Nokia N Gage |The Taco Phone

In October of 2003

Well, at least one of them did. Hello folks! This is the Nokia N Gage, better known as the Taco phone as it resembles with Taco and it's one of the most iconic misfires in mobile technology. This is The News Factory’s first tech review. Looking back on this crazy phone with 17 years of hindsight, it's easy to wonder what Nokia was thinking. But this wasn't just a flight of fancy from a no-name company, it was a calculated attack by the world's leading mobile phone manufacturer against the world's leading portable gaming company. 

Nokia built the N-Gage to steal mobile gaming share from Nintendo's Game Boy Advance.

And while the idea of combining gaming and cellphones was a good one, it was also ahead of its time. 


First, while I've always thought the N-Gage was pretty good-looking, its Frankensteinian roots as a gaming deck built by a phone company are evident. The portrait-style display stuck in the middle of a landscape-oriented device, the mushy numeric keyboard that tried to double as a gaming keypad just doesn't quite work. Games built for the N-Gage shipped on MMC cards and you had to open the whole phone up to switch titles, including removing the battery. 

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In one of the funniest reviews I've ever read, Fortune compared the process to field stripping a rifle at night while blindfolded. The N-Gage was also expensive at about 300 bucks, three times the Game Boy Advance's price at the time. Meanwhile, it was lighter and cheaper-feeling in the hand than most Nokia's of the era. 

And, yeah, the edge-mounted earpiece and microphone meant that to use it as a phone. In a day when vastly more people talked than texted, it was only a matter of time before the Taco Phone nickname was born.

Nokia estimated it would sell six million of these by the end of 2004, but it only managed to ship one million to retailers in that time. Despite later spawning a successor and then transforming into a game platform that ran on many Nokia phones, N-Gage was a failure. But in the weird world of nostalgia, failure often carries a peculiar kind of luster.

N Gage in 2020?

Using it in 2020 is delightfully strange. As mushy as the keypad is, it's not bad for texting. Once I got over the weird sensation of using a numeric pad on a landscape device, I was pretty speedy. Oh, and as a button nerd, I love those dedicated function keys for menu, MP3 player, and FM radio. Some useful features are also hiding within the Symbian 6 software, like a unit converter, a screenshot function, and an app that lets you compose your own ringtones, at your own risk. And you know, for all the flak that controls get, I found the keypad pretty easy to get used to.

Nokia N-Gage Games

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This game is called Operation Shadow, one of 58 titles eventually released for the N-Gage, the graphics aren't bad. And the N-Gage offered multiplayer via Bluetooth as well, so if somebody else had an N-Gage, you could play with them from across the room. Most other handhelds at the time required you to use a cable. The N-Gage is a monument to a time when phone makers were more intrepid and a crazy new design seemed to come out of Nokia every week. And it wasn't just about aesthetics. This was also an era when phones were sprouting more and more features.


The N-Gage was

  • A Mobile Phone
  • Gaming Deck
  • Personal Organizer
  • Media player
  • Browser all in one.

Today, that describes almost every mobile phone, but 17 years ago, cramming all that into one device was something only a few companies were doing and none of them did it with the brazen boldness that Nokia did. Thanks for memories, N-Gage. You just showed up too early to the party. 

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