Your Move: Nokia N-Gage

Jan 25, 2018

Smartphones are the most prolific gaming platform out there - while most people don’t buy their phone to play games on, it’s always an option - and there are games of all types available. This wasn’t true before 2007 or so, where your game options on your phone were generally limited to Snake, and, if you were lucky, Tetris. The Game Boy and other portable gaming systems have been around for years, too, but there was definitely some demand for a convergence between the devices.

The Nokia N-Gage was one of the first attempts at fusing the two products. It looked like a Game Boy Advance, with a direction pad to the left of the screen, and buttons to the right. But instead of the two buttons of the Game Boy, the N-Gage had a full 12-key number pad. And instead of a landscape-oriented display, the N-Gage’s screen was taller than it was wide, like other Nokia phones. The whole unit was a little smaller than a Game Boy Advance.

The N-Gage had features that wouldn’t be seen again for years, like online gaming over the cell network, and the ability to download games to internal memory. However, the system had some problems that made it awkward to use. For example, to change game cards, you had to remove the back plate and the battery, causing the system to power off. Talking on the taco-shaped phone was also awkward - the speaker and microphone were on the edge of the system, requiring you to hold the phone perpendicular to your ear.

Only 2 million of the phones were ever sold during its two years on the market, and many of those were sold at a steep discount from the original $300 MSRP. The system had several well reviewed games, but the market just wasn’t ready for something like this. Internet access on phones was expensive, slow, and relatively novel, and it would still be years until cell phones became as common as they are now.