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Nokia N81 8GB review

Nokia N81 8GB review
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AP Price: RM 1,089 - 1,119
With dedicated music and gaming keys, 3.5 mm headphone connector and 3G and WLAN connectivity, the Nokia N81 8GB multimedia computer is a true mobile entertainment powerhouse.
Review On : Nokia N81 8GB
Review by Spiridonov Anton (smape.com)
on August 29 .2007 at the Go Play! expo Nokia introduced two new products especially Designed to support the N-Gage platform Nokia N81 and its 8Gb modification and Nokia N95 8Gb. There・s a huge hardware difference between the two and look scarcely comparable, let alone the totally different target audiences. It might seem that Nokia N81 is just another shelf filler with negligible chances for success, obscured by the looming shadow of the worshipped N95 which is now in full supply and is offered at a stable and fair price, but there・s a bit more to it than just plain marketing concerns. Mobile entertainment is still a poorly explored land, and from the point of view of an ordinary consumer the gaming service won・t look attractive as long as he doesn・t get a pretty clear idea of what he・s offered and vice versa, an unattractive product, even alien in a way, won・t make its way into the masses quick enough to get the customers acquainted with its advantages, thus giving an impulse for further massive sales V imagine a snake biting the tip of its tail, the same unending tragicomic loop hereK unless someone finds a way to sell the gaming device in the guise of something more familiar and friendly looking, literally smuggling the gaming features between the decks to emerge suddenly when the owner begins to explore his newly bought gadget out of boredom or curiosity. N81 was given a clearly distinguishable musical orientation, powered by a large amount of memory V and in this incarnation it looks more like a flagship music phone which already has an established customer audience, at the same time acting as the steam engine of the N-Gage campaign. To kill two birds with one stone, Nokia first hurls two stones at a bird, i.e. two phones in the guise of one are offered in a bit aggressive manner to the suspicious customer V let ・s see how much of a bargain that would be, beginning with the gaming alter ego of the device.
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Nokia N-Gage Interface
The N-Gage menu item splits into five categories which can be cycled through by pressing the navigation button left and right just similar to the standby mode:
  • Home, listing your purchased games and personal messages from the N-Gage community members
  • Games, listing your downloaded games
  • Profile, listing your personal game stats and preferences
  • My Friends, listing your favourite users who are currently online
  • Showroom, a page listing N-Gage games, where it・s possible to download a trial version, add it to future purchase list. The Showroom game list (http://www.n-gage.com/showroom.html) already contains 17 games, with detailed information about each game, screenshots. All the content is easily accessible both for PC and smartphone users.
    Nokia N81 ships with three preinstalled games, namely Space Impact Light, FIFA 07 and Asphalt 3. The graphics are on a high level V something never observed with a cell phone before. Application Performance is next to perfect, no lags were noticed so far. The genre and content of the games mentioned are easily deductible from the titles, Asphalt 3 being our special favorite V something designed after the Need For Speed classic series. FIFA 07 is a cool soccer simulator which will surely be liked by lots of people. A few screenshots will follow, but of course they・re nowhere near to the real experience you get after playing for a few minutes, holding the phone in your own hands. One might ask, why did they include only a few games if it・s a gaming phone after all? The answer would be simple: the fewer games you get, the more you・ll be tempted to buy! The existing ones are enough to get a person involved into the fascinating N-Gage reality. Nokia・s intention is quite obvious: if you are keen on gaming, you・ll have to buy extra games and if you are not, you don・t have to pay a higher price for something nearly useless shipped as a part of the product.
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    The model is based on a single-chip solution from Freescale, there is no double architecture, like in Nokia N95, so at many points Nokia N81 is similar to the N76, for instance. The advantage of the Freescale chip consists in a high performance for typical operations, the smartphone has almost reached the performance level of regular cell phones. But for a game-oriented device the situation is ambiguous. like Nokia N73, which also supports installing N-Gage applications and, correspondingly, the whole existing range of applications for this platform, Nokia N81 runs all games without any observable limitations. There may be a number of explanations to this fact, the most obvious one being that not every application uses the hardware 3D accelerator functionality in top models, at least in such cases graphics rendering can be done by the less productive processor. For the end users, the difference is just theoretical, but on the mass market scale the usage of a cheaper single -chip platform grants the manufacturer numerous advantages mainly concerning the cost of hardware components and the product lead time. That factor is very important, considering the product being marketed mainly towards youth audiences. It・s not hard to guess that Nokia N81, being the first model designed in the new genre, is just an opening to a future line of gaming smartphones - the rush of inexpensive gaming devices is quite predictable in the nearest future. The trick is that though the target audience can・t afford an expensive handset it・s quite solvent in the long run, gradually purchasing content like games and music straight from the web. Games support both portrait and landscape screen orientations. In the former case the two dedicated game buttons above the screen would make the best controls. As you might already have guessed, those are real, non-touch rocker buttons; they・re tight enough to give the finger a solid feel upon pressing. While in game, the buttons are backlit and otherwise remain dimmed and almost unnoticeable. Besides these two buttons, the Navi Wheel also takes part in the gaming process as a control element, as well as the keypad just like with the traditional phones. As a gaming phone, N81 copes with the task quite well, being a highly ergonomic solution, the very first phone to consider gaming a priority rather than a complementary feature. The overall dimensions are optimal, the screen is big enough for an absolute majority of situations but yet N95 8GB is a more preferable solution in this aspect even considering its lower ergonomics in the gaming domain.
