Some would say Nokia's N81 8GB is a bit of a tease; that you might expect a little more sophistication from the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer. While the N81's fancy multimedia credentials, excellent connectivity options and well-designed search function will have you rushing out to buy one, its tacky, plastic front slider, excuse for a camera and noticeable lack of a memory expansion slot could soon destroy your lust.

Quick links:

Page 1: Basic features, camera and overview

Page 2: Build quality and verdict

Page 3: In pictures

Page 4: Detailed specifications

In today's consumer-friendly world, choosing our pick of the gadgets is more about having our cake and eating it than making compromises. (And for £390, don't be surprised if we want an extra cake in case we get peckish later on.) So why is Nokia dangling a seriously sumptuous bundle of multimedia goodness in front of our eyes, then removing the ability to add extra storage or take decent pictures?

That's not to say that the Nokia N81 8GB isn't a fantastically specified phone. Indeed, we love the N81's ability to connect to wireless b and g networks, serving up web pages that are easy to navigate and come complete with a cute cursor that would be a wise addition to many a phone on the market. Its familiar Symbian S60 interface is both intuitive and comforting, while its VoIP (voice over IP) functionality is another nice feature. There's also Bluetooth, which, among other things, allows you to connect to and use a wireless keyboard, although Nokia has done without the age-old and long-forgotten infrared connectivity.

Gaming and multimedia

Gameplay has never been so enjoyable on a mobile phone and, once Nokia's N-Gage service is up and running, it has the potential to get even better. We love the way the handset adopts two buttons to the right of the screen in landscape mode, making it feel (almost) as if you were playing with a real games console, and games look great on the Nokia N81 8GB's bright, clear 2.4in screen.

Multimedia options are extensive. There's sure to be something to take your fancy: the list includes a music and podcast player, RealPlayer and FlashPlayer video playback applications, a 'visual' radio that can download local stations online and provide information about the current track, a voice recorder, Adobe PDF reader, IM, email and even the Nokia Music Store and Nokia Maps. Other extras include Voice Aid, which speaks menu options, functions and key presses out loud. There's no need for those less blessed in the visionary department to miss out on what today's smartphone handsets have to offer.

Camera considerations

Then, of course, we come to the camera. Not many handsets worth their salt come without one these days, though some might say the Nokia N81 8GB would be better to do without. To start, Nokia has fixed a paltry 2Mp (megapixel) camera and a basic LED flash to what is otherwise a very high-end smartphone. This camera is capable of taking shots that are acceptable for a cameraphone, but it comes at a time when rival firms are adding 5Mp cameras and all manner of editing options.

The Nokia N81 does feature red-eye correction and a few scene modes, but it's questionable whether it's worth the effort given the so-so results (click here to see our photographic efforts). It's a little awkward to press the capture button in portrait mode - it's located on the bottom right side of the phone - but very convenient in landscape mode. The Nokia N81 8GB does at least offer the opportunity to add photos directly to your print basket or post them directly to Flickr or Vox, and it has a convenient self-timer.

A second camera on the front of the handset is used for 3G video calls. This camera is more than adequate and gives a clear image. But it's not the only area where the Nokia N81 8GB likes to do things in pairs; a second speaker on the handset allows you to enjoy surround sound for video playback and gaming.

Next: Build quality and verdict

Build quality

The build is acceptable, but it's not what you might expect from such an expensive handset. We like the weight of the device for comfortable gameplay and the large screen is necessary for video playback. The 3.5mm headphone jack is welcome both in terms of its positioning at the top of the device for pocketability and due to the Nokia N81 8GB's ability to swap the bundled earphones for a pair of your own. We also love the four-way scroll ring, which reinforces the idea of the Nokia N81 8GB being a music phone. However, this ring is turned off by default, and is only used to its full potential in the Gallery and Entertainment menu.

