutes to charge and lasts a long time (we haven't needed a second charge yet and we've used it for the past week), enabling on-the-go backup of photos with no need for a computer or power supply. This means you can fill the camera, back up the photos, then clear space and shoot some more. The option to batch upload pictures is a real bonus too. It works by essentially fooling the Game Boy into thinking there is a printer connected – "print" a photo and it saves automatically to the SD card. Use a micro SD card with adapter or a suitable OTG card reader and you can upload pictures to your phone or tablet with ease.
BitBoy extracts full, uncompressed bitmaps from the Game Boy Camera. These images are tiny. When uploading to apps such as Instagram, the app's compression software can cause the images to look a little blurry. However, opening in an editing app such as Pixlr and then taking a screen shot allows for a much better image to upload with no access to a computer required. You can also, of course, use programs such as Photoshop to edit and resample pictures as required.
From one point of view, it's surprising that it's taken this long for someone to introduce a device like this, which makes the Game Boy Camera more of a must-have accessory for the retro enthusiast. From another point of view, it might be seen as foolhardy to introduce such an accessory for a long obsolete piece of technology. The fact is that this was clearly no mean feat and now, thanks to the clever design of the BitBoy, consumers will be able to retrieve long lost photos and breathe new life into cherished childhood technology. Happy snapping!
BitBoy launches on 15th October and can be pre-ordered here.