To the right of the navigation button, and off centre with the rest of the phone, is the ‘multimedia key’. Press this and you enter a new-look interface where you can access music, games, gallery, the Internet, Nokia Maps and other aspects of this phone. However, you can still get to these via the normal Nokia main menu too.
Add in the Nokia menu button, Cancel and two softkeys and you might think that’s it. But no. More button options are available some of the time, appearing as white backlit buttons on what was previously just the shiny black front fascia casing. For example, turn on the music player and controls appear around the outside of the navigation key making it easy to pause, play and switch between tracks.
The same goes for gaming (the N81 8GB has Nokia’s N-Gage gaming and downloading service built in). When you play, the screen can function in either tall or wide format. In the latter case you hold the phone like a little games console. In this orientation the softkey and navigation button sit under your left thumb. Meanwhile, two buttons highlighted only when gaming sit under your right thumb.
Now, the download service wasn’t live when I tested the phone, so I could only try the three sample games. Space Impact is a shoot-em-up, Asphalt 3 Street Rules is all about driving and FIFA 07, well, you surely know what that is about.
There is no doubt that the data processing on this handset is fast. And the games show off the superb screen quality really well. At 320 x 240 pixels, 2.4 inches corner-to-corner and capable of 16.7 million colours it is a delight. I’m not so sure it’s worth buying the N81 8GB just for its gaming potential though, because the N-Gage platform is an unknown quantity.
Music playback is probably the best thing about this phone, and Nokia has got a lot of things right. Stereo speakers on the handset deliver loud music to a fairly good quality, though a bit short on bass tones. Nokia’s Podcast application is built in as well as an FM radio to supplement music.
The headset is two-piece, with a 3.5mm connector past the playback control unit. The connection to the handset itself is 3.5mm too. And Nokia has managed to locate it on the top of the phone – by far the most ergonomic position for a headset jack.
As for battery life, I got nine and three quarter hours of continuous music playback from a full charge, which is pretty good going.