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The Nokia N-Gage is an unpopular mobile telephone and handheld game system based on the Nokia Series 60 platform. It was launched on October 7, 2003 . The lack of quality games for the platform (not a single N-Gage title has above a 90% rating on Metacritic) sealed the machine's fate. Attempting to lure gamers away from the Game Boy Advance by including cellphone functionality proved disastrous: the buttons, designed for a phone, were not well-suited for gaming, and when used as a phone, the N-Gage was described as resembling a taco. 
In the late 1990s, gamers increasingly carried both mobile phones and handheld game systems. Nokia spotted an opportunity to combine these devices into a more handy unit thus calling their new handheld the "Game Boy Killer". They developed the N-Gage, a device that integrated these two devices. Instead of using cables, multiplayer gaming was accomplished with Bluetooth or the Internet (via the N-Gage Arena service). The N-Gage also included MP3 and Real Audio/Video playback and PDA-like features into the system.
The N-Gage was not as commercially popular as Nokia estimated, having sold, by the end of 2005, less than half of the minimum six million units that had been Nokia's target for the end of 2004 despite asserting that they shipped one million N-Gages to retailers rather than consumers.  The poor sales performance can be attributed to the poor selection of games compared to its competitors and its cost at launch; it was more than twice as expensive as a Game Boy Advance SP on release day. Poor sales were also amplified by game media being standard MMC memory cards without any hardware mechanisms to prevent piracy, indeed rival firms boasted that the N-Gage's games could be played just as easily on their phones.
Besides its gaming capabilities, the N-Gage is a Series 60 phone, running Symbian OS 6.1, with features similar to those of the Nokia 3650 (it does not have an integrated camera, however). It is able to run all Series 60 software, and Java MIDP applications as well. Its main CPU is an ARM Integrated (ARMI) compatible chip (ARM4T architecture) running at 104 MHz, the same as the Nokia 7650 and 3650 phones.
The original N-Gage was considered to have a very clumsy taco shaped design: to insert a game, users must remove the phone's plastic cover and remove the battery compartment as the game slot was behind it. Another 'clumsy' feature is the speaker and microphone being located on the side edge of the phone. This often resulted in many to describe it as if one was talking into a "taco phone" or "Sidetalking", where the user holds the edge of the phone against the cheek in order to talk into it. The comfort factor of lengthy calls was also called into question. Despite the criticism, it is thought that the Sidetalking is there for a practical reason: if placed elsewhere, the screen would get in contact with the cheek and become smudged. However, almost all other cell phones have the screen against the cheek when the user is talking. Despite the questionable practicality, gamers still were unwilling to talk in such an awkward manner.
When considered from a video game point of view, the N-Gage is known for its unique screen orientation, a vertical one as opposed to a horizontal one (which is more popular with other handhelds). The reason for this is that the underlying operating system, Series 60, did not support horizontal orientations at that time (only supported since S60v3 ). Some felt this to be a negative feature, feeling that 'unconventional' does not necessarily mean improvement. Possibly due to this screen feature, as well as the public's luke-warm reception to the device, the game library is far from extensive. Despite this, the N-Gage did managed to garner some rather well known franchises such as Tomb Raider, Rayman, Red Faction, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, among others.
From a cell phone standpoint, the N-gage also faced problems. Besides the clumsy form factor, it was initially sold primarily through specialty game outlets instead of through cell phone providers, which only called attention to its high pre-subsidy price, lack of games, and clumsy interface compared to other gaming devices (thanks to the Series 60 interface and unusual face button layout). Once cellphone retail outlets started carrying the phone, which wouldn't become a widespread practice until well after the release of the N-Gage QD, it still faced problems. The N-Gage and its successor, the N-Gage QD, worked only on GSM networks, meaning that it is incompatible with the then-largest US cell service provider, Verizon Wireless, as well as all of Japan's cell networks. Interestingly enough, even though it was compatible in other areas, with major cell phone networks (such as Canada and the UK), it still has not fared well in the market.
The original N-Gage though still has many benefits to developers and end-users. It had a large amount of executable RAM memory compared to Series 60 devices (the 668x series) ; it has MP3 decoding in a dedicated hardware chip as Nokia 3300 (other Series 60 devices, including the N-Gage QD, rely on software decoding); it has stereo output from a standard 2.5mm jack plug; and it can be mounted as a USB Mass Storage device on any compatible computer without requiring the Nokia PC Connect software.
