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Nokia debuts revamped N-Gage game player

Phone giant offers an updated version of its ill-starred game player, as Sony and market leader Nintendo prep new devices.

Mobile phone giant Nokia on Tuesday released the first major update of the N-Gage, the company's ill-starred entry into the portable video game market. Nokia's N-Gage QD

As previously reported, the N-Gage QD, available now at major retailers, addresses some of the most glaring design complaints surrounding the original N-Gage. The new model is held flat to serve as a cell phone, as opposed to the awkward "sidetalking" design of the original. And game cartridges can now be swapped out without removing the battery.

Price was another limiting factor for the original N-Gage, which debuted at $300 but was quickly dropped to $200. The QD will sell for $99 with a service contract from a participating carrier. Subsidizing hardware costs is a typical practice in the cell phone industry but one Nokia avoided with the original N-Gage.

Nokia introduced the N-Gage last year in a high-profile bid to grab a chunk of the booming portable game market. The company has declined to reveal sales figures for the device, but executives have acknowledged that results have been at the low end of expectations.

The QD is Nokia's last chance to get it right before the handheld game market undergoes a major change with new devices from Sony and market leader Nintendo.

Sony plans to enter the market late this year with the PlayStation Portable (PSP), a combination game and multimedia device that will sport a high-resolution screen and a new optical media format.

Sony plans to introduce the PSP in Japan late this year and in North America a few months later, though analysts recently have questioned the company's ability to deliver on schedule.

P.J. McNealy, an analyst at American Technology Research, said in a recent research note that major game and content publishers have yet to receive software development kits (SDKs) that will allow them to create content for the PSP. If partners don't receive SDKs soon, the PSP launch may have to be delayed or accompanied by an embarrassing dearth of content, he wrote. "We believe there may be internal issues for Sony with the PSP that are not only technical but also business model-related," he wrote.

Nintendo, which dominates the handheld game market with its Game Boy line, meanwhile is looking to extend its lead with the DS, a high-end player that will include dual screens and wireless capabilities. Nintendo plans to launch the DS late this year in both Japan and North America.