Nokia unveils new $99 N-Gage

N-Gage QD drops MP3, triband phone support in favor of a cheaper, more usable device.

Nokia has announced plans to deliver a redesigned version of its N-Gage gaming cell phone. The new model, the N-Gage QD, has been built to address many of the design problems that plagued the original release.

"There was some very specific feedback that got us focused on making changes to the device," Nada Usina told GameSpot today. Usina, general manager of entertainment & media, North & South America, said the new model "addresses some of the mental barriers" that impeded acceptance of the device among the core group of active gamers Nokia originally targeted.

N-Gage QD The first-generation N-Gage required you to remove the back cover and the battery simply to change a game. The QD streamlines this process by moving the MMC slot to the outside--sliding a game card into the slot will auto-launch the game. The D pad and buttons have been redesigned a bit, as well. The most noticeable control change is that the D pad no longer also functions as a button if you push it all the way in. That button has been moved to its own spot, directly to the right of the D pad.

The screen, while still vertically oriented, has a much cleaner look to it than the old N-Gage's screen, resulting in slightly sharper visuals. Finally, the QD's speaker and microphone are on the front of the unit instead of on the side, allowing phone users to speak into the device normally, as opposed to the classic N-Gage's side-talking configuration.

Usina warranted Nokia as having reacted "relatively quickly" to what was arguably uniform resistance to the original device. On the eve of the launch, Usina said that Nokia and the QD team were intent on making this upcoming launch more successful than last October's dismal first step into the core gaming marketplace. She said Nokia intended to "spend as much time as possible educating and being educated."

Usina declined to specify the extent of product and user testing that went in to the redesigned unit, nor would she comment on the costs allocated to such prerelease research, but she did admit that research was much more extensive than what went into the product's first launch. She added that the relaunch "had the highest level of management attention" among top-level Nokia staff.

We spent some time with the QD recently and found that it has a much more comfortable feel to it. The D pad and buttons generally feel more responsive, and the screen does indeed have a sharper look to it. The game cards slide right in, which is certainly nicer than having to field-strip the unit just to play a new game. Removing games requires you to dig your fingernail into a small notch on the side of the card and pull the game out.

The QD will even sport a longer battery life than the original phone, but these new features do come at a price. Support for MP3 playback and FM radio support have been removed from the QD. Additionally, the N-Gage QD isn't a triband phone like its predecessor, meaning that two versions of the unit will be released to work with the different GSM bands used throughout the world. On the upside, the unit is available at a lower price. When bundled with a service contract, the QD is expected to sell for $99. Without subsidy from a service provider, the phone will go for $199 (with the platform's Tony Hawk title bundled in at that price). Price of the unit remains low, says Usina, due to the higher ARPU (average revenue per unit) the device generates for carriers.

The N-Gage QD will come with a preinstalled application known as the N-Gage Arena, which will connect to a community-oriented area that will allow players to view rankings, communicate with other users, and participate in other N-Gage-related events. Usina said that of the 50 new titles due to retail this year, approximately three-quarters will be Arena compatible. "Mobile, connected, multiplayer gaming is key" to the N-Gage agenda, Usina emphasized.

The N-Gage QD will hit North American shelves in June. European, African, and Asia Pacific regions will see the phone arrive at retailers in May.

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