Posted Feb. 23, 2005 by Lisa Gade, Editor
When is a mobile phone not just a mobile
phone? When it's the Nokia N-Gage QD "Game Deck". Sure,
mobile phones can be smart, offering some of the same features
found on PDAs. They can all play games, but the ergonomics aren't
up to snuff for an hour of action-riddled fun. The N-Gage QD
aims to change that, with a design befitting a handheld game
console that somehow manages to work well as a phone.
While the original N-Gage (no QD at the
end of its name) acquired a collection of descriptive phrases
such as the taco and side
to its ungainly design and oddly mounted speaker and mic
which required you to hold it on end to talk, the QD is a new
that the innards have changed much, but the exterior has been
completely redesigned. The QD is smaller, looks slick, works
well for gaming and phoning and best of all: you hold it normally,
flat against your ear and face to have a conversation.
Besides its impressive gaming capabilities, perhaps
the most attractive thing about the N-Gage QD is its price. Symbian
Series 60 GSM phones are generally pricey, but the N-Gage QD is
a wildly affordable Series 60 beast with Bluetooth. What is Symbian
Series 60? The Symbian operating system is the most widely used
cell phone OS. Series 60 is at the high end of the Symbian OS lineup,
offering several PDA-like features, an expansion slot for memory,
and the ability to install add-on programs of all sorts (there
are more than a thousand available). Such power comes at a price,
and Series 60 Nokia phones generally cost between $300 to $500
US. The QD sells in the US for somewhere between free and $149
with activation and an unlocked version for use with any GSM carrier
sells for $199 (no contract commitment required).
Not bad! Of course, the N-Gage targets kids who
love gaming along with adults. That means the device had to be
relatively inexpensive. To keep costs down, Nokia didn't load this
with some of the features you'll find on their more expensive Series
60 phones such as the
Nokia 7610 or 6620. The QD has only
a 4,096 color display rather than the usual high end 65,000 color
display (though games look very good), it lacks a camera and there
is no cable syncing option and no IR port, so you'll need to suffer
through Bluetooth syncing if you need to get your Outlook data
onto the phone. If you can live without those features, are on
a budget, or best of all are a hardcore gamer who doesn't want
to carry two devices or be seen with a Nintendo
the commuter train, read on.
The QD looks like no other cell phone. That's a good
thing, since the device doubles as a handheld game deck. Not a flip,
not a candy bar, not even a taco; the QD fits well in the hand for use
as a phone but has an overall design reminiscent of a game controller.
The excellent 5-way directional pad lives on the left and the number
pad (also used in gaming) is to the right of the color display. It feels
great in the hand when gaming and the controls work perfectly. The d-pad
supports diagonals and the domed number keys work well for gaming and
dialing. The 5 and 7 keys have a different look and an added bubble-shaped
dome on top making them easy to locate since they're used most often
The call send and end buttons
flank the lower left and right sides of the front face,
and the standard Nokia Series 60 application launch pad and "pencil" (turns
on/off predictive text, changes to numeric input/text/symbols)
buttons are there along with an action button located just below
and to the right of the d-pad. The number pad's standard layout
makes dialing and SMS-ing simple, and the keys are backlit. The
headset jack and charger port are located on the top edge under
a rubber flap, and the MMC card slot is located under a flap on
the bottom edge of the phone. That's right: unlike the original
N-Gage, the QD has a hot-swappable slot on the side rather than
placing the MMC slot under the battery. That means you need not
power down the phone to switch cards or games (games are sold on
MMC cards). The earpiece speaker is located on the front face in
the top right corner and the mic is located on the opposite end,
so you can hold the phone normally in conversation. The speaker
for system sounds, gaming and speakerphone is located on the bottom
edge so it won't accidentally deafen you when holding the phone
to your head.
The battery lives under a large door on the back
of the phone, and the SIM slot is located under the battery as with
most phones. The power button is on the right side under the rubberized
surround that wraps the around the sides for a good grip. You do
have to press the power button with some force due to the stiffness
of the rubber surround. The phone can accept interchangeable face
plates and the rubber grip is replaceable. Overall, it looks and
feels solid and well made. Our unit has withstood months of gaming
use and the buttons haven't lost their firmness or masking, and the
casing is still in great shape.
While the QD is larger than today's "micro" phone
offerings, it is not overly large and fits into pocket or purse.
The QD is as small as possible without compromising gaming ergonomics.
Above: the N-Gage QD and the original N-Gage.
Phone Features, Reception and Data
The N-Gage QD is a GSM device with GPRS for data. It
comes in two flavors: an 850/1900MHz version for the US and a 900/1800MHz
version for Europe and Asia. If you need a quad band world phone that
works anywhere in the world GSM is available, look elsewhere. If you're
not an overseas traveler, read on. GSM service in the US is offered
by T-Mobile, Cingular and AT&T Wireless, all of whom offer the N-Gage
QD at attractive new activation pricing. If you prefer, you can buy the
unlocked version of the QD for use with any GSM carrier, no contract
required. Just pop in your SIM and start gaming and calling. There is
no CDMA version of the N-Gage, which means it is not offered by Sprint
and Verizon, the two largest US CDMA network carriers.
The QD has all the features you've come to expect on
a quality Nokia phone such as call logging, last number redial, speakerphone,
call mute, speed dialing up to 8 numbers, voice dialing up to 25 numbers
and support for conference calling. When in a call you can adjust call
volume by pressing the d-pad left and right. Volume and mic sensitivity
through the built-in mic and earpiece are good. The same can be said
of the included dual mono earbud headset (unlike the original N-Gage,
the QD doesn't have stereo output) and call quality through a variety
of popular Bluetooth headsets.
If you're gaming when a call comes in, the QD gracefully notifies you
of the call and allows you to answer without any fuss, muss or crashing.
As with most current Nokia phones, reception is very
good and near the top of the pack, beating out many other brands and
bested only by the Nokia 7610 and palmOne Treo
650. Voice quality has been good, even in low signal areas. Incoming
voices were sharp and clear by cell phone standards and our call recipients
said we sounded great.
For data, the QD has GPRS class 6. That's not going
to excite any data-happy geek, as class 6 is slower than the now more
commonly used class 10 (the fastest standard GPRS implementation) and
the phone lacks EDGE. Class 6 should give you about 37kbps, while class
10 averages 45 - 53 kbps and EDGE averages 100kbps. The good news is
that connections are reliable with the N-Gage and it's very easy to use
as a Bluetooth cellular modem with a PDA or notebook (commonly called
DUN or dial up networking). Given the display size and rendering abilities
of mobile phones, class 6 is more than adequate for browsing the web,
though a faster data connection would improve the multi-player gaming
experience. Speaking of browsers, Nokia includes their own XHTML web
browser which supports WAP and HTML sites. In addition, you get a mail
application that supports IMAP4,
POP3 and SMTP.
When it comes to gaming, the N-Gage QD
is truly a rare breed. The combination of a great game deck design,
top tier AAA tiles and multiplayer capabilities over GPRS makes
this device unique and appealing to gamers who are serious about
gaming on their cell phones. You won't find this combination
of features on any PDA, not even the Tapwave
Zodiac which lacks GPRS and a wide selection of top titles.
Even handheld gaming consoles such as the Nintendo
DS and the upcoming Sony PSP (due out late March in the US)
and Gizmondo (US release in Q1) can't compete on all fronts.
To further differentiate the QD from the pack, Nokia hosts the
N-Gage Arena where players can download game demos, play massive
multiplayer games, participate in competitions and more.
No gaming device can survive without a solid game library
and Nokia has built and continues to build an impressive line
of games that will attract not only casual gamers but serious
gamers too. Aside from the usual mobile gaming titles such
as Snakes and Bomberman, you'll find very attractive ports
and original games that can't be found on other handheld gaming
devices. Sports games fans will find Madden, Tiger Woods, FIFA
and SSX titles. First and third person shooters can get their
fix on Pathway to Glory, Call of Duty and even Splinter Cell
Chaos Theory. And let's not forget RPG fans who will drool
over The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey, X-Men Legends and
the first mobile MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing
game) Pocket Kingdom. All games on the N-Gage are designed
for you to play for ten minutes or the entire day depending
on your schedule, true to the mobile purpose; and most support
multiplayer over Bluetooth.
Sims screen shot
The games' mobile implementations work well and are well-mated
to the N-Gage's controls. The game designs and ports have
more streamlined sequences or story lines, suitable for the handheld
portable gaming experience. In Ashen, a first person shooter game,
you will explore 8 long levels with various types of terrain and
hunt down monsters. The sequence is straightforward: explore the
level, kill all monsters and get out. The movement and controls are
easy even without the traditional shoulder buttons. Picking up weapons
and shooting at enemies are equally effortless. The game has amazing
audio that could startle you when a monster catches you
by surprise hiding in an alcove or coming around the corner. It doesn't
have as many types of weapons as you will find in Unreal Tournament,
but with 4 multiplayer maps and a good number of weapons you'll feel
the same adrenalin rush in death match and team death match
The streamlined game design also works in more complex games such
as The Sims Bustin' Out. The N-Gage version of the Sims changes the
focus of the game from free play to goal/quest oriented play. You
will unlock items by completing goals given to you by Sims and move
into bigger and bigger houses along the way. The game adds more depth
to the main quest by packing in a
good number of mini games where you can become the most successful
Sim. The number pad on the QD gives the Sims game plenty of control
options and it doesn't have much of a learning curve before you get
helplessly addicted. The multiplayer game allows you to trade or
sell rare items through daily live auctions. There are many, many
more titles, so check out a few more for yourself if you get a QD!
Games are sold in many retail stores on MMC cards and average $29
to $35, and both the original N-Gage and the N-Gage QD can play the
Display, Sound and Multimedia
The 2.2" 176 x 208 pixel 4,096 color backlit
display may not be the best on the block but it manages to look
darned good when playing games. It has good color saturation,
brightness and contrast. It's not the ideal unit for photo viewing
given the lack of color depth, but then the QD lacks a camera
Sound through the speaker is of good quality
and can get plenty loud-- certainly great for gaming. Unfortunately
it is a mono device (the original N-Gage was stereo) and it has
no FM radio capability. While the QD can play MP3s, you won't
be using it as an iPod replacement since it lacks stereo output.
Hence the unit ships with a dual mono earbud headset and there
is no stereo headset option. The QD supports MIDI and WAV ringtones
but not MP3 ringtones.
The QD ships with the 1070 mA Nokia BL-6C Lithium
Ion rechargeable battery and Nokia's standard compact world charger.
That's a high capacity battery and the N-Gage has excellent battery
life. When not gaming and talking on the phone for 45 minutes/day
with Bluetooth turned on, the device lasts 5 days on a charge.
Gaming reduces battery life and you'll get approximately 4 hours
of pure gaming on a charge.
The QD has integrated Bluetooth 1.1 class B.
You can use Bluetooth for multiplayer gaming, sending and receiving
files (OBEX profile), syncing (serial port profile) and headsets
(hands free profile). Like most Nokia phones, the N-Gage's Bluetooth
was solid and easy to use. We used it as a wireless modem over
Bluetooth with a variety of PDAs and a notebook, exchanged files
and contact records with desktops and PDAs and used it with several
of the Bluetooth headsets reviewed on
our site. The QD worked well with all the headsets we tested,
offering easy pairing, reliable connections, good audio quality,
volume and range. Syncing to Outlook using PC Suite over Bluetooth
is a challenge so be prepared to spend some time getting that
connection working. Also be sure to get the latest version of
PC Suite available for the N-Gage, as each new version offers
improvements in ease of use and reliability.
The device runs Symbian Series 60, 6.0 version
1. Like all Series 60 phones, it comes with a generous helping
of useful applications for PIM data, and apps such as a video player,
image viewer, calculator, clock, voice recorder, ringtone composer,
unit converter, screen shot, web browser and email client.
For PIM apps, the
QD has Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and a Notes
app too. The Contacts application has fields for first name,
last name, company, address, telephone (home and work), web site,
email address, mobile phone number (home and work), fax (home
and work), pager, job title, notes, birthday and more . The Calendar
has day, week and month views, and you can specify the default
view and the starting day of the week. Of course it has alarms
and you can create new entries categorized as Meeting, Memo or
Anniversary. Calendar supports repeating events: weekly, bi-weekly,
monthly and yearly. To-do is a task management app that supports
priorities and Notes is a note taking application. All of these
sync to Outlook on the desktop using PC Suite on the desktop.
Mac owners can give iSync a try.
If you're a gamer, this is an excellent device.
There's a good selection of high quality titles and the device
has great gaming ergonomics. It works well as a phone and is the
most affordable current Symbian Series 60 smartphone.
Pro: Great for gaming and
there's an excellent selection of titles. It's sturdy and will
withstand plenty of gaming action. The device is attractive and
portable. Strong compliment of mobile phone features and works
well as a phone overall. A very affordable Series 60 device that
works with the wealth of Series 60 freeware and shareware on
the market. Bluetooth is reliable. Though only 4,096 colors,
the display looks great when gaming. MMC slot is hot swappable
and easily accessible (no need to pull the battery out). Very
good battery life when used as a phone and organizer, respectable
life when gaming.
Con: No cabled sync port
for those who don't want to tackle Bluetooth syncing to the desktop
for PIM data. Mono rather than stereo output. GPRS class 6 is
not very fast by today's standards and likely hinders more bandwidth
intensive multi-player game features. Speed dial only holds 8
Price: $199 for the unlocked
version for use with any carrier. Carrier subsidized versions
available from T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless and Cingular for $149
and often much less (free!) with new activation.
color backlit LCD. 12 bit color, 4,096 colors. 176
x 208 pixel display, 2.2" diagonal.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
1070 mA Nokia BL-6C.
Series 60 OS, 6.0 version 1. 104MHz ARM 9 processor,
3.4 megs internal memory. Expandable via MMC cards.
x 2.68 x .87 inches. Weight: 5 oz.
in speaker, mic and 2.5mm headset
jack.Audio is mono,
and the phone will output dual mono with Nokia's
headset. Supports Midi and WAV ringtones. Supports
voice dialing and has speakerphone.
850/1900MZ (US model), 900/1800 (Asia, Europe). GPRS
class 6 (2+2, 3+1, class B).
Series 60 OS, 6.0 version 1. Messaging (mail client
for POP, IMAP and SMTP, MMS, SMS and threaded IM),
web browser (WAP and xHTML), Contacts, Calendar,
Notes, To-do, ringtone composer (midi), video player,
calculator, clock, voice recorder, screen shot, image
viewer, Converter (unit conversion), Profiles, Game
Manager, call log, app manager, N-Gage Arena (multiplayer
online gaming over GPRS).
MMC slot accepts MMC cards only (not SD). Card is