- Quad-band GSM/GPRS
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- built-in QWERTY keyboard
- Bulky and heavy
- Runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition rather than the more recent Windows Mobile 5.0
- battery life could be better
There is commonly a hiatus between a product being announced and it becoming available to buy. However, rarely is the gap quite as long as it has been with BenQ's P50, a quad-band Windows Mobile smartphone. First seen at the 2004 CeBIT show, launch announcements followed from BenQ in January 2005 and then again in May. It finally went on sale in the UK a few weeks ago. Although BenQ Mobile (the company formed when BenQ bought Siemens' mobile business) has now announced the Windows Mobile 5-based BenQ-Siemens P51, this is not due to ship until July. The BenQ P50 is available from Expansys for £329.95 (inc. VAT; £280.81 ex. VAT).
In some ways the gap between launch and availability has not uduly hampered the BenQ P50's prospects. Connected handhelds with integrated keyboards remain popular, while the additional of a camera makes it, even today, a relatively rare specimen of phone-kind.
However, the P50 is somewhat large and unwieldy: it weighs 170g and its 12.2cm height doesn't make it especially pocket-friendly. One plus point of the lanky dimensions is that the BenQ P50 can accommodate a fairly large screen -- 2.83in. across the diagonal -- as well as the keyboard and a good-sized joystick-style navigation key with four shortcut keys (Call, End and two softkeys that launch Calendar and Contacts applications by default).
The QWERTY keyboard itself is relatively small, but the individual keys are raised and therefore relatively easy to hit with your fingertips.
The BenQ P50 connects to your PC for synchronisation via the supplied USB cable. The connector on the phone lives under a cover on the right edge, along with the 2.5mm headset jack. Also on this edge is the shutter button for the built-in 1.3 megapixel camera, whose lens sits on the back along with small flash unit and, disguised as a part of the camera design, the device’s loudspeaker. The camera button both activates the camera and take shots, and is positioned so that it sits comfortably under the right forefinger when you hold the BenQ P50 sideways, digital camera style.
On the left edge is a rocker button for changing call and device volume and a small button which activates the Windows Mobile voice notes software. There is an SD card slot, and unusually this is on the bottom edge of the casing alongside the main power adapter and device reset button. The slot is protected by a hinged cover so that when you are not using an SD card, the circuitry is protected from dust. We don't see this feature often enough on handhelds.
The stylus is relatively small and light, and not particularly comfortable to use. We can’t see why it's restricted to just over 8cm in length when the P50 itself is such a tall device. If there really is a shortage of space for its housing, then a two-piece extending stylus would be a better choice.
Styled in slate grey with a ridged edging that helps prevent the device from slipping around in the hand, the P50 certainly looks distinctive. BenQ provides a protective case and stereo headset in addition to the USB cable. Two printed handbooks -- a quick start guide and a more detailed manual -- are also included, along with a cleaning cloth, screen protector and a CD containing a copy of the Skype VoIP software.
With a 416MHz Intel PXA 272 processor at its heart, the BenQ P50 does not show its age at as far as speed is concerned. However, the operating system, Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC Phone Edition, Second Edition, has now been supplanted by Windows Mobile 5.0.
Probably the most significant absence from the BenQ P50 -- a result of the choice of operating system -- is the lack of persistent storage. You'll need to ensure that the battery does not run down, or make adequate backups, to guarantee the continuity of applications and data saved onto the P50’s RAM.
Moreover, we would prefer more RAM, as just under 58MB of the P50's 64MB of RAM is free. On the plus side, a further 13MB of the ROM is also accessible, and this is persistent storage. It may be possible to back up all of your data to this ROM memory.
The BenQ P50 is well featured as far as communications are concerned, supporting quad-band GSM with GPRS. Bluetooth, 802.11b Wi-Fi and infrared are also included. As already noted, BenQ bundles a copy of Skype software on CD, although it does not go as far as i-mate and preinstall this VoIP application on the device.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have separate control icons on the Today Screen, where you will also find a battery monitor and an icon that toggles the 240-by-320 pixel screen between portrait and landscape orientation.
The camera shoots stills at up to 960 by 1,280 pixels, saved as JPEGs. It's controlled via a series of icons and menus that give quick and easy access to the various settings. There is a burst mode, and you can set the interval between shots to one, two, three, four or five seconds. Image tweaks include white balance settings for night, dusk, sunlight, cloudy and fluorescent light, or you can use a manual setting. Special effects include sepia, black-and-white, negative, aqua, cool and green. MPEG4 video is shot at either 240 by 320 or 144 by 176 pixels.
BenQ pre-installs a small amount of extra software on top of the Windows Mobile bundle. Pocket Studio is an image viewer and editor, Speech Commander caters for voice control of applications and voice dialling (you can accomplish both operations without any need to train the software, and it worked well in our tests). Finally, Universal Remocon works in conjunction with the built in infrared to remotely control external devices. The most obvious uses for this are in the home -- controlling your DVD player and TV, for example. There's a good range of preinstalled settings for well-known brands, or you can teach the software the specifics of your system.
Finally, and most unusually for a Pocket PC, there is a screen saver in the form of a digital clock. This kicks in at the point at which the screen backlight would normally turn off after a user-specified period of inactivity. It does not affect the automatic device switch-off settings, which again occur after a user-specified period of inactivity.
As a Pocket PC, the BenQ P50 performed well enough. The keyboard is not really up to writing documents or even long emails, but shorter emails and SMS messages were no more difficult to generate than with other devices that incorporate a small-format keyboard.
Battery performance was a little disappointing. There are four settings for the processor: normal, power saving, optimisation and automatic. We chose the automatic setting, forced the screen to stay on and played MP3 music continuously for all of the five hours and one minute that the battery lasted. The last 22 minutes of this were delivered from the backup battery, which stopped powering the device a while before it was fully depleted -- thereby preserving data stored in RAM.
When it was originally announced, the P50's keyboard was rare enough to secure it a place in the market. Today there's plenty of competition across a range of smartphone and handheld operating systems, including Windows Mobile. Right now, the P50 comes across as a bulky and slightly out of date device.