The N81 is perhaps the most attractive Nokia we've ever seen. Not everyone will agree -- it's kinda square, bulky, and a little heavier than we were expecting -- but the total package struck us as solid and extraordinarily well designed. We were digging the cool metallic flake front and rear offset by a medium gray strip down the sides, the wild control layout below the screen, and the fact that this simply doesn't look like Your Father's Nokia. Turns out the N81's beauty is far from skin-deep, though.
The d-pad doubles as a touch sensitive ring, giving music navigation an iPod feel to it -- important when you have 8GB of storage onboard to play with. As far as we can tell, the functionality is limited to the music player and a couple other S60 components; we'd like to see its use expand by the time the device reaches production, especially considering how comfortable and easy to use it was.
The N81 was clearly designed with entertainment in mind. The vast capacity, Nokia Music Store compatibility, and 3.5mm headphone jack are all evidence of that. Coincidentally, the handset also rocks out with one of the very few useful pairs of stereo loudspeakers we've ever seen on a phone. They're freakin' loud, in fact -- loud enough to be uncomfortable at close range while staying relatively clear and crisp. Entertainment also means gaming in this case, with support for Nokia's freshly revamped N-Gage platform and two buttons near the earpiece that make the phone feel more like a true controller.
If we have a major complaint here, it's under the hood -- the N81 doesn't share the same US HSDPA compatibility as its N95 stablemate, and unfortunately, quick data is pretty much a must for this category of device. Don't suppose you've got another version cookin' in the labs, eh, Nokia?