The N81 is Nokia's entertainment powerhouse because not only does it play music, take snaps and let you watch videos, it also comes preloaded with the new N-Gage gaming software.
Our phone was supplied by Carphone Warehouse who offer the phone for free on selected contracts or for around £280 on pay as you go.
Like many of the other handsets in the N series, the N81 is quite a large phone, but still manages to look pretty stylish, thanks to its glossy black finish and cool slider design. Much of the top half of the handset is taken up by the large colour screen. It's very crisp and sharp and has good colours, so is ideal for playing games or viewing videos via the built-in Real Player software.
This handset has been designed to use Nokia's new Ovi Web portal, which is a kind of online hypermarket, offering music, games and GPS maps, as well as a place to store and share snaps from your phone. Unfortunately, the portal isn't fully live at present so we can't give you the definitive verdict on it, but the music download section, which is currently in beta, looks like it's well laid out and easy to use.
Nokia has loaded three N-Gage game demos on the phone and while they're not quite in the same league as games for Sony's PSP, they are a rather large step above the usual mobile gaming fare. With its fast 3D graphics, the racing game is especially impressive. However, there's no guarantees that the N-Gage platform will prove to be a success, so we wouldn't buy this phone purely on the basis of its gaming potential.
What's not in doubt is the handset's music abilities. You can transfer tracks to the phone via the microUSB socket on the bottom and thanks to the mammoth 8GB of onboard memory, there's plenty of space for storing your music. As your tracks are sorted into the usual artist, album and track name categories, it's easy to find the music you want to play and the touch-sensitive music controls surrounding the directional pad mean you can control playback without having to constantly call up the music application.
The supplied headphones are pretty decent, but if you don't like them, the phone has a standard 3.5mm mini-jack so you can swap them for any pair you like, which is handy. The N81 also has stereo speakers mounted onto its sides. They're surprisingly loud and although they lack bass, they're still among the best we've heard on a mobile.
The phone's connectivity is also great. It has Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth and also supports HSDPA for high speed 3G downloads. As you would expect from a Nokia mobile, the call quality was first rate and the reception was also strong.
Unfortunately, the N81 is not without its niggles. One of the features that should have made it a real standout among music phones has turned out to be a big disappointment. You see, the N81's directional pad also doubles as an iPod-style touch wheel. This sounds like a fantastic idea, but in practice the wheel is barely useable as it's just not responsive enough. Nokia must have realised this as it has turned it off by default.
The phone is also quite large and heavy. Its dimensions roughly match those of the N95, but even though the N81 has less features than its older sibling, it's actually considerably heavier, tipping the scales at a bone crunching 140g.
We would have liked to see a slightly better camera too. Other phones in the N series have 3 and 5-megapixel cameras, but the N81 is saddled with a pretty pedestrian 2-megapixel snapper. Also, although the battery life is generally decent -- you'll get around four hours of talk time from it -- if you really hammer the Wi-Fi connection and make heavy use of the music and video player, it quickly runs out of juice.
The N81 is an impressive phone, but it's not really the revolutionary handset that many people were expecting. It has great music features and looks like it could become a seriously good games machine given the right software support, but it's marred slightly by the poor touch wheel and chunky dimensions. It's available from Carphone Warehouse for free on selected contracts or for around £280 pay as you go.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire