Nokia N81 8GB Review


After the launch of Nokia N81 8GB, our whole team was really thrilled by the idea of building-in an internal memory of such a great capacity and we were looking forward getting one of those devices, so that we could take a closer look and find out how it performs. Alongside with Nokia N81 8GB the Finnish company announced another version of the phone, namely Nokia N81, the only difference between the two being the availability of an 8GB in-built memory in N81 8GB, substituted with a microSD slot in N81. Here we shall be reviewing N81 8GB, but you should be aware that N81 is absolutely identical, save for the above mentioned variation.

To start with, we should mention that the phone uses the S60 user interface and the latest Symbian OS 9.2 version and it can also take pride in the fact that it is the first device to integrate the N-gage games platform. Judging by these features it can easily be concluded that this game- and music-oriented phone, sporting an appealing design in classical black, is predominantly targeted at the younger audience.

Sales package contents:

  • Nokia N81 8GB
  • Nokia Battery BP-6MT 1050mAH
  • Nokia Charger AC-5E
  • Nokia Wired Stereo Headset HS-45 1050 with remote Control
  • Micro USB Cable CA-101
  • CD-ROM
  • User Guide

The package contains all necessary accessories for the all-round and functional use of the phone.

Nokia N81 8GB 360 Degree View


NokiaN81 8GB has a neat design, it is made of shiny black plastic thatfeels nice to touch, the only disadvantage being its weight of 140grams, which, however, does not make it an oversize phone, given itsdimensions of 4.0 x 2.0 x 0.7 inches (102 x 50 x 17.9 mm).

ModelDimension (Inches)Dimension (mm)Weight (oz)Weight (Gramms)
Nokia N81 8GB
4.01" x 1.96" x 0.70"102 x 50 x 17.94.93140
Nokia N91 8GB4.44" x 2.16" x 0.86"113 x 55 x 225.64160
Motorola RIZR Z64.15" x 1.79" x 0.62"105.5 x 45.5 x 164.05115
Sonny Ericsson W9604.29" x 2.16" x 0.62"109 x 55 x 164.19119

Slidingis facilitated by a spring that helps the phone open easily.Unfortunately, this phone shares a common problem with other similardevices, namely a play between the two slides, which is rather annoyingwhen working with it. As time passes, one probably gets over this disadvantage, but this is no excuse for the manufacturers who again have failedto make a sufficient effort to ensure the comfort of the buyers supporting their brand. If you decide to part with quite a lot of yourmoney in order to buy a new phone, you would have a good reason todemand the best, and such small details are really annoying - however,let’s leave it to the manufacturers from Nokia to think about this.

Similarly to most Nokia phones of this class, using a big display,Nokia N81 8GB is also equipped with a 2.4-inch unit, a QVGA (240 x 320pixels) resolution and maintains up to 16.7 colors. The images havesaturated and vivid colors; the display is very well visible in broaddaylight and the visibility angle is also very good. Many of the othermodels are equipped with a light sensor, regulating the brightness ofthe display according to the intensity of light, but N81 8 GB doesreally well even without such a sensor. The second camera, intended for3G connection, is to the right above the display.

Just like most sliders, N81’s keys are dividedbetween the upper and lower part, which means that you need to open thephone only if you want to use the numeric keyboard.The keys are flat and arranged close to each other without any spaceor relief in-between, which increases the risk of pressing the wrongone. The keys are rather hard to press, but they give a perfect tactilefeedback.

On the navigation keypad,apart from the standard navigation keys, used in all Symbian phones,there are also music keys, located around the D-Pad and which, are logically used to navigate the player. Those are soft to press,but do not give a good tactile feedback and are small. The call/endkeys are located vertically in the two opposite ends of the keypad.Unfortunately they are extremely small and inconvenient to use and youhave to press them with your fingertips. The D-pad, is bulging around its edges, thus standing out among the other keys.During the tests we came across quite a strange defect: when workingwith the D-pad the play key of the music player would activate ratheroften, which was really inexplicable, provided that we never touchedthe respective key; not to mention the disturbance that a pumped-upsong can bring when it starts completely unexpectedly while you’relooking at some information in your phone.

The navigationkeypad includes one more multimedia key, which is used for activatingthe menu in 3D mode, containing the functions Music, Games, Gallery,Contacts, Internet and Maps.