    Nokia N81 photos Nokia N81 photos

    In essense, N-Gage is an application which can be independently installed on any device that supports it. In the group, besides the recently presented novelties, we can mention Nokia N95, N93(i), and N73. The last one doesn・t possess a hardware 3D accelerator, but N-Gage. In future all new Multimedia smartphones will support N-Gage game services with a less of more clear emphasis on the gaming side. The Nokia has been following the idea that all the features should organized as simply as they. Increasing the number of supported devices is the most important task for Nokia, game sales depend directly on this. An interesting fact is that new Samsung smartphones based off the S60 platform will also support N-Gage, they are fully compatible. A number of non-smartphone devices are also stated to support the N-Gage technology.
    The Conclusion is obvious: having started with producing and launching purely gaming devices with an ambitious yet not widely recognized potential Nokia step-by-step passed to content distribution backed with a wide range of devices supporting this kind of games but not at the expense of limited functionality. According to the words of the company・s reps, the N-Gage brand was purposely launched to represent dedicated gaming gadgets first, than the trademark comprised a vast number of phones from other market segments, sharing one common feature V the famed N-Gage Software platform that came to replace the hard-coded N -Gage support of the early precursor devices.
    The following features are to become iconic for the newly born class of gaming phones:
  • Additional game controls including dedicated keypad buttons
  • Support for playing games in horizontal screen orientation
  • Integrated motion sensor that is somehow used in games as an essential element
  • Advanced player functionality
  • High performance of the hardware platform
  • A form factor comfortable for gaming (almost anything save for the traditional folder)
  • An all-embracing price bracket offering a lot of solutions for all kinds of target audience
    After a closer look at the marketing perspectives of the new N81 model, seen as a key product designed to promote the new gaming platform, everything becomes clear. The model is planned for mass production, it・s quite inexpensive and designed to cater to most audiences due to its neutral design, popular form factor and the largest amount of memory on board available on the market today, let alone the brilliant implementation of the player functionality - the product・s main audience will largely consist of people looking for mobile gaming opportunities, and the Nokia engineers did their best at making mobile gaming as comfortable as possible - up to the point where you don・t have to sacrifice any other features in exchange. The further success depends on the intensity of the advertising campaign, reaction of the market and a multitude of miscellaneous factors. Offering not a single, but several models that support such functionality the company will gradually become able to win a vast audience for the new gaming platform. But it・s going take a plenty of time, of course. In future Nokia is planning to introduce an increasing number of N-Gage devices, this trend is becoming of an increasingly high priority to the company. Though the opportunity to download N-Gage applications directly to the phone will appear later (at the same time with the release of the 17 mentioned games and, of course, a lot of new ones), only then we・ll be able to speak about how useable the support for this service is. The compay are planning to start distributing games in November 2007, by this time the company are planning to increase the overall count of available N-Gage games to 35, that is more than just sufficient to attract public attention to the N-Gage platform. The average cost of a game is a10, that is quite affordable for the majority of consumer considering the high quality of offered content itself V as, for example, almost such amounts of money we waste for buying music albums, films and games for PC.
    With such an active position concerning the market of mobile gaming solutions, the variety of devices and quality games, Nokia have made a serious claim for leadership in the whole segment, the company・s positions are going to eventually improve, at least for the time being Nokia guys have all the trumps in their hands.
    At this point we・ll cease talking about the gaming platform and its capabilities and perspectives, passing to the hardware aspect and its characteristics. It・s worth mentioning that no other phone but Nokia N81 8GB will be the cornerstone of Nokia・ s sales for a few months ahead, the light version with the memory expansion slot is meant to be only a portfolio expansion and a complement to its bigger brother but little more.
    Design & Ergonomics
    Nokia N81 utilizes the slider form factor, the overall dimensions aren・t that large for a smartphone, being mere 102?50?17,9 mm. The device sits in the hand in a most comfortable manner, the plastic that the casing is made from is glossy which aren・t very helpful for a gaming phone. The design is in keeping with the latest of Nokia・s standard, it gives a strict, classic feel yet not too outfashioned thanks to the smooth, vague surface of the button V symbols which are not backlit are merely visible. The product color is black, the side pieces and the Navi Wheel being blue in the light version and light brown in the 8Gb variant.
    Nokia N81 photos Nokia N81 photos
    Nokia N81 photos Nokia N81 photos

    As compared to Nokia 6110 Navigator: Nokia N81 Photos Nokia N81 Photos Nokia N81 Photos As compared to Nokia N95: Nokia N81 Photos Nokia N81 Photos Nokia N81 Photos As compared to Nokia E65: Nokia N81 Photos Nokia N81 Photos Nokia N81 Photos The quality of material is very high, the built quality is next to perfect, there・s no play between the parts of the device. The sliding mechanism makes think of E65, 6110 Navigator V almost ideal (well, why .almost?・). The right edge of the casing hosts the two-positioned volume button along with the camera controls. The light version of the handset also features a miroSD expansion slot on the left edge (you won・t find one with N81 8Gb). Each edge has a big stereo speaker covered with a metal mesh, the sound quality is very high, similar to Nokia 6290. The sound is overly loud, it・s hard to miss a call even during a Marilyn Manson・s live performance. The bottom end features the microUSB slot which becomes sort of a standard for the newer Nokia models, and the charger slot is situated nearby.
    Nokia N81 photos Nokia N81 photos

    Among other features of N81 we・d note the presence of a keypad blocking slide button (like in Nokia N91), it・s placed on the top end of the device near to the 3,5 mm headset jack. The way it works is slightly modified, it no longer works like a toggle switch with two extreme positions similar to its forerunner, but rather consequently blocks and unblocks the keypad after each move of the slide button that automatically returns to its starting position. The sales package also includes a headset supplied with an AD-54 remote controls, which has also been redesigned to match the device・s appearance, the media buttons are flat. Also sound volume controls and the call response button were added, meaning that the remote control is now a very handy addition itself, since the release of Nokia N91 the company has established a reputation of a leading manufacturer of music-oriented solutions, especially when it comes to the player ergonomics. Other companies don・t seem to pay as much attention to the ergonomic aspect of the integrated mp3 players as Nokia does (introducing additional buttons and the remote control accessories).
