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The N-Gage in depth

Hardware

The house with a million rooms

What is the Nokia N-Gage? That’s a very good question, and to be honest I think only Nokia knows the answer to that one. The Finnish company’s machine is a phone, a games console and a media player all in one. To make such a hybrid is an enormous undertaking in that each aspect of the project must be up to standard and all of its elements must compliment each other perfectly. Designing the N-Gage must be like building a house; all the rooms must be spacious enough, but each part of the house has to blend together to form a seamless mix of living areas. Attention to detail is absolutely key and the overall feel of the project needs to be just right. Add onto this budget and time constraints and we’ve got quite a challenge on our hands.

In order to judge the N-Gage, we must dissect it into it’s core features; a phone, a games machine and a media player. Each of these has their own market and competition. Out of our bottomless pit of gadgets we’ve gathered some of the best devices from each market – a Sony Ericsson T610 phone, a Gameboy Advance and an Apple iPod. If Nokia’s N-Gage manages to better these then we may just eat various items of our clothing.

The N-Gage doesn’t look like a phone or a games machine. A portrait-aligned screen sits in the middle of the curved main body with buttons either side. A direction pad and several shortcut keys occupy the left side whilst the traditional numbered buttons sit on the other. The d-pad and numbers 5 and 7 are raised, giving you easy access to the primary gaming controls whilst the edge of the device is strewn with connecters and sockets for power, headphones and other devices. When compared with the original Gameboy Advance, the N-Gage looks distinctly sexier and far more organised with sleek lines and a silver finish. The GBA is fatter, taller and wider than its new, smoother rival. The most impressive aspect of the design is the weight though. When you handle Nokia’s machine, the GBA seems like a brute at roughly double the weight of the N-Gage. Nokia’s machine also fits neatly into your hands, the buttons placed just where they should be. As far as aesthetics and ergonomics go, Nokia seem to have got it just right.

It phones people as well!

Obviously the N-Gage is a phone as well as a games machine, there’s no getting away from that. Using it to make calls is a bit of a hassle though. When you need to phone someone, you have to hold the device up to your ear at 90 degrees to the side of your head. This is awkward and looks damn stupid; it’s like having a giant plastic ear extension. Nokia aren’t stupid though, and include a headset with every device which can be used for handsfree calling and listening to music. If you want to use it as your primary phone, then you’re going to have to walk everywhere with the headset attached to your clothing. Not too practical, that’s for sure.

The N-Gage is littered with features, from Bluetooth wireless connectivity to XHTML web browsing. MMC memory cards can be inserted into the device – more on that later – on which you can put music, games, videos or whatever you like. Thus, the N-Gage can be used as an MP3 player using its music playback function or a portable cinema using the RealOne program. The sound is clear and on par with most music players out there. Also included is an excellent FM radio which makes searching, storing and listening to radio stations easy. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between an MP3 stored on the device and a radio station, it’s that good. Other features include a composer, voice recorder, WAP browsing and various personal organiser functions such as a calendar.

The menus are a colourful, icon-based affair much like our Sony Ericsson T610, but the N-Gage’s rival feels more organised with items placed in obvious locations. Locking the keypad is too difficult than it should be; on most phones a quick two key combination does the trick but the N-Gage makes you tap the power button, then scroll down a menu before selecting the appropriate option. However, the core functions of the phone are solid and it’s only let down by the awkwardness of making actual calls. As a phone, the N-Gage isn’t ideal but it comes brimming with features and should be adequate for most users.

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The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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