When we opened the clamshell for the very first time we noticed something that really looked like the familiar RAZR keypad. You have keys separated by thin lines of electroluminescent foil, a rubber-like material which glows in blue in the dark.
In the upper part of the keypad there is a four-way navigation key surrounded in circle by 8 functional keys - two contextual soft keys, the green and the red call handling keys, two fixed shortcut keys for invoking the web browser and video calls, the correction C key, and finally the Task Switcher key. Now, I got to tell you, this is a very useful feature - this Task Switcher. It somehow resembles the Task Manager you have in other phones that are equipped with a fully functional operating system. A longer press of that key takes you to the main menu. But when you pressed it once, it takes you to the Task Handler (or Task Switcher) menu. Since the phone supports the use of multiple applications at the same time, this menu opens a list of all currently active applications. A really nice feature, in fact, - you can have the phonebook and the calculator running at the same time while you browse through the main menu for example.
The keypad itself is absolutely flat but when pressed, the keys distinctly sink inwards, so there shouldn't be any confusion when typing. We find the keypad rather big though and we find it hard to move your thumb from the four-way key to the numeric keys and back. It's just that the distance between them is too long. My thumb got tired in a couple of hour's usage. There shouldn't be any problem when writing SMS, though, because you only really need the numeric keys for that. And let me tell you, writing SMS is a piece of cake. No difficulties at all. Generally speaking, the keypad is great.
Just below the numeric keypad you can see a little pinpoint hole. That is the phone's microphone which is incredibly sensitive and can catch up your voice even if you intentionally whisper and mumble - which is something we, of course, did during the tests.
We should admit that both the external and the internal display BenQ-Siemens integrated into the phone are very good.
The external one is a 1.3 inch 262K colors TFT QQVGA display which translates into a resolution of 120 x 160 pixels. You can choose an image for its wallpaper separately from the wallpaper of the main display. When active, it displays time, carrier, battery status, signal strength, missed calls and the soft menu. When inactive, it shows only the clock and a missed calls icon if there is any. You can choose whether it should show an analog clock, a digital one or any screensaver picture. The interesting thing about the external display is the simple soft menu operated by the soft keys positioned directly below it. The soft menu allows you to invoke the still camera, the video camera, the media player and the key lock.
BenQ-Siemens EF81 external display during a call
The keys are also useful for call handling without opening the clamshell. In the soft menu the left key is used as an OK key, the middle two-way key is used for navigation as LEFT and RIGHT, and the right key is dedicated to the KEY LOCK. And let me tell you, you surely need the key lock, because without it it's very common to take random pictures of your pocket's insides. Another good thing is that when you open the clamshell, the key lock disables itself automatically. There is a possibility to enable the auto-locking of the keypad - a feature we turned on without hesitation.
The solution of using the external display as a view finder is an intersting one. It has always been awkward to take pictures with an opened large clamshell phone. But with this one, taking pictures is like using a slim digital camera - very nice. The external display colors are a bit pale and it has some legibility problems under direct sunlight, but hey, after all, nobody's perfect.
The main display, however, is entirely a different matter. It's clearly legible even when the sun shines directly on it. It's again a 262K colors TFT one, but a 2.2 inch one with a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels. It's a great display with wide viewing angles. You can tell its high quality by the crisp and vivid colors it offers.