We also found faults with the Nokia N81 8GB's plasticky keypad. It's perfectly easy to use but not particularly stylish, while light escaping through cracks around the edges adds a very cheap feel to the handset. Neither did we like the way the screen is raised, if only a millimetre or so, above the rest of the handset's casing. Again, this makes the phone feel cheap and looks almost as though someone has refused to take off the plastic screen protector - and we all know how annoying those people are.

In fairness, it does provide a ridge to ease the opening of the slider, but it also provides an easy route for sticky fingerprints on the display.

Although we loved the scroll ring, we felt it unnecessary for Nokia to cram so many buttons into such a small area on the front of the Nokia N81 8GB's slider - 16, to be exact. These buttons are easy to get your head around fairly quickly, although we often found ourselves starting up the Music Player by accident. Another button we found fault with was the Key Lock button. One would assume that this slider switch operates a hard key lock, as in the case of Apple's iPod nano, but the switch springs back, operating only a soft lock. This could cause problems in your pocket.

Next: In pictures

In pictures

Nokia N81 8GB mobile phone

Nokia N81 8GB

Nokia N81 8GB mobile phone

Multimedia options are extensive

Nokia N81 8GB mobile phone

The 2.4in screen is bright and clear

Nokia N81 8GB mobile phone

Expect admiring glances from your friends

Nokia N81 8GB mobile phone

The handset emulates a games controller

Nokia N81 8GB mobile phone

Our first pictures taken with the Nokia

Nokia N81 8GB mobile phone

Results are so-so

Next: Detailed specifications

Detailed specifications

Operating Frequency

  • WCDMA 2100 + E850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • Automatic switching between bands and modes
Dimensions
  • Volume: 86 cc
  • Weight: ~140 g
  • Length: 102 mm
  • Width: 50 mm
  • Thickness (max): 17.9 mm
Memory Functions
  • Hot swappable microSD memory card slot
Power management
  • Battery: Nokia Battery (BP-6MT) 1050mAH
  • Talk time: up to 240 minutes GSM / 180 minutes WCDMA
  • Stand-by time: up to 17 days
  • Video playback time: up to 4.5 hours (QVGA)
  • Browsing time (packet data): up to 5 hours
  • Music playback time: up to 11.5 hours
  • Video recording time: up to 3.5 hours with (QVGA)
  • Gaming time: up to 6 hours
    Operation times may vary depending on radio access technology used, operator network configuration and usage.
Display
  • Active matrix 2.4in QVGA main colour display (320x240 pixels), up to 16.7 million colours
    User Interface
  • Operating system: S60 software on Symbian OS
  • User Interface: S60 3rd edition, Feature Pack 1
  • Dedicated media keys for quick and easy access to music and video: play/pause, forward, rewind, stop
  • Dedicated game & volume keys
  • Device hold key
  • Multimedia key & Navi wheel
Call management
  • Contacts: advanced contacts database with support for multiple phone and e-mail details per entry, also supports thumbnail pictures and groups
  • Speed dialing
  • Logs: keeps lists of your dialed, received, and missed calls
  • Automatic redial
  • Automatic answer (works with compatible headset or car kit only)
  • Supports fixed dialing number, which allows calls only to predefined numbers
  • Conference call
  • Nokia push to talk (PoC)
Voice features
  • Speaker independent name dialing (SIND)
  • Voice commands
  • Voice recorder
  • Talking ringtone
  • Integrated hands-free speaker
  • Internet calls (VoIP)
Messaging
  • Text messaging: supports concatenated SMS, picture messaging, SMS distribution list
  • Multimedia messaging: combine image, video, text, and audio clip and send as MMS to a compatible phone or PC; use MMS to tell your story with a multi-slide presentation
  • Automatic resizing of your megapixel images to fit MMS (max 300 KB size depending on the network)