    Nokia N81 photos Nokia N81 photos

    The back surface of the device is smooth and glossy, which also makes it prone to scratching and wearing away, the soft-touch would have made a better designer choice in this case. The integrated 2 Mpix camera lens is situated nearby, the photos quite in accordance with its specifications turn out rather poor. The video resolution is VGA, the fps is 15, and the quality is somewhere a little below average. A LED flashlight accompanies the module. The back panel is fully removable, it hides a 1070 mAh behind. The SIM card holder is completely made of metal, it can be retracted from the case forth and back. An unusual yet handy design.
    Nokia N81 photos Nokia N81 photos

    Screen
    The screen of Nokia N81 sports a traditionally high quality characteristic of the latest Nokia solutions of this class, the diagonal is 2,4; just like Nokia N73, N93, N76 and so on. The screen is powered by the TFT technology, it・s capable of displaying up to 16M colos, the mirror backing allows for a high legibility even while the screen is exposed to the direct sunlight. The view angles are great, you can read the screen information from almost any angle. The brightness is more than good, however due to some obscure reason the phone lacks the traditional luminance sensor, so brightness can only be adjusted manually. At the maximum level of brightness the phone looks better than Nokia 95. The following images are to illustrate a comparison of the two screens, N81 seems to display more realistic colors.
    Nokia N81 photos Nokia N81 photos

    The screen is one of the best available on the market today, the image quality deserves the highest appraisals. The only drawback is the occasional glaring produced by the protective glass.
    Controls, Navi Wheel, Keypad
    he block of controls is notable for the presence of additional buttons active in the player mode V rewind, playback, pause, everything on this side is similar to what we observed with Nokia N91 except the location of the buttons. The controls block is absolutely flat, the polished buttons look stylish, but despite of this ergonomics hasn・t suffered at all, as it might seem at first. The buttons aren・t the touch-type (including the gaming ones), actually they・re real, rocker-type button that possess a good feedback and cause no troubles at all. The extra player buttons are not as comfortable as the rest, the problem lies behind their small size and a position too close to the navigation key and other controls elements. The button symbols are backlit only when the multimedia menu or the player are activated, otherwise they are not.
    Nokia N81 photos Nokia N81 photos

    The so-called Navi Wheel is an interesting feature, it's actually a means for operating the multimedia component V in the player mode, FM tuner, while watching video and so on. Navi Wheel in essense is a navigation key, or to be more exact, its edges are. The Navi Wheel has nothing in common with the player control buttons, only the silver (or blue) border is sensitive to the touch. The principle of operation is rather simple: in the music menu it allows to scroll the playlist in a rapid manner, you have just to pass the finger over the button clockwise or counter-clockwise, correspondingly scrolling goes up or down, in practice it・s very handy. Here lies a very distinctive difference between solutions offered by Nokia and the ones by Samsung, for example. The thing is that so-called touch sensor prinsiple is combined with the regular controls, i.e. a the navigation button equally reacts to regular strokes, and if that・s not to your liking, the option can easily be switched off in the appropriate menu. Then the navigation key will work only in the traditional way. Giving a more detailed description of how the sensor works, we・d note that, for instance, the tab browsing is possible both by passing the finger over the navigation key・s borders and by pressing the button left and right.
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    The majority of users are bound to be pleasantly surprised with the fact that Nokia resolved the problem in such a way V by combining the really innovative sensor control with standard, habitual ways. The thing is that the button has no moving parts, it・s completely static, but still reacts to the touch in a very specific manner. This is a real advantage the model, its unique feature, the development of this idea in future is going to bring exclusively positive results.
    The keypad is made of a thin piece of plastic, the buttons are very flat, but still comfortable to operate, they yield neatly and give a nice feedback. Due to the large size of the buttons, stray keystrokes almost never occur.
    Nokia N81 is supplied with a LED indicator which flashes white over even periods of time, it's integrated into the Navi Wheel, the flashing can be switched off. It has no other custom settings, it's a pity because some of the phones by Nokia could have their LED lights customized to indicate misses calls, messages and miscellaneous events.
    Battery
    The standard battery sports a capacity of 1070 mAh which is quite enough for most consumers, the manufacturer claims some 3,1 hours (GSM) / 2,4 hours (WCDMA) of talk time and 9,5 days of standby. The device proved able to withstand about two days under moderate duty (about an hour of talk time, four hours of listening to music, an hour of taking photos, browsing the menus and so on). Comparing this handset to Nokia 95, we should especially underline the advantage of the former in this competition, which is quite justified by the musical and gaming orientation of the device. The continuous mp3 cycle in flight mode lasted as long as 12 hours.
    Model Nokia N81 8GB Nokia N95
    Moderate duty 2 days 1 day
    Multimedia cycle, video (3GP) 3:45 2:30
    Multimedia cycle, audio (MP3) 11:50 8:10

    Data transfer protocols
    Communications. The model possesses a standard set of data exchange features for its class, the available slots include a microUSB slot for plugging the data cable, the 3.5 mm headset jack and the slim charger slot. The microUSB slot became a standard to the latest generation of SE products, the only bad thing about it is that the data cables are seldom sold separately and it・s hard to find and buy one without a phone attached. The data transfer speed is comparable with that of Nokia 6290. The USB protocol version is 2.0, the Mass Storage mode is fully supported, it・s possible o choose between Mass Storage, PC Suite and Modem connection types. The device doesn・t go offline when used in the Mass Storage mode, the phone retains all of its functionality.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The model is designed to operate in EGSM 850/900/1800/1900 frequency bands as well as in WCDMA 850/2100, but unfortunately lacks HSDPA support.
