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Nokia N-Gage

10th October 2003

We've waited a long, long time for the Nokia N-Gage. Nokia first announced their innovative handset, the result of a joint venture with Sega way back in November 2002, so it's taken nearly a year for the unit to come to market. Well, it's a good phone, but technology has moved on a little since last year.

In technical terms, the N-Gage measures 134mm x 70mm x 20mm making it almost exactly the same size as a 5 or 20 note (just a lot thicker). The weight is 137g, about the same as any other large mobile phone.

The N-Gage has a large screen, measuring 208 pixels high by 176 pixels across, about which is more than twice the pixels of a standard Nokia running at 128x128 pixels. The graphics are nicely backlit and optimised for 3D games.

There's a five-way directional key on the left of the N-Gage, with the standard number keys placed on the right doubling as game keys. It also has some supplementary keys for music control and the in-built radio.

Of course, the Nokia N-Gage is being pitched mainly as a games deck, but it's a good music platform too. It supports many different formats, including AAC and MP3, and also it has a built-in FM radio. The standard 3.4Mb is too small for serious MP3 playback though, but you can buy a 64Mb or 128Mb expansion card, holding roughly one or two CDs worth of good-quality MP3s respectively.

Games can be played against other players, either over GPRS or Bluetooth within 5 metres. The N-Gage can only be used with a SIM card installed however, so it can't be used just as a Bluetooth games console, which is a pity.

There are a whole wealth of games available for the N-Gage platform. Indeed, Nokia are so committed to the success of the unit that they bought up Sega in order to ensure a wide variety of games from one of the leading names in the industry. Games include Tomb Raider, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Red Faction, Sega Rally and many more available at launch and in the pipeline. A key selling point of the N-Gage is that games can be played against other N-Gage owners.

The N-Gage is more than just a games and music platform. It's a tri-band handset, working pretty much anywhere in the world where's there's a GSM network, it supports WAP over GPRS and HSCSD and has a XHTML web browser, plus email support. The phone connects to a PC using a USB cable or via Bluetooth.

Battery life is fairly good for a device of this type. When used as a phone it has 2-4 hours talk time and 6-8 days standby time. It can be used as a radio for up to 20 hours, play back music for up to 6 hours and be used as a games console for 3-6 hours. Recharge time is a little over an hour and a half. 

Nokia N-Gage

Nokia N-Gage

Nokia N-Gage

Nokia N-Gage

Nokia N-Gage

On the minus side, the battery life is really only good enough for leisure use so you'll never justify it to your boss. Also there's no camera and all-in-all the screen seems a little small for a games platform. Talking on it is a litle difficult too because of the unusual configuration.

Compared to other phones, such as the Sony Ericsson P900 or the Nokia 7700, the screen size of the N-Gage seems limited. In this respect the key advantage it has over rival models is the ease of gameplay, but it really doesn't feel like the groundbreaking phone Nokia were promising.

Perhaps the N-Gage II will be a more compelling phone. As it is, we think it's quite a nice gadget to have, but we'd upgrade it as soon as the replacement becomes available, we think sometime late in 2004.

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