The Nokia N81 may be marketed as a music focused mobile; the retail box is plastered with pictures of rowdy concerts, and the user manual is covered with musicians in recording studios, but there's nothing about the device itself that screams "Rock!". The piano black and brushed titanium body is classy looking, but not particularly sexy. At 18mm in thickness the N81 is a stocky-looking slider phone that feels similar to others in the Nokia family, the N95, the and the to name a few, but without the advanced components in those devices we think the N81 should have at least been slimmer.
External navigation keys show the direction Nokia has taken with the N81, with music player controls front and centre, the call buttons pushed way out to the side, and the volume controls on the side are large and easy to find without looking. A keypad lock switch on the top is a smart addition, used to unlock the external keypad without having to slide the phone open.
Audio is heard through an external speaker on the side of N81, or alternatively -- and preferably -- through headphones plugged into the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. The ability to use your favourite headphones, via the 3.5mm port, is a winner on a media device, and having it on top means you can keep the phone in your pocket comfortably while listening to your tunes.
There are, in fact, two N81 models being released, an 8GB model, and a model with smaller internal memory and a micro SD card slot for greater flexibility. The 8GB of memory is the stand-out feature, likening the N81 to a lot of dedicated portable music and media players, but without memory card expansion media junkies will have to swap their files when they have filled the available storage.