Review: N81 8GB

25. January 2008 at 21:16

Announced in London, on the big Nokia Go Play event, the N81 8GB was maybe the biggest surprise of the event. The N81 8GB is according to Nokia a music and a gaming device. But can it convince? Is it ”still’’ a multimedia computer? How is the music and gaming experience of the pretty slider? This review will find it out.

Main advantages:

  • solid built
  • dedicated music and gaming keys
  • Wi-Fi
  • Strong 1050 mAh battery

Main disadvantages:

  • 2 megapixel camera without autofocus
  • high price
  • plastic device

Sales package:

The N81 8GB comes in a grey box which looks like every other Nseries box. On the front you can see the N81 8GB and the Nokia Nseries logo. On the back you can see three pictures of the N81 8GB, specs in six different languages and logos of trademarks like S60, N-Gage, Bluetooth, Java and many more. In the box you find following things:

  • N81 8GB (RM-179)
  • Battery with 1050 mAh (BP-6MT)
  • Remote control (AD-54)
  • Headset
  • microUSB cable ( CA-101)
  • Charger (AC-5E)
  • CD
  • Sheets

The headset and the remote control are pretty nifty they have great built quality and looking awesome. The little charger fits perfect into the N81 8GB, you can even hear a little ”click” which ensures you that the cable is on the right place. All in all are the accessories good but Nokia could maybe add a case or something else.

Built quality:
The N81 8GB is built mainly out of plastic. This causes that the whole device doesn’t feels really nobly. But I do not think that it should be because it’s mainly for teenager and for young adults and those are more interested in style. Anyway, it feels pretty solid and feels also great in your hand but due to it’s a plastic device, you can find a lot fingerprints on the front and also on the back of the device. This is a problem we have to get used to. N81’s slider is good, really easy to open and to close. You have only to push it a little bit and it opens almost on its own. Here a video showing the slider:

Unfortunately makes the N81 strange noises when you shake it. It sounds like a rattlesnake.

On the left and the right site of the device you can find each one loudspeaker which looks due to the web really good. On the button of the the N81 8GB you can find the micro USB port, the power core and the microphone.

The N81 8GB is pretty handy – neither big nor small. However, although it has not a real HDD (Hard Disk Drive ) built in, it feels like it has one. It weights a lot – about 140 gram. So, it’s a lot heavier than the N95 8GB and the N82.

  • Keys:

Besides the number keys, * and # you can find 18 other keys on the front. 16 of them you can find on a surface which isn’t bigger than my whole thumb or 12.5cm². This causes, that you may press a key accidentally. Here are the 16 keys, you can find right under the 2.4’’ screen.

  1. Left soft key
  2. Right soft key
  3. Green sent key
  4. Red end key
  5. Clear key
  6. Menu key
  7. “The Anssi Key” – Multimedia key
  8. Forward key
  9. Rewind key
  10. Play/pause key
  11. Stop key
  12. Up on the naviwheel
  13. Down on the naviwheel
  14. Left on the naviwheel
  15. Right on the naviwheel
  16. OK, the middle of the naviwheel

The naviwheel/keys has like all other keys a great pressure point. However, the Naviwheel is really hard and not as soft as N95 8GB’s or N82’s d-pad. A reason for that could be, that you can caress the naviwheel. You may know it from the iPod. Instead of pressing the navikey up and down, you can ”caress” the navi wheel. The navi wheel works good but not as good as the iPod’s naviwheel. So, you can scroll thought your music library, the multimedia menu and the gallery as well. Nevertheless I have just one question. Why can’t I use the navi wheel in the whole menu, why only in the music library, the multimedia menu and the gallery?

The music keys are good to use, but unfortunately I’m often turning on music when I don’t want to or changing track when I just wanted to hit a soft key. However, the music keys are pretty useful so you can control the music without switching to the musicplayer. I know how annoying it can be, switching to the musicplayer all the time just to skip the current title. To start the music from wherever your are, just press two times the play/pause button. Than you can easily change to the next track using the forward key. To fast forward thought a track, press and hold the forward key. You can also skip to the beginning of a song pressing the rewind key. If you’ve enough from your music, just press the stop key to stop the music.

Above the display, you can see two other keys. These are only usable when they light up. For example in the gallery, to zoom in and out and also in the gaming mode. Playing SpaceImpact, you can use the gaming keys to shot. However, to be honest, I do not think that these two keys are necessary because I managed to play Asphalt and FIFA07 on the N82 and N95 8GB and I had almost the same gaming experience.

Despite of these 18 keys, the N81 8GB has also some more keys. On the right hand site of the device you can find the volume key and the capture button. Using the volume key you can change the volume of music and movies and control the zoom in the camera mode. The capture button is for opening the camera mode and for shooting pictures and videos. This button is pretty good to use and has a great pressure point. The volume key however, hasn’t such a good pressure point and especially the “down” key is hard to press and doesn’t react as good as it should. Unfortunately some old N73 or other Nseries user may miss the gallery button. This button allows you to jump to the picture or video last taken but due to the N81 is neither a picture nor video device, it obviously doesn’t need it. Anyway, on the top of the device you can find the little switch which doesn’t operate like you are maybe used it from your iPod. You have to flick it to lock it and flick it once again to unlock it. This works well but it is a little bit loose. Other than this, you can find also the power button on the top. This button has three functions:
1. Turning on the device
2. Switching of the device
3. Choosing a profile (eg. ‘’Outdoor’’)

The numeric keypad appears when you open the slider. As you can see in the picture, the letters or numbers aren’t separated. But nevertheless, the keys are pretty good to use and have a great pressure point. Furthermore are the keys really big thus you can write test messages really easy and fast.