  • Predictive text input: support for all major languages in Europe and Asia-Pacific
Connectivity
  • WLAN IEEE802.11 b/g with UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) support
  • Bluetooth Specification 2.0 (profiles supported: DUN, OPP, FTP, HFP, GOEP, GAP, SPP, HSP, BIP, A2DP)
  • Micro USB 2.0 Full Speed (mass storage class)
  • Nokia AV Connector 3.5mm
Additional Technical Specifications
  • Protocols: MTP, UPnP, TCP/IP
  • Java MIDP 2.0, CLDC 1.1
  • Flash Lite 2.0
Imaging and video
  • Up to 2 megapixel (1,600x1,200 pixels) camera, MPEG-4 VGA video capture of up to 15fps
  • Zoom: digital up to 20x
  • Front camera (CIF)
  • Video call and video sharing support (WCDMA network services)
  • Integrated flash (modes: on, off, automatic, redeye reduction)
  • Rotating gallery with Navi wheel support
  • Online album/blog: photo/video uploading from gallery
  • Nokia Lifeblog support
  • Video and still images editors
  • Nokia XpressPrint solution direct printing via USB (PictBridge) or Bluetooth connectivity (BPP)
Music features
  • Nokia Nseries digital music player
    supports MP3 (VBR), AAC, eAAC+, AAC+, WMA/M4A, WAV
  • OMA DRM 1.x, 2.0, Windows Media DRM (OTI/OTA with Nokia Music Store)
  • Hot swappable microSD memory card slot (2GB inbox = up to 1600 songs)
  • Play list management
  • Synchronise music with Windows Media Player 11
  • Media keys (play/pause, stop, forward, rewind)
  • Integrated stereo speakers
  • Dedicated volume keys (20 volume steps)
  • 5-band equalizer
  • Nokia AV Connector 3.5 mm (can also be used with standard 3.5mm headphones)
  • Nokia Stereo Music Headset (HS-45 + AD-54) as inbox accessory
  • Navi wheel support
  • UPnP(Universal Plug and Play) music streaming
  • Bluetooth wireless technology A2DP profile (Bluetooth stereo)
Nokia podcasting
  • Find, subscribe to and download podcasts over the air direct to your device
  • Listen to or watch the podcast
  • Browse and search the feed directory to find the podcasts you want
  • Subscribe and get new podcast episodes downloaded automatically
  • Choose whether the Podcasting application uses wireless LAN (requires WLAN network access) or GPRS/WCDMA packet data (requires a packet data plan) to download podcasts to your Nokia Nseries device.
FM Radio with Visual Radio support
  • Stereo FM radio (87.5-108MHz /76-90MHz)
  • Get instant access to your favourite stations.
  • Connect to the FM radio and find the music, sports and news broadcasts in the station list for your region
  • Choose your favourites from a regularly updated directory and save them as a preset
  • Listen to music and interact with your favorite radio stations
  • Find out what song is playing, who sings it, and other artist information
  • Enter contests and answer surveys, vote for your favourite songs
Nokia Music Store
  • Purchase music online in Nokia Music Store
  • Connect to your account from your compatible PC and mobile device
  • Search by artist name or title
  • Explore more music with genre searches and recommendations
  • Buy, download and listen to tracks on your PC
  • Connect to Nokia Music Store on your mobile device through Wi-Fi or 3G networks
  • Use the wishlist to tag tracks on your mobile device to download later on your PC
  • Listen to 30 second clips before choosing to download
  • Buy and use pre-paid and bonus credit
  • Use Microsoft's Windows Media Player 11 installed on your compatible PC to synchronize
Multimedia Menu
  • Quick and easy access to your music & podcasts
  • Games
  • Images & videos
  • Most important contacts
  • Internet bookmarks
  • Points of interests
Navigation
  • Nokia Maps application
  • Navigation with Nokia Wireless GPS module LD-3W (sold separately)
  • Nokia Mobile Search (local & internet search)

Email
  • Easy-to-use email client with attachment support for images, videos, music and documents
  • Compatible with Nokia Wireless Keyboard (sold separately)

Browsing
  • Nokia Web Browser with Mini Map

Digital home
  • Play video, music and photos on home media network
    - compatible TV, stereo and PC over WLAN/UPnP (Universal Plug and Play)
    Java Applications
  • Java MIDP 2.0, CLDC 1.1 (Connected Limited Device Configuration (J2ME))
  • Over-the-air download of Java-based applications and games

Other Applications
  • Personal Information Management (PIM)
  • Advanced S60 PIM features including calendar, contacts, to-do list, and PIM printing
  • Settings Wizard for easy configuration of e-mail, push to talk and video sharing
  • Data transfer application for transfer of PIM information from other compatible Nokia devices.
  • WLAN wizard
  • High-quality text to speech
Connectivity
  • Integrated wireless LAN (802.11 b/g) and UPnP (Universal Plug and Play)
  • Bluetooth wireless technology with A2DP (Bluetooth stereo audio)
  • USB 2.0 via Micro USB interface and mass storage class support to support drag and drop functionality
  • 3.5 mm stereo headphone plug (Nokia AV Connector)
  • Nokia PC Suite connectivity with USB and Bluetooth wireless technology
  • Local synchronisation of contacts and calendar to a compatible PC using Nokia Nseries PC Suite
  • Remote over-the-air synchronisation
  • Send and receive images, video clips, graphics, and business cards via Bluetooth wireless technology
Video
  • RealPlayer Media Player
  • Full-screen video playback on the device to view downloaded, streamed or recorded video clips
  • Stream media files from compatible media portals
  • Supported video formats: MPEG-4, H.264, H.263/3GPP, RealVideo 8/9/10
Gaming
  • Dedicated game keys
  • Play games in landscape or portrait view
  • Discover N-Gage application including:
    • Space Impact Light
    • Asphalt game demo
    • Fifa Soccer 2007 demo
    • Possibility to download N-Gage application (when available)

Nokia N81 8GB: Specs

  • 8GB internal flash memory (no expansion slot)
  • Symbian S60 OS (Third edition, Feature Pack 1)
  • 2.4in QVGA 320x240 display
  • 1050mAH rechargeable battery
  • battery life 240 minutes (GSM talk time), 180 minutes (WCDMA), 17 days (standby), 4.5 hours (video playback), 5 hours (web browsing), 11.5 hours (music playback), 6 hours (gaming)
  • music player
  • VoIP
  • voice recorder
  • 2 x stereo speakers
  • 802.11b/g connectivity
  • Bluetooth
  • MicroUSB 2.0
  • 2Mp camera with 20x digital zoom (Mpeg4 at 15fps)
  • video calls
  • N-Gage
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • supports MP3 (VBR), AAC, eAAC+, AAC+, WMA/M4A, WAV
  • 102x50x17.9mm
  • 140g
  • 8GB internal flash memory (no expansion slot)
  • Symbian S60 OS (Third edition, Feature Pack 1)
  • 2.4in QVGA 320x240 display
  • 1050mAH rechargeable battery
  • battery life 240 minutes (GSM talk time), 180 minutes (WCDMA), 17 days (standby), 4.5 hours (video playback), 5 hours (web browsing), 11.5 hours (music playback), 6 hours (gaming)
  • music player
  • VoIP
  • voice recorder
  • 2 x stereo speakers
  • 802.11b/g connectivity
  • Bluetooth
  • MicroUSB 2.0
  • 2Mp camera with 20x digital zoom (Mpeg4 at 15fps)
  • video calls
  • N-Gage
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • supports MP3 (VBR), AAC, eAAC+, AAC+, WMA/M4A, WAV
  • 102x50x17.9mm
  • 140g

OUR VERDICT

Nokia's N81 8GB is a phone we really wanted to do well in the PC Advisor Test Centre. It has all the features you'd expect from a high-end smartphone and then some - as well as an exorbitant price tag to match - but there are several areas where the N81 isn't quite on a par with rival phones that cram in fewer features.

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