    As stated by the manufacturers, the Bluetooth version is 2.0 + EDR with the following profiles supported:
  • A2DP
  • Audio/Video Remote Control
  • Basic Imaging
  • Dial-up Networking
  • File Transfer
  • Generic Access
  • Generic Object Exchange
  • Handsfree
  • Headset
  • HID
  • Object Push
  • SIM Access
  • Serial Port
    As stated by the manufacturers, the Bluetooth version is 2.0 + EDR with the following profiles supported:
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    The Bluetooth data transfer speed reaches 130 Kb/s at its peak points. The Bluetooth visibility period can be specified by the user, ranging from a minute to an hour.
    Similar to the rest of multimedia computers, a Wi-Fi module is present, supporting the b/g standard and the WLAN Wizard, a simple wizard application that will help you out while configuring network connections. There is also special application Home Media that has been clearly improved. The application allows you to manage N81 content using Wi-Fi connection.
    Performance
    In the terms of performance, a huge difference from the rest of Nokia smartphones can be observed here, the standard CPU frequency used to be 220 Mhz as specified by the TI OMAP 1710 chipset features. In the current case we see a significant improvement over the old value, which can only be adequately explained by the new hardware platform. Without dwelling deep into the technical details, we・d say that the performance closely approaches that of the casual phones, it・s really fantastic for a smartphone. It・s almost as quick in most operations, that・s a great advantage, the hardware part is mostly the same as 6290, N76 V the quite comparable performance and harware specifications hint at that fact. Nokia N95 displays significantly more impressive results due to the presence of an integrated 2d/3d graphics accelerator.
    Model Nokia N81 8GB Nokia 6110 Navigator Nokia N95 Sony Ericsson W910i
    Jbenchmark 1.0.1 Score 5618 5820 5311 7222
    Text 1583 1644 1419 1964
    2D Shapes 1451 1490 1303 1983
    3D Shapes 697 716 640 873
    Fill Rate 373 394 336 667
    Animation 1514 1601 1613 1735
    Jbenchmark 2.0.1 Score 595 697 568 978
    Image Manipulations 379 414 410 321
    Text 718 772 710 657
    Sprites 535 578 520 505
    3D Transform 906 916 817 662
    User Interface 594 870 476 12617
    Jbenchmark 3D HQ 203 206 973 371
    Jbenchmark 3D LQ 376 4154 1018 424
    Triangles ps 52067 60551 48330 30619
    KTexels ps 3452 3799 6393 1517
    Jbenchmark HD Gaming Score 162 (5.4 fps) 176 (5,9 fps) 91 (3.0 fps) 151 (5.0 fps)
    Smooth triangles 104296 110221 44190 28641
    Textured triangles 83570 88045 27310 24299
    Fill rate, KTexels 2189 3464 1107 1972

    The device works under command of one of the latest revisions of the Symbian operating system, namely v9.2 S60v3FP1. There・s no support for fast boot, nevertheless booting only takes about 20 seconds.
    The amount of free user memory is about 48 Mb after the OS has been loaded, and the overall memory size is 96 Mb. Similar values are observed with the above mentioned Nokia N76, 6610 Navigator, that・s quite sufficient for most situations. The maximum heap and jar size are unlimited
    The integrated storage size is 128 Mb, up to 35 Mb is available for keeping user data, but that doesn・t matter much since the phone sports an integrated flash module storing up to 8Gb of custom data (or the memory expansion slot for the light version)
    User Interface
    The software part mostly coincides with Nokia N95, 6110 Navigator and a multitude of Nokia products based off the S60 3rd edition FP1 platform. This also means that all of the base functionality provided with the platform is present here as well, save for a few moments that will be discussed in the article a bit later. The difference from the earlier versions is rather minor, including the OS-level support for the A2DP profile, HSDPA, the updated Nokia Web Browser, Freescale CPU support. The latter is one of the key features indicating the smooth transition to CPUs other than TI OMAP, leading to significant portfolio expansion. As it has been already mentioned, the hardware platform based off the Freescale chip is notable for lower development costs combined with a high performance, especially when it comes to the menus and standard applications like the phonebook, PIM, messaging service, camera and so on V the stereotypical image of a :slow smartphone; is waning into obscurity thanks to such products as Nokia 6290, N76, 6110 Navigator, 6120 Classic and so on. Formally these belong to the mod-end market and none of them is remarkable for an outstanding functionality or any claims for a top position in any sector V the real flagships will be TI OMAP (2420 / 2430) solutions with a hardware 2D/3D accelerator, the standard task performance will stay on the same level. This way Nokia are developing two branches of devices targeted at different market sectors: multimedia-oriented flagship models and high-performance mid-end products, expanding the presence of smartphones on the mass market.
    Nokia N81 (8GB) shares a common hardware base with all of the above-mentioned models, i.e. the model is based off a single- chip Freescale solution which stands for a high performance in most situations; the testing results are listed in the corresponding chapter of the article.
    The arrangement of menu elements is quite typical for Nokia smartphone, almost nothing new can be observed here. There are four menu viewing options including the new 3D profiles Horseshoe and V-shaped V looking interesting, working not too comfortable. but the most important thing is that Navi Wheel expands the existing menu functionality in a very remarkable way, giving it a totally new sense along with an improved ergonomics.
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    The menu isn・t animated, however one pleasant thing is that the right corner of every menu item no matter if the icon is a shortcut or a folder, a semi-circular mark appears if the application is currently running in the background.
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    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The Go-To standby mode expansion first appeared among the S60-based Nokia products, the pioneers being 6680/6681. From five to eight (depending on the screen resolution and orientation) application shortcuts, schedule gist and player settings were originally the stuff that this feature allowed to pass to the screen during standby. Later the Go-To active standby mode appeared with Series40 as well, also sporting an expanded functionality V simple phones came to beat smartphones at least in one area, which looked a bit unusual.
