Nokia3So I got this box in the mail that said N-GAGE on it. But the cell phone inside didn’t look like a taco. I was confused. I tried talking into the side of the slider — it worked just like a cell phone should. What''s this N-GAGE moniker for? Turns out, N-Gage is no longer the name of a specific phone—it’s a platform, meaning that in order to wear the storied (er, buried?) badge a handset must meet certain performance criteria when it comes to mobile gaming. And the phone in question, Nokia’s N81 8GB, is the first so-branded model to be released in the US. This handset has a 3D graphics accelerator, super-bright 16-million-color screen, and physical controls geared toward gaming. There are buttons on opposite ends of the device, mimicking the feel you get when you pick up say, an Xbox 360 controller. In the software department, the N81 runs the graying S60 operating system, and comes with a suite of demo games that cost about $10 to activate. Really? Come on guys, the new N-GAGE is supposed to keep us engaged not enraged.  —Joe Brown

3G and Wi-Fi, which should be standard on every phone, thank you very much. Gaming controls work as advertised, with nary a mis-pressed button in several straphanger gaming sessions. 8 gigs is, like, plenty of memory. Sleek design and excellent build quality. Unlocked. Autofocus-free 2-megapizzle camera is paparazzi-fast.

Paparazzi-fast camera seems like it’s trying especially hard not to focus. Fancy piano-black screen is the opposite of antireflective. Topside button is built around the speaker, and squeaks if you move the phone around during a conversation (= always). Flat, nearly featureless keypad is impossible to use without looking down. Yo Nokia, why can’t you include at least one free game with my $630 phone? And where the @#$! is Snakes?! $629, (story Link)

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