BenQ recently launched a new E72 Windows Mobile handset, which was initially only available via BT Fusion. Now it's available SIM-free for £100 from Expansys. We rather like this device, not least because BenQ has managed to bring something new to what's becoming a crowded market.
The E72 looks much more like a consumer handset than your average Windows Mobile smart phone. It has pretty standard candybar styling and mobile phone number pad, though the red and black livery is unusual, as is the screen's mirrored surface. Some business users may find it a bit too funky, but others will appreciate its distinctive appearance.
At just 108mm high and weighing just 90g, this mobile phone is very compact and therefore pocket-friendly. Unfortunately the 240x320-pixel screen is also small, at just 50mm (2 inches). If you're into Web browsing, you'll probably find the E72's display too cramped.
Beneath the screen the number pad area is well laid out and comfortable to use. The number keys have a slightly raised bottom edge, their tactility making it easy to create text messages quickly. The rectangular navigation pad is also raised from its surroundings, which again makes it easy to locate. There are Call and End keys to its left and right, while the Windows Mobile Home and Back keys are embedded in a red strip that separates them from the number pad.
A similar red band runs around the edge of the handset, where side-mounted buttons and connectors are embedded. The right side carries a mini-USB connector for charging the battery and for PC connectivity. Our sample did not come with headphones, but we assume these use the mini-USB port, too, as there's no other connector. A volume rocker is also located on the right side.
There are two buttons on the left side: one opens the Windows Mobile messaging application, giving you access to SMS, MMS and email, and the other gives access to voice control on a long press and voice recording on a short press.
The voice recorder is actually a version of a third-party application, VITO AudioNotes. The recorder allows you to record in MP3 or WAV formats at medium, low or high quality. This means you can append additional material to the end of a recording you've already made or add recordings to emails. This latter facility means that you could use the E72 in a business context to send longer messages that you don't fancy tapping out on the number pad. This feature is similar to that offered by HP's 514 Voice Messenger.
The E72 is powered by a 260MHz processor, and that slow clock speed really shows. Open two or three applications and the Windows Mobile 'wait' icon appears when you try to open another one. Windows Mobile 6 Standard doesn't close applications when you move away from them, so to get the E72 running at its most efficient you need to drop into the Task Manager every now and again and close running applications. You may need to do this fairly frequently if you tend to use a lot of applications.
The E72 is a little short on memory, too. With 128MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM, our review sample had 26MB of storage free after a hard reset. If this isn't enough, there's a microSD card slot under the battery cover that accepts media up to 2GB in capacity. This smart phone is quad-band GSM with GPRS/EDGE, but it lacks 3G support for faster data speeds. There's a 2-megapixel camera at the back, but with no flash or self-portrait mirror its capabilities are somewhat limited.
Both Bluetooth (2.0) and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) are built in, and a shortcut icon on the Windows Mobile Today screen accesses the Comm Manager, where you can turn these wireless features -- and the SIM itself -- on and off as required.
BenQ has made a number of changes to the standard Windows Mobile look and feel. Its own rather large icons sit at the head of the Today screen, offering access to the five most recently used applications. Beneath this sits the Comm Manager shortcut and beneath that a bar of shortcuts giving permanent access to Calendar and Tasks. A Programs bar also allows you to navigate quickly to some of the key applications on the device. At the bottom of the Today screen is a profile switcher.
BenQ has chosen not to provide Office Mobile, so third-party applications will need to be installed if you want to edit Excel or Word documents. However, the E72's small screen really rules out these tasks anyway.
There are several extra applications, among them Mundu, a unified IM client that brings together MSN Messenger, Gtalk, Yahoo, ICQ, AOL and Jabber contacts. There's also a version of Fizz Traveller, which includes a world clock, travel to-do list, currency conversion and over-the-air weather forecasts.
BenQ says the E72's 900mAh battery will provide up to 4 hours of talktime and 180 hours on standby. In our tests, it gave us just under 5 hours of non-stop music from a full charge, which bodes well.
We have already noted the slow 260MHz processor, but this is only likely to trouble those who like to have many applications running. If you keep tabs on resource usage, you should be fine.
It's nice to see a company with a different take on Windows Mobile, and with the E72, BenQ shows originality in both hardware design and software. Although a faster processor, a larger screen, more on-board memory and Office Mobile wouldn't go amiss, these features would make the E72 much more of a 'me too' device. Still, as it stands, this phone may satisfy only a small proportion of business users.
Edited by Marian Smith