Nokia N81 mobile phone

Fitting in snugly behind the now revamped N95, the Nokia N81 is the company's latest Series 60 model that comes packed with a stack of new features including music imaging and gaming credentials.

Following on from our First Look review, we've sat down with the new handset for the last week, so are are first impressions bang on the money, or have, having had time for a longer play we changed our mind? We get dialing to find out.

With 8GB on-board memory the first thing you'll want to do is fill it with music. Using 48Kbps encoding, Nokia say you can get up to 6000 songs on your N81, equaling that of the W910 from Sony Walkman and the iPhone from Apple.

With major song support, stereo Bluetooth, a 3.5mm headphones jack and the ability to access the newly launched Nokia Music Store via the Ovi internet interface Nokia means business, and for the most part delivers.

The key selling point of the phone is promise of a couple of button presses and you're able to buy tracks from the newly launched Nokia Music Store.

In practice it is easy, but not that easy, as the system expects you to connect in, surf the pages you want and then download the tracks from there. Those familiar with the one track purchase of the iTunes store will be disappointed.

Luckily songs aren't priced at a premium for accessing them on the go and are automatically sync'ed with your PC account, however users will have to be using Windows XP or Windows Vista to use the service.

Get past the music functionality and it is business as usual with this Series 60 handset.

On the imaging side, Nokia has disappointingly settled for a 2 megapixel camera rather than 3 megapixels as found in the 5610 XpressMusic or 5 megapixels as found in the N95, although has included a Xenon flash to boost performance.

Gaming wise, the phone is able to use the new N-Gage offering from Nokia as part of its Ovi internet offering. Games can be played either vertical or in landscape mode, allowing users to benefit from the 2.4-inch screen, which as per our first look, is bright and crisp with plenty of detail. Text is easy to read as are the menus.

Elsewhere and features include built-in wireless b and g connectivity alongside 3G for surfing on the go away from hotspots.

As for the design, the gloss back finish looks smart and the keypad easy to use and clearly labelled. What isn't clearly labelled, however, are the plethora of buttons on the top half of the slider. With music shortcut keys, menu shortcut keys and other buttons that appear in certain modes, newcomers are like to find it difficult to navigate their way around - we certainly did even after closer inspection.

What makes it more confusing is the introduction of a new secondary menu system in addition to the current Series 60 menu system. While it does give people the choice and a more interactive feel (think CoverFlow), we found ourselves not sure which one we should be using and therefore as the button isn't even labelled ignoring it completely. What Nokia should have done is made its mind up over which was the better interface and gone with it.

Verdict

The N81 will still be seen as the Nokia N95's cheaper brother and with that in mind will always be fighting to prove its worth, especially when you see both in the store for free come its launch at Christmas - if you sign a big enough contract.

As a music phone against the equivalent offering from Sony Ericsson, Samsung and Apple, the Nokia beats the Samsung offerings but neither the Sony Ericsson W910 or the Apple iPhone.

Sony Ericsson's implementation of software for us is better executed with its array of apps like SensMe, TrackID and ShakeIt, however where the Nokia N81 wins out is the addition of the Nokia Music Store.

That said, the Nokia Music Store's implementation against the iTunes Wi-Fi store from Apple on its iPhone just doesn't compete.

As a phone, the N81 does pack the 3G connectivity and better phone functionality, but if it's purely the music you are after, the iPhone is still the one to go for.


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