The 'New NES' was an attempt to bring the NES back into the game market as a low-end machine for people who couldn't afford a 16-bit machine. It cost $50 for the deck and one controller but no games. In look it's very similar to a SNES, and is intended to look more sleek next to an SNES than the original 'grey box' did.
Physically, it's much better than the original in most aspects. It's much more compact. Its 'footprint' is SMALL - it's maybe half again as long, in both length and width, as a standard cartridge. The major change in the design is that it is now top-loading like the SNES. Apparently the springs that hold the cartridge down in a 'grey box' NES are very costly to produce and, once broken, hard to fix. The carts stick in a little too tightly, and can occasionally require some effort to remove. I think this CAN be damaging for the cart - though it hasn't ever caused serious damage, the casing at the connecting end of my River City Ransom (the game I'm currently playing most often) has started to crack, and I'm wondering if the NES design is to blame... unfortunately, it's missing the SNES' Eject lever. The POWER button on the console has been changed to a SNES-style switch. This is a hands-down improvement, as the power button on my old NES had an annoying tendency to spring out at inopportune moments... The RESET button is still a button, not a spring-loaded switch as on the SNES. The switches have been moved to the top of the unit, and the controller plugs are on the front.
The new controllers are obviously designed to mimic those of the SNES - two hemispheres connected by a central rectangle. The crosspad, start and select buttons are in the same basic position, but the A + B buttons are now at an SNES-like angle and are slightly raised. The hemispheres provide a better grip on the controller, resulting in a more 'natural' feel - basically, the new controllers correct everything wrong with the originals.
Internally, however, they are - with one BIG exception, detailed below - the same system. The entire selling point behind the New NES was that it was compatible with the old stock of NES games and accessories. I've used basically my entire (relatively large) library of games on it with no trouble. I don't own too many accessories though, but of the ones I do own, all but one of them (again, the one major exception) work, inlcuding the Zapper and the Power Glove.
There is one large problem though, with an accessory nearly every NES fan owns - the Game Genie. I don't know if this is through design fault or intention, but the GG simply does not work with the New NES. I've tested, re-tested, cleaned, re-cleaned, but to no avail. I got out my old 'gray box' and tested the GG on it - it worked perfectly. Though I haven't had the chance to look at the mechanics of it, the case is, by all evidence, designed not to accept a GG. I think this has something to do with the shape of the GG extender and how it relates to the shape of a regular cart, but I'm not willing to dismantle my NES just to find out ;)
One last major difference: The new NES is missing the audio/video out ports on the side that the old NES had. This might not seem that bad, but if you're like me and have your NES hooked up to a stereo, it's a big minus.
Anyways: If your old NES is wearing out, or you just want to free up some shelf space, and if you don't use a Game Genie, I recommend this model. But if you're a GG fan like myself, or if you can do just fine with the NES you already have, the New NES is a disappointment. (GG considerations aside, in theory the New NES could have been a great introductory machine for low-budget gamers. However, poor marketing drove this one into the grave, and since most store owners at that time were still trying to sell off their old NES stock at the original price, potential buyers probably felt suspicious when the games for the machine cost as much as the system itself...)
[Note: There are a few workarounds to the problems mentioned in the review. If you have a VCR lying around, you can route the new NES' connections into composite. Secondly, the Game Genie does work; due to board size differences the Genie really needs to be jammed in hard, however. Galoob released an adapter to fix this problem.]
Review: NB Webb