Nokia N-Gage – another “Handheld Hero”

I posted an image of this on my Dribble account the other day along with a similar bit of writing, but I thought I’d should really add a blog post about it here too as it’s one of my favourite devices, plus I’m trying to write a bit more frequently on my blog again.

The Nokia N-Gage is one of what I call the “Handheld Heroes”, these are 12 handheld devices that I consider to be icons of their time and are symbolic of a particular point of technological change in the last 30 – 40 years (ok, the pencil is quite a bit older than that ?). The N-Gage was released around 2003, so over 20 years old at the time of writing this(!).

The N-Gage was an amazing device and in many ways was ahead of its time. Long before Pokemon Go was a thing Nokia explored the idea of location-based / location-aware games, but mobile connectivity was very limited, very slow and very expensive at that time. I recall thinking about how amazing it would be to be able to walk around with a device and have a constant connection to the internet, but it was a long way off from the ubiquity of 4G / 5G today. So whilst there were a few location based games for the N-Gage this lack of affordable mobile data meant it had limited appeal.

Nokia Push was one of the coolest initiatives that they tried, basically there were two aspects, one for skateboarding and one for snowboarding. Both involved using sensors attached to the skateboard or snowboard and then tracking the telemetry such as rotations, flips, height, speed etc. For skateboarding the intention was that you could compete with someone in a different location in the world, both skaters could see from their phones which tricks the other had done:

Nokia Push skateboarding promo video

For snowboarding the intention was to track telemetry such as height, speed, rotations, impact etc:

Nokia Push snowboarding promo video

So the N-Gage wasn’t successful in location based gaming but it definitely had some of the seeds of what was yet to come, Nokia Push explored that even further. Yep, the N-Gage was a weird device to make calls on (especially the first version, see “Sidetalking!“), but talking was not what was really intended for, and I loved mine. What’s not to love about a phone that can play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater?


Almost exactly seven years ago, before the launch of Apple’s iPhone and the ubiquity of the App Store, Nokia launched the N-Gage. The N-Gage was a combination mobile phone and gaming device that was intended to take on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance.

The N-Gage (mk1 pictured below) was pretty much the first gaming phone and should really be considered a failed yet bold attempt to kick-start what is now a huge multi-billion dollar business globally. The N-Gage didn’t get the kind of success Nokia really hoped for despite the many millions invested in marketing. I actually liked this phone and did happily use it as both a phone and gaming device, although admittedly the main game I played was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater! Combining a gadget with skateboarding is a sure way to catch my eye.


The most obvious quirk of the phone’s design was that you had to hold the thin edge of it to your head to make calls, so it looked pretty comical! (Check out !) Nokia subsequently brought out the ‘N-Gage QD’ which removed the side-talking feature and added a backlight and made it a bit smaller, as well as putting the game card slot on the outside instead of inside behind the battery!

The demise of the N-Gage started back in 2005 when the N-Gage as a hardware device ceased production leaving only N-Gage as a software component on various Nokia devices. However, September last year marked the final nail in the coffin (N-Gage 2003-2009: An Obituary) of the N-Gage when it was finished off completely.

As quirky as it looked, I think the N-Gage was an interesting concept which was ahead of its time – location-based multi-player networked gaming via bluetooth or over the internet via mobile-phone networks? Back in 2003? Who would ever be able to afford the data fees that the carriers would have charged you back then?!! Nokia spent a lot of money trying to make it a success, but the timing just wasn’t right for a device with those capabilities.

Nokia are really up against the wall these days with Apple’s iOS platform and the Android platform pushing the bar in both hardware and software capabilities. Although I’m a hardcore iPhone user I used to be a very happy Nokia user, the Symbian S60 OS integrated pretty well with my Mac. Once I got an iPhone of course that all ended, but I’ve still enjoyed using my various Nokia handsets such as the N80 and N95.

Pushin’ the envelope

Nokia do seem to be trying to find their feet in this changing mobile device landscape, certainly the Nokia N8 device has some great features, especially the 12MP camera which seems to produce some pretty spectacular photography.

Innovation like Nokia’s Push project also seems to demonstrate some of the same pioneering spirit behind the N-Gage, breaking new ground by exploring the use of mobile devices as part of our physical activities – of particular interest to me are the skateboarding and snowboarding prototypes (as I said earlier, a sure way to get me interested is to combine gadgets with skateboarding!).

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of these initiatives (I’d like to get my hands on either the skate or snow prototypes to play around with them!). For now I’ll just end with saying farewell to the Nokia N-Gage!

How to make your Nokia N95 more like an iPhone

My recent switch to an iPhone after using a Nokia N95 for the last year and a half has been great, there’s a load of features on the iPhone that just make a load of sense.

I’d always been keen to try out the various apps available from the Nokia Labs website on my N95 so I thought I’d just do a quick post with links to apps that can make your N95 just a little bit more like an iPhone! These will also work on many other S60 Symbian OS Nokia phones and they are also free downloads from the Nokia Labs website!


SMS management on the iPhone is great as it gives you a view that’s similar to that found in an instant messaging app like iChat / MSN etc. It’s great as it allows you to see the messages in the form of a conversation. The Conversation app from Nokia allows to you something pretty similar.

Contacts on Ovi

This app mainly provides an Instant Messenger experience but also adds some cool features like status updates and location updates. If you’ve been envious of the Brightkite app for iPhone then this is something similar.

Friend View

If you need a bit of a Twitter fix (ok, I know that you can get actual Twitter apps for Symbian!) or want more of a Brightkite experience then Friend View offers location and micro-blogging service.

