BenQ-Siemens' E61 mofi is a small, neat, rather eye-catching handset, with music playing capability and a rather niftily sited full set of playback control buttons. It is a shame it lets itself down on one or two other music essentials, though. It's also not going to set anyone's world alight by offering state of the art technical specifications, and many will think the company has committed a huge faux pas by failing to include Bluetooth.
The E61 is available from Virgin Mobile on pay-as-you-go for £100.
Orange and black might not sound like the best colour combination in the world, but it's what BenQ-Siemens has chosen for the E61, and it works rather nicely.
Black is used for the front fascia -- apart from a dash of silver around the navigation key. The orange is limited to a stripe along the left, right and bottom edges, connecting at left and right via the back of the casing rather than the top.
The handset is small and light, weighing just 88g. It is wedge-shaped, in that the bottom end is thinner than the top end. Don't think doorwedge here, though, as the difference in thickness is marginal. We measured the bottom edge at about 13mm, and the rise to the full 17mm is gentle.
The top edge is rather special, and provides what is the E61's most alluring -- and best -- feature, in the shape of a set of silver buttons dedicated to music playback and volume control. These buttons are large and between them cover all the available space.
Positioned here, the buttons are ideal for use while the E61 is sitting in a pocket. In fact, for finding by touch alone, they are arguably better located than those on iPod-style mobile music players.
This makes the fact that the headset socket is on the bottom edge of the handset really irritating. The connector is a proprietary one (you can't use your own favourite headphones), and the headset jack protrudes from the bottom of the case in a rather unsightly and awkward way. It'll probably dig into your leg when you sit down, and get dislodged from time to time. If you produce a second edition of this handset, BenQ-Siemens, we implore you to squeeze the connector in next to the music control buttons, where sensible people would expect to find it.
BenQ-Siemens has done its best to make sure the front buttons are easy to use. The number keys are stepped so that they feel comfortable under the thumb, and the Call and End buttons, and two softmenu keys, are raised, making them easy to hit. Our main gripe is with the navigation key -- the silver edging may prove a bit fiddly to hit accurately.
The 'mofi' part of the name apparently stands for 'mobile hi-fi'. This is a little misleading in one respect, as there's no radio built in.
If you define 'mobile hi-fi' as listening to tunes however, then you are in luck as that's what this handset is good for, either listening to tracks one by one, or setting up playlists. Through the handset loudspeaker, playback quality is reasonably good. We are not talking top quality, but it is perfectly comfortable to listen to. It is improved when you switch to the provided headset.
There is just under 2MB of memory built in, and support for a miniSD card, which lives underneath the battery. You get a 512MB card with the phone. You don't get any data synchronisation software, but connect it to your PC using the provided data cable and you can choose to work in 'mass storage' mode -- the miniSD card appears on your computer as a standard drive and you can copy and paste not just music but photos and other files too. You can also play back music files from the handset on a PC, which is a neat way of sharing sounds with friends.
The camera has its ups and downs. There's no video mode, and stills are shot at a maximum resolution of just 640x480. There are presets for different shooting conditions and types of subject: people, landscape, sunny, sunset, night, snow and text as well as an auto setting, and some effects: grey, sepia, mosaic, tile, negative, draft, watercolour, embossed, engraved and sketch. Both the wait while new settings are saved and the time lag between pressing the centre of the navigation button and a shot actually being taken is interminable -- you won't get many candid quick-fire shots with this handset.
You can get to full Web sites via the browser, but we aren't sure why you'd want to, given the low-resolution screen and GPRS-speed data connection. Stick to WAP sites, of which there are now plenty that are useful, and which we found, not surprisingly, to load faster and be easier to get around on the screen.
Probably the cardinal sin for the E61 is the absence of Bluetooth. There's no infrared either, incidentally.
When it came to voice calls, we'd have liked more in the volume department, but the E61 handled itself well enough. Music playback is average rather than outstanding, but we could live with it. The camera, on the other hand, is truly disappointing in pretty much every way. If you want more than just pics to view on a handset you should look elsewhere.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield