* Prices may differ from that shown
With the news of the merger between BenQ and Siemens mobile phone division, and the subsequent release of the new SXG75 and S75 models, both designed to be top of the range phones in todays ever more competitive market, let us look back to see what was a top of the range mobile phone a year ago. Released in June 2004, the Siemens S65 is still a competitive, well-designed handset which is one of the cheapest ways into the Megapixel camera phone market. From the start, the S65 was targeted at business customers, and the lack of youth-friendly features such as MP3 ringtones and changeable covers seems to reflect this. However, this does not mean that Munichs finest offering has a stripped out specification like that of the Nokia 6310i, which is a business phone and nothing more.
Underneath the desirable exterior there is a 1.3 Megapixel digital camera, slot for a Reduced Size Multimedia Card (RS-MMC), a large 65,000 colour screen, support for Java, Multi-Media Messaging, Bluetooth, a fully-functional infra-red port and GPRS. Such a mix of features is probably unparalled for the 80.50 GBP which I paid for this phone on Ebay. One may imagine, therefore, that the S65 is a solid and reliable companion, whose reasonable price is backed up by software and hardware integrity. Although this may have been the case with older Siemens phones, such as the S45 and S55, the entire 65-series of Siemens models has been plagued with problems with the standard firmware version, and the S65 is no exception. Unfortunately, although the firmware is easily updated, getting it presents more of a problem.
Unless one is in possession of a standard Siemens DCA-500 serial data cable, which is not supplied in the box with the S65 (although a software CD appears to be), it is impossible to upload the new version of the software to the phone. I was fortunate to have one of these cables at my disposal (one does acquire such things over time), and a decent Internet connection, so the 45 minutes which was needed for the software programme to download, and then to upload the new version, was no trouble at all, but other buyers do not have such an advantage. Frustratingly, Bluetooth and infra-red cannot be used to upload the new firmware from a computer, and neither can any USB cable, even the official Siemens one. This is a shame, as the download and upload speeds for any file above 50kb (which means any photos taken with the camera, some of which are over 230kb) are painfully slow with the serial cable. Luckily, the actual handling of files once they are on the phone or in the Siemens file manager software, presents no problems at all.
The file system on the S65 is very well organised, and finding pictures or ringtones is quick and logical. It is very easy to create new sub-folders, or to transfer items from one folder to another, and it would probably be possible to use such a phone as a mass-storage device, especially given that it supports memory-expansion. The Siemens official software for browsing the phone on a computer is equally impressive. The phone is treated simply as an extra drive, and content can be copied back and forth without any problems. It is also possible to delete files much more easily than on the phone, since more than one can be selected at once. The file system was particularly useful when I had to temporarily store a mass of pictures which I had on an old phone which I was selling, and I wanted to put them in a safe place where they would not get muddled with the ones already on the phone, before copying them onto the new phone when it arrived. This worked with no trouble at all, and is a good real world illustration of practical design. The file system may be the best mobile phone data organisation in the world, but what about the rest of the phone?
The S65 uses exactly the same display as the cheaper CX65, which has a large surface area, measuring about half the length of the entire front of the phone. This shows 65,000 colours at a resolution of 132x176 pixels. When the phone was released, this was among the best, beaten only by Sharp and Mitsubishi models with 262,000 colours and things like the Sony Ericsson K700i which displayed a resolution of 176x220 pixels. However, now it looks rather average, but it is by no means bad. Compared with some displays which use passive matrix (CSTN) technology, the TFT screen in the S65 is superbly bright with vivid colours. Some have commented that the screen is a little pixilated and has poor lighting, but I do not find this to be the case. It is certainly more than adequate for displaying the photographs taken by the 1.3 Megapixel camera, which is the main thing. It also looks good whilst playing games, where its huge physical surface area certainly comes in handy. It says a lot that Siemens with its new 75-series of phones, have kept the same resolution, but in a smaller surface area. This is probably just to reduce the pixilated effect, as the actual resolution is fine for displaying photographs and videos. The camera itself is another matter.
The S65 undoubtedly takes some impressive photographs; good enough for 6 x 4 prints. However, these photographs have to be taken in conditions with very good light, with the phone held absolutely still and careful manipulation of the white balance. As with many mobile phone cameras, low light conditions produce a lot of blurring and a loss of sharpness. It is possible to buy a flash attachment for the phone, but one may as well use a hand-held torch, as it will probably be cheaper. The main problem is that the photographs do appear to be a little bit off colour, with the outside of the picture much brighter than the inside. Still, on a device which has so many other features, and which is so reasonably priced these days, this is a perfectly adequate effort, and is certainly better than most of the VGA camera phones on sale today. Morever, a handset can have the best display and best photographic functions in the world, but without the basics in place, such as call quality, reception, battery life and ease of use for text messaging, it can make itself redundant. Luckily, the S65 acquits itself well in most of these areas.
