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Top N-Gage power user tips
(updated Mar 2005)

Before we get started, note that this is not the place for game tips - if you bought your N-Gage for playing plug-in (MMC) games, go try one of the dozens of sites dedicated to gaming.

"Top N-Gage power user tips" is for anyone thinking of migrating to the N-Gage with a view to using it as their main communicator and entertainment device.

N-Gage!

At first glance, the Nokia N-Gage has an awful lot going for it:

  • Cheap to buy (£140 SIM-free, or free with many contracts) and tough as nuts (no delicate touch-screen needed)
  • A very good hardware MP3/AAC (iTunes-compatible) music player
  • A FM radio
  • Digital sound recording (AAC format) from radio, microphone or a plugged-in external source, comes with all cables needed
  • USB 'Mass storage device' interface with PC. Read/write to the MMC card directly from Windows, no need for Bluetoothing stuff over or messing around with a card reader/writer
  • Looks good and feels more like a palmtop than a phone. And the D-pad is really good, as you'd expect from a device partly aimed at gamers
  • Full Symbian OS multi-tasking, works even better than UIQ smartphones in this respect, as apps stay put, even when in the background

This being a fairly cheap Series 60 unit, there have to be a few disadvantages as well. Here are the main ones:

  • The screen's pretty small, just 176 by 208 pixels, which restricts what can be done
  • The built-in applications are cut-down, compared to equivalents on Symbian UIQ or Palm OS. And there are no Office applications, and you can't even go third-party because Quickoffice Premier is too large to install using the temporary space in the 4MB internal flash disk (though see below for a workaround)
  • There's no infrared port, it's Bluetooth all the way
  • With no touch-screen, input is limited to traditional phone keypad input, T9 on the same keys or via a Bluetooth wireless keyboard
  • The hardware MP3 player locks out the rest of the MMC while actually playing, limiting the applications you can use while listening
  • The stereo music hardware isn't accessible to third party applications, so OggPlay (for one) is restricted to mono
  • Unlike most contemporary phones, there's no digital camera
  • Extracting the MMC means powering off and removing the battery first
  • By default, you have to hold the N-Gage on its side when using it as a phone, which looks a bit wierd, should you care about such things

A pretty even pair of lists, making the N-Gage very much a personal choice, only you can decide which features are/aren't needed. But, assuming you decide to go ahead and make the N-Gage your main communicator, the following power user tips may help:

