Mobile communications giant Nokia has taken the wraps off the new version of its N-Gage game platform, N-Gage QD, revealing a substantially redesigned and cheaper device which will begin appearing on retail shelves next month.
The Finnish company claims to have listened to criticisms levelled against the N-Gage by consumers and press alike, and N-Gage QD represents a major overhaul of the phone in terms of both looks and usability.
The new device is significantly smaller than the original N-Gage, albeit slightly thicker, and sports a rugged look - including a rubber ring to protect it from falling damage and tough flaps over the external ports - which not only makes it more solid, but should help it to appeal to its target audience of teenagers and young adults.
Crucially, the key design flaws of the original device have been fixed - gone is the much-maligned "sidetalking" placement of the speakers and microphone, replaced with a conventional positioning on the fascia of the phone, while games can now be hot swapped into an MMC card slot on the exterior of the phone without needing to remove the back.
The screen of the system is significantly brighter and clearer than the one used on the original N-Gage, and the D-pad controller has been made more comfortable to use in games. The N-Gage QD also sports changeable covers and keys, like many of the phones in Nokia's line-up which are aimed at the youth market.
However, on the inside of the device, the technology used is the same as the N-Gage - and Nokia is emphatic that this device does not represent "N-Gage 2", a term which it is saving for a generational leap forward to an entirely new platform which it already has on its roadmap for the future.
The new game deck is expected to retail at a lower price than its predecessor, and this time around Nokia is arranging a variety of official bundles with local mobile operators around the globe in order to avoid the confusion over pricing which reigned at the launch of the N-Gage.
N-Gage QD will retail at three distinct price points, with 199 Euro being the "bare bones" retail cost while official operator bundles will also exist at the 149 Euro and 99 Euro price points. It's also likely that operators will launch their own deals in individual territories, which may see the QD being priced down as low as being offered for free with selected operator contracts.
In order to hit those price points - which are extremely low for a Series 60 smartphone device - Nokia has removed a number of functions from the N-Gage QD, with the Finnish company explaining that its feedback suggested that users were more interested in a smaller, cheaper device than in the additional functionality of the original N-Gage.
Gone is the FM Radio tuner from the original deck, and MP3 music playback is also no longer offered by default. Gone also are certain smartphone applications which are provided as standard with other Series 60 phones. However, with the exception of the FM radio, Nokia points out that all of these functions can be replaced with easily downloadable Symbian OS applications.
Nokia will not be withdrawing the original N-Gage from the market with the launch of the QD (the acronym doesn't stand for anything, by the way - although a Nokia presentation about the device suggested the Latin "Quaeque Dies," meaning "Every Day," as one expansion of the letters, and we're sure that Internet wags will soon think of plenty more), preferring to see the new deck as an expansion of the N-Gage platform rather than a replacement for the original device - although it does anticipate that some retailers, particularly in the USA, may choose to carry only the QD.
As such, the company has also hinted that a number of other N-Gage decks with a varying types of non-games functionality and designs could be launched into the marketplace in the coming months or years, with each device providing a different way of accessing the N-Gage platform. However, no further plans to this effect were revealed in our conversations with Nokia executives regarding the new launch.
N-Gage QD will roll out worldwide during the month of May, although unlike its predecessor, it will not have a simultaneous worldwide launch date - with the new device simply arriving in retail locations as stock arrives, and being treated as a standard hardware launch rather than a game console debut.
On the site today, you can find our full hands-on impressions of the N-Gage QD, along with plenty of photographs of the device, while our sister site GamesIndustry.biz has also posted an interview with N-Gage head honcho Ilkka Raiskinen about the thinking behind the new system and the company's plans for the N-Gage platform going forward.