The Nokia N-Gage: cool meets cooler. Nokia's newest product has generated a lot of hype and a lot of attention. It's a mobile phone crossed with a game deck crossed with a media player and it does all three very well. It has some flaws and it's clear that this is Nokia's first generation N-Gage. To some, these flaws might be too much, but others may be able to work with them.
The N-Gage has a barrage of cool features. To start, it's a high quality gaming deck. It plays Playstation quality games in a compact, mobile device. The games (and there are several of them available now with more being released all the time) are stored on MultiMedia cards that are much smaller than GameBoy Advance games. Graphic quality is amazing. With everything else the device is doing, one might expect the graphics to lag at times, but the games perform perfectly.
As a game deck, the N-Gage shines. Some have criticized it because the screen is tall and thin as apposed to GameBoy Advance's wide screen. The N-Gage games are designed with this in mind, however, so the games look fine.
The N-Gage has two major design flaws. The first of these concerns the games. The MM game cards are inserted underneath the back cover of the phone and the battery needs to be removed to switch games. This is incredibly inconvenient and makes it hard to switch games frequently. Also, given the N-Gage's ability to play MP3s stored on a MultiMedia card, users may want a storage card inserted while not playing games. In order to switch to a game, however, you have to turn the phone off, remove the back cover, take out the battery, switch the cards, replace the battery, replace the cover and turn the phone back on. Perhaps Nokia's second generation N-Gage will put the expansion slot on the outside.
The second major flaw concerns the device's phone abilities. To their credit, Nokia integrated the device's features very well. The dialing keys for the phone also double as gaming keys and are large and easy to push. All the buttons are conveniently located and easy to find even without looking. The phone features photo caller-ID, voice dialing, speakerphone, and detailed phonebook...all the features you'd expect in a phone.
The flaw comes in with Nokia's placement of the microphone and earpiece. They're located on the top of the unit making it awkward and slightly embarrassing to use. It's reminiscent of a movie style war walkie-talkie; kind of like talking into the flat side of a taco. This makes it embarrassing to pull out in public because it looks so un-cell-phone-like.
The media features of the N-Gage are great. As mentioned, it can play MP3, WAV and MIDI (but not WMA) files stored on either a removable MultiMedia card or the phone's 3MB of internal memory. The internal memory is enough to hold several MIDI files, but MP3 or WAVs will need to be stored on a memory card. The device features an FM radio and the ability to record songs off the air. It can also play MPEG movie files with the installed RealPlayer. The included handsfree headset doubles as a radio headset and the radio is muted when a call comes in and resumed when the call ends.
The device also features Bluetooth connectivity for multiplayer capabilities and for synchronizing with other devices. It would have been nice if Nokia would have included an infrared port for additional sync capabilities.
Battery live is average at best. While just used as a phone, it will last two or three days. But when the FM radio or games are frequently used, it's easy to use the entire battery life in one day. The battery will allow: 12 hours of radio, 8 hours of music play, 4 hours of single-player gaming and 2 hours of Bluetooth gaming. (Battery stats courtesy of NokiaFree.org)
While each additional feature adds more bulk, it seems like integrated cameras are now small enough that Nokia could have included one. For a device aimed at gamers, a camera seems like it would make a great addition. The N-Gage is significantly larger than other cell phones, but is smaller than a GBA. It's just big enough to be too big to drop into a pocket and yet still small enough to look cool.
The N-Gage is one of Nokia's better devices. It's graphically the best mobile game deck on the market, but the inability to quickly switch between games will limit its real competition with GameBoy. It's a good media player, but should support more audio formats. As a phone, however, a little more innovation is needed. If you're going to use the N-Gage primarily as a game deck or media player, then this is the phone for you. If, however, your primary use will be the phone with the added usefulness of the games and media, then reconsider. As a standalone phone, however, the N-Gage is poorly designed. For the latest prices, click here.
Overall, it ranks 7 out of 10.