Review: N-Gage QD
Version Reviewed: v03.15
After the launch in late April, we've been looking forward to the QD actually arriving, in its retail packaging, so we can use it day to day in anger - to see what it can really do.
The main problem with the N-Gage still remains. What is it? Is it A Games Machine (with a phone) or A Super Smartphone (that plays really good games)? In the original N-Gage review, I put forward the argument that it was a phone, because you needed a SIM card to switch it on. Well, you still need a SIM card to switch the N-Gage QD on, but our review copy came with a dummy SIM card in the box. According to Nokia, in some regions this will be in the commercial package (we're still waiting to hear exactly where). But this is a good idea – people can buy the phone, use it as a standalone console and PDA Organiser, and never go near any mobile phone network. We're getting closer to a games machine now.
Of course this means no Arena connectivity (as that requries a GPRS connection to reach the Nokia Server) but the almost as important (and slightly cheaper) head to head wireless gaming offered by Bluetooth will work with the dummy SIM. This is just a little illustration of Nokia listening to all the feedback they recieved on the original device, and then using that feedback to improve the QD.
We've already seen the SIM issue taken care of. The other biggie, in terms of column inches, is Side Talkin', the ability to talk into the top edge of the device, unlike any other released phone on the planet. Now we're back to taking into the front of the device – in a move the Nokia Marketing Droids are calling Classic Talking.
And finally, the ability to change the MMC Game Card without switching the device off will satisfy every single N-Gage user on the planet apart from Richard Dean Anderson. It was an obvious fix, it's been made. Thank you, Nokia.
CompatibilityLet's just stress this. The N-Gage QD is 99.95% compatible with the original N-Gage. There's no new graphics or sound chips, it's still running Series 60 v1 (using Symbian OS 6.1) so anything and everything that works on the original N-Gage is going to work on the QD. Those of you considering an upgrade can relax in the knowledge that all your games and 512mb blank MMC cards will work quite happily in this new device.
Where does that 1/20th of a percentage point get lost? Backing up and restoring data. If I backup my internal data from C: onto MMC on the original N-Gage, it isn't readable on the N-Gage QD. The answer is to go through your PC, or some third party software (such as SmartvCard and SmartvCal from Symbianware).
Enough Of All This, What's It Really Like?It's nice – a definite improvement on the original device. I've broken it down into three areas, all of which need to work together to make a really good modern phone. Designers take note.
The PhoneIf the original N-Gage is like a sleek sports car that looks great from a distance, but compromises a comfy design for a sexy look, then the N-Gage QD is the Ford Sierra of phones. Short stockly, powerfull... and with a blood red racing line to make it go faster.
Excpet on the QD, the racing line is the rubber edging around the phone. This partially adds to the size of the phone, taking it very close to the original N-Gage, but makes it a lot easier to hold during long game sessions. The plastic casing itself is rougher all over, which means the grip on the device is nice and secure. The only problem is the lovely silvery Nokia N-Gage sticker on the batter cover. It's made of the slipperiest plastic known to man, and my fingers are sitting right on top of it. Which means for all the nice grips on the side, the back of the machine feels really unstable. So a slight change to the natural grip is needed.
The power button isn't truly a button at all – it's an area of the rubber edging that can be pushed in. It's in the same place as the original power button, and not only controls the power and the profiles, but the option to unmount your MMC Card before you change it (which is, according to the manual, something that is really really important).
It feels a lot smaller – while the dimensions changed are only a few millimetres, in your hands you'd swear the difference was more than that. One of the by products of the landscape design of the phone is that you loose the ability to control the QD completely one handed (which can be done with other Series 60 phones). But conversly, you never feel that the QD is going to fall out of your hand when you type a text message. And the front mounted phone speaker is much clearer that the narrower original
The Smartphone BitWe're still deep in Series 60 territory here, and while it has surprised a few people that they didn't go to the later build of Series 60 that's in the 6600 and 7610, there's just too many problems, especially with Java games, in the newer version. Staying with the original (Symbian OS 6.1) means that they can assure software compatibility – given that one of the Gameboy's strengths is the backwards compatibility, then this was an obvious choice for Nokia to make.
