BenQ-Siemens officially released their new slim clamshell EF81 on the market. A lot has been said about it resembling Motorola V3x. Indeed, the new BenQ-Siemens does look like a RAZR and many people would definitely take it for a V3x by mistake when they see it in your hands. But EF81 has a lot more to show and as soon as you devote more time to it, you would definitely find original characteristics that would distinguish it from the V3x in many ways.
BenQ-Siemens EF81 tries to fill a market niche of classy and yet highly functional devices that strike with appearance and technical capabilities. This market niche is pretty much occupied with technically advanced phones, so the striving now is to work out a classier and slimmer design. You got to admit - 3G phones have always been somewhat bulky and uncomfortable to carry around. EF81 is meant to change that by being one of the slimmest 3G devices available to date on the European market. BenQ-Siemens tend to rely a lot on their marketing strategy because currently they have the know-how for producing quality mobiles, but their position on the market is currently rather shaken. As far as EF81 is concerned, they have put their efforts in a wide advertisement campaign featuring the football mega star Ronaldo. They also added a Star Wars theme in this model which includes a whole set of Star Wars sounds, wallpapers, and start-up and shut-down screens - all meant to warm the hearts of the Star Wars fans.
I suppose that you are already impatient to see how this mobile performs in real life and how it compares to the V3x in terms of design, so let's not waste any more time and get down to it.
Before we start, though, we should warn you that the phone we tested was a beta version so there are some bugs we found that we suppose would be fixed in the final version. Those bugs included strange radio interference in the speaker during calls, weak reception, camera being able to take only a five or six shots at a time after which it needed to be restarted, unexplainable warming up of the lower back panel during calls longer than a minute, as well as very slow menu response in the file browser. But those are far too serious bugs to be left unattended by the manufacturer so we are pretty sure they won't be present in the final version of the phone. Also, due to the reason we got a beta version of the mobile, we are not able to tell you what the retail package would include, not to mention that its contents are usually region or market specific. It is expected, though, that it would include a HHS-150 stereo headset, a DCA-140 USB data cable, and a CD including synchronization software.
The first things that caught our eyes when we got the test phone were the clean lines and elegant design. Of course, it's a masculine piece of design and it won't attract many women. It's solid and a bit on the heavy side. A weight of 110 g and a serious width of 51 mm do require a man's hand to be operated with an ease. The phone is 94 mm long though with an incredible thickness of only 15.9 mm which makes it one of the slimmest 3G devices on the market. Just to get an idea of how thin it is, let me just say that it is 2 mm thicker than Motorola V3 and a good 4 mm thinner than Motorola V3x. And except for the somewhat loose battery cover, the all-metal construction is very solid and it boasts really impressive looks.
One of the greatest things about this phone is the innovative all-metal construction. The front panel features brushed stainless steel, the body itself is made out of magnesium and the back panel is supposedly anodized black aluminum. Truthfully, the back panels looked and felt more like plain plastic to us, but we won't argue with the manufacturer on that matter. The phone's outside panels are pretty bare. The external display and the four keys below it take up a central part of the front panel. The keys are pretty convenient and are used for invoking the camera, the media player and the key lock. But we will say more about them later on in the review. We should point out that although the front cover is made of stainless steel it's not at all scratch proof. But the material being brushed stainless steel helps a lot in conceiving the tiny scratches.
Another unusual solution this phone offers is the single camera design meaning that there is only one camera which is used both for taking ordinary pictures, as well as for making video calls. You see, the camera is located in the swivel bar of the phone and when the clamshell is closed the lens points towards the back of the phone allowing you to shoot whatever you like using the external screen as view finder. When the clamshell is opened the lens is pointing directly towards you thus enabling you to make video calls, or self portraits, for that matter. For the very same reason the clamshell opens in two stages. When it's halfway opened it locks into place allowing you to put the phone on your desk and hold your video call with a direct visibility of the camera lens and the display. You might call this a "sitting" position of the phone. When you want to fully open the phone you just have to press a bit harder and the clamshell opens to a full swing. Of course, when you are not interested in making video calls you can easily open the phone in one move without allowing it to stop at the "sitting" position. Generally it's a very nice feature. The clamshell opens with ease when using both hands by using the special slots on both sides, but opening it single-handedly surely requires some practice.
Just below the external display there is a nicely shaped grill that covers the phone's external speaker. Let me tell you, this was one of the loudest phones we have tested. The sound is clear, crisp and doesn't have any interference in the high or low tone range - possibly because of the non-plastic construction. There is a certain bass line, but there's more to wish for. Generally, when playing music, you should better rely on the stereo headset that is supposed to come included in the retail package.
The 950 mAh Li-Ion battery of the phone is hidden under the upper part of the main panel. By removing it, you gain access to the SIM card slot and the microSD card slot placed neatly side by side. In fact they are so neatly placed that it's almost impossible to reach them with bare finger. The securing mechanism of the SIM card, though, is a good one. You press once the SIM inwards and it stays there. You press it the second time and it comes out by itself - something generally seen in your average digital camera card slot.
On the bottom of the phone you can see the data cable/recharger/headset port which is well hidden and blends seamlessly into the phone's design. The phone uses a new type of slimmer connector and is not compatible with older Siemens accessories.
In the upper right and left corners of the phone there is a strap fastening element which is a direct copy of the RAZR design.
Being all-metal really does make the phone prone to fingerprints. They are visible everywhere - on the external display, on the stainless steel front cover, and even on the magnesium body, too.
What is more, when fingerprints accumulate on the keypad surface, the rectangular keys tend to imprint themselves on the internal display when you close the clamshell. The only place that didn't catch any fingerprints was the matt black back cover, which, however, had the nasty habit of catching moisture from the user's hands.