This will be the last of my trilogy of reviews (in four parts) of Benq-Siemens S-series mobile phones. I have had other Benq-Siemens models since the S88, but needless to say, I will not be buying any more. My latest acquisition, an EF91, went wrong within a day of getting it, and lost me £100 from having bought it to selling it, so one can understand that I am not exactly enamoured with the brand at the moment, and neither, on the evidence of my reviews so far, should anyone else be. Admittedly, the S88 which I had was considerably more reliable than what seems to be average for Benq-Siemens these days, but it was still just as slow to respond in the menu systems.
Released in 2006, the S88, by contrast to the majority of Benq-Siemens phones, was not made by the old Siemens factory in Munich, but by Benq themselves in Taiwan. The menu system has nothing at all in common with Siemens products, and the styling was, by Benq-Siemens standards anyway, different. This difference, however, meant that the phone is following a common market trend, in the sense that it looks like a clone of a previous design, this being one of my favourite phones of all time, the Sony Ericsson K750i. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the S88 looks even better than the K750i. There is no more sincere flattery than imitation, it seems. I had three K750is, so it was interesting to compare the two.
In terms of styling, then, the S88 does look a little bit better than the K750i, especially the white model which I had. It is worth pointing out at this point that the S88 was reviewed by some people in the United Kingdom, but was never officially released here, since none of the networks wished to support it. With the phenomenal success of the K750i, however, some may argue that there was no need to. Despite the cleaner, less fussy styling of the S88, which looks like a well integrated cross of the W800i and the K750i without a lens cap cover for the camera, once looking at the specifications the advantage becomes less clear.
Both phones have 262,000 colour 176x220 pixel screens, both have two megapixel cameras with flash and autofocus, both have MP3 players and both are tri-band. Both also have Bluetooth, GPRS Internet, Java games and a joystick for navigation. From here, however, the balance is tipped in the Sony Ericsson's favour. The S88's Organic Light-Emitting-Diode (or OLED) screen is simply a gimmick, and 'ghosts' terribly (in the sense that the image on the display somehow stays there even when the option has been left). It is also illegible in many different lighting conditions. The K750i also has an excellent FM radio with RDS, which is conspicuously absent from the S88's specification sheet. I seem to remember that the S88 is considerably more expensive than the K750i too, in the markets where it was actually sold, which possibly explains why the S88 remained very rare and a poor seller. This does not mean that the Benq-Siemens is actually a bad phone, however.
The standard sales package included with my white S88 (which I think had originally been sold on the German E-Plus network) was very generous. The phone came with a 1GB Transflash memory card in the box, which was amazing considering that the standard K750i only came with 64MB. There were also two manuals (one in English and one in German), a USB data cable, colour coded stereo headset, software CD and the standard battery and charger. This at least equalled the K750i, but there did not seem to be an adaptor for the memory card to use it with an SD card reader, which was a shame. If every phone came with this sort of comprehensive package, I would be a very happy man indeed.
It was a shame that the rest of the phone did not quite live up to the promise of the manufacturer's generosity. The menu system is very slow indeed, especially considering the speed of the K750i, and makes every operation painfully long-winded. The Bluetooth does not seem very fast either, and the text messaging lag, when mixed with a lack of character counter and a slightly spongy keypad, can get quite irritating. The joystick also causes complaint, being one of the least responsive ones I have used, but this may be more down to the general speed of the phone rather than anything else. Making calls, however, is not so terrible.
With conventional green and red 'send' and 'hang up' keys, an easy way to access the phonebook, and the ability to list the SIM and phone contacts in one list mean that in some aspects at least, the S88 is better than the K750i. There is also a speakerphone as expected, and the reception seemed to be fine. Given that the K750i has 'industry standard' battery life, it is a refreshing surprise to see that the S88 does not conform to the Benq-Siemens norm and last only around a day or two. I was able to get a good three days out of the phone under normal use.
The USB connection was also excellently implemented. The S88 just comes up on a computer as a USB mass storage device, and it is just a question of dragging and dropping files onto the phone or memory card from wherever they are located on the computer. This is easier than a Sony Ericsson, which requires a software installation before this can happen. This is one of the things which people will miss about Benq-Siemens phones, which sadly are no more.
The MP3 player is quite a lot worse than a Sony Ericsson Walkman phone, having to have songs added manually onto the playlist, and then the name of song, artist and album not being displayed, just the filename. With the general slow speed of the phone too, there is simply no comparison between this and the Sony Ericsson range.
Much as the S88 is a perfectly acceptable phone, there is little on the market to recommend over easier to obtain models such as the Sony Ericsson K750i. It may look good, and have a very generous sale package in the case of the white version, but there is a heavy price to pay for individuality. The phone is very slow, has a very disappointing screen, and is more expensive than the K750i in any case. Maybe this is reflective of the fortunes of the company in general. Even with almost pure imitation, Benq-Siemens still did not measure up to the standard of their competitors.