We were looking forward to the Nokia N81. On paper it seemed to suit our needs perfectly, being able to play music, take decent photos, show videos, and display GPS info (via an optional external Bluetooth receiver). For gaming fans, it also comes preloaded with the Nokia's N-Gage gaming software.

The Nokia N81 is roughly the same size as the popular Nokia N95, but looks quite chunky next to other slimline handsets. It is a stylish phone, though, thanks to its glossy black finish and cool slider design.

The large colour screen takes up most of the front of the handset when closed. The screen is crisp and shows vibrant colours so good for viewing photos, playing games or viewing videos.

Optimised for Ovi

As the Nokia N95, the Nokia N81 has been optimised for Nokia's Ovi web portal, which offers music, games, videos and GPS maps for download. You will also be able to store photos on the portal once it's fully launched.

The Nokia N81 is compatible with the newly launched Nokia Music Store, along with the Nokia N95, and has a user-friendly interface.

Thanks to the 8GB of built-in storage, there's space for plenty of music, all which will be tagged, sorted and synced back with your PC. Dedicated music buttons around the directional pad on the front of the handset makes it easy to access the music player without having to go into the music application.

This leads on to one of our main complaints about the Nokia N81 handset. The hardware design is not the greatest; the buttons are all crammed together and we found ourselves constantly accessing the music player when we wanted to access various other functions using the directional pad.

Ironically, when we did want to use the music player interface, we found that the buttons were not particularly responsive, often needing pressing more than once in order to control desired function.

This is a letdown, especially since we looked forward to the Nokia N81 as a serious contender to the Apple iPhone for example. Next to Apple's iconic handset, or even the Nokia N95, the Nokia N81 is clunky and on the heavy side, weighing in at 140g.

Low-end camera

At 2 megapixels, the camera is on par with that of the Apple iPhone, while the Nokia N95 offers 5 megapixels for example. We would have liked to be able to have a higher-quality camera to complete the Nokia N81 banner as a high-end multimedia machine.

Battery life is good if you just use the phone functions - around five hours - but as soon as you move into heavy music and video use, and web browsing using the Wi-Fi connectivity, you'll be in need of a recharge quicker than we would have expected.

But enough of the gloom. The Nokia N81 is still full of impressive features and will certainly appeal to music and gaming fans. We're just slightly miffed about its poor hardware interface design and it's comparatively heavy weight.

The Nokia N81 8GB is available now, from free on some contracts.