Nokia's N series has turned heads since it first appeared, and with the N80 that trend looks set to continue -- this is a very desirable handset indeed.
From its high-resolution screen to its quality camera, from its stubby hand-friendly hardware design to its built-in Wi-Fi, from its 3G support to its built-in UPnP, the N80 is every inch a wolf in sheep's clothing.
The Nokia N80 is currently available for free on selected Vodafone contracts, and up to £220 with cheaper monthly plans.
We use the word 'stubby' to describe the hardware design for a good reason: the N80 is short and fat. With its slider closed the 95mm tall and 26mm thick handset looks a little out of proportion, but it feels very comfortable in the hand.
Moreover, with its slider opened up to reveal the keyboard, the N80 manages to avoid looking or feeling too lanky by keeping its total length to 125mm. That's not a great deal more than the music-oriented N91 before its slider is opened, yet Nokia has managed to build in large number keys which are easy to hit, and the top row manages to stay well clear of the slider -- a design fault common to many slider handsets.
The slider mechanism itself is a little underwhelming. Nokia has not offered any kind of spring loading and the simple manual system is pesky to use one handed as there's nowhere on the front fascia to get a grip, apart from the navigation key. Inevitably we ended up making the odd software selection we didn't mean to while sliding up and down.
Still, like all good sliders you can do almost everything with the mechanism closed, and only really need to use it when using the keyboard -- to type in phone numbers or tap out texts.
The front fascia-located Nokia menu key and the 'multimedia' key (already seen on the N91) take care of getting to applications. The latter is preset to take you to four of the more media-savvy applications on board, but you can configure it to do whatever you want.
You can use the back-mounted camera without opening the slider thanks to a button on the right edge, and there is a front-facing camera for 3G video calling. A slot on the left edge caters for miniSD cards. There's an infrared port on the top edge of the handset, along with the on/off button, while mains power and a proprietary port sit on the bottom edge. Unlike the N91 this phone doesn't have a 3.5mm port, but you can use this proprietary port to attach a headset -- either the handsfree, stereo headset Nokia provides, or your own via a converter to 3.5mm that Nokia includes with the handset.
We are not keen on the chrome used for much of the front fascia on the N80. Initial impressions are not bad, but it picks up fingerprints easily, and Nokia clearly recognises this as a cleaning cloth is supplied with the handset.
The screen deserves an honourable mention. At 352x416 pixels it is top notch in terms of resolution, and this helps it deliver high quality visuals all round, and, importantly, show all 12 menu screen icons at once without the need for any scrolling.
As a quad-band handset with 3G support the N80 is versatile, but over the air connections are only part of the story -- Bluetooth, infrared and Wi-Fi are also present. We love infrared for quick and easy one-off file exchange and think all handsets should continue to offer it. Wi-Fi, too, is a real bonus, and the N80 supports 802.11g connections (though as with all 'g' devices, it'll work with slower 'b' networks too).
The Wi-Fi is very easy to use. Just as with the N91, the N80 will search for various 'access points' including over the air connections and wireless networks. Select the one you like and a connection is made.
The high resolution 352x416 screen shows itself off nicely all round, and rarely better than when Web browsing (via Wi-Fi or over the air). But we are not fans of the browser software itself, which doesn't reformat pages for the handset's screen. The result is the need for horizontal as well as vertical scrolling, making reading text from a Web page really tedious. The 'page overview' is some compensation. It shows a full Web page miniaturised into the screen and you use a select box to pick the bit you want to hone in on, but thereafter need to scroll horizontally.
The 3-megapixel camera is superior to the 2-megapixel variety found in the N91, and not just for its number of pixels. The N80 has a flash and, still unusually for a handset, a macro mode which you flick into using a button underneath the lens. It is a shame there's no autofocus, though -- as a result you need a steady hand to take quality shots every time.
It is not unusual for a handset screen to flick into landscape mode when you run the camera, and that's what happens here. But this is a place where the 'stubby' format of the N80 helps, as in camera mode it feels a lot more like a standard digital camera than many handsets do.
There's a music player built in, and you can use the N80 as a mass storage device, which basically means you just use the provided cable to connect it to your PC and then copy music files over from your hard drive. There is 40MB of built-in memory, but Nokia boosts this with a 128MB miniSD card, and the music player will find music stored in either place. If you'd rather listen to the radio, the built-in one is fine, and its 20 presets mean you shouldn't lack stations. The N80 supports Visual Radio.
Alternatively, you can use the built in UPnP support for music streaming (and other file sharing) to and from devices on your own wireless network, if you have one -- including wireless music players. Devices need to support the UPnP standard for this to function, and while Nokia provides the software you'll need for your PC, you are on your own with the rest of your wireless world.
There is nothing wrong with call quality on the N80 and we could happily use it as our everyday handset in this respect.
The camera shoots nice quality images but without autofocus, you may find it difficult to keep your hands steady when taking photos.
Battery life is acceptable, but the temptation to use Wi-Fi when near a free access point will undoubtedly result in faster than usual drain. Bluetooth and 3G use will have the same effect. Rising to the challenge of using these features, plus some music playing for good measure, we found we could run the battery down pretty quickly. If this sounds like you, budget for daily charging.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield