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Nokia revamps its mobile game player

Taking a second stab at the portable gaming market, Nokia on Wednesday launched a stripped-down, cheaper version of its N-Gage player.
The new QD version of Nokia's N-Gage focuses on gaming and phone calls, losing the MP3 player and USB port.
The new QD version of Nokia's N-Gage focuses on gaming and phone calls, losing the MP3 player and USB port.Nokia via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nokia Corp. unveiled a stripped-down, cheaper version of its N-Gage on Wednesday that eschews value-added features in favor of basic functions -- gaming and telephony.

The hope is that that new N-Gage will improve on the disappointing sales of the original model, which was launched five months ago amid heavy hype only to encounter a litany of complaints.

Gamers largely dismissed the original for its large size, small screen and impractical way of loading games.

The world's No. 1 cell phone company sees its target market for the new N-Gage as "people who are active, are out there and want to play games," Ilkka Raiskinen, Nokia's senior vice president of games, told The Associated Press.

Raiskinen said that while the original N-Gage was priced at $299 in the United States the new model, dubbed the QD by Nokia, will retail there for $199 -- with lower prices when combined with a mobile provider's service.

Major changes include the way games are loaded. The first version required the battery to be removed and a multimedia card installed. Now, the card is hot swappable and game play can start at the touch of a button. The MP3 player is also history.

So is the USB port. Instead, Nokia will rely on Bluetooth wireless technology to connect to a computer.

"I don't agree with what they've done in stripping out the MP3 and the USB connectivity," said Ewan Spence, who co-owns the All About N-Gage Web site.

The QD does retain its gaming mission, though, increasing the number of colors on its screen to more than 65,000 from the 4,096 of the original and increasing the battery life to a full 10 hours of playing time, or weeks of standby.

Raiskinen said several games are being developed for the new device, and most will be compatible with both the original N-Gage and the QD version.

Spence said the more games available, the better.

"Most of the N-Gage gamers will have already played the original version of Tony Hawk to death," he said. "If you're going for a gaming machine, you need games." The original N-Gage has more than 10 games already available, with more coming. Another 50 are in development for QD and most will be compatible between the two devices.

Sales of the first N-Gage reached 600,000 worldwide from October to January, but that was boosted by subsidized packages offered by some telecoms.

In December, the device's popularity was questioned after Arcadia Research, an independent marketing research firm, claimed only 5,000 units were sold in the United States. Nokia reported shipping 400,000 to U.S. retailers.

In January, chief executive Jorma Ollila conceded that sales had not met expectations. The company won't offer projected sales figures for the new N-Gage.

The QD will be released in Europe, Africa and Asia in May, and a month later in North and South America.

Analysts say the new N-Gage's success is not an important financial issue for Nokia but a question of credibility for the Finland-based company -- an opportunity to show off its technical and marketing competence.

"Looking at the new N-Gage, it probably has what it takes to become a hit -- if they put the right price tag on it," said analyst Jussi Hyoty of FIM Securities in Helsinki.

"Nokia has always been strong in the lower segment of the product range, and the new N-Gage seems to be moving in that direction," Hyoty said.

As a phone, the QD is dual band and uses the GSM standard, unlike the N-Gage, which was a tri-band phone. The phone, which is 20 percent smaller, has also been reoriented. The original N-Gage's speaker and microphone placement were criticized as awkward.

In a nod to Smartphone technology, the QD runs on the Nokia Series 60 operating system, a variant of Symbian, of which Nokia is a majority stakeholder. The phone boasts a Web browser and e-mail and can be upgraded with Series 60 applications.