The Nokia N81 8GB is certainly the most attractive Nseries phone to date, but we were slightly disappointed with its black plastic casing. It's also prone to attracting those pesky fingerprint smudges.
As with other Nseries handsets, the N81 8GB packs in the features. This phone also boasts 8GB of built-in memory, a preview of the N-Gage gaming platform and, as one of Nokia's flagship music devices, it comes pre-loaded with the Nokia Music Store.
Nokia phones are famed for their easy-to-use interface and the N81 8GB is no different. The keys are spaced out and the multimedia button provides direct access to music, games, photo gallery, important contacts and recent internet bookmarks.
The N81 8GB's camera is only a two-megapixeller, but the real boon is the accessibility of the music applications. Downloading music via a PC or direct to the handset is effortless and the phone sports a 3.5mm headphone jack, making it easy to connect to good-quality cans.
The talktime of 240 minutes is sufficient, but the standby time of 410 hours is quite impressive.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:48:06 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
The N81 8GB is a tremendous phone for listening to and storing music, for playing N-Gage games and for enjoying multimedia applications.
A two-megapixel camera is disappointing, as is the creaky black plastic casing.
One of the obvious perks of writing reviews for Mobile Choice is that we get the low-down on the best new phones long before they actually hit the high street. However, as we get to see and hear all about these shiny new gadgets many months before they land, it's almost impossible to avoid having a pre-conceived opinion of a phone's look and feel long before we ever get to actually get to grips with it.Because of their incredible feature sets, the launch of any new Nokia Nseries phone is a major event. We were particularly excited about the Nokia N81 8GB* because - in addition to its superb apps and features - the phone looks wonderful in all the press shots. It's certainly the most attractive Nseries phone to date.Unfortunately, we have to admit to feeling mildly deflated when we unwrapped our shiny new N81 8GB because it's finished in a black plastic casing that creaks when you squeeze it and is a sucker for attracting nasty fingerprint smudges. Still, if you want a phone that excels in music, games and clever multimedia trickery, the N81 8GB is up there with the best. However, the same can be said of the new Nokia N95 8GB. And herein lies our main issue with the N81; it's always going to be compared to the Nokia N95 8GB, which is 12g lighter and offers users the same benefits as the N81 8Gb, as well as HSDPA, a better camera and lens and built-in GPS for navigation.
For a slider, the N81 8GB features a plethora of control keys, including two soft keys, a call accept and reject key, a menu key, a multimedia key and a cancel key, plus four dedicated music controls. That's 11 keys in total. We found the central navi-key on the N81 8GB a little stiff to control, although it does seem to loosen up with use.The keys are well spaced and nicely laid out. There's also a small lozenge-shaped key next to the phone's navi-key, which takes you directly through to the phone's multimedia menu. The multimedia button gives you direct access to music, games, photo gallery, your most important contacts and your most recent internet bookmarks. In addition, on the right-hand side of the phone, you'll find the volume/camera zoom keys and the dedicated camera key, and on the top of the phone, you'll find the power key and a nifty phone lock key.Slide open the handset and you'll find a well-spaced keypad and you'll also illuminate the N81 8GB's fabulous 16-million colour display.
Despite only offering a two-megapixel camera, there are some fine features and multimedia applications on the Nokia N81 8GB.Alongside the N95 8GB, this is one of Nokia's flagship music devices, so that's where we'll start. Music on the N81 8GB can be accessed either via the multimedia key, or the main menu (ying/yang symbol) key. Click the multimedia key and you'll be shown the song currently playing, the music you have stored on the device and you can access podcasts and playlists, as well as shuffle all your stored tracks. As for downloading songs to your handset, you can do so by ripping and burning CDs to your PC and then transferring them to the phone. You can also buy songs and albums online from the Nokia Music Store.As soon as we received our new N81 8GB, the first thing we did was sign up to Nokia's Music Store (see panel) by following the three easy steps:1) Log on to http://music.nokia.com2) Register your details to set up an account3) Start downloadingOnce you have visited the store and downloaded some music, you can either transfer it from your PC via the supplied USB or a Bluetooth connection, or you can do what we did and log on to Nokia's Music Store from your phone and download tracks directly from the website to your device. We actually accessed the Music Store via our Wi-Fi connection at home and each song took about 30 seconds to download.For playing music, the N81 8GB features dedicated music controls that are positioned around the phone's navi-key. The handset also boasts an equaliser, as well as controls for balance and stereo widening, should you need them.As for the music quality, the true test is to listen to a music player through a decent set of headphones. Fortunately, the N81 8GB features a 3.5mm headphone connector, so we could plug in our Sennheiser PX200 headphones - and the sound quality was great. The N81 8GB does feature Stereo Bluetooth (A2DP), so you can listen to music in stereo wirelessly with a compatible A2DP headset, or you can use the Nokia plug-in stereo headset, which comes in the box. However, top-notch stereo headphones from the likes of Bose or Sennheiser will give you the best possible sound quality. If you like to share your music with the world, the N81 8GB does feature integrated speakers, which are great for blaring out ringtones, but not so hot for listening to an album's worth of tracks.
Serious gamers will love the N81 because it features a preview version of the N-Gage gaming application and enables you to easily download the full application when it's ready in December. The N81 8GB gives you a real flavour of what to expect, with demo versions of some of the top N-Gage titles, including FIFA 08 Football from EA Sports, Creatures of the Deep and Asphalt 3. N-Gage games - compatible with the Nokia N73, N81, N81 8GB, N93, N93i, N95 and N95 8GB at launch, with more S60 devices to follow - offer gamers incredible graphics (we've seen the games and they blow you away) and great gameplay. Gamers can also join the N-Gage Arena, where you can chat and blog with other gamers and take them on at your favourite game - even if you're playing in different countries.
Although the two-megapixel camera on the N81 8GB isn't Nokia's strongest, the phone has some neat imaging and video flourishes. When you access a saved photo or video from the Gallery, you're automatically presented with a menu of options that appears down the right-hand side of the screen. These menu options allow you to send your photos and videos via multimedia, Bluetooth or the web, share them online, add them to a print basket, print them, present them as a slide show, or just delete them.The N81 8GB also features Nokia's Lifeblog, which lets you keep a multimedia diary and organise your photos, videos, sounds, text messages, multimedia messages and weblog posts into a chronology that you can browse, search, share and back up.If you fancy watching movies or videos on the phone, you can use the N81 8GB's Real Player to stream files to the device without saving them, or play videos that you have already downloaded to the phone.
There's no point carping about the fact that the Nokia N81 8GB is bigger and bulkier than your Nokia 6300, Samsung U600 or Sony Ericsson W880i handsets. The Nseries phones are monstrously powerful and, therefore, you should expect to carry a little more phone in your pocket. So, it doesn't lose any marks for size, but it does for the creaky plastic finish.Our other issue relates to the competition. With two Nseries phones launching at the same time, both offering 8GB of built-in memory, you can't help but think that most will go for the one with the best spec - and that's the Nokia N95 8GB. Whatever the N81 8GB can do - and it is very, very capable - it will always be in the shade of its more illustrious sibling.* There are two versions of the N81; one with 8GB of built-in memory, one with a hot-swappable memory card slot. Aside from the memory, the specifications are the same for both.