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Wednesday June 22, 2005 1:33 am

New N-Gage QD Accessories En Route

N-Gage QD AccessoriesDespite being pilloried in both the press and gaming communities, the Nokia N-Gage QD is a great (and most importantly, cheap) smartphone.  At E3, Nokia unveiled some accessories that look to improve the platform, including the problem of having a smartphone platform where the expandable storage and game cards use the same slot.  These new add-ons are all due in the second half of the year.

Unfortunately, each accessory has some strange drawback or flaw, and perhaps shows that the N-Gage just isn’t fully up to the task of being what Nokia envisions the platform as.  Let’s take a look at what they’ve come up with.

DescriptionFirst up, Nokia is launching a external speaker add-on, so that you can actually hear the games that you’re playing on that tiny screen.  It uses a AAA battery for power, so there is no risk of draining your cell phone battery, but the speaker will only last for about 10 hours.  It has an external volume control wheel, so you’ll be able to amplify the sound separately from the volume control on the phone itself.

I’m not entirely sure why anyone would want to use an external speaker with the N-Gage, since the included headset would do the same job without the cost of a battery, unless it were as a speakerphone.  You’re certainly not going to show off the awesome sound of the N-Gage QD while playing a game like Splinter Cell which no one else will be able to see clearly, even if looking directly over your shoulder.

DescriptionNext, Nokia is launching not one, but two new headsets.  One is a wired version, and other than the larger earpieces, it’s uncertain what would be gained by using these instead of the earbuds already packaged with the N-Gage QD, but it’s possible that they’re more comfortable.

The other headset is a strange little Bluetooth version, which gives you the option of using either one earpiece or two (by connecting a cable between the two earpieces).  Both headsets are mono-only, a disappointing limitation of the N-Gage QD hardware.  The wireless headset supports Bluetooth 1.2 (both Headset and Handsfree profiles) and will give the user six hours of talk/gaming time (up to 140 hours standby).

DescriptionEasily the best and slickest new accessory is the MMC Expander.  Finally, you can have two MMC cards loaded at the same time, though a “backpack” that replaces the battery cover of the QD and slips into the existing MMC slot.  The MMC Expander is see-through, so you can see which games or MMC cards you have loaded.

This could have been a major upgrade for the QD, finally allowing people to use a large MMC card for storing messages, photos, and high-quality ringtones, as well as keeping a slot free for games.  However, the MMC Expander forces the user to choose which card is active, through a switch on the unit, likely due to a limitation of either the hardware, or the Series 60 OS.  This makes using two cards at the same time impossible, so you’ll still have to load any data that you need to use regularly onto the QD’s meager internal memory.  Still, this could be a bit of a time saver, as well as saving some wear and tear on the fragile MMC slot.

Nokia has other accessories coming as well, including a slick little low-profile aluminum MMC card holder, similar to a business card case.  Other accessories are simply redundant (like the carrying case or key strap), or worthless, like the case designed to hold your N-Gage games in the same ridiculously large cases they came in.  That’s right, a case to hold the cases that hold your games.

Nokia is clearly trying to continuously update and improve their gaming platform with new features, and for that they should be commended, but they fall just a bit short on each well-intentioned effort.  I suspect that there is a dangerous amount of groupthink happening at Nokia, since they appear to be oblivious to the suggestions and standard features that people expect from a gaming device.

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