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Are they N-Gaged yet?

Just got back from the N-Gage QD launch. A couple of thoughts from the day for anyone who’s interested.

* This is not a replacement for the N-Gage (not N-Gage 2!), it is an expansion of the range. There’s no MP3 player or radio, and it has been totally optimised for gaming. Game cards are compatible with both models.
* The battery life has been significantly improved. Now around 5 to 10 hours per charge compared to 3 to 6 hours with the earlier model. They have done this by making the battery slightly thicker and by tweaking the power management. Impressive when you see how bright the screen is.
* The fact that you can now hot swap game cards and resume from where you left off before is cool. The games will also instant play when you plug the card in, rather than having to boot them up. And of course there’s no more sidetalkin’. :-)
* They have installed a new carbon tech type keyboard which is much more responsive than N-G 1.
* Young Damien from Nokia (thanks D!) told me that he has played long hard sessions of Bluetooth multiplayer on the unit and still got around 6 hours of gameplay before needing to recharge. So he’s quite confident that the QD offers a marked improvement on before. In fact he says that it should easily last a whole day of hard gaming and talking and PDA type stuff, which is quite neat for such a small gadget.

The one thing that it’s hard to put across is how much nicer the new model is to hold and use. It is quite a bit smaller and quite svelte, and has got a great rubberized case edging which you can see gleaming white in the photos. This makes it really easy to grip and combined with the clickier buttons, makes for a much more enjoyable experience. And the screen is simply fab. Even in the bright sunlight streaming through the demo room windows I was able to play Tiger Woods golf as badly as ever.

So will it restore Nokia’s gaming fortunes after the disastrous N-Gage start? Well that depends on a lot of things, most of which are out of their hands. What will the competition – notably Sony, Nintendo and others – come up with? How much will the multiplayer game services charge? Can the games developers produce really cool games which are compelling enough to encourage buyers?

Time will tell. I suspect that if they get a blockbuster title (Half Life anyone?) ported onto their Multiplayer Arena platform, then the game is on and Nokia will stand as good a chance as anyone in the nascent market. If not, well at least this product is a worthy competitor in the field. Props to the Finns for listening to the market and reacting so swiftly.

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