Review of the Siemens A56


The Siemens C56 is a sister phone to the A56. The C56 is essentially the same phone, but with a few more features, including GPRS. The C56 is sold in Canada by Rogers, whereas the A56 is sold by Fido and other Microcell Connexions providers. Like the A56 it supports 850 MHz, which is important to Rogers subscribers.

Last Updated: 26-Oct-2003

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

General

Because the two phones are so similar, I will pull quite a bit of this review directly from the review for the A56. Where the phones differ I will make an explicit point of noting it. However, when it comes to RF and audio capabilities, as well as size, weight, and form factor, the phones are exactly the same.

The phone is small and light, and it has rounded contours with no sharp edges. In fact, the phone looks downright cute, which I hope wonít scare away any potential male buyers.

It felt comfortable in my hand, and it felt comfortable against my ear. The keypad is traditionally organized, but I didnít like the arrangement as much as I did on the A56. For starters the keys taper inward a lot near the bottom, and the star, zero, and pound keys are way too small and close together (whereas on the A56 they are approximately the same size as the other rows of keys). Secondly theyíve combined the two soft keys and the up/down key into one big super-key. I donít like that type of arrangement, and the down function on the C56 that I tested was stiff and unresponsive.

The screen is a bit small, but it has fairly high resolution for its size, and Siemens has made good use of the screen real estate. Backlight is courtesy of orange LEDs, which provide reasonable coverage of the screen and keypad. This isnít anything spectacular, but it gets the job done.

When it comes to features however, the C56 has plenty, but its price makes the feature set seem a lot less of a bargain than in the A56. Consider that the price of a C56 from Rogers (without a contract) is $250, whereas the A56 can be bought outright from Fido for $125. If you sign a 2-year contract with Rogers you can get the C56 for as little as $50, but a new subscriber to Fido can get the A56 for $25 (or free in some circumstances).

Features that are common to both the A56 and C56 are: Ringer Profiles (ala Nokia); alarm clock; games; T9 input (with user dictionary); calculator; User Groups (ala Nokia); wallpaper; screen saver; selectable caller graphics; and one user-selectable soft key. Features that are unique to the C56 include: GPRS; polyphonic ringtones; recordable ringtones; speakerphone; and calendar functions.

To some the inclusion of GPRS might be well worth it, and the speakerphone might be worth it if you find such feature especially useful. The rest are just novelties that really arenít worth all that much at all. So, depending upon how cheaply you can get the C56, it may or may not be worth it compared to the A56.

The addition of GPRS means that you can access to the browser, which on the A56 is deactivated, since Fido doesnít support circuit-switched data for web browsing (and neither does Rogers). You can also use the phone as a GPRS modem for laptops and PDAs, but youíll have to connect using a cable, since the phone does not support IR or Bluetooth.

The speakerphone feature is actually pretty good, but itís really intended for use in quiet environments. Itís great if you have to sit on hold for a while, since you donít need to hold the phone up to your face while doing so. The microphone sensitivity is not increased in speakerphone mode, so you have to use this feature at fairly close range anyway.

The calendar functions are nice to have, but they arenít anywhere near as well implemented as on higher-end phones. You donít get weekly or monthly views of your reminders, just a long list through which you can scroll.

A surprise feature is the ability to select a fast network search, which makes recovery of the network (after loosing the signal) markedly quicker. It wasnít quite as fast as a Motorola phone switched to Continuous Network Scan, but it was damned close. All GSM phones should include a feature like this.

The T9 implementation is especially good, and it includes features that even Nokiaís otherwise excellent T9 does not. For example upper and lower case that you use when entering a new word into the dictionary is remembered the next time you type the word. It also does something Iíve seen on few other phones; once it realizes that there is only one possible word you could mean with the letters youíve so far entered, it displays that full word for you to select. On most T9 systems, you must enter all of the letters in the word, no matter what.

The overall menu experience is also excellent. I do take exception to having to use the END key to back out of menus, as pressing the key once too often in a call can result in you hanging up. It really doesnít matter in idle mode, and once you get accustomed to it you have no problem at all.

The only feature that is oddly missing is a way to determine call duration after a call has ended. The manual does mention such a feature, but it has been de-activated in the Rogers version of the phone. It is possible to display the running time during a call, but that seems to be it for caller timer functionality. This is a very odd omission on an otherwise capable phone.

The keypad is full of thoughtful shortcuts, but not the same as on the A56. Pressing and holding the star key switches the phone between silent mode, and whichever Profile you had previously selected. Pressing and holding the pound key activates and de-activates the keypad lock. However, pressing and holding the cursor up key does not allow you to select a new Profile as with the A56. I couldnít find any shortcuts for changing the profile, which was a very odd omission.

The left soft key can be reprogrammed to any of the major functions in the phone or to a phone number. You can also assign either functions or phone numbers (mix and match) to the numeric keys. That means you can press and hold a digit from 1 to 9 and either dial a number, or instantly access a feature. This is a very thoughtful touch.

RF Performance and Audio Quality

Where the phone really shines however is how it performs as a phone. RF performance, while not quite as stellar as a Nokia 6310i or a Nokia 3650, doesnít fall that far short. In fact, in terms of raw RF sensitivity the C56 is almost the equal of my Nokia 6310i. It does suffer from more audio problems in very weak signal areas, but it isnít really much worse than the 6310i in that respect. The over-the-road performance is excellent, and handoffs are very gracefully dealt with (a little better than the 6310i in fact). I really must give this phone an excellent rating for RF performance.

Audio quality is equally impressive, with very good tonal balance, and excellent sound reproduction. The earpiece volume could do with being louder, especially when you are using this phone on Rogers (which has markedly lower volume than Fido). However, the phone exhibits absolutely no transmitter buzz. Outgoing audio is also extremely good, though again the volume could do with being just a tad louder. It deals fairly well with background noise, though not quite as well as the 6310i.

Iím being harder on this phone than I was on the A56 because with the higher price tag and the addition of the other features that phone just feels as though it belongs in the same class as higher-end phones. The C56 is a very capable phone, and just as good as the A56 in things that matter (RF and audio), but once it completes with phones with vastly more features, it comes up a little short.

Now some readers may wonder why I compare the two phones at all, since the A56 is sold by Fido, and the C56 is sold by Rogers (and both phones are locked to their respective networks). However, the phone can be unlocked, which means you can quite easily use a C56 on Fido or an A56 on Rogers. For those who canít (or wonít) get a phone unlocked, the observation is a valid one. If we look at the C56 solely as a Rogers product, then I would have no trouble recommending the C56 to someone looking for an inexpensive entry-level phone for the Rogers network.

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