Siemens SK65

Siemens SK65A recent news story reported that Siemens has announced plans to exit the mobile phone market in Australia, a direct result of the attempt by the Germany-based electronics giant to sell off all mobile and cordless phone operations.

Siemens themselves said in a statement that they’d ‘exhausted every avenue’ to make mobile phone sales work in Australia.

You’d think that while they were losing $229 million on their mobile phone business worldwide, someone would have suggested making better phones as an avenue they hadn’t exhausted, because if the SK65 is anything to go by it’s no wonder they were in trouble.

Not that the SK65 is a bad phone in itself. It’s not — but for a price of over $700, there are problems with the way it looks, performs and how much it costs when you stand it next with its competition. For only a couple of hundred dollars extra in most PalmOne smart phone models, you get so much more.

The comparatively tiny 132×176 screen on the SK65 is hard to use with the mobile applications of today — it’s the most obvious example of how the applications’ capabilities outstrip the capabilities of the phone to bring them to you (of which there are several).

For instance, don’t think that as soon as you open the box you’ll be Blackberrying your way to a truly mobile office. After enabling GPRS, Email and MMS capabilities with the network provider used to test the phone, we had to go through a small battery of settings, configurations and downloads to access all these sexy services.

It’s also gone against the grain of mobile phone design over the last couple of years. If you get a big, heavy clunky beast, you expect everything that opens and shuts. The SK65 isn’t huge by any means (12cm long and weighing 144 grams), but for its size, you find yourself expecting many things that aren’t there. Among the notable absences is a camera — inexplicable in a world where almost every electronic device smaller than a desktop PC has a digital camera in it.

And of course, the other side of the coin is that the features of the SK65 can be found on much smaller, prettier phones.

Sadly, even when you don’t compare it to the far superior models in its class, it’s not without flaws itself. There’s a calendar (but not by any means a PDA), all the requisite utilities and applications to share, sort and personalise your phone, but much more intuitive filing and accessing protocols would have bought them within easier reach. There are no more buttons on the SK65 than on a usual (albeit older) style phone, but the menu and access control could have been arranged a lot better.

The documentation that came with the model we reviewed (presumably the same one that goes to an average purchaser) was deplorable. Buttons marked to enact certain functions did nothing of the sort, and with a confusing enough interface, the phone didn’t make it any easier.

And finally there’s the machine itself. In a world where mobile manufacturers are all trying to bring us the Lamborghini and Ferrari of mobile design, this is more like a 1975 Volvo station wagon. It’s brickish, blockish, and neither attractive nor pleasant to hold. The buttons are awful, the slick silver control buttons above the keypad not nearly tactile enough, and the whole thing feels and moves like mobiles did ten years ago.

The reason for the SK65’s relatively unwieldy size is because of the one feature Siemens hope you’ll find outstanding — the one they seem to be pushing more than anything else (maybe because of a lack of anything else). Twist the body and the lower half of the chassis swings out either side revealing a full QWERTY keyboard.

It’s a neat trick and very necessary for a device on which you expect to enjoy the push technology of Blackberry (ie downloading and responding to emails straight away), but as large as the face area of the SK65 is, the keyboard isn’t really big enough when folded out. Unless you’re a lady with long nails or an alien with long, spindly mandibles, trying to hit single keys is difficult.

If the SK65 is the best Siemens could come up with in recent times, it’s a good thing for all of us that they’re abandoning the market and concentrating on other technologies.