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Siemens SX56 review: Siemens SX56

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The Good GPRS; Secure Digital card slot; solid call quality.

The Bad Older, reflective screen; wireless Web surfing is still slow.

The Bottom Line Though it has an older processor and screen, the SX56 is a decent integrated Pocket PC/phone hybrid.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

Review Sections

Intro

While Palm OS-based PDA/cell phone hybrids have been around for a while, T-Mobile (formerly VoiceStream) was the first company to put out a truly integrated Pocket PC/phone combo, the Pocket PC Phone Edition. A few months later, Siemens and AT&T followed suit with the SX56 Pocket PC phone. Physically identical to the Pocket PC Phone Edition, the SX56 also shares the T-Mobile product's vices and virtues. Though it has an older processor and screen, the SX56 nevertheless stands its ground against many Pocket PCs, and it deserves recognition as one of the few solid Pocket PC smart phones. Both built by HTC, the Pocket PC Phone Edition and the SX56 have the same design, except that the T-Mobile is pale gold, while the Siemens is silvery. Each looks somewhat like a toned-down iPaq but with a thick nub antenna at the top that houses the stylus. The SX56 resembles many other Pocket PC 2002 handhelds, but it's a bit larger and heavier--measuring 5 by 2.8 by 0.7 inches and weighing 6.8 ounces--because of its integrated wireless phone.

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The SX56 is heavy, but it's not too large for a pocket.
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The unit is relatively thin.
Since this combo is designed for business users, two convenient one-touch buttons above the screen launch the calendar and contacts applications. Below the display, on either side of the four-way rocker key, you'll find two buttons with phone icons: a green one for placing calls and launching the phone program, and a red one for ending calls. Volume is adjustable onscreen via a control on the side that's also for recording memos in Pocket PC mode. Though this is well positioned for midcall use, we kept inadvertently pressing it while accessing other applications.

There's no CompactFlash expansion slot for adding accessories, but there is a Secure Digital card slot at the unit's base. Our only gripe with that location is that you can't access the card when the device is in its cradle. With most GSM phones, the SIM card goes under the battery on the unit's back, but the SX56's card slips into a covered slot on the side.

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The IR port is on the corner of the device between the volume and power buttons.
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The box contains a cradle, a spare stylus, an AC power adapter, and a rather handsome protective jacket.
The provided USB cradle's short legs make it prone to tipping when you're inserting or removing the handheld. Since Siemens also includes a small, portable adapter for the AC charger, you can leave the cradle behind when you travel. Unlike the iPaq's adapter, the SX56's isn't tethered to the cord, so it's both simpler to transport and easier to lose. A protective carrying case with an integrated swivel belt clip is also bundled with the device. The SX56 is equipped with the standard Pocket PC 2002 specs, including a 206MHz StrongARM processor, 32MB of RAM and ROM, an IR port, USB syncing, and an SD card slot. The processor is older and slower than the 300MHz and 400MHz processors of the most recent Pocket PCs, but we didn't notice much of a difference, as you'll see in the Performance section.

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You can easily add SD or MMC media for extra storage space.
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Since you can't remove the battery, the SIM card slides into the side of the device.
One of the main differences between this PDA and its T-Mobile doppelgänger is its software. Both devices have phone programs that offer all the standard features found on mobiles today, such as call logs, caller ID (when available), SMS, call waiting, three-way calling, a vibrate option, and customizable ring tones (you can add WAV files to create your own). But Siemens has thrown in a few extras--for example, a SIM-manager application and Office Online, an AT&T Wireless program that lets you organize e-mail, the calendar, and contact information online for an extra fee. In addition, business users can purchase AT&T Wireless Workware, which provides access to e-mail and applications behind a corporate firewall.

Of course, another main benefit of the SX56 is its wireless Web access via a GPRS connection. You can use it to surf HTML and WAP Web sites, check and send e-mail, and chat online with MSN Messenger--all features built into the Pocket PC 2002 OS. And since the SX56 is a Pocket PC, you can sync contacts and appointments with your desktop computer.

Siemens has also done a good job integrating the phone capabilities with the other programs. For example, whenever a phone number is underlined in an e-mail or a document, you just tap it to launch the phone app. The device also prompts you to add the contact to the phone book. Another nice touch: When a call comes in while you're listening to an MP3 file with Windows Media Player, you can hear the ring over the music and view caller-ID information. If you answer, the song pauses until you're finished with the call, then picks up where it left off. Since the Siemens SX56 works on both GSM 900 and 1900 networks, it's considered a world mobile. It also works on next-generation GPRS data networks, but while those are significantly faster than previous cell-phone data networks, they cannot compare to even a poky 56K dial-up connection. Checking e-mail is a trouble-free affair, but cruising the Web is still too slow for all but the most patient of souls and can't be done while you're using the phone.

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The reflective screen looks somewhat dim in normal conditions and displays only 4,096 colors.

We tested the SX56 in the San Francisco Bay Area and found service to be consistently good--on a par with the Pocket PC Phone Edition's. Callers said that we came in clearly, and vice versa. We pressed the device against our face as if it were a candy-bar phone and also tried the included earbud-style headset. Our callers told us that we sounded pretty good using the earbud, but calls were louder and exhibited better quality without it.

A built-in lithium-polymer battery powers the SX56; it lasted for an impressive 6 hours, 18 minutes of talk time. In standby mode, we got about 140 hours, slightly less than the SX56's rated 150 hours but much more than the T-Mobile's rated 100. In our battery-drain test, the Siemens played a movie trailer in PocketTV with the backlight on for 4 hours, 10 minutes, above average for a Pocket PC. Despite the unit's slower processor, it played video as smoothly as a Pocket PC with the latest 400MHz Intel PXA255 processor.

The SX56 has a 320x240-pixel resolution and can display only 4,096 colors at 12 bits, somewhat less than most Pocket PCs we've tested. However, we found the screen especially sharp, colorful, and easy to read; it's difficult to notice the missing hues unless you're viewing photos. The LCD is reflective, so it works well outdoors but looks rather dim inside. It's lit from the bottom rather than the back and can't compare to the latest transflective displays, which provide a brighter and more evenly lit image.

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