Now’s the time to mention the twokeys, intended to switch to the games mode. They are located exactlyabove the display and you need to know they’re there in order to findthem, because the manufacturer has made all the efforts necessary tohide them around the receiver. You’ll see the first signs of them ifyou activate the games mode: then the keys give themselves away bylighting up.

Keeping in mind that this is also a music phone, the stereo speakersare big enough and fairly distinguishable. They are located in theupper part on both sides and are covered with fine metal grids.

Apart from one of the speakers, there are also threekeys located on the right-hand side. In the upper part are the volumekeys, which have almost merged with the phone’s panel – this featurewill create some difficulties when using those keys. A little bitdownwards is the camera shortcut and the situation there is almostidentical. You have to use your fingertips to press it. When youactivate the music player, all three keys are lit up, which is a ratheruncommon feature with the different models of phones.

On the otherside there are no keys whatsoever and the only thing that is seen aretwo small holes in the lower corner, which are intended for a hand orneck string to be run through.

In the phone’s upper part are the 3.5mm jack,the on/off button and, mind you, the keypad lock key. This is really avery good innovative solution by Nokia which, we believe, results fromthe fact that, you have to open your phone in order to lock it, whilethis function enables you to lock it with just one movement.

However,this is all that we can say about this key’s advantages and we shouldmove on to its disadvantages. When you shake the phone, you hear arattling sound, whose source you’ve probably guessed: yes, it’scoming exactly from this hardware locking button. It is rather ricketyand is actually walking about the place designated for it and thereforethis is the defect you’re bound to come across if you decide to opt forN81 8GB.

In the phone’s lowerpart there is a place designated for the mic, as well as for the slotfor the microUSB cable and for the charging connector, which we arefamiliar with from other recent models. It is interesting to note thatthe phone is equipped with exactly this type of charging connectorinstead of using the microUSB port for the purpose, like, for example,in 6500 classic.

The phone’s back isvery well designed, so that you have the maximum comfort when takingpictures. The 2-megapixel camera with the LED flash just above it arelocated here; the camera is on one side of the lid, so that it’sunlikely that you encounter the ‘picture of my fingers’ problems. Whenyou’re taking pictures the camera button is just under your indexfinger.

Under the back lid you’ll find the battery; when youremove it, you’ll find the SIM card slot. Unfortunately, there is noslot for expanding the memory, but since the phone comes with 8 GB ofin-built memory, we can be pretty sure that most of you will hardlyfind this a problem.


Nokia N81 8GB is a smartphone using the Symbian Operating System and S60 Interface, as all the other smartphones of the brand. The operating system version is 9.2, as with the top models of N95, N76, 6120 and 6290. We are glad that it does not use the older 9.1 version, because 9.2 brings positive features only.

The top part of the home screen displays a clock and the date, as well as the usual signal strength and battery status, while the name of the carrier or Offline" can be seen in the middle. The Offline tag indicates that the N81 8GB works only as an “organizer” and multimedia device with the phone function switched off (that’s handy for using the smartphone during a flight). Just below these is located a row of 6 shortcuts which can be personalized to suit you best. The rest of the display, below them, is used for “notifications” – this is where missed calls, upcoming tasks (or To-Do in the calendar), received messages are displayed, as well as the music player status (the song that’s played at the moment). In this version of the OS, there is a shortcut to a global Search, that will seek in the whole phone's memory. We think that this is very handy! Located at the bottom of the screen are the two software buttons which can also be personalized from the Settings menu.

The main menu can be viewed as 3x4 grid of icons that can also be displayed as a list (it’s chosen directly from the main menu) but the icons are not animated in both cases. Just like the N76, here you have two new possible visualizations – Horseshoe and V-shaped, which are interestingly-looking, but inconvenient to use 3D menus. The numeric keypad buttons can be used as shortcuts – a function which is much better implemented than version 6 of the S60 interface but still a lot of things should be changed: as the menu not always holds 12 icons (they can be more or less), scrolling up/down shows you different ones that should be associated with the keypad – but they’re not. Like other Symbian phones, you can rearrange the icons in the menu and move links in folders.

A nice extra of the Symbian v9.2 is that each application which is active has a small circle next to its icon in the menu. For example, if you left any application running in the background, then an indication would appear in the main menu next to the "Applications" link . As all other Symbian S60 phones, you can see the running applications by holding the Menu key, and shut some of them off by selecting them and using the C key.

