Four gaming phones that failed spectacularly

By Andrew Moore-Crispin

Gaming phones that failed

Gaming on your phone. Chances are good you do it today. Maybe you’ve even checked out our piece on the Best Bluetooth gamepads for mobile gaming and can see yourself using one of those to scratch your mobile gaming itch.

Phones today are capable of pushing some pretty impressive pixels when it comes to gaming. The App Store and Google Play Store are replete with great games to play. Plenty of not so great games too, but let’s not spend too many characters talking about those.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time, not all that long ago, when gaming on a cell phone was a new and ambitious idea.

Ironically, any reasonably equipped smartphone is capable of giving you a better gaming experience than just about any of the dedicated gaming phones we’re about to discuss.

Without further ado: Four gaming-focused phones that we really hope you didn’t spend your hard-earned money on.


N-Gage by Nokia

Launched: October 2003
Re-launched: April 2004
Price at launch: $299

When you talk about spectacular gaming phone flops, there are those that fell flatter… but none more publicly than the N-Gage. The orignal N-Gage was an ergonomic abomination. The bizarre placement of the earpiece and mic gave rise to the side-talking taco meme of old. We’re not even going to talk about the fact that you had to take the battery out to put in a game card… much more than we just did.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. The N-Gage QD was worlds better than the original N-Gage but it was still wanting. Besides which, the damage was done.

Still, the QD was a rugged little handset. You had to unmount games in a sub-menu before you could remove them from the system but the battery stayed welcomely in place. In the time before smartphones, the N-Gage QD’s multitasking ability was impressive.

A lackluster game lineup and never quite knowing where it fit put paid to the N-Gage and, it seems, to Nokia’s gaming aspirations.

It bears mentioning, I used to have one of these and I liked it OK. As a phone. That I didn’t pay for.

Gizmondo by Tiger Telematics

Launched: March 2005
Price at launch: $399 (without “smart ads”) $229 with

Not a phone in the strictest sense, but it had a GSM radio and aspirations for making online mobile gaming a thing. Gizmondo was an idea before its time… albeit not a great one.

With a processor, graphics chipset and other specs that were well ahead of anything else in the market, Gizmondo showed great promise. The gaming press had high hopes (spoken as a recovering member of the gaming press) but a series of unfortunate events lead Gizmondo to an early grave.

For one, they spent money like it was going out of style, throwing glitzy parties and sponsoring sporting events before they had a product in channel to sell. They made the classic tech mistake of announcing the second generation before they’d begun selling the first. There was also the whole awkward thing where a key exec, Stefan Eriksson got himself in a little trouble with the law… not to mention the Swedish mafia.

Xperia PLAY by Sony Ericsson

Launched: March 2011
Price at launch: $599

Today, PlayStation clearly knows what gamers want. It wasn’t always this way. To whit: The ill-fated Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY gaming smartphone. An Android-powered phone with a flip-out gamepad featuring two analog touchpads and its own PlayStation store for games.

There were some decent game offerings and the phone itself was as fine as any Android 2.3 handset of the day. The real killer was two-fold. First, people were expecting the rumored PlayStation phone and didn’t get it. Second, while there were some good game offerings in the launch lineup, there was an effort to please everyone; the PlayStation store was available on a number of phones and as such, many games weren’t optimized for the Xperia Play’s killer feature: the well-appointed slide-out controller.

As these things go, the PLAY is probably the least faileriffic of this particular roundup of gaming phones. Still, with all the hype, the phone-buying public was reasonable in its expectation of a PSP mashed together with a phone. Instead, they got a phone with a gamepad attached.

They did release this drawn out, disturbing commercial, though. Which we’d count as a win.

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LG SV360 by LG

Launched: 2005
Price at launch: Not launched in North America

The LG SV360 laid claim to the 360 moniker well before Xbox hit the scene… or it tried to at least.

The phone opened up clamshell style to reveal a directional button, four game-specific buttons and a wide array of other buttons, including a number pad and a top row of hotkeys. Not confusing in the least.

It was made in a partnership between LG and graphics chipset maker ATI. With buzz words like 3D gaming, a million polygons a second, 3D acceleration, a gyroscopic controller (before they were cool), it looked sort of promising on paper.

Super catchy product name aside, a dearth of games and that whole never really being released in North America thing killed the LG SV360 before we even had a chance to see it on this side of the pond.

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