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It Slices, It Dices, It's 6 Gadgets In One!

  • October 7, 2003
  • By Bradley L. Jones
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Have you heard of N-Gage? This is supposed to be the next evolution in gaming and more.

N-Gage is a game machine.

N-Gage is a phone.

Okay, it is a game machine and a phone; thus, it gives you the ability to do mobile, connected games.

N-Gage is an MP3 player.

If it is going to be a game and a phone, it might as well be an MP3 player, too!

You might be thinking that your phone does all this already. But...

N-Gage is an FM radio.

Okay, it is a game device that is also a phone and it supports FM radio as well as MP3s. Did I mention that you'll be able to browse the Web with it, too?

Overall, the N-Gage looks like a thinner version of the original Game Boy Advanced. Unlike the Game BoyAdvance, the N-Gage can download applications. While it is a cartridge-based device, you are not restricted to just using the N-Gage cartridges. You also don't have to worry about cords and wires in order to play games against others. Rather, you can use the built-in Bluetooth or the mobile connection. Granted, you'll need a mobile plan just like you have with a regular cell phone.

The other difference—and the reason I believe this device is worth mentioning here—is that you can develop applications for the N-Gage. In my opinion, it is the fact that the N-Gage is open to your own applications that makes it a device with potential.

Developing Applications for the N-Gage

There are two types of development that can occur for an N-Gage machine—J2ME development and cartridge game development.If you want to develop a game or other application that can be downloaded, you'll want to use J2ME. The N-Gage supports J2ME by using Java MIDP. It is no surprise that the device also supports the Series 60 SDK and UI. Series 60 is one of Nokia's primariy development platforms for mobile and wireless devices. You can learn more about J2ME and MIDP by checking out C. Enrique Ortiz's article The J2ME Mobile Information Device Profile 2.0.

The second type of development results in solutions that are more visible. This is to create and release MultiMedia Cartridges (MMC) that are used with the N-Gage. As with other gaming systems, these are the game cartridges you buy and use with the system. These applications are created using C++ for the Symbian operating system.

In order to build the MMC cartridge solutions, you need to use the N-Gage SDK that builds on the Series 60 platform and SDK from Nokia. You have to use this SDK to create a program that is compatible with the N-Gage system. To get the N-Gage SDK, you have to be approved and authorized by Nokia. This is done to keep the quality of products being released at a high level. Nokia has stated on their site that they will consider games from anyone, provided you have either developed a commercially released game, or can show a demo of a game developed with Series 60 along with a company profile.

The Series 60 SDK (which the N-Gage SDK extends) can be freely downloaded from http://www.forum.nokia.com/main/1,6566,010_40,00.html.

It's Out There...

N-Gage released last night at midnight in the United States, so it is too early to know what success it will have. Nokia is a leader in the wireless/mobile market, so they have the power and money to push a device like this.

This is a version 1.0 product, so it is not without its problems. Early feedback indicates a number of minor issues such as hard-to-use keys and a hard-to-hear phone. Additionally, while it seems that it is being positioned as a gaming machine, with a price around $299 it is a bit pricey as far as gaming machines go. Because this is a new game platform, there are just a few games available—gems such as Tomb Raider, Super Monkey Ball, Puyo Pop, Sonic N, Puzzle Bobble VS, and Pandemonium. By Christmas there should be around 20 games available.

I expect new downloads for this device to appear faster than new game cartridges. Expected downloads include software to make the N-Gage a TV remote control as well as PDA software, Internet browsers, and more.

In Conclusion...

Is the world ready for a "do it all" device? Will gamers go for the mobile connection and the head-to-head gaming that it offers? Will the form factor work as a phone? Are the games going to be at a quality level where they will be worth their price? Is Nintendo going to sit back quietly while Nokia moves into the handheld game market? Will the airlines consider this a phone, and thus not let you play games on flights? Will schools consider this a PDA and thus let you play games during class? Will people stare at you funny when you are holding your gaming device up to your ear and talking to it? Will developers create applications for this platform?

There are a lot of questions, and the reviews on the N-Gage have been mixed. With it having been on the market for less than a day, it seems that only time will provide answers.

Specifications

  • High-performance mobile 3D gaming
  • Gaming-optimized design and functionality
  • Bluetooth wireless technology
  • Data support HSCSD, GPRS Multislot Class 6 (2+2, 3+1, class B)
  • Wireless phone-to-phone or phone-to-PC connectivity
  • Send/receive pictures, graphics, and business cards
  • SyncML
  • Digital music player and recorder
  • Stereo FM radio
  • Multimedia messaging (send, reply, forward, play audio, stop audio, insert multimedia content), enabling easy and more colorful messaging with compatible devices
  • Enhanced SMS support including: Multiple SMS sending, SMS concatenation, templates, smileys, and picture messages
  • Full e-mail support (IMAP4, POP3, SMTP, MIME2)
  • Content with XHTML browser
  • Tri-band EGSM 900/GSM1800/GSM 1900 phone
  • Series 60 UI enabling application multitasking
  • MP3, AAC, MIDI, and WAV ringing tones
  • High-speed data
    • HSCSD up to 43.2 kilobits
    • GPRS up to 40.2 kilobits (Class B, 3+1, 2+2)
  • XHTML browser
  • XHTML over GSM data, HSCSD, and GPRS
  • WAP over GPRS
  • Access current WAP services with the XHTML browser
  • Supports the standard Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME)
  • Phone memory—3.4 MB internal + external memory cards (32, 64, and 128 MB available separately)
  • Shared memory for images, contact data, calendar, messages, and add-on applications

  • Weight: 4.83 ounces
  • Dimensions: 5.26 x 2.74 x .80 inches

  • Operating System: Symbian OS with Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME.) support

* Some features are network dependent.

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