The Genesis Nomad, also known as the Sega Nomad, is a handheld console that was designed to play Sega Genesis game cartridges, only sold in North America in 1995. It was based on the Japanese Sega Mega Jet, despite having a strong resemblance to the Sega Game Gear and featured a built-in color screen. The Nomad was never officially released in PAL territories such as Europe and Australia. Its codename during development was Project Venus, as per Sega's policy at the time of codenaming their systems after planets.
Release and features
Sega released the Nomad in October 1995 for $180. Marketed as a portable Genesis, the Nomad was primarily an evolution of the Japanese market Mega Jet. Whereas the Mega Jet was screenless and required an AC adapter, the Nomad featured a 3.25 inch color LCD screen and room for six AA batteries, making it completely portable as opposed to simply being a small Genesis system. In addition to its other improvements over the Mega Jet, an A/V Out plug was added at the top of the unit, letting owners play games on a television screen with a separate A/V cable. One particularly interesting feature of the Nomad was its ability to allow one player to play using a connected TV, while another watched on the Nomad. The directional pad on the unit controlled all one-player games, and a port on the bottom allowed a second pad to be plugged in for two-player games. This meant that the Nomad could be a fully functional home system as well as a completely portable hand-held solution with a pre-existing library of games available for it.
While the Nomad won praise for its screen resolution and features, there were some problems: neither the Sega 32X, Sega-CD, nor the Power Base Converter (which was used to play Sega Master System games on the Genesis/Mega Drive) were intended to be compatible with the Nomad. While they did work for the most technically inclined of customers, forcing the matter involved modifying the add-on units' shapes or using bulky and sometimes dangerous 3rd party expanders. The Nomad had impressive technical specifications for the time including a full colour, backlit display, and supported an estimated 600 titles already on the shelves in addition to being a functional home system.
However, the Nomad was bulky and offered very limited battery life in comparison to contemporary handhelds. It consumed much more power - nearly two times more - than the Sega Game Gear.
Six alkaline AA batteries offered only about 2 hours (depending on volume and screen brightness settings) of play time, making batteries a significant expense for use on the go. A rechargeable battery pack was offered separately for $79. It offered even less play time and was not widely available. Rechargeable AA batteries were not recommended due to voltage problems (Ni-Cd provides 1.2V instead of the 1.5V that alkalines output, and also requires full discharging before recharging; Ni-MH AA batteries were not available at the time).
At the time of the Nomad's release, many felt that the console showed Sega had not learned lessons from the relative failure of the Game Gear, as many of the problems gamers identified were the same. Like the Game Gear the unit was too bulky to be easily portable, it consumed batteries at an alarming rate and was designed for playing what were in effect home video games (the Game Gear having been in effect a handheld Master System in the same way the Nomad was a handheld Megadrive). It is therefore considered to have failed against the Game Boy for largely the same reasons as it's predecessor - the Game Boy was much smaller and therefore more portable, it's non-backlit monochrome display gave it many times the battery life of it's competitors and it's games were often built from the ground up to suit a handheld machine.
Despite a $100 price drop, the handheld did not garner enough support to continue, and suffered from abysmal sales within the market. By the time it was released, the Genesis was almost at the end of its lifespan — already being replaced by the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64, and general indifference towards 16-bit era titles hastened its demise.
|Processor:||Motorola 68000 16 bit processor running at 7.67 MHz|
|Co-processor (Sound Controller):||Zilog Z80 8-bit at 3.58 MHz|
|Memory:||156KB total - 64 KB Main RAM, 64KB VRAM, 8KB Sound RAM. 20 Kb ROM|
|Maximum onscreen sprites:||80|
|Resolution:||320 × 224|
|Sound:||Yamaha YM2612 6 channel FM, additional 4 channel PSG. Stereo sound. Also TI SN76489]] PSG (Programmable Sound Generator)|
|Display:||Integrated STN LCD at 320 x 224|
|Power Rating:||9V 850mA (same as Mega Drive model 2)|
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|Game Gear · Sega Mega Jet · Sega Nomad|