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Nokia nails N-Gage to its perch

Remake, remodel

Nokia has vowed to give the Norwegian Blue of its phone portfolio - the N-Gage console - a fresh lick of paint.

"We're looking at new colours, a new look and feel for the QD in the next few months," said Gerard Wiener at the Games Developer Conference, we learn from Tech Digest. Whether that's enough to resuscitate its fortunes is a moot point. Even John Kerry has had a higher profile Stateside in recent months.

In January, a Nokia spokesperson denied reports that the N-Gage was being axed, claiming that "It's not going anywhere." Which is about right, but probably not what he wanted to say.

Last year Nokia executives said they would give the N-Gage 18 months to prove itself. But in the hugely competitive games hardware business, where deep pockets are needed, that might not be long enough. Microsoft's Xbox was launched in 2001 but the division responsible for it is expected to turn consistent profits in 2007.

Sony's dazzling PSP, reviewed here, promises to put more clear blue water between the high and low ends of the competing consoles. The PSP-1000 boasts a much more powerful gaming engine, a better screen (480 x 272 pixels) and Wi-Fi. It has more than enough processing power to do email and web browsing, features expected but not currently supported. And at 260g it isn't seriously heavier than Nokia's intriguing but underpowered media phone, the 189g 7710. And what can you do with WiFi? Make phone calls, after a fashion.

It is possible that Wiener's comments this week are a sophisticated feint. Nokia cut features, and the price, when it revamped the console last year, and his comments suggest that Nokia sees the N-Gage rooted firmly at the low-end of the market. Perhaps Nokia has decided that $250 games phones won't be able to compete with Sony's $350 console. Or perhaps it just wants us, and the competitors, to think so too.

Nokia has consistently preached that it's all about the games, not the device - but breakthrough devices provide the basis for breakthrough games. ®

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