After years spent resisting the slider design, Nokia has released three slider phones in 2006, with the N80 joining the 6280 and 6111. The basic layout of the N80 phones is the same as the 6280 -- navigation, shortcut, send and end keys beneath a large portrait-oriented display; slide-out keypad underneath; and two cameras. As John Travolta says in Pulp Fiction, it's the "little differences" that make the two models distinctive, and the N80 is the Royale with Cheese to the 6280's Quarter Pounder -- the same look but with that added je ne sais quoi.
Size-wise, the N80 is bigger in almost every way. At 134 grams and 95.4 by 50 by 26mm, it's wider, heavier and chunkier, but around 5mm shorter in stature than the 6280. The N80's display is a richly coloured 352 x 416 pixels, cramming more dots onscreen than the 6280 at 240 x 320.
The N80 is not all improvements though; the five-way navigation key is small and unwieldy, and lacks the preciseness of the 6280's version. During testing, there were several instances where we pressed the selection key inadvertently -- and we'd like to think our thumbs are relatively small and dainty.
The overall design will not be to everyone's tastes, especially given the slider lacks a spring mechanism, and is inclined to open of its own accord when in a bag. Sure, Nokia arrived late to the slide phone party, but it would be great to see ergonomic designs like that of the LG Chocolate or pretty much any Samsung slider model.
Multimedia is the N80's main strength, with dual cameras (one at 3 megapixels, one VGA) and plenty of customisation options for image capturing. Photos can be taken at five resolutions in one of 10 scene settings, including the romantic-sounding "Candlelight" mode. Other advanced adjustment options include sharpness, colour saturation, white balance, exposure compensation and colour tones.
Wireless data transfer is another of the N80's strong points. In addition to Bluetooth and an integrated WLAN, the phone is equipped with PictBridge, UPnP and Nokia's Xpress software suite. UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) technology allows the phone to slot into your home theatre setup via Wi-Fi, with the ability to view images from the phone on a television and listen to the N80's music through your hi-fi system. The Xpress software offers a quick and easy way of transferring photos to the Web, another device, or directly to a printer.
Nokia has also packed a bunch of PIM (personal information manager) functionality into the N80, with apps for viewing -- though not editing -- Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. POP and IMAP e-mail accounts can be accessed, but there's no push e-mail.
Memory has been increased since the 6280, with 40MB of internal space and a 128MB miniSD card included.
Overall, the N80 performed quite well. Photos were sharper than expected, although images captured in automatic flash mode tended to be a little overexposed.
We were very happy to see the return of Nokia's S60 Web browser, the app that captured our hearts when we reviewed the business-focused E60. The browser did freeze once or twice though, something we never encountered in the E60.
Sound clarity during phone calls was great, with the speakerphone particularly clear and loud.
The main disappointments were battery life (around two days with moderate Internet use and a few voice calls a day) and the maddeningly sensitive five-way key, which affected everything from SMS input to Web page navigation. If these two issues were addressed, the N80 would be a ripper phone. As it is, we still rate it pretty highly. If you've got some spare coin to throw around, it's certainly a contender -- just test out that toggle key first.