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The Siemens A52 has to be the most blatant example of style over substance I have ever seen. By style, I do not refer to the kind of looks which Siemens brought to the mobile phone market in the shape of their eye-catching, but doomed-to-failure, Xelibri fashion phone range, but rather something which is understated but attractive, pleasing yet functional. These are the kind of phones of which I am really rather fond. Having owned more phones than I care to remember, and having four of them at the last count, I would say that this description sums up a lot of them which I have owned. The Siemens S55, for example, which I will be buying next month when I have managed to sell enough of my current phone collection in order to raise the necessary funds, is a perfect example of this. Small, light, well-proportioned, with distinctive design elements which mark it out as a Siemens, but packed with very useful features mean that this is likely to be one of my favourites when the time comes. Other reviews on this site would seem to confirm this. Announced last summer, in Moscow of all places, some six months or so after the S55 came onto the market, the little A52 had almost identical dimensions to its feature-laden predecessor, and was also a considerable bit cheaper. Late last year, I was looking for a phone for a friend to use for a few months whilst she was in France with me. It had to be cheap, easy to use, since she had only ever used a Nokia 3210 in her life and anything complicated would have probably killed her, but also relatively modern and well-built. I was looking for a Siemens A55, which I knew to be a good option, having owned countless Siemens phones in the past and having had a chance to look at the particular unit my housemate?s father had purchased, which I concluded was very similar to the Siemen
s C55 I owned at the time (and still own) but without some of the unnecessary features, like a voice recorder, Java and GPRS which I knew that my friend, or my housemate?s father would never used anyway. It so happened that I stumbled upon the A52 whilst looking at phone specifications on GSM Arena (www.gsmarena.com), and instantly decided that it was what I needed. Despite the complete lack of a reason for its existence, since Siemens had already bought out the A50, A55 and previous to that the C45 and C55 models, all of which are very similar to the A52, it seemed that a little intelligence gathering on my behalf could potentially lead to a bargain, if I could find one. True to form, Ebay UK produced the result. Not only the first A52 ever listed on Ebay, but also the second, soon became mine, and I parted with the princely sum of 47 GBP for the first and just 35 GBP for the second. I worked out that they were so rare and there was such a limited market for them that I could create a niche of my own if I deliberately went out of my way to look for them, and I was right. Both the people I obtained the phones for were delighted by them, although my friend who had the 3210 still had trouble using the thing three months after I got it for her, but then that is to be expected if you have had such a phone for such a long time and never used anything else. But I was not so impressed. Having only used both the phones very briefly after having bought them and then giving them almost immediately to the friends concerned, I did not have much cause for complaint. The only thing I really remembered was that the A52 was quite a stylish little phone, and also that the build quality went completely against the stereotypes associated with the Made in China st
icker on the back. This still holds true, and I believe that the A52 is actually better built than my current Siemens C60, which is actually made in Germany! I have no idea what quality control standards are like down in the Pearl River Delta, which is the Chinese industrial manufacturing heartland, in comparison with Munich, but they cannot be that bad if they are producing things as impressively built as the A52. The keypad has a far more positive action than on the C60, much to my own chagrin, and the whole thing fits together extremely well. In fact, the fit, even allowing for the exchangeable covers, seems better than on the old generation of low-end Siemens phones, such as the C45, and MT50. Little wonder that Nokia is making their high-end phone and PDA combination device, the 6600, in China. Both the models that passed through my hands were clad in a rather attractive set of light beige and black covers, which certainly look better than the red and white standard cover scheme which some networks in Britain are offering with the A52?s sister phone, the A55. When I was given the opportunity to try the A52 out as my own personal phone for a ten day period when my friend who had been using it returned home and I had to find it a new home, I was rather pleased. Although maybe a little small for my tastes, the A52 appears to have a similar ?footprint? to something like a Nokia 8310, which means that for most people it is the perfect size. The screen lights up a pleasant Orange colour, which is matched by the keys, and a customised greeting can be inputted into the phone should it be required. A rather standard menu system, which will be familiar to those who have used any Siemens phone over the past four years, greets the user upon start-up. There are two soft-keys, a pair of keys whic
h normally go up and down in the menus, but also allow quick access to the phonebook in standby mode, and the normal so-called ?Send? and ?Hang up? keys, with the hang up key also being used as a back button on the A52. The system is very quick indeed, unlike some of the colour screen models now on sale, and there is no discernible keypress delay. Everything functions as it should, and the left-soft key can even be customised to whatever function is most needed, so it gives access to it directly from the standby menu. Text messaging is also easy, since one feature Siemens did decide not to cut out from the A52 was predictive text input, although multi-tap is still available for those who want it, such as people who have their phones in any one of three languages at any given time and cannot be bothered to change the language any time they write a text message, which includes me. The biggest surprise when going through the menus is how few of them there are. The Alarm Clock, for example, is one keypress away from the main menu, and has its own section. I do not think I have ever come across a phone which is so basic that the alarm clock is one of the features of the main menu before, but this is certainly the case on the A52. Fortunately, a calculator and currency convertor are also included, so from a practical point of view, this phone certainly does qualify if someone is going to use it merely as an instrument of utility and nothing more. What is more interesting on the A52 is what is not present as opposed to what has been included. The A52 has no WAP. Despite the fact that the A50 model before it had this rather useful feature, the designers at Siemens thought that it was an unnecessary inclusion. Given that the Nokia 3310, which does not support WAP, is actually still selling very well after more than four years in production, th
is is clearly not the most crucial thing which has been left out of the phone if its most important potential markets, Eastern Europe, Africa and quite possibly China itself, are taken into account. There is also no organizer of any shape or form on the phone, but given that not even the C60 has one of those, then there can be little cause for complaint. What is more serious is the lack of anything else to keep fidgety people such as myself occupied. The games, called Stack Attack and Whacko, are two of the dullest I think I have ever played. Stack Attack would have been all right if I had not played an identical version of it on the old Siemens C45 I used to use, which had far more games, but Whacko is so dull that after two or three games, which only last a minute at a time, it is not worth continuing. The A52 does support polyphonic ringtones too, but there is a very limited selection, since there are ten ringtones in total, and only some of them are polyphonic. Certainly I would have loved to have taken up the offer to download more, since the A52 does support downloadable ringtones and logos, but since there is no WAP, I could not work out exactly how. The standard ringtones themselves really are a little quiet, which is a feature of most Siemens handsets these days, but the vibration alert does seem powerful enough, which does to counterbalance this failing somewhat. What is worse is the lack of pictures. In this day and age, it seems were are encouraged to have something on the backgound of our mobile phone, even if it is only a black and white model. However, there was nothing at all which could be used for this on both the A52s I used, and even the old analogue clock screensaver which dates from the C45 days (i.e. the middle of 2001) was not present. Thus, there was no way in order to have anything
other than the standard layout of signal strength, battery power, time, date and network displayed, and not even a power saving mode. This really disappointed me, as the old digital clock on the C45 was one of its best features. As well as this, although the A55 has a speaker phone, and GSM Arena (www.gsmarena.com) lists the A52 as also having this capability, I can assure the reader that it does not. It seems that this was also left out as a cost-cutting measure, which seems to be symptomatic of the A52 as a whole. What is not absolutely necessary has been thrown out. Nevertheless, the basic functionality of the phone has not been compromised. Text messaging on the A52, whilst slightly hampered by a small screen which can only display three lines of a message while writing it at once, is not bad at all. The lack of software lag means that the keypresses are all registered instantly, and there is also storage on the phone, which makes it immediately better than the Nokia 3310. Making calls is also no problem, and the microphone appears to be receptive with good call quality from the speaker. Where I was in France meant that I mainly got a very good signal, so I was unable to test how this phone would do in areas of weak signal, but I imagine it would be no worse than average, and probably better than the older phones such the C45 and MT50, both of which I have owned. The instruction manual is also clear, and what limited features there are appear to be clearly explained. In short, I am slightly disappointed by the A52. Since the A55 is being offered at such ridiculous prices in the UK at the moment, such as just 30 GBP on Orange Pay As You Go, and is really just the same phone with a few more useful features, there seems to be no discernible gap in the market into whic
h the A52 can easily fit. Granted, in Germany the A52 has a clear 15? price difference between the A55 in shops, where it sells for just ?44, but brand awareness about Siemens is not so high in Britain that such a differentiation is possible. Personally, despite its good qualities as a basic phone with absolutely no nonsense whatsoever, in a small and attractive package, 95% of people who are in the market for a budget handset will probably find that the A52 actually lacks what even they require. Only people such as my friend Sarah, who has since gone back to her old 3210, could probably be tempted by something such as this, and then it would have to be at around the 20 GBP mark new, which would make it uneconomically viable to sell. In my book, the A52 should not have been marketed in Britain, where it faces strong competition from even models within its own range, such as the A50, A55, A60 and C60. In other parts of the world, however, there is certainly the potential for it to do well. That excellent build quality can only help matters.