Wordle Comes To The Nokia N-Gage Thanks To New SDK

You probably never imagined you’d be reading about new software getting developed for Nokia’s infamous N-Gage handheld game system in 2022, and we certainly never thought we’d be writing about it. But here we are. Of course, we aren’t talking about a commercial title — this is an unofficial port of Wordle by “taco phone” superfan [Michael Fitzmayer].

[Michael] tells us that this first version is pretty simplistic, and currently uses a single word list with all 2,309 terms in the New York Times version. Translations to Finnish, Russian, and German are in the works, though interestingly it looks like the effort is currently stymied by the fact that the code doesn’t support words with hyphens in them; meaning it’s possible to find yourself in an unwinnable situation if you’re playing in Russian. We’re sure that’s just a coincidence and not meant as any kind of political commentary, but still…you can’t make this stuff up.

In Soviet Russia, N-Gage plays you!

So how does one go about developing a new game for a failed console from the early 2000s? The answer is by using the modern N-Gage SDK that’s is currently in development, which lets you write code for the system using popular tools and libraries like Visual Studio 2022, CMake, and SDL. But [Michael] isn’t just a user of this new SDK, he’s also the brains behind the operation.

The hope is this new development platform will lead to something of a renaissance for the maligned device, and he’s even started a Discord server to discuss the past, future, and present of sidetalkin’. If you’re surprised to find yourself looking up what a used N-Gage goes for on eBay these days, join the club.

An Up-To-Date Development Environment For The Nokia N-Gage

One of the brave but unsuccessful plays from Nokia during their glory years was the N-Gage, an attempt to merge a Symbian smartphone and a handheld game console. It may not have managed to dethrone the Game Boy Advance but it still has a band of enthusiasts, and among them is [Michael Fitzmayer] who has produced a CMake-based toolchain for the original Symbian SDK. This is intended to ease development on the devices by making them more accessible to the tools of the 2020s, and may serve to bring a new generation of applications to those old Nokias still lying forgotten in dusty drawers.

In much of the public imagination, the invention of the smartphone came with the release of the first Apple iPhone in 2007. Hackaday readers will of course trace the smartphone back much further than that to an original IBM prototype, and will remind any doubters that the Nokias which the iPhone vanquished were very successful smartphones without any of Cupertino’s magic in sight. Nokia’s tragedy was that they appeared not to understand what they had in Symbian, and released a bewildering array of devices intended to satisfy every possible market without recognizing that the market they needed to serve was their customers being easily able to run the apps of their choice on the things.

Symbian itself has long ago become a piece of abandonware, but during its chequered history there was a period in which an open-source version was released. It would be nice to think that projects such as this one might revive interest in this capable yet forgotten operating system, as with the passage of a decade the cost of hardware which might run it has fallen to the point of affordability. Does anyone want to relive the 2000s?

Header image: Evan-Amos, Public domain.

First Hacks: The Brand New Nokia 5G Gateway Router

Aside from being the focus of a series of bizarre conspiracy theories, 5G cellular networks offer the promise of ultra-fast Internet access anywhere within their range. To that end there are a new breed of devices designed to provide home broadband using 5G as a backhaul. It’s one of these, a Nokia Fastmile, that [Eddie Zhang] received, and he’s found it to be an interesting teardown and investigation. Spoiler: it runs Android and has exploitable bugs.

A privilege escalation bug in the web administration tool led to gaining the ability to export and modify configuration files, but sadly though a telnet prompt can be opened it’s not much use without the password. Uncovering some blocked-off ports on the base of the unit revealed a USB-C port, which was found to connect to an Android device. Via ADB a shell could be opened on Android, but on further  investigation it was found that the Fastmile is not a single device but two separate ones. Inside is a PCB with an Android 5G phone to handle the connection, and another with a completely separate home router.

With access to the Android side and a login prompt on the router side that was as far as he was prepared to go without risking bricking his Fastmile. It only remained to do a teardown, which reveals the separate PCBs with their own heatsinks, and an impressive antenna array. Perhaps these devices will in time become as ubiquitous as old routers, and we’ll see them fully laid bare.

It’s a shame that we’ve had to write more about the conspiracy theories surrounding 5G than real 5G devices, but maybe we’ll see more teardowns like this one to make up for it.

