Some would say Nokia's N81 8GB is a bit of a tease; that you might expect a little more sophistication from the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer. While the N81's fancy multimedia credentials, excellent connectivity options and well-designed search function will have you rushing out to buy one, its tacky, plastic front slider, excuse for a camera and noticeable lack of a memory expansion slot could soon destroy your lust.
In today's consumer-friendly world, choosing our pick of the gadgets is more about having our cake and eating it than making compromises. (And for £390, don't be surprised if we want an extra cake in case we get peckish later on.) So why is Nokia dangling a seriously sumptuous bundle of multimedia goodness in front of our eyes, then removing the ability to add extra storage or take decent pictures?
That's not to say that the Nokia N81 8GB isn't a fantastically specified phone. Indeed, we love the N81's ability to connect to wireless b and g networks, serving up web pages that are easy to navigate and come complete with a cute cursor that would be a wise addition to many a phone on the market. Its familiar Symbian S60 interface is both intuitive and comforting, while its VoIP (voice over IP) functionality is another nice feature. There's also Bluetooth, which, among other things, allows you to connect to and use a wireless keyboard, although Nokia has done without the age-old and long-forgotten infrared connectivity.
Gaming and multimedia
Gameplay has never been so enjoyable on a mobile phone and, once Nokia's N-Gage service is up and running, it has the potential to get even better. We love the way the handset adopts two buttons to the right of the screen in landscape mode, making it feel (almost) as if you were playing with a real games console, and games look great on the Nokia N81 8GB's bright, clear 2.4in screen.
Multimedia options are extensive. There's sure to be something to take your fancy: the list includes a music and podcast player, RealPlayer and FlashPlayer video playback applications, a 'visual' radio that can download local stations online and provide information about the current track, a voice recorder, Adobe PDF reader, IM, email and even the Nokia Music Store and Nokia Maps. Other extras include Voice Aid, which speaks menu options, functions and key presses out loud. There's no need for those less blessed in the visionary department to miss out on what today's smartphone handsets have to offer.
Then, of course, we come to the camera. Not many handsets worth their salt come without one these days, though some might say the Nokia N81 8GB would be better to do without. To start, Nokia has fixed a paltry 2Mp (megapixel) camera and a basic LED flash to what is otherwise a very high-end smartphone. This camera is capable of taking shots that are acceptable for a cameraphone, but it comes at a time when rival firms are adding 5Mp cameras and all manner of editing options.
The Nokia N81 does feature red-eye correction and a few scene modes, but it's questionable whether it's worth the effort given the so-so results. It's a little awkward to press the capture button in portrait mode - it's located on the bottom right side of the phone - but very convenient in landscape mode. The Nokia N81 8GB does at least offer the opportunity to add photos directly to your print basket or post them directly to Flickr or Vox, and it has a convenient self-timer.
A second camera on the front of the handset is used for 3G video calls. This camera is more than adequate and gives a clear image. But it's not the only area where the Nokia N81 8GB likes to do things in pairs; a second speaker on the handset allows you to enjoy surround sound for video playback and gaming.
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