    Some of the latest devices based off S60v3 Feature Pack 1 utilizes an improved version of the go-to active standby mode allowing for some addon modules, simply speaking an opportunity to let the summary info on the currently running applications to be shown on the screen.
    The Go-To active standby mode can be switched off if the user doesn・t feel that he really needs a lot of info and shortcuts to be displayed in the standby mode. As seen in its standard implementation, the active standby mode makes a row of six shortcut icons to appear on the screen, the number of icons is unfortunately limited unlike with the Series 40 products. Also there・s an opportunity to set custom shortcuts for 3rd party applications, which is really comfortable since you no longer have to go to lots of menus one after another to launch a frequently used application like ICQ.
    One of the Go-To options is the enhanced Search function, there were some slight changes introduced in comparison with the rest of Nokia smartphones, but on the whole the functionality remains the same. You can search anywhere ranging from Interned to your own content, messages, calendar events and alike, the application bears strong analogies with the Smart Search function widely used by Samsung.
    The multimedia menu design has been revamped again, now the Navi Wheel provides for circular browsing of the tabs, it looks just as beautiful as it・s comfortable. A separate button (earlier used in Nokia N91 exclusively for switching on the mp3 player) is used here for calling up the menu. Similar to Nokia N95, it・s possible to add new menu items and customize their order. Such design looks both practical and visually appealing, in most cases it replaces the regular main menu.
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    The variety of devices based off FP1 can differ in some of the minor points like the menu elements arrangement and the order of icons, which doesn・t make a serious difference anyway since you can always customize this aspect to your liking.
    Similar to the rest of S60 devices, the voice control feature doesn・t require getting used to the user・s voice in order to operate, you can use voice control without any preparation since the device adapts to your voice almost instantly, but you can also turn this adaptation off as well if the phone is used by a number of people. The voice control is activated by holding the right button pressed for a short period of time. The list of voice control settings tab includes five options (Modes, Mailbox, Bluetooth, Voice Recorder, Camera) but any other application can be added to the list as well.
    The handset offers a few themes, it・s possible to choose a screensaver, the default option being a screen-size clock, but a text message or an animation could be use? as well (each preinstalled theme has a unique associated screensaver. If you choose a custom animation, you must specify the playback time and backlighting duration, it stands to reason to specify the same value in both cases.
    Phonebook & Call Service
    The contact book is among the most powerful features of S60-based smartphones. Almost no difference can be observed on this front as compared to earlier versions. Some slight changes in the information field layout and visual effects are the only thing that makes a difference in this FP1-based firmware. The number of contact records is only limited to the amount of free user memory, which is quite typical of almost every smartphone. There are three types of fields for phone numbers, video calls, IP-phone numbers, fax numbers, e-mail address, web address, mail addresses and a single type of field for pager number, first and last name, note and date. Only one Name/Last name and Birthday record can be set per contact, but the rest of the fields can be .cloned・ as many times as you wish, besides i.e. you can both delete fields which appear as unnecessary and create new ones. The length limit of a field is 50 symbols. The mail address field includes seven subfields. The Symbian・ s field renaming feature is quite expectedly included in the phonebook service. Not only the phone number, but as well the e -mail address, video call number, SMS, MMS and PPT contacts can be set as standard. The PhotoID service stays same with previous versions, so you might want to look for a 3rd party application since Nokia sticks to their purposely limiting this functionality. The very word .thumbnail・ is just enough to ascribe the deal. A contact can be associated with a VideoID clip that would play every time this person calls you over the phone. The priority is given to the VideoID should a contact have both a picture and a video associated. The ringtone will be completely replaced with the video soundtrack, which to some would appear annoying. Only .mp4 files can be used by the VideoID function.
    There are three options for listing contacts:
  • Last Name First Name
  • Last Name, First Name
  • First Name Last Name
    Quite, accordingly the phonebook search can be performed not only by a single field, the search phrase length limit is 40 symbols. A dedicated tab lists the user groups, switching between the tabs is done by pressing the navigation button left and right, each of the groups can be specified a unique ringtone.
    The integrated speech synthesizer can pronounce the name of the person who are calling you. First a ringtone is played once, then the name is pronounced and the ringtone follows again in an endless loop. The only thing you need to use it is to activate it. The same synthesizer is used for voice dialing - so you don・t have to leave voice marks, only the contact name needs to be spoken out for the dialing to start. The accuracy of recognition is rather high, in most cases it works without any need to repeat things twice. However in a very noisy environment you might happen to be forced to. There・s nothing much special about the quick dialing option.
    The call logs are organized just as in the previous versions: Incoming, Dialed and Missed calls are displayed on the three respective lists, no uniform list comprising the three kinds is available, unfortunately. Switching between the lists is done by pressing the navigation button sideways. The maximum period of time for which call information can be stored is one month, which can be further customized to ten or one day. A number of filters can be applied to the call log, each call event can be viewed separately with all the detailed information.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    Messaging
    The handset supports SMS, MMS and E-mail messaging. No outstanding features were added to the traditional functionality, which can hardly be seen as a sad thing since everything essential is already present as part of the platform: templates, T9, drafts, expansion storage (SMS and MMS alike). Text input is quite usual, switching between languages is done from a context menu or with the , button, the rest of the functions operated with the dedicated Edit button in the 6120c were associated with the # button in Samsung i550 - the caps lock, numeric/alphabet switch, text copy/paste.
