At 4 by 1.7 by 0.7 inches and weighing only 3 ounces, the S56 is a typically svelte offering from Siemens, with the blue, gray, and silver accents lending it a sleek look. We also like the white lighting of the keypad, which makes it easy to see in dim settings, as does the vibrant seven-line, 256-color display.
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Slim size, big features: Like other Siemens mobiles, the S56 is supercompact, but it doesn't skimp on features.
Though the navigation buttons are a bit small, they make it easy to wade through the graphical menus. The volume-control and voice-memo keys rest on either side of the unit. Because these buttons are identical, it's easy to get them confused at first; mastering the phone's interface will take some practice.
As noted earlier, you can also attach a mobile camera with a built-in flash ($79.99). While not as sleek an option as the phones with integrated cameras, it doesn't add much girth to the S56's slim form factor.
The contact list stores up to 250 entries and includes such details as company name, street address, and URL. You can also include a picture with the contact info, which will appear on the display when that person calls. Additionally, you can store another 250 names on the SIM card. The call-records feature is somewhat skimpy on details, displaying only the phone number, not the time or duration of your dialed calls. On the upside, the integrated speakerphone provides clear quality on both ends. Along with voice dialing and voice memos, you can record brief phone conversations without a cumbersome connection to an external tape recorder, but make sure you tell the other party that you're recording the conversation first.
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Camera-friendly: You can take snapshots with this phone via the camera accessory.
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Pack and go: The mobile camera accessory comes with a nifty carrying case.
On the fun side, the S56 supports Java (J2ME), so you can download games, images, and applications. There's also a vibrate mode and polyphonic ring tones, more of which you can download to the phone. If you opt for the optional mobile camera, you'll be able to take pictures in low (160x120 pixels) or high (640x480) resolutions. You can send your images to others via e-mail, IrDA, MMS, or Bluetooth. We transmitted four low-resolution pictures to our work computer via e-mail without a problem, although even the tiny (5K) files took about 10 minutes to travel over the GPRS network.
Since this phone is Bluetooth compatible, you can use it to transfer data wirelessly to other Bluetooth devices or use accessories such as wireless headsets. The S56 easily paired up with both the Plantronics and Siemens headsets that we tested with the unit. However, trying to get the phone to recognize both simultaneously caused a conflict, so you'll want to disable one headset before activating another.
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Charge it up: The S56 isn't a stellar performer in the battery department, but its charger is compact enough that it shouldn't be a big issue.
We tested the GSM (850/1900) phone in the Chicago area using Cingular Wireless service. Callers sounded clear and loud on our end with little static and few dropouts, and they said we came through clearly on their side, as well. We also experienced the same level of audio quality when using the integrated speakerphone.
Battery life, however, didn't quite measure up. We coaxed about 2.5 hours of talk time from the S56, far short of the maximum rating of 5 hours. We also achieved only 75 hours of standby time, which Siemens rates at up to 250 hours. This means you won't want to leave that compact charger at home during even the shortest of business trips.