Nokia N81 8GB Cell Phone Review: Part 2 Performance & Software Issues
Update: Other N81 Reviews Of Mine
In my first article regarding the Nokia N81 8GB, I talked about its hardware aspects and physical appearance. This post is dedicated to the N81 8GB’s performance and software attributes.
Whenever you are supposed to deal with an Nseries cell phone devices, you know that it has been designed to be different from non-Nseries cell phones. In other words, a handset which belongs to the Nseries family should provide users with a set of features in order to convince potential buyers that it’s indeed worth purchasing. The same is true about the N81, even if it doesn’t offer some of the goodies of the N82 and the N95. Let’s see if it actually deserves the Nseries branding.
If you have an N95, N82 or an N73 with an updated firmware, you have noticed the short vibration effect as you hold the Power button down to switch on your handset. This is called Vibra Boot notification, and helps users feel confident about the health of their handset even before seeing the backlighting. The N81 8GB also offers Vibra Boot notification, but with a much more noticeable flavor. With the N81 8GB I have, Vibra Boot is both a bit louder and longer. I’m bold enough to claim that the best Nseries device which offers Vibra Boot notification is the N81.
Personally speaking, I’ve never been concerned about how much time my handset requires to boot, but know that many of you are. As such, I compared the N81 8GB’s boot-up time with that of the N82. The comparison wasn’t quite fair because, on the one hand, the N82 has a good number of installed applications which are missing on the N81 and, on the other, the N81 must spend some time managing its internal 8GB memory which is just 2GB in the case of the N82. At any rate, my N81 8GB takes about 20 seconds to boot up, and my N82 takes about 14 seconds to do the same. So the N82 has the upper hand here.
The menu layout
Since the N81 8GB is an S60 FP1 device, you can’t find much of a difference between this handset and other FP1 devices when it comes to screen layout and software functionality. However, each device has its own peculiarities. For instance, while the N81 and the N82 offer the same applications on the Active Standby window, their menu layout can be modified differently. If you go to the main menu and press “key 1”, you’ll see that the N82 offers something called “Icon animation” which is missing in the N81. This is perhaps related to the extra graphic chip which is absent in the N81 8GB. On the other hand, the N81 8GB is more feature-rich when it comes to selecting a menu view. The N81 offers the following menu views, Grid, List, Horseshoe, and V-shaped, while the N82 offers Grid and List. A plus for the N81 here.
Alas, the N81 8GB offers a 2MP camera, and what do you expect from it? It works well with what it offers, but don’t expect its camera to compete with that of the N82 or the N95. As a gadgeteer, I think if Nokia had designed the N81 with a 3.2MP camera and had made it capable of recording video clips at 30 frames per second, it could have shocked the world of cell phones. At any rate, apart from the lack of the physical camera shutter, its camera makes use of an interface which is similar to that of high-end handsets such as the N82. For those who are into comparison, the following two pictures show the N81 8GB’s camera and you can compare it with the same picture taken via the N82’s camera: IMG: N81 picture quality vs. IMG: N82 picture quality.
I’ve always claimed that the N81 and its 8GB variant are audio-centric handsets, and I’m in a good position to prove my claim now. As the name suggests, the N81 8GB offers 8GB of internal storage capacity, meaning you can transfer your music to the device via the USB cable, and it’s not an easy task to beat this superfluous space. What’s more, the N81 8GB has dedicated music keys which can be used universally, no matter where you are and what you’re doing. Unlike the N95 8GB, the N81 8GB’s dedicated music keys are always accessible and don’t depend on the status of the sliding mechanism. They are also located near the front navigation buttons, thereby making multi-tasking far more easier as you need not move your hands away from those important buttons. On the N81 8GB, the music application starts as the handset boots up, and it doesn’t provide an Exit button. This is necessary for the maximum performance of the music keys, but if you want to close the music application, Handy Taskman does the job.
Above all, the N81 8GB comes with high-end speakers. In fact, its speakers can be found in none of the Nseries handsets. To prove this point, I took my old N73 out and played some tracks via the N73, the N81, the N82 and my friend’s N95 for five people who were not familiar with Nokia handsets, and all of them said that the N81 8GB offers the best speakers. Its speakers are louder than those of other Nseries handsets, without sacrificing a bit of the nice base effect. If, for instance, my N82 could offer the same speakers, I could call it the super-handset in the history of cell phones.
If you use the 3.5 mm audio jack and connect your headphones to the N81, the system sound gets immediately transferred to the headphones. This is not the case with the N82, because there you have to select a proper mode: headphones, music stand, or TV out. The instant availability of the headphone/music stand mode in the N81 is a huge plus, specially if you’re in a position which requires a quick switch to headphones. BTW, both handsets are equally feature-rich when you connect them to a wired or wireless headphone, as I did with my Nokia BH-604 and Bose noise-cancelling headphones. The N81 8GB places a relatively longer pause between two tracks with or without headphones, and this pause is about 1 second shorter with the N82.
Last but not least, the N81 8GB has a number of pre-loaded MP3 tracks to demonstrate the fact that it’s indeed a music-centric device. They can be found on the 8GB internal memory.
As mentioned in my first post, the N81 8GB has a 1050 BL6 battery. The same battery is used in the N82, but I’ve noticed that the N81 does a better job of retaining the battery power for a longer period of time, even with extensive use of Wi-Fi. This might be attributed to the absence of the GPS chip and the graphic chip in the N81. Whatever the cause, our music-focused handset makes its users happy with its power consumption. Usually I recharge my N82 every 36 to 48 hours, but I do the same with the N81 every 48 to 72 hours.
Memory and RAM
According to Handy Taskman, the N81 8GB offers 77.4MB of RAM and after a reboot I get about 38MB of free RAM. The situation here is better than the N95 Classic. Also, the N81 8GB provides a relatively minuscule amount of phone memory: 24.6MB, and I get about 16MB of free phone memory after a reboot; however, this isn’t worrisome at all given the availability of the 8GB internal memory. Just for the sake of comparison, the N82 comes with 120MB of RAM and 132MB of phone memory, respectively, but keep in mind that it doesn’t have 8GB of internal memory. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that when the N81 8GB is connected to my notebook via the USB cable and Nokia PC Suite, the computer displays two types of memory: phone memory and memory card. As the N81 8GB doesn’t have a memory card, the naming convention is a bit odd and the memory card option should have been named “mass storage”, in line with the N95 8GB.
What’s in a slide?
With the N81 8GB, you can perform useful tasks via the slide. If you go to Tools/Settings/General/Slide handling, you can define the behavior of the slide. You can open the slide to answer an incoming call or reject it. You may close the slide to end an active call or continue it. Also, you can have the D-pad locked or not locked upon closing the slide, and you can even set the N81 8GB to ask you if you want to activate keyguard upon closing the slide. These are nice innovations which should be part of all Nseries slider phones but currently aren’t.
If you’re visually impaired and are considering purchasing an N81 8GB, you’d be happy to know that both Nuance TALKS and MobileSpeak work well with this handset. MobileSpeak has a number of issues with the N81, and these quirks are also visible with the N82. TALKS is a bit sluggish with the N81 8GB, as it also is with E51, but this will be fixed in the upcoming TALKS release.
Stay tuned for more N81 8GB stuff in my future posts — I’ve preserved my judgment and concluding remarks for prospective articles.