Tools of the Trade: Siemens Mobile SK65

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The Independent Online

The BlackBerry email device is a huge success, especially among corporate users. But good as it is, not everyone wants to carry round a separate gadget for email.

The BlackBerry email device is a huge success, especially among corporate users. But good as it is, not everyone wants to carry round a separate gadget for email.

This has prompted RIM, the company behind BlackBerry, to license its software to mobile phone manufacturers, who can then add the BlackBerry email, contacts and calendar functions to their handsets. That way, busy executives can use the BlackBerry mail system - which pushes messages automatically to the handset - as well as having a "normal" phone.

One of the first and certainly most innovative phones to incorporate BlackBerry software is the SK65 from Siemens Mobile. Siemens has taken a very radical approach to the SK65.

The phone is a straightforward "candy bar" design, but literally with a twist. It is, in effect, two slices. Push the bottom half through 45 degrees and it reveals a qwerty keyboard, with half the keys either side of the screen.

The keyboard feels a little unnatural at first, but composing messages on it quickly becomes much faster than it would be using a numerical keypad or even a pen-based system. This is part of the reason for the phone's success: the original BlackBerry keyboard allows quite rapid text entry, with a little practice. There are even competitions in the US to test BlackBerry users' text-entry speeds.

But the key layout on the SK65 does not feel quite as easy to use as the original BlackBerry, which sits snugly in the palm of a hand. With the SK65, the temptation is to lay the phone on a flat surface to type. Its screen, while clear, is also smaller than the screen on a BlackBerry device.

Siemens has opted to keep the BlackBerry functions in a separate menu, with no integration with Siemens' own mail or calendar software. These can be turned off, though, restricting the user to BlackBerry email. The SK65 keyboard also works well with the Siemens applications. The SK65 appears to behave reliably as a BlackBerry handset, with push email coming through easily. But the Siemens approach to menus can be confusing, especially when switching between BlackBerry and non-BlackBerry functions. It is not always clear which button to press, especially to exit a function.

Most people will look at the SK65 as an alternative to carrying a BlackBerry device and a phone, but it does have a good range of other functions, including push to talk - which lets the phone work rather like a walkie-talkie - and Bluetooth connections. It might not bother some business users, but the SK65 has no camera built in.

The idea behind the SK65, a phone that is also a BlackBerry, is attractive, and the industrial design is impressive. But Siemens needs to look again at the ease of use of this product, if it is going to win over existing and potential BlackBerry users.

THE VERDICT

Pros: BlackBerry support, innovative design

Cons: User interface is too complicated

Rating: 3 out of 5

Price: Around £300 without a contract; free with some contracts

Contact: www.siemensmobile.com

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