There has been a touch of re-design. The D-Pad no longer clicks down as an “OK” confirmation, there's a seperate button underneath the D-Pad that now does this function. When you've got an MMC Game in the slot (and you're on the home screen), this will launch the game. Quite a bit of the QD has been tweaked away from “all round smartphone” to “gaming phone with smartphone features." For example the hardware MP3 player has been removed, the FM radio is no longer there, and the USB connectivity to the PC has been dropped. All of which were great all-round functions, but not really vital to something focused on gaming. The top is now a clean pair of 2.5mm (mono) headphone jack and AC Charger port, under another rubberised door.
The GamesYes the big games (The Sims, Ashen, FIFA) are not in the box (but you might find a bundle online of you look ahrd enough) but it's an important thing to remember that a games console lives and dies by the games it has. Okay, I'll still flog the argument that the N-Gage QD is a phone (with games) but the MMC Games are a key selling point. Looking at the games pushed when the original N-Gage was launched; Puyo Pop and Puzzle Bobble are titles that don't even appear in the N-Gage QD Games Catalouge, even thought they are technically still available. Tony Hawk was probably the only stand out title, although a lot was made of the conversion of the original Tomb Raider game. The launch titles didn't made you want to buy the original N-Gage.
So what do we have for the launch of the QD? Well, Nokia seem to be pushing these titles as the 'launch' titles even though the MMC Game Card schedule doesn't really tally with the QD launch dates.
The first person 'gothic' shooter, that's also one of the N-Gage Exclusive titles. One of the complaints of the N-Gage is that it relied too much on established genre titles. Ashen is the first 'true' N-Gage game, of which there are a few more to come. It's a smooth and graphically sumptious mobile shooter, with the added bonus of a really good story.
Crash Nitro Cart
And back to the established genre titles – Crash Bandicoot will be the first MMC based 'Cartoon Kart Racing' game – and the promised four player bluetooth Grand Prix's looks to be an absolute hoot.
The Sim's Bustin' Out
Take a mobile games machine, throw in one of the most addictive genres in recent history, with a huge amount of thought in how the gameplay will be in short sharp bursts and you have what is arguably the best N-Gage game out so far. A lot of QD Suppliers are shipping a copy of The Sims with the QD with a large discount, and it's worth hunting for one that does.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004
Golf has been a staple for mobile gameplay since the Nintendo Gameboy, and Tiger Words is a nice solid game for the N-Gage. Single player, it's not bad, but multi player is where Tiger Woods excells. You've got up to 4 player stroke play, through one N-Gage. Two players can use Bluetooth to do some match play, and finally, the N-Gage arean allows you to play real-time with opponets all over the world using your GPRS conenction. Finally the N-Gage lives up to the idea of connected gameplay.
OverallIf it's a games machine, focus on the gaming experience, and loose the features that don't fit this remit. That seemed to be the message the press and the public gave to Nokia last year – and the QD is certainly a much more focused gaming device. It looks the part, it acts the part, and is a huge improvement over the Mark 1 device. It's not perfect, but then, what device is nowadays?
For all its faults, the N-Gage QD is still the most powerful Series 60 based smartphone out there. It has the most memory for running applications (16mb). It's one of the cheapest to buy (the QD is £100 with a contract and around £140 offline in the UK). With the changes to the QD we'd strongly recommend doubters look again at the N-Gage concept.
For existing N-Gage owners the choice isn't as clear cut, and we'd recommend looking seriously at how you use the device. If you are constantly swapping out MMC cards, then the QD is a must – but if your focus is on strong multimedia and smartphone features the QD isn't a nessecary upgrade.
No matter why, the N-Gage line isn't dissappearing in a hurry. Which is a good thing. 2004 looks to be a good year for mobile gaming – and we're finally seeing what Nokia mean with “Connected Gaming..."
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at