At first glance, it's hard to recognize this podlike object as a cell phone. But once you slide open the cover to expose the Chiclet-style keypad, the SL56's function is clear. Measuring just 3.2 by 1.7 by 0.7 inches and weighing a mere 2.79 ounces, the two-tone gray mobile is one of the smaller phones on the market today. We don't mind the hue but prefer the ruby-red coloring of its world-roaming brother, the SL55. Unfortunately, that model is available only overseas, but since it's a trimode GSM phone, you can use it on either side of the Atlantic.
|Supersmall: The SL56 is one of the smallest phones available in the U.S. market.|
|Superslick: The hidden keypad and the jewel-shaped keys add to the phone's cool design.|
The SL56 shares the same seven-line, 4,096-color display and icon-driven menu as the company's S56. While the screen is bright and text is readable, people who crave larger fonts and numbers should consider another model. We particularly like the look of the metal-mesh earpiece located above the phone's display, which contributes to the SL56's cool style. Additionally, the keys have a jewel-like shape, and they sparkle when hit in the right light. While the hidden keypad is one of the Siemens's slickest design elements, it's also the mobile's Achilles' heel, as the occasional misdial is inevitable, even for people with extrathin fingers. That said, we commend Siemens for finally placing the volume-adjustment buttons on the side of the phone, where they're more accessible during a call.
As mentioned, the SL56 isn't just about style. It includes decent features, such as two-way SMS and EMS, voice-activated dialing and commands, two games (Tennis and Golf), 23 polyphonic (16-chord) ring tones, and the obligatory vibrate mode. Additionally, you'll find a phone book with an entry limit that's based on the available internal 1.4MB, as well as the ability to store another 500 names on the SIM card. You also get a full-duplex speakerphone for hands-free operation (more on that in Performance). The SL56 is SyncML compliant, which means you'll be able to sync your PC- or Palm-based contacts remotely via IR. If the software isn't included, you can download it from the Siemens Web site, and if you don't have IR, you can buy the USB cable.
|Pack 'n' go: The optional camera accessory comes with its own carrying case..|
|Easy attachments: The camera attaches to the bottom of the phone, and the LCD doubles as a viewfinder.|
Since the phone is J2ME (Java) compatible, you can download new ring tones, games, and images. An optional camera accessory ($79.99) lets you snap low-res, 160x120- or 640x480-pixel photos, then send them to other mobiles or any e-mail address via the phone's GPRS data connection. You can also associate pictures with contacts in your address book for photo caller ID. Even if you don't spring for the camera accessory, the SL56 accepts images sent from other MMS-ready mobiles or beamed via the IR port, so you can still use the snaps for caller ID. The only connectivity feature missing from the mobile is Bluetooth, which can be found on its sibling, the S56.
Quick charge: The SL56 surpassed talk-time tests, but you'll still want to take the compact charger along for weekend getaways.
We tested the GSM (850/1900) phone in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City using Cingular Wireless service. Call quality was inconsistent at all locations. When service was at its best, callers couldn't tell we were using a cell phone, but when it was bad, we often had to ask callers to repeat themselves. On a positive note, we never had any trouble with the duplex speakerphone and found its audio quality to be loud and clear--among the best we've tested to date.
As for battery life, the SL56 managed to surpass the company's rating of 2.5 hours of talk time by half an hour, and it met the rated standby time of 150 hours. Still, you won't want to leave home for more than a couple of days without bringing the ultracompact charger.