    Switching between received, sent and other kinds of messages is done by pressing the joystick or the navigation button sideways, it・s quite comfortable and eliminates the necessity to get back to the messages menu every time now and again, the tabs representing each category of messages are shown in a row at the top of the screen. Messages can be sorted by date, sender, subject and the type of the message itself. You can move messages between folders and create an unlimited number of custom folder inside the My Folder directory.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The delivery notes are stored separately, they can be discarded both one by one or by the whole stock. The user can specify if they want the delivery notes to be sent both for MMS and SMS messages or any one of the two kinds.
    The MMS service is comfortable, the maximum message size is limited to 300 Kb, an image, an audio clip (talk record) and a video clip can be attached to the message. MMS options include the image size setting - original, small and large. The message text can either precede or follow the multimedia content. The address line can either contain the recipient name only or include the Subject and Carbon Copy fields.
    Upon creating an MMS message the context menu offers to compose a slide show. Should the user agree, a total of four templates are displayed - Image (image slides), Video (video snapshot slides, Thumbnails (pairs of two), and Headers (each slide is shown with a text header). The templates are easy to handle, allowing for creation of impressive animated messages.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The e-mail client supports the SMTP/POP3/IMAP4 protocols. Upon creating a new mailbox a special wizard is launched, automating the process to the point where it becomes totally easy even for an inexperienced user. Some of the fields are filled automatically, tips are displayed during each step, the only thing that is directly required from the user is to specify the mailbox and server type.
    Scheduled e-mail checks are supported, three modes for downloading mail to the smartphone are available: headers only, full messages or full messages with attachments. The volume of downloaded information can also be limited to a specified number of incoming messages, or alternatively, all of them can be downloaded upon every e-mail check.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    Voice messages are supported: the text field is substituted with a large icon, the activation of which will bring up the voice recorder interface and the recording begins immediately. After recording the message, the maximum length of which is limited to two and a half minutes, the icon changes its looks. If you want to record the message again, you can delete the previously recorded one from the message by pressing the C button.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The incoming messages can be read aloud by the integrated speech synthesizer. The implementation isn・t too good, it・s inferior in quality as compared to Nokia 5500 sport, the controls are somewhat awkward. The speech volume is adjustable, ranging from 1 to 10. The only preinstalled voice is Ellen, an AI English speaker, surprisingly no other languages are supported. Also there・s no way to specify a folder for the system to read messages from, in other words the phone only recognizes the Incoming folder but won・t let to choose the e-mail folder which otherwise would be great. Unfortunately, copying e-mail messages to the Incoming folder doesn・t improve the situation V the application only recognizes text messages. But the biggest minus is the lack of an automatic or quick launch option for the speech synthesizer, in other words you have to go though a few menus every time you want to use that functionality. So with the N81 handset it・s easier to read a message than listen to it.
    PIM
    The personal information manager comprises a number of applications including: Measures and Currencies Converter, Notes, Voice Recorder and Calculator. The converter and calculator are quite standard applications found on many phones based off the same platform: the convertor acts in full accordance with its name, converting a selected currency or measure into another kind, the calculator is very primitive and only supports the very basic arithmetic.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The alarm clock has quite a number of settings as compared to what we had with pre-FP1 devices. Besides a one-time signal, the alarm clock supports a schedule on a weekday basis, the signals can be one-time and recurring, it・s possible to set a signal to be played once a week or daily, on a specified weekday only, on workdays or on weekends. Although the application doesn・t allow to configure a signal to be played on a manually selected number of days, limiting the user to the options listed above. There・s an option to set any weekday save for Sunday as a workday. Any custom ringtone can be used for an alarm clock signal.
    The calendar supports four viewing modes: by month, week or day (hour-based schedule is available in this case), or as a task list featuring completion deadlines. Stats on the number of completed and unfinished tasks can be displayed on the screen during standby. Customizable default values include the calendar signal, the starting weekday and the default viewing mode.
    Four types of events can be associated with a particular date: meeting, reminder, anniversary or task. Upon adding a new event, the user is asked to specify the place/subject, start and end time and/or date, alarm signal, repeating signal, synchronization type (personal / shared), everything looks very simple yet efficient. Once an event is specified, a colored corner is added to the date record which displays a pop-up with detailed description if you hover the cursor over it; if you jump to a specified date, a full schedule for that date is shown. Upon adding a new event, a reminder signal can be set to play daily, weekly, once in a fortnight, etc. Also you are prompted to specify an expiration date for the signal V once the day comes, the reminder deactivates itself. The calendar functionality of the model should be highly praised, judging by our experience.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The office applications are in essence the classical QuickOffice for viewing Microsoft Office files: Word(*.doc), Excel (*.xls), PowerPoint(*.ptt). A number of Office versions are supported Office (97, 2000, and XP) though the compatibility doesn・t embrace all the existing versions. The document editing functionality doesn・t depend on the S60 FP1 platform, that・s why you have to install a full version of QuickOffice to be able to edit such documents..
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The voice recorder is exactly the traditional application found with other Nokia phones, it・s simple to the extreme, the record length limit is set to one hour, the only customizable setting is the storage folder for the records made with the application (where you specify a location on the memory card for the N81 or the flash memory for the N81 8Gb) The record quality is high, it・s also possible to make records while talking over the phone.
    Nokia Web Browser
    One of the main changes in Feature Pack 1 is the improved web browser. The browser went through a significant update - the famed Konqueror project has been put in the foundation of the application, also used as the software component stock for Apple・s Safari Web Browser. Nokia Web Browser involves a most useful functionality providing for comortable Web surfing: HTML 4.01 (full support for tabs, frames and forms), JavaScript 1.5, CSS1 and CSS2, RSS. The browser interface is translated into 46 languages, though not every language is supported by a specific version of the device. The number of supported languages is hardcoded in the phone・s firmware depending on the region of sale.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The following graphics formats are supported: GIF, JPEG, BMP, WBMP, PNG. Supported audio formats include: MIDI, WAV, MP3, ACC, EACC+, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, Real Audio. The browser supports security protocols and algorithms that come with the S60 platform and Symbian OS
    Web pages can be navigated through with help of a minimap, a red frame indicating the area which will be shown on the screen after switching back to the standard view. No lags or performance drops was observed during the tests, however it takes a couple of seconds for the minimap to appear due to the associated visual effect. Minimap can also be customized to act as an overlay during scrolling times, shown just abova the main image. In this case the minimap is rendered semi-transparent, letting the user learn of his current location on the page.
