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Nokia N-Gage (Mobile phone)

Nokia N-Gage is mobile phone developed by Nokia, intended for gamers who like to have the all in one solutions and are tired to wear at once two gadgets in them - mobile phone for talking and handheld console for gaming. Being a great mobile phone manufacturer, Nokia decided to try at this unexplored by them territory and directly compete with the well known established player - Nintendo, which GameBoy consoles were selling very good but lacked that cool phone ability. Released in 2003 it had good specifications for pocket device but weak marketing, combined with the competition from Nintendo and the poor design, made the phone one of the worst selling Nokia products ever.

The N-Gage made its debut and then almost flopped, but I was still interested in gaming console and mobile phone at one. Remembering the time when I had a pocket hand held and Game Gear, I used to be very happy with portable gaming device, especially when the laptops weren't widespread as they are now. The phone is very hard to find at shops but I didn't want to pay full price either. On December 13, 2005 I went to pawn shop and bought one for 180.00 BGN without box and manual but with one game on 32MB MMC, power adapter and USB cable. The power adapter did not work but there was no guarantee from the pawn shop so I had to buy new adaptor for 15.00 BGN from the Handy shop and then bought prepaid package for 9.90 BGN and off I was ready to use my new acquisition.

The size of the phone is 12.5 cm wide at the top part and 13.37 cm wide at the lower part, 7 cm tall at the center and 2 cm thick with semi-oval, unusual for a phone form:

Nokia N-Gage phone after succesful startup.


The phone itself is not heavy and nicely fits in most pockets, and is easy to wear, even when biking. The condition was not excellent. It had some scratches and also small cracks but works flawlessly. It was a green version with the classic look and view. I had a look for new panels in order to replace the look but was unable to find any in the several shops I asked. The front part of the phone have the LCD display at the center. On the left of the display is the green button for picking up conversations, under which is the keypad with the cursor keys and under it are three buttons - first for music player and notes sign, second for the radio player with radio sign and the third button is the Symbian button with the Symbian logo on it. Under the three buttons are the clear and left selection buttons. To the right of the display is the hang off button the standard numeric phone keypad and under the keypad are the right selection and the pencil buttons. On the screen, although small, the written text and graphics are easy to read and distinguish.

At the lower-left side are the jacks for the headphones and the microphone hole. Popular myth is that because of the unusual placement of the microphone, you have to do side-talking, which was never necessary when I talk.

Nokia N-Gage phone seen from the back.
click on pictures for higher resolution images...

But I was never on the other side to hear how is it with and without side-talking, so it is hard to say if side-talking improves the sound for the listener. On the left side of the phone are the connectors for the power adaptor and the USB cable and on the right is the power button which have to be pressed for some seconds to start the device. On the back of the phone is a wide black button, which when pushed makes the removal of the back panel very easy. Once opened, the battery, the SIM card slot and the memory card slots are seen. To replace the memory card or the SIM card, the battery have to be removed from the slot which makes replacement of these an unwanted process. That's why first I bought 512MB MMC pqi card and later 1 GB MMC+ pqi card so I would not need to replace it for installing new software or adding mp3 songs.

Nokia N-Gage phone with opened back cover.

Once started, an input PIN code screen appears and after the N-Gage splash animation is shown. Then prompts for the current date and time, which were not stored and I have to reenter them every time when I remove the battery. The phone have a small battery inside for the time, but obviously it was not working. After the startup is shown the standard Nokia phone screen. On the top is the information bar. On the left on the information bar is the strenght of the network coverage, next to it the time, the mobile operator, the date and on the right is charge of the battery. Under the information bar is the wallpaper which is easily changed and on the bottom are the two menus - SIM direc. and New msg., which are accessed from the left and right selection buttons. To this part, the phone looks like pretty ordinary Nokia product and there is nothing exciting. From here the normal phone functions can be used - dialing from the numerical keypad, writing messages, calling contact from the SIM directory and receiving calls and messages.

The more important buttons are on the left side of the display. The music button activates the music player which plays music from the memory card. If no memory card is inserted a message appears (no memory card inserted) which makes it useless without memory card. The radio button is for activating the radio player. The radio player works only if headset is connected. If pressed without headset, an error sound is output, with warning on the screen Connect headset!. The phone uses the headset for radio antenna and it is mandatory for listening to radio, which makes the phone useless for listening without headphones. But the music player also asks for headset which almost disables the phone from listening tunes without headset. The third button - the Symbian button enters the Symbian directory menu, from where main menu icons are seen and where a workaround can be installed for listening tunes - mp3 player like UltraMP3 for example or one of the many others available. The menu system is also ordinary with nine icons seen on screen, the standard, built-in the phone and after them the icons for the new installed software.

