Nokia wants to revolutionize electronic gaming with a handheld device called the N-Gage. It's the Swiss Army Knife of portable gadgetry, but it could also be the Edsel of the video-game industry.
The $299 gadget is a combination gaming deck and cell phone that includes MP3 playback and an FM radio. Wireless game play is the boldest feature, letting two players go head-to-head from any location. The gizmo is shaped like a taco and weighs about five ounces.
Right now, the N-Gage only works with wireless services that use the GSM standard, which dominates Europe but is less popular in the United States. But T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless have agreed to offer the N-Gage in America. Its biggest competitor is Nintendo's Game Boy brand, which has cornered the gaming market on handhelds for years.
So far American gamer response has been lukewarm, blaming an awkward design that makes the gaming/phone combination difficult. Another problem is that users must remove the battery when changing game cartridges. The biggest issue may be money. N-Gage's $299 suggested retail price is three times that of Nintendo's GameCube, a full-size console that plugs into a TV.
The N-Gage may be a step ahead of its time. The idea of combining numerous gadgets into one is attractive, and if Nokia can't make the concept work, someone else probably will.