The N-Gage QD is Nokia's successor to the N-Gage and was released six months after the first N-Gage, placing it in 2004. It revises the device's physical design, being smaller and rounder. It corrected the previous perceived 'flaw' of the cartridge slot with a more convenient one on the bottom of the device. This design also moved the speaker and microphone to the face of the device, rather than on the side, as in the previous model. Despite the revision, many were quick to criticize the unit, just as they did the original N-Gage. Some note that the rubber fitting side that closes the gap between the device top and bottom casing can be easily loosened over a few months if it is dropped regularly, although this is hardly a recommended practice in taking care of the unit. Once the rubber piece is removed, the device becomes more vulnerable to water or particles entering the internals unless the fitting is replaced. The fitting is available at the Nokia's service centers, and is also available in a variety of colors through various third-party sellers via online electronics suppliers or eBay.
The device retails at a lower price, further aided by the fact that it is generally sold with a pre-paid cell phone service contract and the corresponding subsidy. In the United States, the N-Gage QD was available as a prepaid phone offered by Cingular for $99.99 at retail games stores such as Electronics Boutique and GameStop. This is no longer the case. Some feel the device is reaching the end of its lifespan and see discontinuation by the above mentioned stores as evidence. There are still N-gage QDs available at some retailers, but this is only the case in stores where there was left-over stock.
Some of the 'bulky' features of the system such as MP3 playback, FM radio reception, and USB connectivity were removed from the device, presumably to cut size and cost. The QD does not support MP3 internally; however, it can still play MP3s with third-party software, albeit only in 16 kHz mono. The audio output is a Nokia mono earpiece (with microphone) instead.
Instead of using the N-Gage with generic USB removable drive drivers, a user would use either Bluetooth or a separate MMC card reader to transfer files (for example, pictures, movies, or mp3s) onto an MMC card for use in the N-Gage QD.
Another change from the original unit is the "Orange-and-grey" theme of the face of the unit as well as the GUI. Some feel this was an unwanted change from the 'more colorful' GUI of the original N-Gage. Even then there are some third-party applications that enhance the interface or replace the system shell.
As for the telephone portion, it no longer supports the three GSM frequency bands 900/1800/1900; instead it now comes in several dualband variants, one each for the American, European, and east Asian markets. (Each dualband variant comes in different colors, to aid in identification).
The rest of the N-Gage QD hardware specification is otherwise the same as the original N-Gage; same horizontal screen layout, button configuration, etc.
N-Gage QD Silver Edition
Announced in August 2005, the N-Gage QD Silver Edition can be seen as an exercise in extending the life of the N-Gage product range while new N-Gage devices are developed and the N-Gage gaming range is integrated into the mainstream Series 60 product range. Apart from cosmetic changes, there is no difference in the N-Gage QD Silver Edition to the regular N-Gage QD.
It was made available in the European, Middle Eastern, and African markets on September 1, 2005.
MMC Based Games
- List of N-Gage games
Before the launch of Nokia's first in-house N-Gage title, Pathway to Glory, a one level demo of the game was released to journalists to allow them to sample the game, and understand the concepts behind the turn based wargame. This demo was subsequently placed on the N-Gage.com website as a free download. Undaunted by the 16mb download size, fans jumped on the Pathway to Glory demo. The success of this demo probably led to both the sales success of Pathway to Glory, and proved to Nokia that this was a valid marketing route for future titles.
As of November 2005, there are thirteen N-Gage titles which have publicly available demonstration versions. These are:
- Asphalt Urban GT
- Colin McRae Rally 2005
- Pathway to Glory
- System Rush
- Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
- Worms World Party
- X-Men Legends
- Rifts: Promise of Power
- Asphalt Urban GT 2
- Mile High Pinball
Hailed as one of the best games on the N-Gage when released in January 2005, Snakes saw Nokia take an innovative route to promoting the N-Gage platform. Likely spurred on by the success of the demonstration versions, the full version of Snakes was made available online. It also featured an option that allowed the game to copy itself to another N-Gage unit using bluetooth as the carrier.
