Overview: Nokia N-Gage on Ovi

What a strange trip it's been for the Nokia N-Gage. The N-Gage first launched as a game-playing smartphone, a large taco-shaped Symbian OS device that could also play MP3s and tune in FM radio (see left). Overly large, it was soon refined and relaunched as the N-Gage QD.

That didn't take off either, but the concept lived on. Nokia has adapted the N-Gage name for an online gaming community, a part of the company's Ovi suite of online tools. We previously checked out the Files on Ovi online storage service (see here).

N-Gage games currently work with nine Nseries Nokia phones, the N96, N95 8GB, N95, N85, N82, N81 8GB, N81, N79, and 5320 Xpress Music. A company representative told us that the company was working to add support for more phones, including the N73, N78, N93 and N93i.

The idea behind the current N-Gage service isn't just to bring a variety of games to Nokia customers, but to connect them in an online community. Players can enjoy the games by themselves, but can also connect with friends and keep an eye on their scores.

Nokia is building out the service slowly, perhaps too slowly. It launched in April, 2008, but only offers 20 titles so far. A representative told us that the company was launched new titles roughly every quarter, although there wasn't a fixed schedule. For a major effort like this, we'd expect a much larger library.

There's a nice variety to the game selection, though, so all players should find something they're interested in. There are a few major name titles, including the Sims 2, Star Wars, Tetris, and EA Sports FIFA. All games offer free trials, which is a nice perk for players (Hey, Apple, how about offering free trials in the App Store?).

Currently, games cost either $9.49 or $13.49 for purchase. There are no subscription fees, thankfully, and you can buy day or week passes, if you'd prefer.

We tested a few games on a Nokia N81 and found the experience mostly good. The screen feels small, but graphics were clear and bright. Buttons are customizable if the defaults are comfortable for you.

The only thing we disliked was the load time when starting a new game or when beginning a new scene. While only a few seconds, it broke up the action.

Nokia isn't just providing a community for N-Gage gamers; it's also actively creating community events. Look here to view an online calendar of gaming challenges.

Players can meet up online for contests, which is a great addition. News and blog postings online also keep players involved in the N-Gage world, letting them know what's coming up and what games are popular.

It's hard to say if this version of the N-Gage will succeed, but it already feels much better than the hybrid cell phone system. Games are easy to access and fun to play, and the pricing is fair. Community features keep the service feeling fresh and let players connect. While we'd like to see more titles available, we think this version will be around for a while.


Nokia, OVI, music, games, Storage