Nokia N-Gage phone with the icons from the main menu and FileMan installed.

At the top left part in the menu is the Telephone icon, which returns back to the Telephone screen. At the center of the top is the Contacts icon, which leads to the contacts menu from where phones can be called not only from the SIM card but also the existing into the phone memory. The menu can be also accessed directly from the Telephone screen by pressing center on the joypad. At the top right is the Extras icon, which enters submenu with nine icons - for Clock, Notes, Apps, Log, Favourities, To-do, Calculator, Converter and Help extras. At the center left part of the main menu screen is the Tools icon, which enters the Tools submenu from where the telephone settings can be changed, software installed with the App. Manager, Bluetooth connection established, and made settings for Voice mail, Call diverts, Speed dial, Fixed dial and SIM directory. There is also icons for Serv. Nos., Memory icon - displays the memory card parameters and some utilities for it. In this submenu is also About icon, which shows copyright information about the N-Gage, the SymbianOS, the Java and the other software parts used in the phone's firmware. If there is some special part installed from the phone service provider, it will be installed in this part. At the center of the main menu is the messaging icon, which is for the SMS handling and on the right of it is the Media icon, bringing submenu with media tools and players for images, sounds and videos and a tool for taking screen snapshots, which is very useful for taking screen shot pictures of games and applications for reviews. On the bottom part of the menu on the left is the Calendar icon, which opens the Calendar application, useful for setting events, writing notes and scheduling meetings. On the bottom center is the Profiles which is for changing the current telephone profile. Only six options are available being the General, Silent, Meeting, Outdoor, Pager and Offline.

The Nokia N-Gage uses the proprietary Symbian OS v6.1 making all the available software for the S60 series Nokia phones running on it. The color screen with 4096 colors makes more sophisticated games available and the powerful ARM processor runs all them at decent speed. Many tools, applications and games are available and easily installable. First application I installed is the file manager. I used it for transferring, deleting and moving files from and to the memory card, the built-in memory in the phone and with other devices. Second application I installed was MsvDriveE, which transfers all the messages from the phone memory to the memory card, which is not possible from the phone settings. Sometimes if received lots of messages, the memory can get full, and then MsvDriveE is good insurance. Another plus of messages being on the memory card is that I can easily transfer them elsewhere, even if the telephone breaks. Advertised as gaming phone, after setting these vital applications, I installed some games to try it. It has many great games available, but the really good ones are commercial only and sold on memory cards. I have tried several games - Ashen, Asphalt Urban GT, Call of Duty, Rayman 3, SonicN and Tomb Raider. All these games are really good, polished and fast, despite some of them being pure 3D games, theoretically needing fast CPU resources and even 3D coprocessors. They played nice, only from time to time they stalled and did quirks, the reasons for which was unexplainable to me. But I did not buy any of these games for several reasons. One reason was that these commercial games needed the memory card to be swapped out with the already installed one, meaning that if I want to do something from my memory card, I had to do the boring procedure of swapping the cards over and over again. The animation although very good was not smooth to be enjoyed for a long period, but these games require long plays, so I prefer more simple games to play for shorter periods of time. The biggest problem of the N-Gage, especially with the better games, was the very fast battery drainage. Some games were playable with fully recharged battery only for two, maximum three hours and then another recharge was needed, so if I wanted to play these games I shall stay at home. If that was the case, I better play the Playstation versions of these games under the Free PlayStation Emulator (FPSE) on my Amiga, than looking at the small screen of the N-Gage. I tried for several trips, but it only raised the bad experience with the phone already received. After rejecting the commercial games for the Nokia N-Gage, I searched the net for emulators, to see if I can enjoy some other games under emulation. There are many emulators available for Symbian, ports from other operating systems and they saved my Nokia N-Gage phone as a gaming device. There is EEMAME, which even if port of old version of the MAME emulator, plays many games nicely. I enjoyed all the old games and especially Green Beret, completing it. With EEMAME the battery still needed recharge only after 3-4 hours, but the drainage was slower than with the commercial games. Another emulator I have installed is the E32Frodo - port of the Frodo Commodore 64 emulator. Thanks to it I was able to play C64 games developed by me for testing during trips. I had success with BoxWorld:

Nokia N-Gage phone with Frodo emulator running the game Box World.

and then MazezaM, AntiISDA Warrior and even Crapoid. Commercial C64 games are playable as well, and demos too. Small problem with this emulator is that all the files have to be sent as messages and must reside in the messages folder. You can not just copy your D64 files to the memory card and simply start them from there. But they can be transferred by bluetooth, which I did with the help of other phone, but not directly from the Amiga. With the EEMame this is not an issue and for it I just copy the files to the memory card. Other emulators present for the Symbian and running easy on the N-Gage are the SNES emulator vSun (which unfortunately is Shareware), NES emulator - vNes (also Shareware, but cheaper), Sega MegaDrive (Genesis) emulator - Picodrive, Sinclair emulators - Spectrian and ZXBoy and emulators for most other older systems. The N-Gage joypad makes use of the diagonals easy, while on the other from the S60 series its hard or impossible on some models. Many games require special movements or diagonal movement to pass some areas and without diagonal they are not possible to complete.

Emulators and games are not the only available software for the N-Gage. There is software for everything else - from applications for messaging, image processing, editing and everything else, to web browsers and e-mail clients. Wide software library is available and downloadable from the Internet and then the problem is finding the right application. Risk is that a software may contain a virus, some viruses being nasty and sending messages to random numbers and costing you money. I never had virus problem, but for security and battery save reasons, the bluetooth was always off. Freeware and shareware games are also available for download. I have downloaded many games for testing and some of them were addictive.

Despite having wide range of software available and many great games, I did not use the phone neither for productivity, messaging or gaming. Main reasons stopping me from doing anything other on the phone than talking, was the fast battery drainage. With the better games or more demanding emulators the phone was useful only for maximum 4 hours play, then have to be recharged. I have tried with spare battery but setting the date and time every time, made me forget that option. Wearing with me a spare adaptor was also not an option, because it is not possible to use it everywhere and it is big. Reducing the power of the backlight, using only one app at a time and lowering down the volume of the sound or even turning it off, did not improve the situation. When playing some games, an user input may be not needed for some time, but then the backlight turns off, which instinctively makes you to press some key, which may cost a life in some games. The phone is hard to use for outside the phone part of it. The lack of WiFi was the stopping point for me to use it for browsing. Web browsers are available for Symbian OS, but on the N-Gage I have to pay the expensive Internet bills of the provider, which I rejected. If it had Wi-Fi, I would be able to use it at pubs, home and everywhere else where WiFi Internet is available for use. But it has only BlueTooth connectivity. With Symbian MP3 player I have solved the problem with the media player, which was not possible to use without headphones, but the radio was unavailable to start without headphones, even if then you can set it to loudspeaker and listen to it. The phone easily connects to my Amiga via the USB cable, but is useful only for downloading files from the phone. Writing files to the phone makes the N-Gage show the WSOD (White Screen of Dead) and crash for unknown and not solved reasons. The volume and vibrations sometimes are not strong enough and it is hard to notice a call in a noisy city environment. And the phone developed a sure ritual after getting back home - first thing was to connect the phone to the power adaptor, then the rest.

Even with all the issues with the phone I decided to keep it and used it for more than two years. This was my first mobile phone to ever own, but I did not attach any sentiments to it. It served me modestly as a phone and modestly as a gaming platform. After I bought the Toshibo V9+i mobile phone I took the SIM card from the N-Gage and inserted it in the Toshibo, I almost forgot about the N-Gage for some weeks. Later I decided to turn it on and play some games and test emulators. To my bad surprise the phone did not start without SIM card with error message to insert a SIM card. So the phone even if advertised and sold as a gaming device, was useless without the phone part. I must buy a SIM card to be able to use it, which means more money spent on the toy. I did not buy new card. Later I found an used prepaid card, which I entered at least to be able to use it, but I am unable to format the Memory Card, because of the WSOD appearing when going to the Memory menu. There are wide range of new software and compilers available for Symbian, but the N-Gage have no TV output to look at it on the big screen while I keep it only at home now. The model I have is now discontinued in favour of the Nokia N-Gage QD, which have many of the problems solved and longer battery life. Nokia for sure is very good phone manufacturer and makes good phones, no doubt about it. As a console manufacturer, Nokia have to develop and research much more and more deeply, to be able to compete with the other players on the mobile gaming devices front.


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