As of September 2005, it is estimated that Nokia has shipped more than two and a half million N-Gage game decks whereas many have been pulled from several Gamestops and related stores. The "N-Gage" brand name still has a very poor reputation, due to the weakness of the system's first games and the original model's limitations. Many gamers are unaware of the later QD redesign and still consider the N-Gage as a joke (see Penny Arcade's N-Gage Strip). The situation has not improved either with the arrival of the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS handhelds. As of September 2005, Nokia has more than 50 games available for retail on the system, with at least 10 more expected up to and including Q1 2006. The remaining games from the 50 Nokia has promised has yet to be revealed and plans to do so have not been stated at this time due to the N-Gage's poor sales.
While the N-Gage hasn't had any significant financial successes, it does have a handful of critical successes. Pocket Kingdom: 0wn the W0rld received a handful of glowing reviews when it was released, and Pathway to Glory is Nokia's first self-published success. These games haven't seemed to have had much effect in improving the perception of the N-Gage hardware itself in the eyes of consumers or press.
While the N-Gage QD hardware itself, sold unlocked and without a SIM card, has held steady at $250-300, the price with a contract in the US has continued to decrease. In the US, T-Mobile initially offered it for approximately $200 with contract, then sold it for between free and $150, depending on the promotions and contract. As of April 2005, the N-Gage QD retails for $99 at EB Games without the contract requirement.
In January 2005, UK sales-tracking firm ChartTrack dropped the N-Gage from its regular ELSPA chart, commenting that "The N-Gage chart, though still produced, is of little interest to anyone. Sales of the machine and its software have failed to make any impact on the market at all." Although only directly reflective of the UK market, this was interpreted by some as a serious blow to the N-Gage as a viable gaming platform. Despite this, Nokia has reaffirmed their commitment to the N-Gage as a platform, to the point where a new version of the hardware was rumored after GDC 2005.
February 2005 saw Nokia appoint Gerard Wiener, formerly of Sega Europe, to the post of Director and General Manager for Games at Nokia. Wiener has steered Nokia away from looking at the N-Gage as primarily being a games console to "this is a mobile phone that is great for playing games on." This strategy, along with targeting niche franchises such as the table-top Warhammer 40,000 series, the Rifts RPG series, and the Settlers of Catan board game, has kept sales of the N-Gage healthy and given the platform a modicum of respect from some quarters of the media. It should be noted that this change coincided with the initial releases of the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS.
After E3 2005, Nokia announced their intention to make it possible to play unspecified certain N-Gage games on their next wave of smartphones. (At E3, games were demonstrated on the Nokia 3230, 6680, Nokia 6630, and N90, but Nokia has not yet announced what phones will be compatible with this as-of-yet unnamed service.)  These phones won't be compatible with the games sold on MMC in stores, but will be able to download games over the cellular network, or play games downloaded on your computer. All of the details of this scheme have not yet been stated, but this network/scheme should be in place sometime in 2006.
In July 2005, retailers began trying to clear out the N-Gage from their stores. Many game stores, such as EB Games and GameStop, have dropped prices for N-Gage games significantly. For the few stores that still have N-Gage games left, they are priced at $6.99.
In November 2005, Antti Vasara, Nokia's vice president for corporate strategy, stated that the N-Gage will be discontinued until at least 2007. "N-Gage is still being sold but it was not a success in the sense of developing a new category," he said. He also indicated that the gaming capabilities would be folded into the Nokia Series 60 phones and that the 2007 date was targeted as when screen size and quality would be more conducive to mobile gaming.
A New Version of the Ngage game System Rush is now included as standard on the Nokia 93 now titled System Rush Evolution and an improved version of the Ngage game One was demonstrated on the Nokia N93 during E3 as well, both games demonstrate improved graphics.
The system will continue to be sold in the Chinese and Indian markets.
The last game to be released in the US for the system was Civilization on March 2006 according to Metacritic.com.
- The Original N-Gage was used in the movie Silver Hawk starring Michelle Yeoh
- ^ "Nokia misses N-Gage sales target by miles", The Register, 3 November 2005
- ^ "The 7 Deadly Sins of N-Gage", GameSpy.com, 16 February 2004
- List of N-Gage games
- Sony PSP
- Nintendo DS
- Nokia's official N-Gage site
- All About N-Gage - All About Symbian's excellent unofficial N-Gage site for the N-Gage community
- Totally Sidetalkin' Nokia N-Gage is a website where people could send in pictures of themselves or others holding various objects in the "sidetalking" position.
- The WoS complete N-Gage guide, A comprehensive overview of the device by veteran games journalist Stuart Campbell