The user has about 8GB for music, videos, pictures and other things. The 8GB are divided in two places – phone and mass memory. The phonememory offers you about 25MB and the mass memory offers you 7672MB. The N81 8GB has no card slot to insert memory cards. However, 8GB are enough for a lot music and videos.
The N81 displays pictures, videos and other stuff on the 2.4” screen with 16777216 colours on the QVGA(320×240 pixels) screen. More over, the display is pretty bright and with strong colours.

  • Camera

On the back of the device you can find the 2 megapixel camera with the little LED. Due to the N81 doesn’t have autofocus, the pictures aren’t as sharp as you are used from the N95 or other models.
Here are some samples:

(Click to enlarge)


The quality of the taken pictures is well but not comparable with an N73 or N80.

But before you shot a picture, you can choose between various scene modes like portrait, landscape, night and night portrait. Older Nseries user may miss the macro mode which is really useful for close up pictures.


Furthermore you can choose a certain colour tone like sepia, black&white and negative, white balance like automatic, sunny, incandescent and flurorescent.
The N81 offers you also settings, you may know from professional digital cameras – self timer,light sensivity (ISO) and exposure compensation.
In bad light-conditionals you can use either the flash or the night mode. The flash is only for objects within 2meters. Here you can find an article about the right use of the flash and of the night mode.
Of course you can also record videos with 320 x 240 resolution. This resolution is not good enough for the playback on a TV set but good enough for YouTube and other video sites. You can use the 4x digital zoom to bring object closer but you have to bear in mind that the quality becomes worse. Besides the zoom function you have also some more function/settings like nightmode, various white balances (Automatic, sunny, incandescent and fluorescen) and various colour tones (normal, sepia, black&white and negative). After taken the video you can sent the video via multimedia, email, Bluetooth or upload it in the internet. The playback capability is good because the colours are great and the screen is neither small nor huge.

  • Music:

According to Nokia, the N81 8GB is a music device. Indeed, with its features like the memory, musickeys, loudspeakers and the 3.5mm jack the N81 8GB is a true musicphone.

The musicplayer is divided into two sections – Music and Podcasts. You can browse your music via Artist, Albums, Genres and Composers. If you like, you can create your own playlist with for example all your favorite songs. The musicplayer displays the current played song pretty good. You can see ( if available) the album cover, title, artist and a timebar. To ‘’pimp’’ the look of the songs you can set a visualisation like album art, circles, oscilloscope or spectrum.
Like I already said, the N81 8GB has a 3.5mm jack which allows you to plug in all your usual headsets to improve the sound quality.

Another thing to improve the sound quality is the equaliser with 6 modes – Default, Bass booster, Classical, Jazz, Pop and Rock. The usage of the player is pretty easy. For those, who are bored of their own music, the N81 8GB offers also a FM Radio. However, you have to plug in the provided headset because it works as an antenna.

To fill up the 8GB you can use Bluetooth or the microUSB cable. Despite of these two connectivity ways, the N81 8GB offers also Wi-Fi(802.11b/g), UMTS, WCDMA and GPRS. Some may miss the IrDA port but to my eyes it’s not worth mentioning because there is almost no use for it nowadays. All connections worked pretty well – surfing the web via Wi-Fi, sending files via Bluetooth and transferring files via the micro microUSB cable.
Transferring a 6.1MB MP3 file from N81 8GB to N95 8GB took about 91 seconds.
After connecting the N81 8GB via Bluetooth or the microUSB cable, you can choose between 4 different modes – PC Suite, Data transfer, Image print and Media player.


The combination of Wi-Fi, the good internet browser, the 2.4″ screen and the great keys makes surfing pretty convenient.
Other than other browsers, S60’s open source browser displays the webpages just like you’re used it from your computer at home. Well, the whole webpage doesn’t fit on the screen, however you see a extract of the page but due to the excellent mini map function you always know where you are.

The N81 8GB runs on S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1. I have to confess, that I can’t judge this category so good because I’m a S60 user for some years. However, for a new user it’s pretty tricky to find into the menu. I’ve seen a lot user pressing the navigation key to get access to the menu which is the wrong way. After pressing the menu key ( Ying Yang) you can find plenty of icons and some folders. The Icons already say what they are stand for and furthermore you can read the application’s name. If you don’t like the menu structure you can create new folders, delete some, move the application as you like or change the menu view from Grid to a List. Furthermore you can choose between 5 standard themes and hundreds more which are in the World Wide Web. For those with bad eyes you can also change the front size. Thanks to the ARM 11 processor with 369MHz and 96MB of RAM after a boot you can navigate fast thought the menu.


In the menu you can find a ”N-Gage’’ icon which opens you the door to the N-Gage preview. Yet the whole service isn’t available but nevertheless you can try three games – Space Impact Light, FIFA07 and Aspahlt3 Street Rules. Aspahlt and Space Impact profits of the gaming keys. These games are playing in landscapemode. In my opinion is FIFA07 the best game of the bunch. Unfortunately is this a demo version with only 10 games. However, we’ll see how the whole N-Gage platform will react.

Business and Organizer:
A real smartphone also have to be a good replacement for a PDA. In the folder ”Office’’ you can find only a converter and the Adobe PDF reader. But where is a reader for Word, Exel and Poweverpoint? Unfortunately, I couln’t find any reader for those files. Maybe Nokia will add this with a Firmware Update. Anyway, despite of the converter and the Adobe PDF reader you will find a Calendar and Notes. The calendar offers you lots of features and different views. A really neat option, you’ll not find in the N95 8GB or N82, is ‘’Listen’’. So you can listen to your emails or text messages.

To sum up, the N81 8GB is a great device with focus on its music capabilities and running on Symbian you can install lot of 3rd Party application. It’s a all in one device but it doesn’t managed all things so smooth. Unfortunately its gaming experience couln’t convince me as well as the camera.