Nokia N-Gage QD

12 Aug 2004

Product: Mobile phone
Price: €229

Good old Nokia. You’ve got to admire a company that — despite critical and public indifference — gamely refuses to give up when a much-anticipated product turns out to be more of an ugly duckling than a graceful swan. Take the N-Gage QD, for example, the recently launched and ‘remixed’ successor to last year’s underperforming N-Gage.

Pitched as a mobile phone that was equally a dedicated games console (unlike most mobile phones which merely ‘can’ play games — a subtle yet critical USP), the N-Gage dispensed with various popular niceties such as an integrated camera for picture messaging or a clamshell design and was hyped as last year’s hottest handheld. Tempting technology saw the N-Gage able to offer gaming graphics unmatched on other mobile phones either then or today.

Yet the N-Gage failed to do much more than latch lukewarmly on to the market rather than scorch up the charts — a fact highlighted in quarterly figures from Nokia showing sluggish N-Gage sales. A serious design issue was the location of the earphone and microphone along the side of the phone, meaning that the clunky phone had to be held edge on to make and receive a call. Hardly the most practical or discreet way of communicating and an obvious cause of hesitation for consumers.

So, what tinkering has Nokia done to evolve the N-Gage? For starters it has thrown away some features such as the MP3 player and radio, and improved others to make the QD more attractive to reluctant shoppers. Yes, there’s good news on the social embarrassment front — you can now use the redesigned and more compact phone in the normal fashion.

As a phone, it’s functional, offering all of the usual features that you’d expect from a mobile phone these days, ranging from decent text messaging management and organisational functions through to higher functions such as Bluetooth connectivity. If you own a mobile — and more than 80pc of the Irish population does — you’ll already know what to expect from a mobile these days and the QD capably delivers on any such expectations.

However, it’s the gaming aspect to this device that makes it unique and which deserves more scrutiny. The QD packs some striking graphic processing capabilities, with the true 3D evident in a title like the original Tomb Raider game being particularly impressive. An inevitable Spiderman 2 title is another fine example showing why the N-Gage QD is peerless when it comes to gaming in the mobile phone sector. Users will also be glad to hear that swapping games is a simple matter of lifting a rubber flap to insert and swap a tiny cartridge, unlike the cumbersome dismantling procedure that the QD’s predecessor was lumbered with.

You can hardly escape the interesting visual statement the QD makes, given its Frankensteinian form of a merged mobile and console. However, using it as both a phone and a gaming platform left me with the distinct impression that either my fingers were too big or that the buttons were too small, strangely laid out and squashed together for comfortable and straightforward use. Usability is not one of the QD’s best features.

Given the buttons’ bashability and the odd rubber banding running around the casing edging, it was difficult to stop thinking it was some sort of Fisher-Price-meets-BlackBerry prototype.

The QD is ultimately an impressive piece of kit and undoubtedly a quality device, available for €229 including Vat, and comes with The Sims Bustin’ Out game. Personally though, I think I’ll wait and see if there’s another research evolution in this product line — presumably to be called the N-Gage QED — before I’ll engage with the N-Gage again.

By Shane Dillon