The latest offering from the German telecom giant is this very compact, nicely finished SL55 mobile phone. Tiny may it seems but it is jam packed with all the latest features to equip a mobile executive. It is capable to connect with all current 3 standards of GSM in operation (GSM 900, 1800 and 1900). It is so light that sometimes I can not even feel its existence in the pocket. I must admit it is one of the best looking mobile phones on the market right now. Colour screen on mobiles had became the norm and there is no exception with Siemens, despite its small size, the CSTN colour LCD gives 4096 colours which is able to display a good level of colour depth and is clear enough for everyday use. This is especially true when you can use the SL55’s screen as a viewfinder for the QuickPic IQP-510 camera attachment.
It comes with polyphonic ringtones and also has a melody composer for those who want to create their own. A digital camera is also available as an option. However this demonstration model came without the camera option so I was unable to test its capabilities and to provide picture samples.
Unlike many of its European competitors, it does not come with the handsfree ear piece; on the other hand it does compensate this by being able to act as a handsfree phone on its own.
The SL55 also shares many similarities with the S55 - including tri-band support, Java application support, GPRS connectivity available to either WAP or data cable/IR, dynamic memory for phonebook and messages, PIM application and synchronisation support, and polyphonic ringing tones.
To possibly make the SL55 as small as it is, an active slider design is used to hide away the keypad when not in use. With the phone closed up, you are still able to access menu features by simply using the 4-way and soft keys on the outside of the phone. Answer and end buttons are also available, allowing calls to be taken whenever they come in.
Given the miniature size of the SL55, you would expect the keypad to be relatively as small. Although true, Siemens has made the best of this situation by having each of the 12 buttons on the numeric keypad angled up so that most fingers (whether big or small) should be able to use them with the least of complaints.
MMS is also available on the SL55 which lets users to send pictures, videos or even sound attachments with their text messages but without a camera built in, you’d have to store some of your favourite pictures on the phone first.
Other nice features include an alarm clock, the screen saver displays the clock after the slide is shut after a specified time. It also has a calculator, stopwatch (really? anyone will use it?), calendar, organizer and even a currency converter.
SL55 has built in Java games (bundled ones are not that impressive, I’d much prefer my game boy), it does give you the opportunity to download more if you are so keen on zapping away on your mobile.
If you’re wondering what happened to the MP3 player feature on this “SL” model, Siemens didn’t think it was necessary to put one in. SL55 it may be, but I would not associate its prefix with this feature anymore.
Oh, almost forget to mention, its voice activated commands works quite well, which saves the user a lot of time dialling and searching the phonebook entries.
It’s a Siemens and is lovingly finished with German built quality. Its metal casing is tightly finished and gives a very smooth surface, no finger prints problems here ever but the same thing could not be said about the screen and can be easily scratched. Its ultra compact size, cute as it is, is let down by its own success. The key pads are too small, especially while you are driving or typing any text messages. Keys on the cover seems a bit slow to respond, numerous times I have to press it more than twice to get a go ahead to save or a confirmation to proceed. The LCD screen is average-ish among other European manufacturers and is inferior to some Asian offerings especially NEC and Samsung.
User Interface & display
The Siemens SL55 comes incorporated with a 4,096 colours CSTN LCD screen, which is sufficient enough for viewing pictures, as well as used as a viewfinder when the QuickPic camera is attached. This is a very good upgrade over the S55, which only uses a 256 colours CSTN LCD screen.
Its user interface is pretty easy to follow for novice users. Although not as good as the navigation of some European manufacturer, it is still greatly acceptable to use and not too complex. Its user wouldn’t be scratching their head too much in finding most of the common functions of the phone.
