We've become so accustomed to seeing striking handsets from Siemens that we were a bit surprised at first by the C61's lackluster look. Similar in appearance to the company's A56, the C61 has a simple candy bar-style design that doesn't make a statement. Siemens makes up for that, however, by providing a set of colorful faceplates that spice up the appearance of this AT&T Wireless phone. For such a practical mobile, it's fairly priced at $49.99, but you should be able to find it free with service. Compared to other Siemens handsets, such as the or the SL56, the C61 is a bit of a dud from a design perspective. Like many other Siemens units, this mobile is plenty small (4.33 by 1.85 by 0.9 inches) and light (3 ounces), and it easily fits in a pocket. We also found its construction solid, and unless you're a flip-phone fanatic, the C61 feels comfortable in your hand while you're talking.
With an internal antenna and no buttons around the phone's perimeter, the C61's casing is uncluttered--a little too uncluttered. There's no button on the side of the unit for controlling the earpiece volume during a conversation. To do so, you need to take the phone away from your ear and use the four-way toggle located just below the screen.
The display, though color, is decidedly low resolution (4,096 colors) and the menus, while easy to navigate, are nothing special. True, this isn't a phone designed to attract gamers, but it doesn't make for an inviting wireless Web experience either. Besides the four-way toggle, the small navigation buttons consist of two soft keys, which give one-touch access to the menu and AT&T's mMode service. You can also assign shortcuts to the yellow-backlit keypad buttons, though they are tiny, especially for those with big mitts.
If you don't like the default gray-and-white coloring, the C61 comes with a collection of three Clipit covers (Orange Spice, Cool Mint, and our favorite, Cinnamon), which provide a degree of personalization and should appeal to younger customers. If you don't like distractions such as cameras, camcorders, and PDA functions muddying up your cell phone, the Siemens C61 is right up your alley. But while the feature set is designed to be basic, Siemens unfortunately went for bare bones in some cases.
Most notably, the phone book, which stores up to 100 contacts, lets you enter only one phone number and one e-mail address per entry. Nor is there any section for adding notes with contact information. If you need more room, you can keep an additional 250 names on the SIM card.
As for other features, the C61 supports eight polyphonic ring tones, three monophonic ring tones, a vibrate mode, a WAP 1.2.1 wireless Web browser, picture caller ID, an alarm clock, a calculator, a stopwatch, a speakerphone, and text and multimedia messaging. It also comes with three Java (J2ME)-enabled games: Bejeweled, Stack Attack, and Magic Picture.
Besides the Clipit covers, you can personalize the C61 with a variety of wallpapers, screensavers, and color schemes. You can download more options or get additional ring tones and games from AT&T Wireless's mMode GPRS Internet service. For saving your selections, the C61 includes 1.8MB of shared memory. If the Siemens C61's design and features are a bit lacking, its performance helps pick up some of the slack. We tested the dual-band (GSM 850/1900; GPRS) phone in the Chicago area using AT&T Wireless service. We found its call quality to be uniformly excellent. Callers had no trouble hearing us, and the volume was loud and clear on our end. The speakerphone volume also gets plenty loud, though callers on the other end didn't agree as much.
Battery life also lived up to expectations. We reached about 7.5 hours of talk time, which far surpassed Siemens's rated time of 4.5 hours. The 9 days of standby time were just short of the rated 10 days.