A Nokia 5110 playing a game

Firmware Modding Your Vintage Nokia Handset

These days we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to smartphone software, especially games. Official repositories for the leading handsets feature hundreds of thousands of games, and sideloading adds infinite possibilities. If you were lucky enough to be sporting a Nokia handset in the late 1990s, you probably had all of three games to choose from (and only one that was actually fun). [Janus Cycle] explores the steps needed to firmware mod your vintage Nokia phone, and how to expand on that paltry games library.

Enthusiasts have been modding their Nokia handsets since the 2000s, and the tools required now are the same as they were then. The Nokia 5110 and 6110 (as featured in the video below) use a proprietary cable and connector for communicating with PCs and other devices. Nokia’s official serial cable already opens up many possibilities for handset tinkering, including access to RAM and toggling Monitor Mode. This cable interfaces solely with the phone’s fast FBUS protocol, however firmware flashing takes place using the slower MBUS protocol over a single wire bi-directional pin.

The handset expects both serial ports to be available during firmware flashing. [Janus Cycle] demonstrates how to build a custom harness that connects both serial ports to a PC parallel port. At this point the flashing process is relatively straightforward, especially if you have an appropriately vintage computer to run the old flashing software.

Nokia owners may fondly remember changing the network name on the home screen to all sorts of inappropriate graphics, yet far more was possible with the right technology and know-how. It’s interesting to think about what may have been if softmodding was more widespread during the reign of the Nokia 5110 and its peers.

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LoRa Messenger In Nokia’s Shell

The arrival of LoRa a few years ago gave us at last an accessible licence-free UHF communication protocol with significant range. It’s closed-source, but there are plenty of modules available so it’s found its way into a variety of projects in our community over the years. Among them we’ve seen a few messaging devices, but none quite so slick as [Trevor Attema]’s converted Nokia E63 BlackBerry-like smartphone. The original motherboard with its cellphone radio and Symbian-running processor have been tossed aside, and in its place is a new motherboard that hooks into the Nokia LCD, keypad, backlighting and speaker. To all intents and purposes from the outside it’s a Nokia phone, but one that has been expertly repurposed as a messenger.

On the PCB alongside a LoRa module is an STM32H7 microcontroller and an ATECC608 secure authentication chip for encrypted messages. It’s designed to form a mesh network, further extending the range across which a group can operate.

We like this project for the quality of the work, but we especially like it for the way it uses the Nokia’s components. We’ve asked in the past why people aren’t hacking smartphones, but maybe we’re asking the wrong question. If the smartphone as a unit isn’t useful, then how about its case, components, and form factor? Perhaps a black-brick Android phone will yield little, but the previous generation such as this Nokia use parts that are easy to interface with and well understood. Let’s hope it encourages more experimentation.

Fix Your Nokia’s White Screen Of Death

Today the Nokia brand can be found on a range of well-screwed-together Androind phones and a few feature phones, but as older readers will remember that before their descent into corporate chaos and the Windows Phone wilderness, there was once a time when the Finnish manufacturer dominated the mobile phone landscape and produced some of the most innovative and creative handset designs ever created. It’s for some of these that [Michael Fitzmayer] has done some work providing tools revive the devices from an unfortunate bricking.

The N-Gage was the phone giant’s attempt to produce a handset that doubled as a handheld game console, and though it was a commercial failure at the time it has retained a following among enthusiasts. The flaw comes as its Symbian operating system fills its user partition, at which point the infamous “White Screen Of Death” occurs as the device can no longer reboot. Rewriting the flash chip used to be handled by Nokia service tools, but these can no longer be found. His fix substitutes a “Blue pill” STMF103-based dev board that connects to the Nokia FBus serial port and does its job. It’s possible that it could be used on other Symbian devices, but for now it’s only been tested on the N-Gages.

It’s easy to forget when a smartphone is defined by iOS and Android, that Symbian gave us a smartphone experience for the previous decade. For those of us who still pine for their miniaturised Carl Zeiss Tessar cameras and candybar form factors, it’s good to see them receiving some love.

Thanks [Razvan] for the tip.

Spacing Out: A Big Anniversary, Starlink Failures Plummet, Lunar Cellphones, And A Crewed Launch

After a couple of months away we’re returning with our periodic roundup of happenings in orbit, as we tear you away from Star Trek: Discovery and The Mandalorian, and bring you up to date with some highlights from the real world of space. We’ve got a launch to look forward to this week, as well as a significant anniversary.

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