Making and receiving calls
It’s extremely easy to make or receive calls with the SL55. Just key in your number, or look through the easy access phonebook for the entry you want to call, and press the green answer button and your up and away to chit-chat! To answer calls, simply slide down the active slide; it’s that simple! Calls could also be made using its voice dialling feature of the phone, allowing you to be as lazy as possible! =)
I’ve found the audio quality of the SL55 to be pretty good. The ear speaker, which also serve is the polyphonic and loud speaker, is loud and clear; maybe it’s due to the fact that it also is used as the speakerphone.
Although the maximum volume for the speakerphone is a bit soft, which isn’t loud enough in places that aren’t relatively quiet, it does not make its user to sound like they are in a very large room, which is common on most loudspeaker phones. The SL55 have more of a “small room” sound to it, which is very good. For in car use I will highly recommend the handsfree ear piece or the car kit.
The SL55 also comes with polyphonic sound support, up to 16 chords, which is sufficient enough for playing back really beautiful alert sound, such as ringtones. The sound quality is pretty good, although not up to par with some other Asian manufacturer’s models. The maximum ring volume is not as loud for my liking, probably the same reason why the loudspeaker wasn’t loud enough.
There are sufficient amount of MIDI and MMF files selection included in the handset, and more could be added into the SL55’s file system. What really interest and amaze me is the active slide, which could produce a polyphonic tone when it opens or closes. The default noise is a sound similar to compressible air escaping, which caused quite a stare at my phone in a restaurant I was eating dinner at! =)
Messaging is an important part of a mobile phone these days, apart from its ability to make phone calls. I’m sure that for those of you who try to sneak writing a message to your love ones while in a busy meeting, in a lecture or in a discreet place where talking isn’t convenient will all agree with me! What can we do without it? =)
The SL55 does quite well in this regard, having all bases covered. These include e-mail, SMS, EMS and MMS. The SMS editor that is integrated with the SL55 is simple, quick and effective, since the industry pretty much figured this feature out by now. T9 predictive text input is supported, which is good, although it is some what slow (refer to the “Problems/issues” section for more information on this).
The MMS editor in the SL55 allows users to create multiple slides in a message, which each slide potentially containing an image, text, and a sound. You can also specify the duration that each slide will be displayed, which seems to be the feature missing on many other phones. While not exactly being PowerPoint, you do have pretty fine control over what the recipient is going to see.
POP3 e-mail is supported using the SL55 e-mail client. I was able to attach an image and send or receive it to and from my e-mail account. Although you can specify the maximum e-mail size to be read, the SL55 totally ignores those over the maximum e-mail size e-mails, and do not download their headers. It’ll be better if I can at least read the headers, while ignoring those large attachments, which isn’t any use on the SL55 anyway.
The e-mail client does offer a default BCC option, which you can be sure that any email you send from your phone will also be sent back to your main account, allowing you to access it back at home or in the office. This is something I had never about before!
Siemens has also developed a messaging system in the SL55 which they call “Text modules”. These are similar to the common SMS templates we have come to expect, except they can be used in any of the handset’s message editors. The same block of text that you define in a text module can be easily inserted into an e-mail, SMS, or MMS message. Talk about convenience! =)
The SL55 has GPRS and WAP capabilities which enables the upwardly mobile to access the net whenever and wherever GPRS or CSD connection is available. I was a little surprised that Bluetooth was not included in the package; this leaves users with PDAs or notebooks with IrDA connection only, unless you pay extra for the USB based data cable.
Setting up GPRS was a breeze and the same can be said with the CSD connection. Partnering it with my notebook via IrDA was simple, and it dials out without hassle.
Its small keypad had complicated typing WAP addresses and its relative small screen size had made WAP browsing that little bit more difficult. WAP browsing is not easy on majority of mobiles anyway, I think its ease of data connectivity is far more important that its own browsing capability.
The SL55 has quite a top-notch build quality. It felt extremely solid in my hand, with no creaking from any of the joining areas around the phone, and its active slide function properly without any unusual sounds or signs of difficulty.
The standard battery (which came with the phone) can be fully charged in less than 2 hours and does give an impressive standby time of about three days but the talk time seems to be only about three hours.