Friday, July 29, 2011

Nokia N81 Review

In a nutshell: A possible alternative to the N95, the N81 comes with a fantastic 8 Gbytes of memory, outstandingly good music and games playing features, a superb high-res screen, 3G video calling and fast downloads, Wireless LAN, and an optional GPS module. Its camera can't match the best, and the phone feels a bit plasticky, but it's still worth considering.
Nokia N81
The Nokia N81 is a very powerful multimedia device that is in some ways like the Nokia N95's little brother. Available in a choice of Cobalt Blue or Graphite Grey, it's a really nicely designed slide phone that's chunky and heavier than the N95, but slightly slimmer. The first thing that strikes you about the N81 is the huge number of keys and buttons! In addition to the usual number keys and Navi Wheel, there are dedicated keys for playing games and accessing music & video: play/pause, rewind, forward & stop. You'll either love this or hate it. We found that the whole user interface is built on the idea of complexity, as the menus and settings can be quite overwhelming, but offer full control over every aspect of the device. The N81 is very much a hard-core SmartPhone, and if this sounds like your kind of phone, then you'll love it to bits.

There are a few areas where the N81 can't keep up with the N95. The screen is the first thing that you notice: although it's a high quality display with 16.7 million colours and 320 x 240 pixel resolution (the same as the N95), the screen is physically about 15% smaller. More seriously, the camera is a poor cousin of the N95's 5 megapixel camera: the N81's camera has just 2 megapixels and lacks autofocus. So, if camera quality is important to you, you'd definitely be better off with the N95. SatNav is missing too, although the Nokia Wireless GPS module is available as an optional extra. The Nokia Maps application is included as standard. So really the shortcomings of the N81 compared with the N95 aren't too great.

Now let's take a closer look at what the N81 does have. The first feature that really differentiates the N81 from the competition is the whopping 8 Gbytes of internal memory. This is enough to store 2,000 music tracks. The N81 has a fantastic music player that can give the iPhone a run for its money. The music player supports all common music formats including MP3, AAC and WMA, as well as Windows Media DRM. Managing playlists is a breeze, and the device can synchronise music with Windows Media Player. There's a 5-band equaliser, support for Bluetooth stereo headsets and a 3.5mm headphone jack. In addition, the RealPlayer media player supports full-screen video playback. There's also a built-in FM radio with Visual Radio support that tells you what song is playing, and other info. Music lovers have everything that they could want from the N81.

The N81's other focus is gaming. We've already mentioned the dedicated games keys on the front. Games can be played in portrait or landscape mode, making full use of the fantastic 16.7 million colour display. The N81's secret is that it includes support for Nokia's NGage series of games. The choice of games is excellent and the quality of the 3D graphics is exceptional. If you're serious about games, then this is seriously highly recommended.

The list of what the N81 can do goes on ... it's a quadband 3G phone that supports video calls with a second front-facing video camera. It's fully equipped for wirefree use with Bluetooth and Wireless LAN support, voice-independent speech recognition and voice commands, automatic answering with a compatible headset or car kit, internet calls using VoIP, ... Really there isn't much that the N81 doesn't do, and being a Symbian phone the wealth of 3rd party applications that are available for download is huge.

As always with Symbian devices there's a tendency for the N81 to be slow or to freeze if pushed too hard, although the 8 Gbytes of memory certainly helps here. To really get the most out of the N81 you'll have to have used a SmartPhone before, or be prepared to invest time learning how to use it properly. If you don't like high-tech then keep well away, but if the music and games features appeal, then you'll do well with the N81.


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