The menu can be personalized by using themes, and if you combine various screen savers and personalized homescreens, two identical phones can look quite different. Definitely, the operating system provides many good personalization options.


Symbian phones are not only smart pocket computers, they are phones in first place. And every such device should have a good system for managing the contacts. The phonebook of Symbian S60 phones together with those of Windows smartphonesis is one of the best on the market. All the contacts are displayed as a list and if there is a picture ID, it can be seen in the top left corner of the screen as a very small thumbnail  (it’s the same when you have an incoming call and that’s why we find this feature useless) when you select the contact. If you want to search, you type in directly from the keypad and searching is done for the whole name (not only the first word), even if the name is saved in more than one field (first and last name for example). If you want to edit a contact, you can only change the fields already defined. For adding more information you need to select the Add Detail menu. When adding a new contact you are provided with the “basic” fields, but with the “Add Detail” function you have almost no restrictions on the fields and their number and you can add a lot of phone numbers.

We also like having the option to add a given field several times and in that manner we are able to record the numbers of three phones for one contact, each one with the tag “Mobile”.

The phone has a set of voice commands – they are speaker independent and you don’t have to “train” every command, something that can save you a lot of precious time. By holding the right soft key, the “recognizer” turns on and you can pronounce a name (from the phonebook) to be dialed. Names like “Father”, “Brother”, “test”, “John” and “Neo” were no problem, but we had no success with others like “Amy” for example.

The commands can activate various programs or perform preset functions, like “New SMS” for example. Since not all possible commands are installed by default, different ones must be added to the menu so that they’re easier to recognize with any speaker – thus by adding only the ones you need, you can achieve best possible accuracy without the annoying training. Аnd it works, the voice commands were very accurate and we rarely experienced mistakes when launching applications.

A voice recorder can record your voice using the speakerphone. A single voice note can last maximum 1 hour but the length of a recording depends on the free memory available. With this feature the smartphone can replace your voice recorder without needing third party software.


The Organizer tools are in a folder called “Applications” in the main menu. The calendarcan be viewed by month or week and of course, you can easily add events(Meeting, Memo, Anniversary, To-do) with options for alarm, to aparticular day with a few clicks. To-Do notes are also displayed on thehomescreen if you have set the active standby in such way.

Notes are just annotations with no option for adding an alarm like the To-Do notes. The Converter works with various quantities (Length, mass, etc.) but the interface has not changed much, compared to older versions. Thecalculator is very simple and is not a scientific one, which would suit a smartphone.

In the Clock menu,you will find the alarms. In Symbian 9.2 you can add as many alarms asyou wish and for each one you can choose whether it should repeat(daily, weekly, or workdays). This is excellent and there is no stupidlimitation in the number of the alarms like with other even smartphones (i.e. Symbian 9.1 allows for only one alarm that even can not beset to repeat).

The World Clockis also located in this menu and you can add various cities that youlike to view – that's very convenient and saves a lot of time comparedto the standard way with “moving across the world map". You can easilyreview selected cities, which you are interested in without searching for themeach time.

The File manager is the one that we are fairly familiar with from theother Symbian smartphones, allowing you to review the phone’s memory,as well as opening or moving/copying files. The memory is split intotwo: the phone’s memory is 25 MB, and the extended memory is 8 GB.

Messaging :

TheMessages menu has nothing new to offer – you can easily compose SMS/MMSor Email and located in My Folder are templates which are handy fortext that is often used in messages. The fast T9 can help you entertext quickly. The EDGE and UMTS connection helps for fast retrieving ofEmails. In order to limit the generated traffic, you can set the phoneto download the headers only, or to limit the size in KB.


Nokia N81 8GB is a quad-band GSM phone, which makes it a phone that you can use anywhere in the world. However, in order to use the 3G through UMTS, you’ll have to be in Europe or Asia, since the maintained frequency  is 2100 MHz.
For local connectivity, it supports Bluetooth v2.0 + EDR (enhanced data rate) which allows for fast transfer between the phone and compatible device.

With synchronization, you can use the PC Suite of the set or download the newest version from the Internet site of Nokia. We used the Bluetooth connection between the computer and the phone for the synchronization of 140 entries (contacts & calendar entries) and the transfer took us less than 20 sec., which is a very good speed.

