You can’t talk about old phones and mobiles that didn’t quite make it without somebody asking: ‘Did you ever have an N-Gage?’. More often than not, the answer is a resounding ‘no’, and there’s a couple of reasons for that.
The Nokia N-Gage was a cross between a smartphone and a handheld games console, going on sale back in 2003 and selling 3 million units in total. Nokia’s original N-Gage was an odd-looking gadget, with many internet jokers referring to it as a taco because of its unusual curved shape.
The device, which ran on the Symbian operating system, offered 3.4MB of internal memory, which tells you we’ve come a long way when it comes to mobile storage.
Other features included MP3 and video playback and the ability to play multiplayer games using Bluetooth. The N-Gage’s own ‘N-Gage Arena’ system was also featured, giving gamers an online hub in which to post their scores.
This all came at a price, and a high one at that. The N-Gage retailed for around $299, which was just too much for most.
The original N-Gage wasn’t exactly a looker and the awkward screen layout made things worse.
There’s a couple of theories related to the N-Gage’s nosedive, but more often than not the same points come up in discussion. The unusual shape, the awkwardly-sized screen, the poor library of games and bad functionality all played a part in the gadgets demise. Users also reported poor battery life from the device.
The fact that Sony’s PSP was revealed at E3 2013 also didn’t help the N-Gage’s fight to remain the number one choice for mobile gaming.
If N-Gage users wanted to change the game they were on, they had to remove the plastic cover from the back of the device, then remove the battery compartment, put the game in, replace the battery compartment and then attach the plastic cover again. From a design perspective, this didn’t make much sense at all.
Reaction to the N-Gage’s launch lineup was mixed, with some titles such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater receiving positive reviews and others such as Nokia’s own MLB Slam! being destroyed by gaming press.
Just a year after the release of the initial version of the N-Gage, Nokia attempted to wipe the slate clean with an upgrade.
The phone maker had another stab at convincing customers the N-Gage was the way forward with the release of the N-Gage QD in 2004. Again, the tiny screen and massive buttons didn’t do the handset any favours, but few would say the QD wasn’t a significant improvement over the old N-Gage.
Despite its flaws, the QD was certainly prettier than its predecessor. The N-Gage QD fixed a couple of big issues found in the original model such as the location of the ear-piece, which was moved from the side of the device to the front face. The cartridge for swapping out games was now accessible without having to tamper with the battery compartment and the gadget was also around $100 cheaper.
The gaming library for Nokia’s device wasn’t quite enough to propel it to the top.
This initial hype over a newer, more functional N-Gage was short-lived, however, and the phone had lost all its market momentum by the end of the year, the same year it was launched to an expectant public. Competition from the PSP and Nintendo’s DS proved too much for Nokia’s second attempt and it began to fade away.
The N-Gage shuffled through 2005 and in 2006 the company released what would be the final collection of games for the handheld.
Whilst the N-Gage and the QD slipped away at the end of 2006, Nokia’s N-Gage service for buying mobile games continued to feature inside more of the company’s phones such as the N78 and the N85.
Nokia announced that this service would cease to exist at the end of 2010, putting an end to the N-Gage timeline once and for all.
A quick look through Ebay reveals that you can get your hands on an N-Gage for between £40-70. In a way it’s quite sad to see, particularly as Nokia showed such faith in the phones initially.
The N-Gage service died in 2010, taking with it a library of inconsistent games and two handheld devices that tried their best to take mobile gaming an ‘exciting step forward’.
Sleep well, N-Gage, sleep well.
Did you have an N-Gage device of your own? What did you think of the product? Let us know in the comments section below or tweet us at @Phonecruncher.