Siemens turned some heads (pun sort of intended) last year with their announcement of their SK65, a pretty radical form factor departure from the regular QWERTY keyboard-equipped mobile communicators out there. And what's more, they produced a version with BlackBerry Built-In (a fancy way of saying it's got a bunch of BlackBerry software, and runs with BlackBerry servers and services). But, as you may have heard, Siemens's cellphone business at home and abroad has been languishing lately, and there was some concern that the SK65 might never get produced in any large number. And would you know what? We got our greedy little mitts on one and gave it the once over-click on to read what we think!
So let's get down to the nitty gritty; here are the essential specs you're going to need on this thing:
- 2-inch 132x176 pixel 65k color TFT LCD screen
- Tri-band GSM/GPRS
- Full QWERTY keyboard (in our case, AZERTY, the Euro version of the same)
- MPEG4, H.263 playback
- Up to 250/5 hours standby/talk time
Twist and shout! (Sorry, we couldn't resist.)
The phone and its feel
Quite a bit larger than the hefty little MPx220
When we first saw the press shots back in August last year, we were just as awestruck and impressed with the SK65's
innovative design as anyone. But having one around the office, the reality sunk in pretty quickly—it's a pretty
freaking big candybar when it's not twisted open, and when it is open you've got a whole lot of phone both
vertically and horizontally, which makes the tinyness of its 2-inch screen only that much more acute.
We will be the first to admit that the device feels very brawny and sturdily built without feeling too weighty. Its hinge is definitely built for heavy use, but the positives end here. The keys on the front feel like they may pop out at any given moment, and what's more, its defining feature—the QWERTY keyboard—wasn't even that much of a pleasure to use. You'd think with all that horizontal space they'd venture to make the keys horizontally oriented (being that the thumb's orientation in-grip is horizontal here), but they went with vertical (part of the same problem that makes the Samsung i730's keyboard so difficult to use). Good on them for making those keys reasonably large, but they just weren't that easy to type on—the tactile marks on the F and J keys were too thin to help orient the thumbs, and the vertical ridges on the keys were confusing to the touch. In other words, don't expect to soon type without looking on this thing. And yes, we type on our QWERTY-cellphones without looking.
We might also mention that this design may also be a bit intrusive for the turbo-thumb tapping typers out there (you know who you are). Those who thumb-type quickly on their keyboard often cross one thumb over to the other thumb's side if it will be faster to hit a key in succession. With the screen between the two halves of the keyboard (just like in the Nokia 6800-series) you're prevented from "crossing over".
Believe it or not, that SIM is damned near impossible to get out. Thanks Siemens.
It didn't take long playing around with Siemens's proprietary OS before you could tell a couple things; first, it wasn't very well laid out. Its three softkeys were poorly placed—attached to the call and hang-up/cancel/back buttons—and poorly used in the system. On the by and by, the interface was less than intuitive, and not to terribly easy on the eyes, since that low resolution causes some severely aliased icons. Those familiar with BlackBerrys will get the general gist of things as the nav layout is somewhat similar, but you won't hear us claiming that it's anywhere near as straight-forward.
Siemens did include a few value-adds that made the phone a little easier to swallow, like a unit converter, file system manager, themes, and even a European survival dictionary, but the real winner here is clearly the BlackBerry Built-In.
To its credit, the device can play back MPEG4, and H.263, but you won't care very much about that with no media slot and a miniscule amount of internal memory; we're left wondering why they even bothered adding support for the codecs.
Who thinks to actually bother making you confirm a power on?
You'll be seeing that screen on the left quite some bit in 3-minute intervals.
Email search and mail client options.
If you are one of the few who have an SK65, you're almost undoubtedly not an American (unless you're sitting on Siemens' board of directors)—but you shouldn't worry too much about that. Suffice it to say, we just don't have very much postive to say about the device; when it showed up, we really wanted to fall in love. And it does feel solid ( the hinge is built very well), but outside that, the screen, interface, graphics, and keyboard are severely lacking. If you find yourself in a position to drop whatever the asking price is for one of these (right now anywhere between $500 and a g, we hear) we humbly suggest you pass and plunk down for something a little more realistic, like a Treo 650 or maybe waiting for HP's new hw6500 iPAQ Mobile Communicator.