    The History log enjoys a stylish implementation, the earlier visited pages all are given tiny previews, each preview window comes with a header to make recognition as easy as it comes.
    The bookmark service is well designed and it・s just what you need for comfortable work. Two types of bookmarks are available: common and adaptive. Common bookmarks are created by the user in a way similar to bookmarking web pages in PC browsers like Internet Explorer or Opera. Adaptive bookmarks are created automatically depending on the relevance of the recently visited pages, structurized in a way that lets the user to see them sorted in groups each comprising pages from the same site. An adaptive bookmark can be converted into a common one. Both types can be sent as links via SMS.
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots
    Nokia N81 Screenshots Nokia N81 Screenshots

    The menu navigation system is well-planed, the numeric keys are also used as shortcuts to different browser functions.
    The main browser changes introduced with the Feature Pack 1 as compared to its previous version are:
  • Save page
  • Save selected Image
  • Password Manager (stores page passwords),
  • Flash Lite 2.0 Plug-in,
  • RSS and Atom newsfeed auto-update capability
  • Optimized cache functioning
  • The new browser completely ousted out the old one that the S60 platform used to employ; the new browser can be manipulated as a system component by 3rd party applications
    The enumerated changes are rather important, the browser has undergone some really positive changes, we can only hope for further improvements like adding copy/paste functionality or an option to choose between opening a link in the same or in a new tab. Even without those, the browser is one of the best available on the mobile market, giving the S60 some real PC feel.
    Applications
    We have already mentioned the preinstalled games which come with the phone as part of the sales package: Asphalt 3, FIFA 07, Space Impact Light. In addition to that, the smartphone is supplied with a number of service applications typically found with this platform, like world clock, calculator and office applications. All in all, a smartphone is essentially a smartphone V there are hundreds of 3rd party Symbian applications so you aren・t just limited to what Nokia stuffed inside before shipping you the product. Just send the distributive file over Bluetooth or the data cable, and then the application is installed, simple as it comes and without any limitations.
    Camera
    Camera is the biggest disappointment that you have to face dealing with Nokia N81 8G V something more likely to be found with cheaper models.
    The camera interface is designed to be used in landscape orientation, a special side button is used to control the camera, the volume controls also act as zoom controls. A small row of shortcut icons is shown in the camera mode, is used to manipulate various options and settings right in the process of shooting, but if you don・t like it you can hide it by checking the corresponding option. An analogous panel is found with the N73 and N95 models, it・s in fact rather helpful so the camera interface might even be better than the camera itself. With the updated version of the interface it's also possible to turn on the viewfinder grid, which sometimes proves quite helpful.
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    Settings include
  • Switching to video mode
  • select shooting mode (regular, panoramic, nighttime)
  • Flashlight control (on, off, auto)
  • Timer (10, 20, 30 seconds)
  • Multiple shot
  • Exposition adjustment (from -2.0 to 2.0)
  • White balance adjustment
  • Effects (sepia, negative, black and white)
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    The secondary camera used for video calls is positioned on the front surface, providing for a 320x240 resolution, it・s quite OK for a video call. Also the frontal camera can be used as a self-portrait mirror.
    The video clips are recorded at a maximum resolution of 640x480 (VGA) with a framerate of 15 frames per second. The file format is MPEG4. The quality of the videos is somewhere a bit below average, it looks quite viewable on the phone screen, but you・d for sure be disappointed if you tried to watch them on a larger screen but still in this aspect the N95 is a much more tempting offer. .
    Following the open standards ideology, the company only supports the open multimedia formats in their products, namely 3GP and MPEG-4, there・s no support for AVI so you have to install a third-party codec on order to be able to play that type of files (e.g. DivX Player). The optimal screen resolution for viewing video clips id 320x240.
    As far as the video quality is concerned, to put it frankly it・s rather plain. Maybe the high quality of the screen (that makes images look a bit better, in a way) would fool you into thinking that the photos are quite OK, but on a larger screen like a TV or PC monitor you・d see a lot of noise and artifacts, save probably only for shots taken in full daylight which might look OK in some cases.
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    Gallery
    The gallery is quite a standard application for viewing user media files, the interface is completely the same with Nokia N95, circular browsing is supported V it・s really helpful to use the Navi Wheel in such cases, especially if you・re browsing through a lot of files. The visualization enjoys a brilliant implementation, the customizable settings include sorting by date, name, size or format of the file, an unlimited number of user folders can be created in the phone memory, ROM or the expansion card. Here in the same menu you can set the print preferences. selecting a group of files can be done by moving the selection along while holding the # button.
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    Multimedia
    Multimedia is the strongest side of the device, Nokia N81 8Gb is more than just a gaming phone, here the second major aspect comes into play V the musical orientation is well implemented, it・s a great thing that they included the 3.5 mm standard jack allowing for all types of 3rd party headsets to be used with the phone perfectly compatible with the brand headset adapter also featuring extra player controls. It・s designed after the general N81 concept, sharing the same glossy buttons and rounded corners, it・s also very comfortable to use.
    Nokia N81 photos

    Four dedicated buttons are used in the player mode, just like in the N91. The buttons are too small to be comfortably operated, but the very presence of is a big plus. These buttons are only backlit when the player is active, otherwise they stay dimmed and mostly unnoticeable.
