Review of the Siemens A65


This new Siemens phone is another iteration of their otherwise excellent platform. Sadly they havenít addressed any of the issues in the former designs, such as low earpiece volume or the noticeable background noise, but it retains all of the goodness that made the previous A56, C56, and M55 all worthwhile GSM phones.

 

The Siemens A65 is available on Fido

Last Updated: 13-Mar-2005

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

On first viewing the A65 seems to be a color version of the A56 or C56 model, but in fact the A65 contains some notable extras, including MMS, data connectivity, picture ID, and an attachable camera. This model is tri-band, but one of those bands IS NOT 850 MHz. Instead the phone supports 1900, 1800, and 900 MHz. This means that you wonít be able to take advantage of the Rogers 850 MHz channels when roaming on their system. This is a definite disadvantage in rural areas.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: Like all of the other Siemens models Iíve tested the A65 has very good RF sensitivity. However, it doesnít quite match my old Nokia 6310i, which I use as the reference for all 1900 MHz phones. The differences arenít that great, but the A65 just canít quite maintain solid reception as long as the 6310i can. Personally I wouldnít consider the difference great enough to choose between one phone and the other, but for really picky people I believe that Siemens could do better.

Over-the-road Performance: Once again the A65 continues to provide the same excellent over-the-road performance to all of the other models Iíve tested from them recently. Handoffs are graceful (perhaps more so than just about any other GSM phone on the market right now, including Motorola) and while this phone canít make a silk purse out of a sowís ear, it can make some network problems sound at least tolerable.

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

Audio Performance

Tonal Balance: This is one area where Siemens has gotten it right time and time again, and the A65 is no exception. The tonal quality of this phone is very good, with a nice mix of lows, highs, and midrange. Just about anyone you talk with on this phone will sound natural and pleasant to listen to. However, they could stand to improve this aspect slightly. I canít put my finger on it, but the audio just seems to be a bit less stellar than some of the other phones Iíve tested to which Iíve given high praise for tonal balance.

Sound Reproduction: It seems that Siemens found a magic formula for audio reproduction and theyíve stuck with it on each of their models (that Iíve tested). That said however, I will admit that there is a bit more background noise than there should be. I never found the background noise particularly distracting during phone calls, but it would be a crowning achievement if Siemens could rid the phone of it completely.

Outgoing Sound Quality: Overall itís quite good, but the tonal balance just isnít quite as smooth and as natural as other GSM phones Iíve tested, including the Nokia 6310i. One of the big issues here is a penchant to pick up a lot of background noise. I recorded a series of test messages at Square One using the A65, the Nokia 6310i, and the Motorola i730 (using its internal microphone and my Samsung earbud). Iíd expected the i730 with the earbud to pick up the background noise the most, but surprisingly it was the A65 that was the most annoying in this respect.

Earpiece Volume: Like all of the Siemens models Iíve tested since (and including) the A56, the earpiece volume is a bit low. In most environments it sounds loud enough, but for those situations where the background din is exceptionally high (such as out on a noisy street or in a busy shopping mall) you might find it difficult to hear your caller. This goes doubly if your caller happens to be faint to begin with.

This low volume becomes an even bigger issue when you are roaming on Rogers, as their audio level is somewhat lower than Fidoís. Now that Rogers allows Fido pre-paid to roam on their network I was able to test this by forcing the A65 onto Rogers and comparing the volume of various test sources.

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: None of the Siemens Iíve tested has ever really scored well here, and A65 doesnít improve on this. The available ringtones just arenít loud enough to hear in a noisy environment, especially if the phone is far away from your ear (such as in a purse or pants pocket). All of the provided ringers are recorded sounds that play through the native earpiece. As this model has no speakerphone, it doesnít have an auxiliary speaker to provider higher volumes.

Keypad Design: Like most Siemens models the keypad sports a very traditional layout, with only the two exceptions. The two softkeys are tied physically to the TALK and END keys, which makes their use a little confusing at first. I would personally prefer that all the keys were all independent (with the exception of the 4-way cursor keys, which seem well-suited to being placed on the same key).

The keys on my test model were a little stiff, but they all pressed with assuring clicks, and so they gave excellent tactile feedback. The keys are a tad close together, but this isnít something that can be avoided in such a small design. People with really large thumbs might find this keypad a bit awkward.

Headset: The A65 does not include an industry-standard 2.5 mm headset jack. I was therefore unable to test the headset functionality, as I would have needed a model specific to the Siemens line. The connector on the bottom of the A65 is identical to that of the other Siemens models Iíve tested, so a headset for any of those units would likely work with this one.

Phonebook: The phonebook is rather rudimentary, providing only one extra field (email address) beyond the stock-standard name and phone number. It also doesnít provide a hierarchal storage scheme, which means that you can only store one phone number per name. If you have multiple numbers for the same people, you are forced to create multiple entries with subtext to distinguish it from all the rest.

Despite this lackluster scheme, it does provide a few perks, including picture ID (for up to 50 names in your phonebook) and groups. The latter is similar to the scheme introduced by Nokia in the late 1990ís and is used to provide custom ringtones. However, you cannot assign a specific ringtone to a specific caller. You may only assign ringtones to a group, and then associate callers with one of those groups.

Display: The color display of the A65 is very similar to the one offered on the M55. Siemens continues to be the only manufacturer Iíve encountered who allows the user to select the backlight brightness. The brightness is selected in 10 steps from off to full, though the top 3 seem to be the same. You can assign a different brightness to each of the Profiles (quick ways of changing phone attributes such as ring type, ring volume, etc).

The display is quite visible in DIRECT sunlight, but it looks a little dark in non-direct daylight. This seems to be the norm for TFT displays, so in this regard the A65 is about average.

Conclusions

Iíve always come away with a good feeling about the Siemens GSM phones Iíve tested in the past, and since the A65 is virtually identical in terms of RF and audio performance, thereís no way I can avoid being impressed with this one too. There is certainly room for improvement on just about all fronts however, but in terms of overall performance it is really tough to find another GSM model that has the same combination of qualities. The only aspect of the phoneís core functionality that is decided substandard is the poor audio volume. This is one aspect that Siemens needs to concentrate on in future phones.

The real disappointment is with the support features, such as the lame phonebook, low ringer volume, and lack of a 2.5 mm headset jack. If those lesser failings donít bother you, the Siemens A65 is certainly on of the best economy phone currently offered by Fido.

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