Thanks to the UMTS data and the QVGA resolution of the display, loading and viewing a standard HTML web pages is an easy job. The phone has no problem rendering all pages and reading phoneArena's news was a pleasure. Scrolling left-to-right and top-to-bottom is done with the phone's d-pad, and a mini-map shows you, which part of the page you are looking at. The pages loaded pretty fast and as a whole, we had a great experience with the browser, so we definitely like it more than the Internet Explorer, built in Pocket PC phones based on Windows Mobile. The browser can load RSS feeds for even faster access to information.

What we also loved about it is the history: when you use 'back' to see pages you've seen earlier, you see the pages as thumbnails, you can open from the phone's cache.


The camera is not Nokia N81 8GB’s main feature and therefore it is only 2-megapixel with a LED flash and autofocus. Yet, its interface is like that of N95. Visualized in a horizontal mode on the right are the different options, among which the LED mode, the self timer (2-20 secs), white balance, color tone, as well as ISO that can be set manually or automatically. In the lower left-hand part of the phone you’ll see the number of pictures that you can take until memory full-up, but keeping in mind that the phone is preloaded with a 8GB of memory, you can hardly be concerned with the memory being all used up. The camera is quick, it starts in just three seconds, and it takes about 3-4 seconds to save a picture you’ve taken.

What is noticed in the pictures taken in daylight is that here is too much noise, the colors are unrealistic and not saturated and we can say that the details are at an average level for a 2-megapixel camera. Pictures taken indoors are really poor even if the light is good, the noise is so big that the objects become almost indistinguishable. The pictures that have been taken without any external light (only the light from the flash) bear the same defects, even worse.

For video recording you can choose between 3 modes: High (320 x 240), Normal and Low, the latter being intended for multimedia messages. You also have white balance, colour tones and scenes modes to help you with the recording.

Nokia N81 8GB sample video at 320x240 pixels resolution

Pictures can be viewed from the Gallery menu. In the middle of the screen there is one picture, surrounded by a number of smaller pictures, which you can move from left to right and vice versa. You can view pictures also in Slide show mode with options for music background and different viewing time of each slide.


Nokia has made some effort to improve the multimedia menu that is activated by the same-named shortcut, found on the N-series phones. Nokia N81 can praise itself as the first phone coming with this new multimedia interface, but it is/will also be available in other new/future N-series phones, like the N95 8GB and N82 for example. Instead of the old screen with five shortcuts, assigned to the D-pad’s directions, here we have six tabs (Games, Music, Gallery, Contacts, Internet and Maps) visualized as windows with the main functions of each, arranged in a circle with 3D interface. Switching from one to other is done with the left and right directions of the D-pad and the functionality you’ve selected is on the front, with the others behind.

The phone lives up to its reputation of being a music-oriented phone due to the very good quality of sound coming out of the loudspeakers. N81 8GB will not let you down as far as its sound is concerned: the volume is amazing and the sound quality is crystal-clear.

The music player’s interface is the one we are familiar with from other phones using the same version of the operational system. The album cover is visualized in the display’s upper part and on the right you’ll find information about how many tracks you have saved in the player and the number of the track you’re listening to; under it is the title of the current track and the artist’s name. The keys of the music player are visualized in the lower part of the screen, although they are rather useless, due to the availability of hardware buttons in this model.

The Music Library menu allows you to sort the songs by Artist, Album, Genre, Composer. You can also create playlists. In the options you’ll find the standard repeat and shuffle functions, as well as an equalizer with 5 possible modes ( bass booster, jazz, pop, etc.) and one that allows you to make manual settings.

Nokia’s marketing team has arranged for thewell-known American pop group Maroon 5 to endorse the phone. You’ll find their whole latestalbum preloaded with the phone, as well as 2 video clips and a directlink to a site from which you can download other things, related withthe band.

Like other new Nokia S60 phones, the N81 8GB comes preloaded with the Music Store application, which allows you to buy songs from the manufacturer's shop.

