30 Minutes with the N-Gage QDAll About N-Gage attended the Press Launch of the N-Gage QD on April 14th in London. Here's what we thought.
It's a phone.
After all of Nokia's mass marketing of the N-Gage and trying to make it out to be a brand new device class, and refusing to acknowledge that it was purely a console, or purely a phone (like the 6600), the design of the N-Gage QD gives the game away. It's quite clearly a phone.
Or maybe Nokia, now they've seen how vicious the Gaming Market is, have decided that they want to play in the 'top-spec phone' market, rather than be the third major player in Console Wars 2004-05? After all, the things that have been dropped from the N-Gage to the N-Gage QD were all costly, and I can see quite a bit of savings there. More on this from Jim shortly.
But fair play to Nokia - the N-Gage Classic isn't being dropped, it'll be in the same retail channels as the N-Gage QD. It's going to be up to you if you want the lean mean gaming machine (The QD) , or the closest thing to a perfect Series 60 Smartphone (the classic). Which explains why there are no changes in the tech specs - both phones have to be 100% compatible with each other. So N-Gage Classic users can relax, your not going to be left out in the cold.
We don't have to side talk anymore!!! Really it looks like they've shifted the speaker holes from the top to the front of the unit as it can be held like a regular phone. Didn't Rael of Mobile Whack suggest this as a DIY in October? We've also got the hot swapping MMC feature - which Nokia implemented on the Nokia 9210 about 3 years ago. So we've caught up a bit. There's also a mystery 'Game Manager' application for memory management - this allows you to clear saved statistics of games from a central points, apply 'hacks' to the games and load up new levels that you've downloaded from the N-Gage Arena. So it's a nice wrapper over a File Manger - we wouldn't want to scare people by saying "go to c:\System\Apps\Ashen\SaveGame would we? Naw, let's get a cuddly icon to do it for them." Very nice. I hope they let regular developers have the specs on interfacing with this.
More to the point what hasn't changed? The Operating System for one. It's still the venerable Symbian OS 6.1, we've not updated to 7.0s (which the 6600 and 7610 runs). I think this is for two reason. Firstly to ensure 100% compatibility with the existing N-Gage machines. There are quite a few N-Gage users out there who seem to think they should get an upgrade route to this new device, when in fact it is essentially the same device with some different cosmetics. Secondly, the MIDP 2.0 implementation, while designed for gaming, is not 100% stable on Nokia phones, and 1.1 is a known quantity. The last thing they need is Java games failing on the gaming handsets.
Memory wise there's no difference from the N-Gage. We still have 4mb for storage (3.4mb in use) and 16mb runtime memory. Screen wise there's no difference, it's still 12 bit 4096 colours. But the display is 'brighter' and 'optimised.' So that's alright then.
In some cases, the QD could be seen as a downgrade. There's no USB - having the N-Gage appear as a seperate Hard Drive on my PC is a wonderful tool, for both the Developer and the Power User. Of course it was only there to transfer MP3's, and as you don't have an MP3 player any more...
That's right, no MP3 player. No FM Radio either (how can I listen to Terry Wogan on Radio 2 with the N-Gage QD? I can't). Perhaps Nokia think the only way pirate software can be copied onto an N-Gage MMC Card is through the USB socket? Have they never heard of MMC Readers for PC's? Leaving only Bluetooth for Connectivity through the Nokia PC Suite (the update of the horror that was Psi Win). Which is good for small files, but not 2 megabyte ebooks
I'm Not Being Fair...
...because the N-Gage QD is actually a pretty good phone. It's fair to say I'm a power-power user of the N-Gage, and the main things I use it for have been removed from the QD. So what we have is a smaller N-Gage, which is lovely to hold, has a nice clear screen, which feels like it means business. So read the above with a a careful eye on that fact.
There's a big foucs now on the Nokia N-Gage Arena, a back end server for forums, chat, game notes, meeting people, and destroying them in electronic combat. The N-Gage QD has the new Arena Interface app built in, and existing N-Gage Classic users can download this in May. We'll look at the Arena functionality in another article, but in short, it looks sweet. It's almost as good as the All About N-Gage Mobile site (http://www.allaboutngage.com/mobile/)
Read the specs carefully. That 8-Way Rocker Controller is a standard D-Pad. But it's only a 4 way D-Pad, the 8-way is something that authors need to write so they can see UP and LEFT as a diagonal keypress. Sneaky Nokia. I'm not sure if I like what they've done to the 'OK' click when you push in the controller. Because it's not there any more. It's a seperate key (the tick) under the D-Pad. Given that no other Series 60 device has this, I immediately don't like this. Not sure if it will grow on me or not.
Other than that, the buttons give more feedback, and although it's a smaller device, it doesn't feel as cramped as the 6600. Which is a good thing. I've not had a long gaming session with it, that comes later with the promised review units in a few weeks.
In short, Nokia fixed what was wrong with the original N-Gage (yaay!) and have built the N-Gage QD to ensure it is a cheaper unit to buy (which was something that was wrong with the first N-Gage in any case). For existing N-Gage users, theres no need to upgrade. You get all the games, and all the new Arena functions when the QD debuts in the shops (it's expected mid May).
For new users it's a bit more tricky. The N-Gage Classic is going to be in the bargain bin shortly for around £100-£150. Which is probably what the subsidised price of N-Gage QD will be. So you get to choose one feature set or the others. Personally I'd stick with the classic, but there are a lot of people who'll happily lap up the sleek QD.
I think it's a thumbs up from All About N-Gage here - not an emphatic Justin Hawkins Rock and Roll thumbs up, more a "Go on my son, thanks for listening to us all." But a thumbs up none the less. The N-Gage Brand is looking healthy from this viewpoint.
And QD is a silly name. Might have well called it Bob, oh no, I think that name's been used before...
Published by Ewan Spence at 11:28 UTC, August 12th