The SunHerald put up an article on Nokia's attempt to provide a portable gaming system. While the idea behind the system isn't that bad, its technical realization contains a number of flaws the author points out.
Inside the N-Gage is a slot for an SIM card, a tiny memory chip that authorizes a network connection and establishes the phone number. SIM cards work with the GSM network popular in Europe, now being adopted in the United States by AT&T Wireless, Cingular and T-Mobile. But the other three national wireless companies -- Nextel, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless -- use different, incompatible technologies. For marketing and technical reasons, Nokia is unlikely to ever make a version of the N-Gage for the other networks.Other aspects such as the radio receiver, the memory cards as well as the device design and service costs are being covered, too.
And I tend to agree with a number of them. The N-Gage tries to be gaming handheld, MP3 player as well as cell-phone/organizer. And the advantage of 'allrounder devices' usually also happens to be their disadvantage as 'everything' will not be provided the way specialized devices do it. The GBA hardware is inferior compared to Nokia's system, but its software library is and will always be vastly superior. Not to mention the rather confusing button design of the N-Gage. As for MP3 players, there's quite a number available that are cheaper, smaller and/or have a better capacity. And the N-Gage really isn't a beauty compared to other cell-phones. But it'll guarantee funny looks from other people when you're trying to make a phone call since it - as the article perfectly describes it - appears "like a slice of pizza sticking out of head." Might sound entertaining, but isn't very comfortable.
Now there certainly is a market for the N-Gage. But it's more limited than one might think. The mobile phone boom we've witnessed in the past years has notably slowed down. When it comes to the price ($299) people are quick to point out that it will be cheaper if you get it through one of the carriers. Which is true, but how attractive does signing a contract look if you want a gaming handheld? That's what the N-Gage is marketed as. Also, many users already own a mobile phone and have some sort of contract going. Nokia has to rely on them being willing to switch contracts or purchasing the N-Gage as part of internal deals as usually offered after 2 years over here. I personally think that if you're only keen on two of the three major functions the N-Gage tries to provide you're better of getting two separate devices. If you really want a need an all-in-one device it might be worth a look, but you'll have to tolerate the flaws and limitations it has.
To describe the effect it can have on casual gamers I'll close with a small story: As you may remember I attended the Games Convention about a month ago. People lined up in front of the truck Nokia had set up to advertise their system. My friends and me decided to return later as we didn't want to wait. When we came back a few hours later there weren't any people except the booth staff and we had plenty of time to toy around with the handhelds. My friends, who tend to be more interested in mobile phones (and the like) than I am, hadn't had their hands on the N-Gage before whereas I had the chance to check it out months earlier. After playing Tomb Raider and Tony Hawk among other games and trying out the menu options and navigation they just looked at me and shrugged. "Okay. And that's what people lined up for?"