As a device for making and receiving calls, Siemens phones of late have been universally excellent. The S65 is no exception, and this is further improved by having a separate volume key on the side which avoids the use of the menus during a call. The speakerphone function is well implemented, although as usual the audio for the party making the call is rather muted. The call quality seems fine, and the maximum volume is enough to be well heard in a noisy environment. Another common trait with other modern Siemens phones is the ability to hold a good signal in an area with less than perfect reception, and the S65 does seem better than handsets such as the Alcatel One Touch 735 and Sony Ericsson T610 in this respect. The phonebook is easy to use and access, and the S65 in particular, with its large display, is very user-friendly for those who are unused to having a mobile phone as the method for storing their phone numbers. The screen shows five names at once, with the middle name highlighted also having its number and location (SIM or phone) displayed. There are separate lists for phone and SIM within the address book, and copying between the two requires very little brain power. In fact, the entire phone needs little input from the manual to master, even for someone who is not familiar with the Siemens layout. Text messaging, however, is flawed.
The affliction which blights an otherwise perfectly implemented system of inputting text is the keypad. Although not the worst set of buttons I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with (that honour belongs to the Sagem MYX-6), the keypad on the S65 is rather small, and the keys do seem quite close together. It is far too easy to press the wrong button when moving at speed, and the WAP shortcut button under the joystick, whose function cannot be changed, makes this process even more hazardous. Admittedly, it is easy to get used to, but like the problems with the firmware, this difficulty should not have been present in the first place. The joystick, however, does seem to be better than the one on my previous Siemens CX65, which shared many of the S65s features, so that is an advantage for which it is worth paying a little extra. I just hope that the reduced physical size of the display on the 75-series has meant for a better-spaced keypad. This problem aside, text messaging is very good. The phone keeps up with keypresses with no difficulty, and the new message shortcut can be easily set directly from the standby menu. Multi-Media messaging is also no problem to send and receive, and the large display means that the messages are well catered for once they arrive. Some fiddling with the settings may be necessary before a message can be sent, however. The phone can display the entire contents of the average 160 character text message on its screen, so it is mostly unnecessary to have to scroll through a lot of text in order to get the gist of something. In basic terms, therefore, the S65 performs well. Some of its more advanced features also present few problems.
The S65 supports video capture and playback, sound recording and Java games. These are all functions which use a lot of battery power and the standard 700 MAh item which is included as standard with the phone is not really up to the job. This is the same battery which is used in the CX65, and with a higher resolution camera and Bluetooth on top of all the CX65s own multimedia features, it is easy to see that any battery will be put under a lot of pressure. In realistic terms, the battery lasts between two and three days, which is probably adequate for most people, but anyone who wanted to use the S65 in a professional capacity (which is, after all, its main market), would have to invest in a car charger or make sure that they sat next to a power point on a train. True to tell, this is similar to the old Sharp GX15 which I used to have, but other phones are better. Bluetooth in particular eats up battery power, but is very well-implemented on the S65. It can sometimes be a little slow to see other devices which are around, but it always detects them in the end. Exchange between the GX15 and the S65, as well as between a Samsung D500 I happened to come across, was a little slow, but worked perfectly well. The phone also has a recommended headset, called the HHB-600, which I have bought, and it appears to work well too.
The S65 does unfortunately not support MP3 ringtones, but WAV, MIDI and AMR are featured. MIDI is very good, although not quite as good as Sharp handsets. WAV and AMR are passable, but not as good as my old Sagem MYV-75. The ringtone volume is very loud, and there is an enormous standard ringtone selection, which should mean that the user can find something suitable. The ringtones can also be stored on the Reduced Size Multi-Media Card, which Siemens thought to include with the phone. I have seen sizes of up to 512MB for these, but for most, considering that the phone does not support MP3 ringtones, the standard 32MB card should be enough. Strangely, before the card is ejected, a menu option has to be selected to make it safe to remove the card, which is strange. It is hard enough getting the card in and out, and here the included MMC adaptor comes in handy.
The three Java games included with the phone are Worms, Siemens 3D Rally and a Battleships clone. Worms is a version of the classic Team 17 PC game, but on the phone it seems strangely disappointing. The rally game is almost impossible to play, which leaves Battleships. Both this and Worms can be played Multiplayer via Bluetooth, although two S65s will be needed for this purpose. The game is very straightforward, and makes full use of the large screen. Office functionality abounds in the S65, with a very good calendar, currency converter, alarm clock and calculator. No doubt more applications could be downloaded should the individual user require it.
The Siemens S65 is an excellent phone. For the money currently being asked, the camera and multi-media functions are second to none, and the connectivity options appear to be endless, with fully-functional infra-red as well as Bluetooth. Unfortunately, MP3 playback has been left out, but my main concerns are quite different. Siemens really should have thought more about the battery life and software stability before releasing this phone on the market, because both leave much to be desired. The lack of a data cable in the standard package also seems a little mean, especially given the presence of the memory card. As a basic phone, however, Siemens have once again been successful. Whether or not this is the best phone in the world, however, is a question which can be easily answered: Not yet.