    Nokia N81 photos

    The player interface seems to have undergone serious changes and looks quite different from the previous models. A similar arrangement of control elements is characteristic of all the latest S60v3 FP1 devices (e.g. Nokia N95, 6290), the minor difference among them is the order in which the interface elements are displayed on the screen. The controls are rather convenient, the navigation button is used to rewind, play or pause the playback, every function is indicated by a small icon. The song title and performer name are shown on the screen during standby, the side rocker button is used to control the sound volume.
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    The player settings include five equalizer presets with the opportunity of creating an unlimited number of user profiles. Also there are settings allowing to tweak balance, enhanced stereo sound, bass boost, reverberation. Different miscellaneous options are available: sorting by performer, album, genre and so on, as well as auto repeat and play random. The Album Arts feature is present, meaning that you can associate an album cover artwork with the selected tracks. Similar to Nokia N95, the playback can be accompanied with visualization FX though it degrades the battery charge. The Music menu item now has a brand new subitem titled Nokia Music Store which will be discussed further.
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    Touching upon the format compatibility issue, the following formats are supported by the new gadget: AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, MP3, MP4, M4A, WMA, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, Mobile XMF, RealAudio 7,8,10, WAV.
    There・s nothing very remarkable about the FM tuner, up to 50 favorite frequencies can be bookmarked unlike the 20 value of the earlier models, visualization service support also belongs here. You have to plug the headset in order to use the tuner, since the former acts as an antennae. The radio module sports a good sensitivity, the sound quality also raises no questions.
    The device was able to survive through 12 hours of continuos multimedia cycle which is more than sufficient result for a Symbian smartphone.
    The sound quality stays on a very high level, but it・s important to see that Nokia N81 is not a music-oriented flagship of the company, and the real hi-end music device will hit the shelf in the beginning of 2008. But anyway, N81 provides a playback quality similar to that of Nokia N91, it・s comparable to or even better than the majority of other music-oriented phones available on the market. Having been tested using Nokia N91 bundled headset, both devices displayed almost similar results, while Nokia N95 has a worse sound output. So the possible replacing of N91 with the novelty is more than justified, since a long list of additional advantages comes along with the improved sound quality.
    Nokia Music Store
    Similar to the majority of upcoming multimedia solutions by Nokia, a full Nokia Music Store support is included in this one. Simultaneously with the N-Gage announce, Nokia have presented an web service devoted to downloadable mp3 content dubbed Nokia Music Store, its base containing over 1 000 000 tracks by different performers, the price of a track is a1 , the price of an album V starting from a10 , a monthly subscription to downloadable content PC synchronization V a10. The price is quite standard for most European offers of such kind, time will tell how successful the project will be. The menu was expanded with an item titled :Pass to the music store;, that automatically redirecting you to the corresponding address www.music.nokia.com. The list of offered features is extensive, including a full-blown song search, access to ratings and statistics, planned downloads list, sample listening, PC synchronization via Windows Media Player.
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    A phone manufacturer offering extra content and web services might look weird against the background of mobile telecoms operators, - the kind of companies that ought to be primarily concerned with such stuff rather than the phone manufacturers, - but as long as this business is profitable, Nokia will stick to it and resolve misunderstandings between them and the operators by introducing monor differences between the operator versions of the devices and their SIM-free variants. Nokia introduces revolutionary ideas in a lot of spheres which is their key to success. Their point of view might differ from the traditional positions, but as long as this apocryphal approach proves more efficient than the old ways, there's no reason for frowning upon it. For instance, after the Nokia Maps service was launched, the maps were made free though before that you had to pay for them. Nokia Music Store offers a monthly subscription for mere ten euros and as long as you have an internet connection available, you can download anything you wish and listen to the music on the phone and on the PC alike. Nokia N- Gage offers quality games for 6-10 on average which is a truly unique deal for a mobile gaming device with GSM functionality. Of course N-Gage games tend to be more mainstream and less sophisticated in a speculative comparison with PSP and similar consoles, but in fact the two categories are incomparable and hardly can be deemed competitive products at all due to the obvious difference.
    Of course, all these generous offerings influence the customer's way of thinking in a long-term outlook, that's why now there are conflicts emerging between the company and the telecoms operators over the Music Store business since Nokia offers the customer a more advantageous alternative to the existing services run by the operators. Mobile devices are designed largely for casual, mainstream gameplay and the quality of games offered by N-Gage is more than enough, while at the same time the audience is strikingly vast. Portable game consoles like Nintendo DS and Sony PSP belong to a much narrower, niche market as speculatively compared to what the N-Gage service is going to evolve into after the platform becomes popular and a large number of games designed for it emerge. It makes no sense trying to design a smartphone that will claim to be a replacement to existing full-blown portable game consoles, but having the gaming functionality as a complementary featuer allowing both for more or less decent gaming experience alongside with a full-blown GSM and musical functionality is actually a good compromise as seen in the case of N81. That's exactly what makes the 'multiclass devices' so popular on the mass market and thus profitable, provided that the products are backed up by a developed system of content distribution services.
    Opinion
    Nokia N81 is a fine solution neatly fitting into its market niche, if you're looking for a multimedia smartphone and don't mind the poor camera, N81 would be the best choice.
    + Stylish design
    + High ergonomics of user interface, mp3 player interface, game interface
    + High quality of build and materials
    + High audio quality, standard 3.5 mm headset jack, extra player buttons
    + A lot of integrated storage
    + High quality of the screen matrix
    + High performance
    - A casing material that gets greasy and covered with fingerprints as soon as possible
    - Poor camera
    - The product is clearly overpriced even considering the multitude of advantages it offers
    Originally posted at Smape


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