[Editors note: When I was asked to look at the N81, I decided, since Nokia is targeting youth with this new phone, who better to review it than my 16-year-old son. Thus, what follows is his opinion of the N81 8GB]
When I first got the Nokia N81, I was pleased at its sleek look and relatively nice size. Its weight is a little on the heavy side but that does give it that overall Nokia “tank of phones” feel which I like, as opposed to the awkward skinny light phones whose purpose of being small and light is totally countered by the fact that you are so scared of dropping the tiny piece of plastic, that you have to go out and buy a massive cover that defeats the purpose of having a small and light phone anyway. The Nokia N81’s interface is the classic Nokia [Symbian Series 60] interface which I am a big fan of and I enjoy that Nokia keeps a constant user interface rather that scrapping it every time so you have to learn how to work a whole new type of system with every new phone.
The battery life on the N81 is rather impressive, going for roughly three days without needing a charge.
The phone has a N-gage application, which from playing the demos, looks solid but I cannot picture anyone who would really buy the actual games and not just play the demos to death. The fact that Nokia is now trying to incorporate one of the most failed gaming systems in the history of man back into their phones makes me chuckle at how horribly N-gage failed in the past and how imminent its future failure is.
The music player is quality and simple, operating very similarly to an ipod. Nokia does not yet offer the downloadable software for the N81 that allows it to sync with itunes, so I had to place music on the phone by plugging it in like a flash drive and dragging and dropping songs into it. This method is tedious but works fine and I have full confidence that the N81 software will work just fine when it is released. The likable things about the music player are that for a phone, 8gb is pretty large and definitely enough to have a good selection of music. My favorite feature of the music player is that it takes a basic headphone jack. Most phones require that you buy an adapter or use the strange uncomfortable ear buds that come with the phone but being able to plug any old headphones you want into the jack makes it seem o-so-much better. Oddly enough, the music player also has one of the least thought through features I have ever seen, which makes operating the phone insanely frustrating. The aforementioned problem is the combination of small buttons and the fact that the play button works no matter what else the phone is doing. The play-stop-pause-rewind-etc. buttons encompass the up-down-left-right buttons. So when navigating around the phone, it is easy and almost unavoidable to hit both up and play at the same time because both buttons are so small and so close together. Now normally, no harm no foul, you’re not in the music player so nothing should happen – but since Nokia always has to have one massive flaw that was probably thrown in thoughtlessly towards the end of production, no matter what you are doing, the play button still plays music and since the speakers are rather loud and startling when you did not plan or even think that random music could suddenly stream from your phone, it is often an embarrassing moment when you are trying to text whilst walking down the street and Hardcore gangster rap blasts out of your phone unexpectedly. This is something I have yet to learn how to fix. This dilemma continually frustrates me to no end and is the only thing that would make me consider not using this phone.
I’ve discovered several things with the N81 that I consider bugs that could use fixing. The first is that the phone has trouble finding service and once service is lost, you have to turn the phone off and back on for it to start searching for service again. This bug is surprisingly not as inconvenient as one would think, although the phone would be greatly improved if this was fixed. The only other bug that is worth mentioning is that text messages sometime take five to ten minutes to send or be received causing you to seem rude for taking too long to respond [editor: that may be T-mobile]. Other than that, it has no actual effect being that eventually the texts get sent or received.
The N81 is a good combination of the classic, simple “Nokia sturdy brick” and the advanced little flashy features like music or gaming that make a phone sell these days. Overall the Nokia N81 is a quality phone that has potential for excellence, with the right subtle tweaks.