Nokia Audiobooks

The iPhone is, obviously, a great music player that will also play audiobooks with various controls. The N95 in comparison is an ok music player but isn’t up to playing audiobooks. However, Nokia Audiobooks fills that gap by allowing playback of highly efficient audiobooks by using tools like bookmarking and browsing chapters.

Set your camera to low quality and don’t record video

Ok, this last one is a joke. It’s true that in comparison to the N95 the iPhone camera is not great, it’s poor in low light and doesn’t support video recording at all. So if you want an authentic iPhone experience on your N95 change your picture settings on the N95 to their lowest and you’ll get something similar to the iPhone! (although probably still better!).

Free phones, now free computers, why not free TVs?

If you’re in the UK reading this then you’ve quite probably seen the TV adverts for PCWorld which offer Laptops for free (or a discount of £300 on other laptops) if you sign up for a 2 year Orange broadband contract.

I’d heard about Orange in France offering some kind of deal like this but it’s interesting to see it happening here now. The fact that they are doing this raises a few issues, or points of interest anyway.

PC’s are now a commodity

This is kind of a sweeping statement but mainly I mean that PCs, and laptops especially, have become much cheaper. To the point that they are cheap enough to offered for free upon signing up for a 2 year contract for internet access!

Mobile phones are already a commodity

That whole model is pretty familiar, sign up with any mobile phone company for 12 months, 18 months or even better 24 months and they’ll offer you an increasingly better range of free mobile phones to choose from. Interestingly though, a lot of these phones are worth a lot more than a £300 laptop!

Seeing the parallel between these two business models it’s making me wonder why the cable and satellite TV companies don’t do the same?

Calling Sky & Virgin, where’s my free HD TV?

In as much as phones and laptops have become something of a commodity High Definition HD TVs are quickly following suit. PC World list 26" HD Ready LCD TVs for about £350, if a TV costs only this much then why not offer a good deal on televisions when signing up for a contract with you local cable or satellite TV company?

The costs of all these products is fairly similar, I can’t see any reason why this couldn’t be done? One added benefit is that it would greatly increase the uptake in viewing HD television and help bring more momentum behind the HD format It’s really common to change mobile phones every year or so (at least on pay monthly contracts in the UK it is anyway!) and people often upgrade computers on average between 2 – 4 years of usage. But Televisions have always had a much longer shelf life, it’s not uncommon for people to have TVs that are at least 5 years old but possibly over 10 years old!

Many people’s timescale for buying a new TV will be several years away, but they will likely switch between cable or satellite TV providers several times within the lifetime of that TV, so why not offer free TVs in exchange for signing up for a fixed contract?

Well, I do have one reason why not…

Just to balance this whole argument I have one reason why this would be a bad thing, it’s basically why the frequent offering of free mobile phone and now free computers is a bad thing – the environmental impact.

I’ve written above that phones (and computers now) are a commodity, there’s something about that I don’t like. People’s attitudes towards technology increasingly becomes far more throw away. A recent upgrade for my mobile phone landed me a shiny new Nokia N95 for free in exchange for an 18 month contract, the reality is that this device sells on Amazon at the time of writing for about £450. There’s no way I would ever have spent that kind of money on a phone, despite how smart a gadget it is. It’s easy to see how the true cost of these devices is lost on people, they’re just seen as free phones1.

It’s a little bit of a scary thought to see computers go that way and perhaps be even worse to see TVs be viewed that way. The environmental impact could be pretty huge. Not that the impact of these devices isn’t huge already of course! I appreciate that this kind of technology fills landfills regardless but at least when you pay for something you are likely to value it more than if it is just given to you. Wow, that sounds like a life lesson a parent would teach their child!2


  1. This is a purposeful decision by Apple in regards to the cost of the iPhone, it is not sold as a subsidised device but rather at it’s full market cost. Apple products tend to buck the trend of being ‘commodity’ items but rather as desirable objects.
  2. Well, I am a parent and I will teach my child that lesson ;)

Nokia Media Transfer beta for OSX

I just came across a link in my feeds giving a heads up about a new OSX beta download from Nokia, it’s for an application called Nokia Media Transfer. At first I thought it would just be some badly ported software for Mac, but it’s actually pretty good. It manages the setup and control of audio & video media files from your phone.

The cool part is that it sets up your phone’s camera to be a source camera for iPhoto, Image capture etc. So no need to manually transfer and import the files, it will just sync up over bluetooth when you start iPhoto. It will also do the same with iTunes, syncing playlists etc.

I don’t use my phone for music but I do take a fair amount of photos with it so the iPhoto integration is pretty cool. There is also an application called Nokia Device Browser which can be used to browse the files and folders on your phone, it works much better than the default OSX bluetooth file browser, there’s a screen shot of device browser in action below.

Here’s a few screenshots of some of the screens involved:

Nokia Media Transfer application icon

Nokia Media Transfer application icon

Menubar options

Picture of Menu bar options

Expanded Menubar options

Expanded menubar options

Device settings for my Nokia N80

Picture of Device settings

iPhoto source menu showing N80

Picture of iPhoto source menu

Device Browser

Picture of Nokia Device Browser

All in all Nokia Media Transfer looks pretty good, it definitely isn’t just a piece of badly ported software. If Nokia can manage to make the software experience better then they will be going a long way to getting out of the trap that many hardware device manufacturers find themselves in, that of having great hardware but absolutely terrible software. Sony, I’m looking in your direction!

To use Nokia Media Transfer you will need Mac OS X 10.4.9 or higher, iTunes 7 or higher, and iPhoto 6 or higher.