Playing video clips is done by Real Player; you also have the option of a Full screen view. In the specification, concerning Nokia N81 8GB you can read that the phone maintains the following formats and codecs: H.263, MPEG4, and 3GPP. The clips that we used for the tests were, respectively, MPEG4 encoded with H.263 and in three resolutions: QVGA, QCIF and VGA. After we tried the standard QVGA (the most often-used resolution), which caused so many interruptions that you could hardly view the video, we set QCIF and VGA, and the phone was immediately stuck. This is due to the fact that N81 is considerably limited as per the files it can play and videos with a greater bit rate are obviously a problem for this phone. This is what Nokia claims is no problem playing:

  • Encoding:Resolution/frame rate/bitrate
  • H.263: QCIF/30 fps/256 kbps
  • Mpeg-4: QVGA/15 fps/384 kbps
  • H.264(AVC): QCIF/15 fps/128 kbps
  • RV8/9/10: QCIF/30 fps/256 kbps

This means that most commonly found H263 QVGA clips won't be usable, because most of the time they are encoded at more than 15fps. It is a shame, considering such clips play on most non-smart phones.


Even without a GPS, Nokia N81 8GB comes with the application Nokia Мaps, which is free and can be downloaded from the Nokia website to be used in any S60 phone. The functionality is standard, you can look up addresses or an exact location, as well as points of interest, including places for shopping, accommodation, eating, as well as different sights of interest. If a GPS device is activated, the program provides a paid option for voice navigation for some regions.

Nokia N81 is one of the first Nokia phones to have a function called Navi Wheel. It is an alternative navigation that is used for scrolling in the music player, the multimedia menu and the gallery. Similar to the Samsung F500 touch sensitive keypad, just sweep your finger around the 5-way d-pad, either clock-wise or counter clock-wise and it will scroll in the one or the other direction. This functionality is optional and can be stopped from the settings menu.

Here’s the place to say a few words about the games that are preloaded in N81 8GB. As we have already mentioned, they are based on the N-Gage platform. This means, that you’ll no longer have to have a Nokia N-gage, in order to play your favorite games. N81 8GB is the first phone which can boast this games platform. The platform itself offers a much better graphics compared to the regular mobile games that we are used to seeing, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the 3D mode, a better music background and a large number of the computer games producers, e.g. EA sports, shall be among the developers of the games from the N-gage platform. The Finnish company have announced that the platform shall be maintained in the following models: Nokia N73, Nokia N81, Nokia N81 8GB, Nokia N93, Nokia N93i, Nokia N95 and Nokia N95 8GB. When you activate the Games icon, a short intro starts, ending with the N-gage platform logo. Here you become aware of the new independent interface, whereby the games do not show on the screen like separate applications, but are instead grouped in one view, which is again a feature that the new N-gage platform has made possible. The phone comes preloaded with three demo versions of the games Fifa 2007, Space Impact and Asphalt; the full versions can be purchased from the N-gage’s website.

The games are characterized by good graphics, and the level of the gameplay is also high. The most interesting of the three games for us was Asphalt, which we believe is trying to emulate the popular computer game need for speed, adapted for a mobile phone, naturally. Another possibility that the phone offers is to play online with your friends, no matter where they are on the globe.


Nokia N81 8GB is very fast, thanks mainly to its 369 MHz processor of the ARM 11 type. During the tests the phone never slowed down or stopped opening the menus, even the heavier ones like Messaging and Games. The phone’s only weakness was playing video clips, and failures there were common, but we discussed this in detail above.

Although Nokia N81 8 GB emphasizes on its music and games capabilities, it is still a phone and therefore it is important how it performs as such. These are the results we got during our regular tests for the volume and quality of the sound:

the sound that you hear through your phone is averagely loud; the person at the other end should be pleased with the volume. Concerning the quality of the sound we can say that at both ends of the line you’ll have certain problems with this phone, related mainly to the distinctness of the speech.


Overall, we can say that N81 8GB offers nothing new, compared to its predecessors from the series, save for the 8 GB memory. It’ll let you make neither perfect pictures, nor high-quality video clips, so if you’re looking for a phone with such characteristics, you’d better look elsewhere. However, if you’re keen on a phone with a lot of memory, good music player, good sound and perfect graphics of the games and at the same time you’re prepared to put up with the shortcomings in its make, then this is the phone for you.


  • Strong volume through the speakers
  • External hardware key for locking the keypad


  • Low quality construction
  • The keys are hard to press
  • The camera lacks auto-focus

PhoneArena Rating:


User Rating:

10 Reviews

Recommended Stories

Loading Comments...
FCC OKs Cingular\'s purchase of AT&T Wireless