It has been quite some time since Nokia released its first N-Gage mobile phone. Sad to say, the N-Gage platform as a whole wasn't all that successful at the point of time due to its gauche design and lack of industry support with quality killer applications and gaming titles. Today, Nokia is back in full force with the new Nokia N81 8GB, which carries a revamped N-Gage solution; this time, as a service that complements the S60 platform. This new contribution is supposed to garner the attention of gamers, entertainment enthusiasts and definitely looks far more promising than the tepid response given to its predecessor.
All of you out there who have been following the news of Nokia events would be aware of Nokia: Go Play, a series of events worldwide (which was also held in Singapore) where Nokia kicked off the new N-Gage service, in addition to the Nokia music store to complement the their new Nseries models, which included the Nokia N81 8GB.
Holding the Nokia N81 8GB in our palms, its hefty weight was the first thing to strike us. At 140g, it is about 20g heavier in comparison to the previous Nokia N95. As a slider, the N81 8GB has a keypad that is well-spaced and easy to use, but we find that the top plate has a tad too many dedicated buttons, which might initially seem confusing as to their purpose. Closed, the phone still features the usual navigational control keys, the call and end call buttons (which are awkwardly positioned to the sides), menu and cancel buttons, as well as dedicated music player keys meant for multimedia convenience. There is also a spring loaded key-lock seated beside the power button and the 3.5 millimeters audio jack.
There was one feature that we found pretty darned cool. Named 'Navi Wheel' under phone settings, it allows you to use the square d-pad on the phone just like the click wheel on an iPod for fast browsing of music tracks. This is certainly one of the key highlights of the N81 8GB, but the only problem was the square shape utilized, since a round circle would have fitted our thumbs more naturally.
For our field test of the phone, we loaded it with close to 3GB worth of audio tracks and we were good to go. The speaker quality on the N81 8GB was awesome. Even when we tried to blast out music at maximum volume, audio still sounded crystal clear and sharp.
On another note, we tested on general mobile experience before and after loading audio tracks into it and we found that the device would suffer from major lags switching from one program to another. We also experienced a few times where the phone just hung on us trying to access the built-in music player. Hopefully, Nokia can smoothen things out with retail software upgrades in time.
One thing that Nokia has successfully done was to bring the whole N-Gage experience onto its Series 60 platform. In order to mimic a proper hand held gaming device, Nokia has discreetly added two buttons at the top, above the huge 2.4-inch display, which under normal circumstances would remain camouflaged as part of the surface design. You can still click them, but they offer no default functionality. It is only when games are launched that you'll see these two buttons lighted up. These buttons offer gamers the feel of holding a standard hand-held gaming console, and act similarly to the action buttons (or 'A' and 'B' if you prefer) found on gaming controllers when the mobile is used in landscape mode.
On a related note, you can also play games on the N81 like any normal phone, using the number keypad. The key-lock button mentioned before actually has a dual function – to allow users to be able to play games with the slider closed.
But as the full-fledged N-Gage experience has yet to be launched, we only got to try out three preview games, limited to ten trial sessions each. Still, we would have to say that initial results have been great and the Nokia N81 8GB turned out to be surprisingly well suited for gaming as well as the whole myriad of functionality Nseries mobiles offer. N-Gage, when it is launched, should be able to keep consumers wanting more as long as Nokia can keep up the supply of quality game support.
With so many features crammed onto a single device, something had to give and as we found out, its camera quality was decidedly sub-par. However, despite this and the minor drawbacks mentioned, the Nokia N81 8GB does an excellent job at the things it was created to do - to create a perfect music and gaming experience.