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.

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