Smartphone review: Nokia N81 8GB

The new Nokia N81 8GB smartphone is reviewed, covering new and updated features.

The new Nokia N81 8GB smartphone is reviewed, covering new and updated features. When Nokia announced the N81 and the N81 8GB some months ago, all I could think was that it was in some way Nokia's way of trying to let the world know that, despite the rousing success of the iPhone, it was still in the game, and would continue to make compelling mobile devices.

Hardware
The N81 8GB is a near top-of-the line model from Nokia. Almost matching the N95 8GB feature for feature, this smartphone is featured as the music and gaming device du jour from Nokia, and comes loaded to the gills with 8 GB of internal space, GPS, a 2 megapixel digital camera, Wi-Fi, and hooks into Nokia's N-Gage gaming platform for pretty much entertainment on every level you can imagine.

After opening the box and putting in the battery, about the only thing that I was disappointed in was that the screen looked so good that I was mad that it wasn't a touchscreen.

The buttons, though, have been a case of fits and learning. While I love the design, the buttons do not give a lot of feedback. Particularly with the unit I received, the power and nav-wheel were very hard to work with -- though I surmise that in a few days this will not be an issue.

Build quality is generally impressive. The N81 8GB is the same thickness as my N75 when the slider is closed, and not much longer when opened. It's a heavy handset, but not ungainly so. It feels like it was crafted from a brick of metal, even though it's entirely plastic. The only noticeable creaks after a few days use are with the slider when the N81 8GB is pressed against my head while talking on the phone. There was some wobble there that can be a cause for concern for some.

Voice and data
Speaking of making calls; voice quality is excellent. There was some echoing, but that might have been the room in which I was speaking. According to my caller, I sounded the same as usual.

Because of timing, my first hour with the N81 8GB was spent without my SIM card in it, but on a Wi-Fi network. Performance this way in the coffeehouse I was in was about the same as what I get on my N800.

The N81 8GB is available in the U.S., but it doesn't include the 3G wireless frequencies used in this country, so I'm unable to take advantage of the UTMS speeds while online. That being said, there is a setting to use GSM only, and this will maximize the battery life. I did view a few web sites and download a few files, and it was certainly faster than my EDGE-only Treo 680, yet not the speed racer that the U.S. 3G N75 is.

Fun and games
The N81 8GB comes with loads of pre-loaded content. The highlight of this is the latest Maroon 5 album.

The external speakers are great. Located on the right and left sides of the device, you get a full sound from them when you sit the phone in a central place in a room.

I have not played the included N-Gage games yet, but just looking at the demos has me itching to swing the device to landscape mode and get playing.

I guess that I can say that's the thing about the N81 8GB that's the most compelling. Sure, it's a smartphone in the mode of many devices, but the design and most of the implementation makes you want to pick it up and enjoy life with it.

In the full review I'll cover more on how it is to live with the N81 8GB as a day-to-day device, concentrating on whether the Symbian/S60 operating system and the rest of the bundled applications live up to the N Series mantra of being "what computers have become." But as it stands right now, I have a very hard time putting this device down; and that's a great start for any phone to have.

This was last published in January 2008

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