This may well be the last Benq-Siemens branded product I ever review. It is certainly the last one that I will ever own in any lengthy capacity. Fortunately, it is not going to be a complete tale of woe, as so many of my 20 or so reviews of Siemens and Benq-Siemens phones have turned out to be, but there are some things which will inevitably make me sound like a stuck record to anyone who has seen a Siemens review before.
The Benq-Siemens E71 does indeed share many of the problems which have afflicted phones from Munich for the past few years. There are still software problems, the phone is still slow in response, and the battery life is still rather bad. However, it is not all doom and gloom. The E71 is a very attractive little phone, which introduced a first for Benq-Siemens (which was the FM radio), and does have a reasonable feature set with one or two pleasant surprises.
The first challenge with the phone concerns opening it up, which is a trial in itself. The manual is incredibly unhelpful in this, and it is only with some sort of unnatural guile that I managed to get the back open. It was simple once it was done, but it was not very obvious at all. Once here, it is interesting to note that the Micro-SD/Transflash memory cards which the phone supports go in underneath the battery next to the SIM card, rather than having their own slot in the side of ther phone, which is where most appear to be these days. This is one thing on which Benq-Siemens may have liked to improve (and indeed the EF91 which I had briefly did indeed have the memory card slot in the side of the phone), but it is a little late now the company no longer exists. The other aspect worthy of note was that the build quality of the E71 is superb, and the best I have seen from the company in quite a long time. No wonder I could not get the back open. Mind you, this fumbling around did not affect the operation of the phone in any way, which was just as well.
The physical appearance of the E71 is actually rather attractive in many ways. The phone is rounded and shaped like a pebble, but at the same time rather thin. The grey variant which I had (which is the only variant ever likely to hit the UK market) was supposed to not leave any fingerprints behind when using it, but in practice it did seem to require a good deal of wiping, so it would have been nice to see a case of some description included in the sales pack with the phone, but of course, there was nothing there. The EL71, which shares much of the software of the E71, was completely different, both in terms of materials and form factor, but at least had the advantage over this one in that fingerprints were not left behind when using the phone for simple functions such as texting. Admittedly, however, these things can be overlooked when one considers the huge 240x320 pixel display on the front of the phone.
The display is one of the best aspects of the phone, and shows all information accurately, sharply and it is crystal clear. This is again the same screen as the EL71, but the difference here is a slightly smaller physical size and the T-Mobile menu colours and icons. The E71 was only ever officially released on T-Mobile in this country, so these are things one has to live with if one wants to have such a phone. There is also an Ice Age 2 theme, which goes with the film of the same name, and the success of this depends on one's taste and how much one likes animated films! The Ice Age 2 game included with the phone is rather good fun, however, being something of a Sonic the Hedgehog clone.
Benq-Siemens phones are normally rather easy to use for calling, and the E71 is no exception. Pressing downwards on the central D-pad opens the phone book, which can show both SIM contacts and phone contacts at the same time, although adding individual entries to the SIM card is somewhat cumbersome. The phone also has a loud speakerphone, separate green and red 'send' and 'hang up' buttons and good reception. The phone also has very detailed call duration reports, which can be very useful. This is one feature I will miss about Benq-Siemens phones.
Texting is also very simple, although the amount of lag in the menus in general also extends to sending text messages, browsing through the inbox and deleting messages. This is also where the phone seemed to be more prone to crashing than at any other time. The actual experience of writing them is made easier, however, by the excellent character counter on the phone, and the fact that there are three sizes of text available to view, small, medium and large. However, the buttons on the E71 follow the very modern fashion these days, which is to have more of a pellet shape, and this turns out not to be ideal ergonomically. What is unique, however, is that there can be a custom message alert tone, rather than just the normal bells and whilstles, and the duration can be set to the exact number of seconds as one pleases. The general multimedia functions on the phone are rather good too, although much of this has already been covered in my EL71 review.
The MP3 player is excellent, and is very loud, both through the included headphones and the loudspeaker. In some sense it is almost too loud, however, and combined with the vibration when one receives a call or text message, it can be deafening. There is also video recording, and the video player can also be combined with music tracks in the playlist, which is rather good. Playlists and albums are just as easy to sort out as on a Sony Ericsson Walkman phone, which is rather pleasant. Equally as pleasant is the FM Radio, something of a surprise for long time Siemens fans who have staunchly defended the decision not to include one. This is just as good as the one on Sony Ericsson handsets, yet again.
The battery life of the E71 is not quite as good as that of many other models, but it is better than the EL71. Not only is the battery physically bigger than the one in the EL71, but it also has a much bigger capacity at 800 MAh. However, this only translates to a battery life of around two days, maybe two and a half days with excellent network strength and light usage. Whilst here, it is worth pointing out that there is a useful screensaver function on these phones, which uses the whole screen as an analogue clock whilst the backlight is off. There is also a green light on top of the phone which displays things like incoming calls, messages and charging.
The 1.3 Megapixel camera at the back of the phone is of reasonable quality, but is nothing special. These days, anything under two is positive antiquated. The phone is also not a 3G unit, and thus the only connectivity is the built-in Bluetooth, which seems to work fairly well, and GPRS Internet.
The E71 is a reasonably attractive handset, and it looks good on paper, but there are very few people who would want to buy it over so many other phones on the market. It is hard to see where the company was pointed before it was declared bankrupt. With a confusing product range and an overcrowded market place, Benq-Siemens' time unfortunately did run out. It is certainly not the company's worst effort, but it is far from its best.