The S88 is one of the first BenQ-Siemens branded handsets and is a strong start for the new mobile phone company. It features a 2-megapixel camera with LED photolight and autofocus, a microSD expandable memory slot, an MP3 player and a 256k-colour OLED display.
The specs are almost identical to the Sony Ericsson K750i and there's no hiding the fact that the S88 is not the most original handset we have ever reviewed. It is, however, a good offering from BenQ-Siemens that shows potential for the future. There are currently no UK networks offering the S88 but we expect this to change soon.
The S88 is a robust and glossy candybar phone with a simple design and some attractive details. While it's certainly not the most inspiring of designs, the phone has a sense of class that separates it from others in the same way that the Nokia 6230 did at its launch.
BenQ-Siemens has definitely got the balance of black and silver right and this is complimented by the handset's smooth lines. The front of the handset is smart and uncluttered, housing the 256k-colour OLED display with 176x220-pixel resolution and a shiny keypad underneath, all of which is surrounded by an art deco style, silver border.
The screen measures 31 by 39mm and takes up more space than the keypad, which consequently means that the keypad is somewhat squashed. We found the keys very tactile though, and large enough to use comfortably. Each key is shaped like a wedge, so you can easily move between them without confusion. There are two soft keys at the top and a navigation joystick similar to the one found on the K750i. Some K750i users found the joystick stopped working properly after a year on certain handsets, we hope the same won't happen on the S88.
Around the sides of the phone is a silver strip that does break the black theme somewhat, but makes it easier to distinguish the dedicated buttons and ports. These include the volume button on the left-hand side, the shutter button and video/camera switch on the bottom right and headphone port, microSD slot and charging port on the bottom. Unfortunately, like so many other phones, the headphone port has a cover on it, which falls off easily when the headphones are attached and you take the phone in and out of your pocket.
The back of the phone contains a 2-megapixel camera, flash and speaker. The camera lens, LED and speaker are surrounded by grey and silver borders that really clash with the overall sleek design of the rest of the phone and, along with the abundance of text, are a disappointing design feature.
The S88 prides itself on its range of multimedia functions. The two most important functions are the 2-megapixel camera with autofocus and the MP3 player.
The camera is made up of a 2-megapixel sensor with autofocus, an LED light and it features a 16x digital zoom. It can be accessed through the phone's menu or through the dedicated shutter button. You need to hold down the shutter button for a few seconds to access the camera application, but once you are in the camera mode, it only needs a quick click to take a photo.
The interface is straightforward. Once you access the camera application you can see that BenQ-Siemens has taken a hint from camera manufacturers and added all the necessary options that you would find in an entry level digital camera -- you can adjust the white balance, ISO, image size and even put it in macro mode for close ups. The autofocus is quick, as is the shutter speed, and the image doesn't take ages to save either. You can also switch the camera to video mode and shoot video in MPEG4 format, which is useful if you want to record something instead of just take a quick snapshot, but do keep in mind that the video mode won't take full advantage of the 2-megapixel lens and therefore the images won't be as clear.
The MP3 player is good and features shuffle mode, a 3D surround option, an equaliser and is loud enough to hear on the underground. Combined with the miniSD slot, this is definitely a feasible portable music player, but as usual with mobile phones it is let down by the proprietary headphones and it doesn't give you the option of using any different ones. It is possible to use a Bluetooth stereo headset, which is expensive, or the built-in speaker, which is surprisingly loud but won't win any prizes for best sound quality.
The S88 also features Bluetooth, WAP browser, Tri-Band support, SMS and MMS messaging, speakerphone, polyphonic ringtones, java games, voice recorder, alarm, calendar, to do list, calculator, currency converter, stopwatch, note pad and comes with a USB cable. You also have the option of using the S88 as a modem via Bluetooth or the provided USB cable, and this means you can access the Internet via your phone, on a PDA or laptop.
The picture quality is good but the OLED screen left us unimpressed. We didn't find it as bright as some LCD screens, such as the Sony Ericsson K750i's display, and this degraded the 262k-colour experience. The images also looked pixelated on the S88's screen and more akin to those taken by a 0.3-megapixel (VGA) camera.
We also found that ghosting occurred when we went from one image to another. For example, when we changed from the main screen to another screen we noticed a ghost-like shadow of the previous text or image. This isn't a major problem and doesn't affect how the phone works, but lets down the phone's polished image.
The audio quality on calls on the S88 is clear, as is the speakerphone. The battery life was also good -- the phone lasted for over a week on standby, or around seven hours' talktime.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield