Monday 15 October 2018

Nokia N-Gage (2003)

Nokia N-Gage (2003)
Launched October 2003

During late 2003, Nokia was going through a weird phase with the remarkable looking but rather unusable 7600 and 7700 phones, respectively trying to bring 3G and smartphone features to the masses, and failing. Nokia obviously thought that you don’t make progress by being normal, and in that spirit they also launched the legendary Nokia N-Gage.

Legendary….? OK, perhaps we need to qualify that. Handheld gaming had been booming ever since the launch of the Nintendo Game Boy in 1990. Consoles were getting better over the years, but Nokia’s idea was that a mobile phone might make a really great gaming platform, which seems kind of obvious to us today.

It wasn’t just the idea of converged devices that we are all familiar with these days, where the smartphone in our pocket can do everything we need. Adding cellular networking to the gaming platform meant that you could compete against people anywhere in the world, and the N-Gage also used Bluetooth which meant that you could play against people in the same room with ease. Add to that the popular Symbian operating system that already had a load of applications available, it seemed that Nokia could probably do no wrong.

The N-Gage was one of the most anticipated product launches of late 2003, with all sorts of interesting rumours about what might be launched. Nokia had been working with Sega too, which added to the buzz. What was launched... well, what was launched was not really what was expected.

Like the 7700, the N-Gage was a taco-shaped side-talking device. It was a “wide” rather than “tall” device, designed to be used in both hands. But from here in, the N-Gage was pretty poorly thought out.

Let’s start with the screen – a 2.1” 176 x 208 pixel panel which was quite unsuited to gaming. Then there were the game cartridges themselves, which you had to partly disassemble the phone to swap. There were a reasonable number of games available, but the hardware limitations were rather off-putting. It was fairly expensive too at launch.

Overall, it wasn’t very good as a gaming platform and it wasn’t very good as a mobile phone. Even so, Nokia managed to shift 3 million of these things. Presumably a lot of them ended up in the back of drawers pretty quickly.

Nokia N-Gage QD (2004)
In 2004, Nokia addressed some of the problems with the phone with the improved N-Gage QD, but by this time the N-Gage brand itself had become a bit toxic. Perhaps if the QD was the device Nokia originally went to market with then it might have succeeded.

Despite high hopes, the N-Gage failed to change the world and by 2007 Nokia acknowledged that the attempt had failed, and instead they tried to roll the N-Gage gaming into other smartphones, but this also didn’t succeed.

Today the N-Gage is quite collectable in either the original or QD forms. Prices typically start at £50 or so, but if games are included in the package then they can command prices of several hundred pounds

Image credits: Nokia

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