The keypad of the phone is well suited for typing messages. The phone has a built-in email client and when you start a new message you are asked whether you prefer it to be a SMS, a MMS or an email.
This is kind of strange because after you start a SMS, you could easily turn it into a MMS by attaching stuff to it. Email works well with large attachments - for example I managed to attach pictures each 500KB large. I didn't try anymore than that so I am not sure what the email attachments size limit is. The email client itself supports SMTP, POP3, and IMAP4.
In the Inbox there are 3 tabs: SMS, MMS, and CBS share one tab, email messages occupy the second tab, and the third tab is for WAP Push messages. However, strangely enough the settings for receiving WAP Push messages are found in the Web Browser menu and not in the Message Settings sub menu.
There is an Auto Header and Auto Signature options in the SMS settings which allow you to create custom headers and signatures that are going to be used in every SMS, MMS, or email message.
There is also a T9 to assist you in your typing, but again, oddly enough, its settings are not found in the Message Settings menu but under the general settings of the phone.
The Media Player is a separate menu and is also accessible through the secondary display soft menu, as you should know by now if you follow this review carefully.
Media player operated via the external display
The phone's media player plays AAC++ and MP3 sound files and MPEG4, Real Video 8/9, h.263, and 3GPP video files. The video files can be played full screen. You can create your own playlists, but you cannot shuffle the files and there is no equalizer. The Media Player menu has 4 tabs: Music, Pictures, Videos, and Bookmarks. Under the Music tab you can create Playlists or view all files. The strange thing here is that you create playlists in one of the submenus but you cannot add any tracks to the Playlists from there. For that purpose you should go to the other submenu, which has a listing of all available tracks.
The Pictures and the Videos tabs are pretty self-explanatory. The Bookmarks tab is used for bookmarks of streaming content.
As far as the file browser is concerned, it has its own flaws, too. You can find it as a separate menu called My Stuff. Sounds, pictures, videos, themes, games, and the applications, are set into subfolders but share the phone's memory. The microSD card is shown as a separate tab.
You better forget about quickly going through the pictures you took today on your family picnic and pick the best ones. You have to open each picture one by one. What is more, the picture isn't resized to fit the screen. Instead, some of the picture is left hidden. In order to fully see the whole picture, you should press the central key and choose Full Screen - so, you can do your own math, but according to me, that means at least 5 clicks for viewing a single picture, not to mention the waiting time needed for the picture to open. There isn't a possibility to zoom the picture, either. As far as the pictures are concerned, the media player offers functionality not available in the file browser, and namely - Slide Show. The slide show opens the picture in full screen so you needn't worry about missing something, right? Yeah, exactly, but the slide show is awfully slow and there isn't any way to decrease the time between the slides. So, I suppose that up until now you should have got 'the whole picture' - the EF81 file browser simply sucks.
Another feature of the phone is the DRM or Data Rights Management. It means that the provider of certain content downloaded by you - for example a ringtone, a wallpaper, or a game, might make that content impossible to be transferred to another mobile or a PC. Certain mobile carriers are already doing that, but what can we say, it's a way to protect their multimedia products and we can't help it.
The EF81 features a 2 megapixel camera without a flash which is quite good on its own and deals well with outdoor shoots when there is enough light. Indeed under poor lightning conditions the pictures turn out with a lot of noise and color artifacts. You can't take macro pictures with BenQ-Siemens EF81, in fact if you are closer than 80 cm from your subject you will end up with out of focus photos.
In camera mode when using the external display as a viewfinder, the soft keys on the front panel are used for shooting, adjusting the brightness /exposure compensation/ and zooming. Generally, the camera action is fast and quick to save the pictures taken. The camera menu, though, fails to impress. There are rather few options here. You can choose the desired resolution among 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480, 320 x 240.
There is a setting for the white balance - Indoor, Outdoor, or Auto. And there is also a Flicker adjustment setting which can be set to Off, 50Hz, or 60Hz. What lacks in this menu is more important and those are settings like image compression/quality, a night mode, a macro mode. There aren't even basic image effects like sepia or black & white, which we are used to see even in the low-end devices nowadays. Of course, there is no image editing or cropping application whatsoever. The shutter sound is quite loud and cannot be turned off.
All this goes to the video camera just as well. The only available options are MMS or Unlimited mode of video recording, Audio Recording ON/OFF, White balance, and Flicker Adjustment. You can choose a resolution of 176 x 144, 128 x 96, or 96 x 80, and a frame rate of 7 or 15 fps. At the maximum resolution and frame rate the videos look good on the external display, but turn out rather pixilated on the main display or a computer screen. Sound is recorded well, though. The total amount of the unlimited recording mode is in fact limited to 5 minutes. Videos are recorded in .3gp format.
Another weak point is that the video zoom doesn't work during recording, you have to preset it before you start recording. Otherwise the video boasts a 7x digital zoom, and the still camera 5x digital zoom at the highest resolution.
Generally, the camera quality equals the one of Siemens SXG75. Unfortunately, we had to take our test pictures in overcast weather which really had an impact on the final results. In order to correct the effects from the overcast sky we had to use the Exposure Compensation and the results from that left us with a good impression.
The Video calls are positioned as a separate menu and when you open it up your real-time video image appears along with a field below it to enter a phone number for the video call. There is an option to hide your live video signal from the other call party and to replace it with a still image of your choice.