Flashback: Nokia’s other taco phones and their surprise connection with Jay-Z

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In a previous Flashback, we lamented that the Nokia N-Gage was ahead of its time and that all its potential was unfulfilled. It is now remembered only as a failure, which we think is a little harsh. But did you know that there was another phone with this design?

At least people remember N-Gage (for better or worse), but how many of you know that the Nokia 3300 existed? Well, there’s probably a good reason for that – it was just not a very good phone. But our story does not start here.

It starts in 2001 with the Nokia 5510. It’s hard to fault this phone for anything else, the centered screen and QWERTY keyboard in landscape made this a dream phone for heavy texts.

The on-screen and navigation keys appear to be lifted straight from the Nokia 3310. However, the shared keyboard is made for quick two-handed entry. However, there was a problem with this design. With all the space taken up by the keyboard, the earpiece had to be pushed into the corner.

This was not the most comfortable phone to use for voice calls (but then it was aimed at people who prefer to send text messages rather than make calls). And somehow it was still less awkward than N-Gage being nicknamed the “taco phone”.

In any case, the phone could play some games – it contained the 3310 classics, inclusive Snake II, Spatial impact and other. But this was not much of a game phone.

Flashback: Nokia's other taco phones, their surprising connection to Jay-Z and why they failed

The 5510 is remarkable for another reason, it was the first Nokia phone to play music. It had a 2.5mm headphone jack so you could listen to the tunes from the internal storage or the FM radio. There was even a built-in equalizer. Four buttons on the side allowed quick control of the music player, FM radio and volume.

However, it was not perfect as there was only 64 MB of storage space and no memory card space. You could not just throw some MP3s over a mini-USB cable and start rocking. No, you had to use the PC software that converted the audio to an encrypted .lse format. On the plus side, you could record songs from the radio.

This brings us to the Nokia 3300 from 2003. There were two versions where Europe and Asia received the 3300b variant. This one had a split QWERTY keyboard that flanked the screen in landscape orientation – it was a modernized version of the 5510. It contained a D-pad, which was also doubled as a playback control.

Flashback: Nokia's other taco phones, their surprising connection to Jay-Z and why they failed

The 3300b’s connection to music is even deeper. Nokia partnered with Jay-Z to create The Black Phone, named after The black album (which was marketed as Jay-Z’s last album before retirement). Of course, Black Phone came with the album that was preloaded on the MMC card encoded in MP3. There were also ringtones cut from the tracks. The phone sells for $ 300, here it is Billboardcover of the release (press to see more).

Billboard's 2003 article on Nokia's collaboration with Jay-Z

Billboard’s 2003 article on Nokia’s collaboration with Jay-Z

There was another version of the Nokia 3300 – the one for the US market, which was a kind of baby N-Gage. It had the same layout with a D-pad on the left and the keyboard on the right around the screen.

Flashback: Nokia's other taco phones, their surprising connection to Jay-Z and why they failed

However, the screen was smaller than N-Gage’s already small screen (also lower resolution): 1.7 “128 x 128 px vs. 2.1 ”176 x 208 px. Note that Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance had a 2.9 ”240 x 160 px screen and it only sold for $ 100.

The MMC card slot was a great addition as you could store a lot more music than was possible on the 5510. The new models could also play MP3 and AAC files directly. Another thing Nokia got right was to put the headphone jack, data and charging cables on top of the phone, which kept cables out of the way when holding the phone in the horizontal direction. Some (but not all) game phones today have similar placement for similar reasons, despite being separated by nearly two decades of technological development.

Flashback: Nokia's other taco phones, their surprising connection to Jay-Z and why they failed

Maybe you are still scratching your head and wondering why the Nokia 3300 failed. Well, we mentioned that N-Gage ran Symbian while the 3300 was a feature phone – the limited game choice for J2ME titles, which was simpler than their smartphone counterparts. Especially when Nokia tried to make N-Gage a gaming platform and actually tried to build a catalog of titles (which was out of reach for 3300).

A limited selection of non-impressive games is enough to kill any gaming platform. Not that N-Gage was an exciting success. To be fair, even Sony failed to compete with Nintendo in the portable gaming market – with Xperia Play and even with Vita. We’re guessing launching a portable console without Mario and Zelda games is a silly errand.

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