  1. N-Gage with Bluetooth keyboardTreat Yourself
    If you're in any way serious about using an N-Gage (or any other Symbian smartphone) as a business and productivity tool, treat yourself to a Bluetooth keyboard. The ThinkOutside one works a treat and will see you typing at up to 60 words per minute on your N-Gage. Go on, you know you want to...
  2. Think large
    Ignore what it says in the manual about being limited to MMC expansion cards of only 128MB. The N-Gage works happily with 256MB and 512MB cards as well! Buy the biggest you can afford, as always, to fit on a reasonable supply of music, apps and video clips. If possible, format these on the N-Gage itself ('Tools | Memory'), to avoid problems. In terms of music, don't get too carried away, as Music Player takes (roughly) one second to start up for every three tracks you add to its playlist. A good compromise is to stick to 50 or so audio tracks, filling the rest of the card with video clips, applications and games
  3. RepliGoOffice on the move
    If you simply want to take Office documents with you for reference, including all original formatting, use the shareware RepliGo. Highly recommended.
  4. The poor man's word processor
    Perhaps you need to enter lots of text, jotting down ideas or perhaps (with the aid of a plug-in or Bluetooth keyboard)? You can't use Quickoffice Premier because it's apparently not compatible with Series 60 v1.x smartphones 8-(. Don't despair though, see my article on using the poor man's word processor.
  5. Pump up the volume
    At first glance, it seems as though you always have to listen to the FM radio using the headset, which functions as the aerial. But leave this attached (preferably stretched out for best reception) and use the option 'Activate loudspeaker' and you'll be able to listen to the N-Gage as a normal ambient radio.
  6. Hurrah for mini-USB
    Note that the wired link to your PC is a bog-standard mini-USB cable, so you'll almost certainly be able to use this with other devices in your home. Note that when connected to (mounted on) the PC, the MMC is effectively invisible to the N-Gage itself. Just in case you were wondering where all your files had gone...
  7. FExplorerMust-have managers
    The two utilities every computer user needs are a system task manager (i.e. what's running) and a file manager. The first is easy: just press and hold the 'Applications' button (for more control, grab DevMan). For a file manager, run, don't walk, and download FExplorer.
  8. Notes and look-ups
    What about reference material? You can't sync Outlook notes over to any Series 80 or Series 60 device, so what's the best approach? Mobipocket Reader is one good solution, being free and supporting both compressed hypertext files (which you can build yourself from Word, text or HTML sources) and plain text. For example, my Trivopaedia works well in this format.
  9. Screenshots 'r' us
    Unusually for a handheld computer, there's a built-in screen shot utility, you can find it by default in the 'Media' folder.
  10. Rear-talk!
    If you do a lot of talking on the N-Gage and feel very silly 'side-talking', why not use the unit in 'loudspeaker' mode instead? Or use the supplied wired headset, both options which let you look up stuff on the screen at the same time. Or, if you're not too worried about increased radiation to your head, you could follow AAS's exampleand drill a few selective holes in the plastic case, to get 'rear-talking'?
  11. Services in action on the mobile webThe mobile Web
    Don't worry, the browser built into Series 60, rather misleadingly called 'Services', will handle simple HTML sites, but you have to restrict yourself to mobile-friendly pages. Start your browsing journey at the 3-Lib web guide and all should go well.
  12. Rock or classical?
    Did you know that the hardware music player has its own graphic equaliser? Go to 'Settings' and you'll see 'Sound style' with a range of presets, plus 'Extra bass'. Very useful.
  13. AAC? iPod? - no problem
    While on the subject of digital music, there's really no point in duplicating your hard disk collection in a new format. If you're an iPod/iTunes fan, all your files will be in AAC format. No problem, just drag them onto the MMC. The hardware music player can handle these just as well as MP3. Note that the AAC format is 25% more efficient than MP3, so if you haven't ripped your CDs with CDex yet, get hold of the Psytel AAC encoder, which plugs into CDex nicely.
  14. Steer clear of MP4, OK for DVD
    When preparing video clips for playback on the N-Gage, make sure to use the standard H.263 codec and not a variant of MPEG-4 (as used in some other parts of the Symbian world). If you're not sure, simply stick to using the free Nokia Multimedia Converter 2.0. And if your video source is a DVD rather than a home-brewed AVI or MPEG, use DVD-to-Mobile, whose Series 60 version is quite excellent.
  15. Icons missing?
    One common quirk of the N-Gage is that, after exiting the Music Player, all your applications on card are suddenly missing from the Menu screen. This is simply a bug in the Menu task itself and the fastest way to bring everything back is to switch to DevMan and kill the current Menu task - a new one automatically gets created when you next press the Menu button.
  16. Keep it secret!
    For secret stuff, you can use ZipMan to incorporate an encrypted document system that's also compatible with your desktop PC. For example, keep that confidential spreadsheet or Word file of passwords safely hidden from prying eyes. Simply put your secret file(s) in an encrypted ZIP file ('compressed folder' in Windows XP speak) and then keep this in your Messaging Inbox on the device. Open it up when needed, to read its contents!
  17. Speed launching applications
    On any Menu (applications) screen, you can press any of the numeric keys to instantly launch the application or shortcut in the corresponding position on the 3 by 3 icon grid displayed. For example, pressing '7' actions whatever's in the bottom left grid slot. (This only works for the first nine icons in any Menu screen)
  18. Super-speed dialling
    On the telephony side, did you know that you can speed dial up to nine contacts, each with a single key press? To set this up, go into 'Tools | Settings | Call' and activate Speed Dialling. Next, assign your nine contacts in 'Tools | Speed Dial'. You're done!
    Press the red Hangup button to get back to standby mode and then you can press and hold any of the nine keypad buttons to speed dial the appropriate number.
  19. Customising the Menu screenThe ones you love the most
    If you get fed up scrolling down the Menu screen lookng for your favourite applications again, why not shuffle things round so that the apps you use the most are clustered right at the top? Highlight an icon and use 'Move', and you'll find you can re-insert it anywhere in the list. If you have lots of favourites, make the most of the folder system (e.g. 'Games') and then put these folders near the top of the list, for speedy access.
  20. Faster numbers
    Whether it's entering a PIN number into a security app or entering a phone number, it's right pain to have to multi-tap each number key to get past the assigned letters and onto the numbers. Much easier is to hold down a number key for half a second or so - you'll find the right number is entered directly.
  21. Oh yes...
    and there are of course lots of pre-packaged and generic games for the N-Gage. The pre-packaged ones require you to power the N-Gage down in order to swap expansion cards, which is a real pain. Anyway, there are oodles of good Series 60 games available for download, just install them to a corner of your expansion card in the usual Symbian way. Have fun!
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