Understanding the N-Gage
By Carlo Longino, Tue Oct 07 19:30:00 GMT 2003

Well, it's here. Nokia's hype machine has been on overdrive lately, culminating in today's launch of the N-Gage mobile gaming deck. Most reviews have already pronounced the device DOA -- but are they missing the point?

Review after review has trashed the N-Gage -- the most common complaint being the ridiculous amount of effort it takes to change game cards, and other criticism levelled at its keypad, the games themselves, the screen orientation, its price, and certainly the fact that you look like you're holding a taco up to your head when you use it as a phone.

The thing is, most of these reviews and complaints are generally right. It's been said several times about the N-Gage that it suffers from Swiss Army syndrome -- it's a jack of all trades and master of none, and that's pretty spot-on. But in the grand scheme of things, the N-Gage's myriad flaws and shortcomings aren't important. What's important is that the N-Gage is a paradigm-buster.

The N-Gage brings mobile multi-player gaming to the masses in a big way. Sure, I could play Battleship with somebody over Bluetooth on my T68 a year or more ago, but the N-Gage and its Arena service make interactive mobile gaming -- something we've been promised by carriers and handset makers for a long time -- a reality.

Like many reviewers, I can't shake the feeling that the N-Gage is closer to a beta or proto device than a finished product. And that's fine. I think Nokia realizes they can't stand still with this device for long, lest forthcoming versions of the GameBoy and PlayStation Portable-- which are what the N-Gage will be judged against and sold alongside -- eat their lunch. But the simple fact that the N-Gage creates an interactive mobile gaming landscape (and market) is what's important.

The N-Gage may (and does) have its flaws, but to get stuck on those is to miss the forest for the trees.