The Siemens SX1 packs in almost all the features we'd want in a smart phone: sharp looks, multimedia options, Bluetooth and infrared support, and a camera with decent photo quality. But those lacking the patience to learn how to peck the handset's stylish but thumb-confounding keypad--split into two rows that line each side of the phone--should steer clear. The phone comes with a quite steep price of $599 and probably won't be subject to carrier subsidies.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. Measuring 4.3 by 2.2 by 0.75 inches and weighing 4.1 ounces, the Siemens SX1 is slightly bigger and heavier than other candy bar-style handsets we've tested. That said, we found it easy to hold while talking, and it fit comfortably (if a bit noticeably) in a jeans pocket. The first detail that struck us about the arresting gray-and-silver smart phone was the way the number keys were split into two vertical rows flanking the 65,000-color LCD screen. While the look is cool, especially with the blue backlighting on, there is a steep learning curve involved in dialing a number or typing a text message. Then again, if you get the hang of the funky layout (you can practice with Typefun, a simple typing game that comes with the mobile), you can peck the keys with two thumbs instead of one.
The colorful display is perfect for the snazzy Symbian OS 6.1-powered menus, and it's easy to read in broad daylight. Its backlighting, however, is a bit dim compared to other phones' we've tested. Below the LCD are large, stylish navigation keys and a nub of a joystick. While the flat navigation keys were well spaced and easy to press, we had trouble with the joystick, which is so small and slippery that we found ourselves accidentally depressing it when we meant only to nudge it. The two soft keys and the joystick give one-touch access to the radio, the video recorder, the call records, and the contacts, and you can program each of the dial-pad keys with a different shortcut--now that's personalization. Additionally, the soft keys activate the speakerphone and act as a camera shutter.
We were happier with the one-touch voice-calling and camera buttons on the right side of the phone and the MMC memory card slot on the left--a nice design move, as opposed to hiding the memory card behind the battery, as the does. The camera lens (sans mirror or flash) is located in the upper-left corner on the mobile's rear face, while the infrared port is on the mobile's top. The Siemens SX1's 2,000-name phone book holds three phone numbers and an e-mail address for each contact. You can store 250 more names on the SIM card, and all contacts can be organized into groups. For caller ID, you can assign a picture and one of the 23 polyphonic (16-chord) ring tones; there's also a vibrate mode. The handset comes with a solid arsenal of organizer features, including a calendar, a calculator, an alarm and world clock, a task list, a notepad, voice memos, and a currency converter. You also get a WAP 2.0 wireless Web browser; text and multimedia messaging; support for POP3, IMAP4, and SMTP e-mail; five-way conference calling; and a duplex speakerphone (you can turn it on only after making a call). Infrared connectivity, fax-modem support, and Bluetooth are included as well.
Shutterbugs will get a kick out of the SX1's VGA camera, which lets you snap photos at three resolutions: 80x96, 160x120, and 480x640. The camera automatically adjusts for dark conditions (as opposed to other camera phones, which have manual night modes), and you can zoom in on your subjects with the 4X digital zoom or adjust between miniature, standard, or full-screen modes. You can save pictures, use them as wallpaper, or send them via MMS. Alternately, to channel your inner artist, you can use the Image Fun option to add a variety of frames or effects to your snapshots. At the highest resolution, the photos we took were reasonably crisp and boasted vibrant colors that were a far cry from the pale, washed-out hues of similar camera phones we've tested. If video is your game, the SX1 can shoot short (95K), low-quality (176x144) video clips in QCIF format. Video can be shot at high- or standard-quality settings, and clips last 10 or 15 seconds respectively. The video quality is pretty ragged, but that's to be expected with the current crop of video-recorder phones. You can save as many photos and videos as will fit on the phone's 4MB memory or a media card (not included).
Ready for some tunes? The SX1's FM tuner comes with six presets (which the phone can set automatically), while a rudimentary MP3 player will play audio files in MP3, Real Audio, and AMR formats. Audio quality on the included stereo headset--which acts as the radio's antenna--was surprisingly good, with crisp highs and thumping bass, which is a good thing, considering you can't plug your own headphones into the proprietary plug. The phone will also mute the music when an incoming call arrives.
The phone's personalization options are excellent. You can choose from four color schemes (Blue Sky, Magenta, Beach, and City) and three screensavers. Not happy with those? You can download more options and get additional apps and ring tones from the Siemens Web site. And if you're still at a loss, you can turn an MP3 from your collection into a ring tone or use the onboard composer to write your own.
Gamers can flex their thumbs with three included Java (J2ME) games: the aforementioned Typefun, Sitris (a Tetris clone), or Mozzies, a run-of-the-mill first-person shooter that distinguishes itself by taking advantage of the SX1's camera. The goal of Mozzies is to take out as many flying bugs (which look like large, lumbering mosquitoes) as you can--nothing new there. The clever twist is that, courtesy of the camera, the Mozzies are superimposed on a live video image of, say, your desk or subway car, and you aim by moving the camera itself to get the bugs in your crosshairs. Don't be surprised if bystanders warily back away as you wave the camera around, muttering, "Die, Mozzies, die!" We tested the Siemens SX1 (GSM 900/1800/1900; GPRS) world phone in the New York metro area using Cingular Wireless service. We heard our callers loud and clear, and our lucky friends reported that they couldn't tell we were talking on a cell phone. The speakerphone quality also was good, with plenty of volume.
Siemens promises up to four hours of talk time on the SX1. In our tests, the SX1 easily served up more than four hours--impressive for a phone with such a large color screen. Standby time was disappointing, however. We managed barely three days, compared to the rated standby time of more than eight days.