Review of the Motorola Siemens S46


I normally wouldnít review an older phone such as this, which received FCC approval in the US back in January of 2002, but someone went to the trouble of shipping me the phone from the US (which I donít even have to ship back), and so I just couldnít refuse. Besides, I was interested in seeing if Siemens could carry the same level of quality throughout all of their models.

Last Updated: 07-Oct-2005

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

The S46 is a GSM/TDMA phone, but I was only able to test the GSM side. Rogers doesnít allow any new subscribers on TDMA and Iíve heard theyíll be shutting it down shortly anyway. On the GSM side the phone supports 1900 MHz for North America, and 900 MHz for the rest of the world. However, it does not support GSM850.

My testing revealed that the S46 is very much like all the other Siemens models Iíve tested, especially the A56, which I was able to compare it to directly. Because of the strong similarities in test results the review will be comprised mostly of comments stating just that. There are some striking differences as well, and Iíll spend most of my time talking about them.

RF Performance

RF Sensitivity: In terms of the phoneís ability to pull in a signal, the S46 is just as capable as any of the other Siemens models Iíve tested. It managed to pull in signals just as well as the A56, but it was slightly less capable that my Nokia 6310i. The difference between the 6310i and S46 (and indeed all Siemens GSM models tested in the last few years) is very slight, and not of any great consequence. Like other Siemens models the S46 also supports fast network searching, which ensures that even when it looses service, it finds it again quickly (which CANNOT be said of the 6310i).

Over-the-road Performance: This was one aspect where the S46 didnít seem to perform quite as well as the A56. Handoffs on the S46 were definitely MESSIER and more pronounced than on the A56. Once again, we arenít talking about a major difference here, but the fact that there was any difference form the A56 at all was surprising. So far, all Siemens models Iíve tested of late have performed on par with one another.

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

Audio Performance

Before I talk about specific audio capabilities I have to mention one aspect of the S46 that directly affects perception of audio quality. Unlike any other Siemens model Iíve recently tested the S46 has a fairly strong sidetone. The term sidetone refers to the practice of feeding a sample of what the microphone picks up directly to the earpiece. This has traditionally been done on landline phones for decades, but what works on a landline phone doesnít necessarily work on a mobile phone.

Only a handful of models that Iíve tested over the years have had sidetone, and in each and every case Iíve griped about it. This is because the background din around you is fed directly to the earpiece and comes out sounding like NOISE in the incoming audio. It is especially noticeable when the phone is used in a car with a fan motor running, or when windows are opened slightly. Itís also quite noticeable in noisy shopping malls and out on the street. There is simply no excuse for this, and it is easily the single worst feature of the S46.

The following comments concerning specific aspects of audio performance are made without taking into account the effects of sidetone. How much impact the sidetone has on your personal perception of these aspects of audio performance will depend largely on the type and volume of background noise around you and your sensitivity to it.

Tonal Balance: Like all Siemens phones Iíve recently tested, the S46 has excellent tonal balance, though it is slightly lacking in low-end and so it doesnít quite have the same rich tonal quality as the 6310i. However, it sounds markedly better than just about 80% of all the phones Iíve tested and it should satisfy all but the pickiest users.

Sound Reproduction: Also like other Siemens models the sound preproduction of the S46 is quite good, but I found it slightly coarser-sounding than the A56. Generally speaking however, the S46 does a very good job of reproducing the various nuances of speech on incoming audio. That isnít true of outgoing audio however, as the S46 is decided muddy-sounding compared to the A56 and the Nokia 6310i. Nuances such as ďsĒ sounds are dampened to the point of being almost inaudible. While your callers might find the sound quite pleasant, they might ask you to repeat yourself more often than youíre used to.

Earpiece Volume: Sadly earpiece volume is a problem on most Siemens models and the S46 is no exception. While the volume is fine for quiet or mildly-noisy environments, it just doesnít have what it takes to hear it comfortably in really noisy places. This is especially true if your caller happens to be soft-spoken, or heís using a faint phone.

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

Support Features

Ringer Volume: Ringer volume is also a problem in all of the Siemens models Iíve tested of late, including the S46. To compensate for this however, the S46 has one of the strongest vibrator-alerts Iíd experienced on a phone in ages. While it isnít strong enough to feel through a thick winter jacket, it can be felt through virtually any other type of clothing.

Keypad Design: They keypad is very traditional in its layout and it has easy-to-feel raised keys that can be used without having to look at them. Each presses with a very resounding click sensation, and so there is no doubt that a key had been pressed. The only gripe I have about the keypad overall is that the key-clicks seem a bit too harsh.

One specific thing that annoyed me however was that theyíd swapped around the TALK and MENU keys. On virtually every other phone in the world the TALK and END keys are mirror-images of one another on either side of the phone. The menu key would normally be in the middle. Siemens put the TALK key in the middle and the menu key where you expect the TALK key to be. While you might get used to this, itís a very odd arrangement.

Another thing I found odd was the use of 4 closely-spaced soft keys rather than just 2. While using 4 softkeys does give the menus greater flexibility, I found the arrangement of the choices and the closeness of the keys to be very difficult to use intuitively. However, Iím guessing that after using the phone for a while youíd become accustomed to this.

Display: The display is not a particularly great monochrome unit. The backlight is an annoying orange color and the fonts are rather weird-looking at times. However, I didnít really have any problem reading the pertinent information from the display under varying conditions, and unlike many color-screen phones I had no trouble seeing it in direct sunlight.

Conclusions

Iíve normally come away with good feelings about Siemens models, with just the usual gripe about low earpiece volume. Unfortunately the sidetone problem on the S46 destroys any good feeling I have about this model. I canít say that you will find sidetone as annoying as I do, but if you do you simply wonít want to continue using the S46 any longer than you have to. If sidetone isnít a problem for you, then the S46 is a decent performer, but it just isnít quite up to the quality of the lowly A56.

For me however, the sidetone is just too much of an issue. Even if someone gave me an S46 for free (which actually they did) I still couldnít bring myself to use it unless I had absolutely no choice. Even my wife doesnít want to give up her A56, despite all of the extra features found in that model.

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