Nokia's first attempt at a games-centric phone, the original N-Gage, was, to put it kindly, something of a mis-step. Phone users were either befuddled or outright annoyed at the side-talking phone method it employed, and gamers were left indifferent owing to a less than stellar games lineup and an extremely cumbersome games replacement feature. The N-Gage QD is Nokia's second generation of N-Gage phones, and while it fixes many of the inherent design flaws of the original model, it's still not an immediate attention grabbing unit.
The N-Gage QD is a much smaller phone (118 x 68 x 22 mm, 143g) than its predecessor, and in most respects, that's a good thing. It'll slip into pockets and purses much more easily than the older N-Gage did, and those who prefer a phone will smaller keys will find the layout easier to use. The reverse is also true; if you hate phones with tiny buttons the N-Gage QD isn't for you. The QD boasts a 'tick' key that replaces the need to click in the main selection rocker on the original model - anyone upgrading from an N-Gage will find this a tad confusing at first, but it's definitely preferable in actual operation. While the existing limits of how the original N-Gage was designed have clearly limited the number of changes Nokia could make to the QD - they couldn't add gaming-related features that the older unit wouldn't support - the majority of the design flaws in the original deck have been cleared up in the QD. Gone is the sideways facing earpiece that necessitated placing the N-Gage on the side of your head like a massive single Spock ear; its replacement sits on the face of the unit so that you talk into it more like a normal phone.
Gone also is the grievous design flaw that saw the need for gamers to remove the back casing and battery in order to change games - a slot on the bottom of the QD takes care of inserting games, although you'll still need to go through the battery-change routine if you want to change your SIM card. The screen is a tad brighter -- Nokia claims twenty percent brighter, although we didn't spot that much of a difference in actual use.
In comparison to the original N-Gage, the N-Gage QD is, in some respects, something of a lightweight - and we're not just talking about its smaller physical frame. Gone are the facilities to play MP3 files or listen to FM radio - although at least in the case of MP3 playback, that's something you could replicate with any number of S60-compliant software players.
In all other phone-related aspects, the QD is mostly functionally identical to its predecessor - MMS, Bluetooth and GPRS capable, and, as a phone running the Symbian 60 operating system, compatible with any suitable software for that platform. The only thing that's gone in a phone sense is tri-band GSM support -- the model sold in the Australian market will work here and in most European states, but not in the US. At the time of launch, Nokia was bundling one game title, The Sims: Busting Out, with the N-Gage QD.
As a phone, the N-Gage QD is adequate, but hardly exciting. It's certainly a massive improvement over the original in terms of call clarity, although we did find the headset speaker to be a little soft in some conversations. The smaller dialling buttons will suit some fingers and not others - as always, it's a good idea to take a quick test drive dialling in a store before making a purchase decision.
One area where the QD that we tested did excel, comparatively speaking, was battery life. Nokia rates it for 5 hours talktime and up to 11 days on standby. We managed around four days on a moderate usage pattern during our testing period. That isn't spectacular, but is much, much better than the average of two days (or less!) we got with the original N-Gage unit.
As a games device, much of what was true about the original N-Gage still stands true with the QD. There's nothing yet commercially available to match it in real processing and visual power, although that's a slender margin, with both Nintendo and Sony promising handheld games decks (albeit not phone-compatible ones) in the next six to twelve months.
The N-Gage-specific game library is still on the small side, and there's only a few real standout titles - one of which comes bundled with the unit itself. The controller and buttons are reasonably well spaced and fairly comfortable to use for small gaming sessions, but in a sense it's a pity that Nokia couldn't abandon existing N-Gage units and design the QD around a horizontal, not vertical screen; it's a definite limiting factor in the way that games are designed and thus ultimately played.
The N-Gage QD is a definite design improvement over the original N-Gage, and as such if the flaws in the original design were all that was keeping you from buying one, then Nokia's done the right thing. Having said that, there's still work to do - especially in quickly getting together a really compelling games library - before the N-Gage QD becomes a compelling buy for most consumers.
Nokia N-Gage QD
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