BenQ Mobile starts to do the business

BenQ Mobile collected the cream of Europe’s technology-oriented press for an expensive but undeniably impressive launch in Berlin last month. The occasion was a formal launch of its new consumer brand BenQ-Siemens and a look at the first three handsets to bear the label.

Along the way there was a good deal of brand-management talk about the synergy between BenQ (Far Eastern energy, can-do attitude, access to componentry) and the former Siemens Mobile operation (solid, engineering quality, R&D expertise). Hence the venue, which was slap bang on the line of the former Berlin Wall – where East meets West, geddit?

Symbolism apart, BenQ Mobile’s top people did a good job in explaining their position and answering the potential criticisms. Job losses at the former Siemens plants? Nope, and in fact the headcount is rising. Crippling stodginess in the Siemens mindset? Well, in the three months since they officially launched last October the order intake has “rebounded” across Europe: the bottom line has improved “radically”, including “real” cost savings: time to market is improving “dramatically”. Desperate to perform? Maybe, but not at any cost.

Clemens Joos, CEO of BenQ Mobile, talked about a strategy based on differentiation rather than simply increasing market share. He can’t be happy with a worldwide market share of around 5-6% though, and he did say 10% was “possible”.

But for now the aim is to produce solid products and sell them sensibly. That implies a degree of retrenchment, and for instance the company is getting out of the States “for this financial year”.
So the emphasis is on delivering the goods. A raft of products is promised, with 25-30 new phones this year across all sectors – a third of them 3G, music player and/or FM radio in the majority. The first three certainly represented a good start, all giving retailers some very strong selling points.

The EF81, for instance, is a super-slim flip phone that obviously goes up against the RAZR. It’s a 3G phone with a 2mp camera, a bright 262K colour 2.2in internal display, an external TFT display that also does 262K colours, 64Mb memory plus a MicroSD card slot, a good media player, and Bluetooth and USB. All photo and media functions are accessible with the lid closed. And it’s 15.9mm thick. By contrast the 3G version of the RAZR, the V3X, has an inferior display and is 20mm thick.

BenQ folk were also keen to point out the build quality of the EF81 and the materials used – aluminium, magnesium, stainless steel.

And buried inside there’s a satnav capability too. Admittedly the press bumf doesn’t mention this, and neither does the website, but we did see it demonstrated. You’ll need a separate GPS unit and some maps, but some enterprising distributor could package that lot together.All in all the EF81 should be an easy sell.

The S88 is a competitor for media-oriented phones like the SE K750i. The spec is average to good – tri-band, 16Mb memory with a microSD slot, 3D sound, Bluetooth and USB, PictBridge – but there are a couple of real pluses.

The 2mp camera has 16x digital zoom and LED photolights; it can record directly to MPEG-4 video too. The music player has an equaliser, 3D surround sound, and a stereo headset. And the 2in 176×200 pixel screen is a real stunner; it uses OLED technology, which is pretty stunning from any angle.
It might not outsell the K750i, but that screen alone should win it a lot of fans.

The S68 is positioned as a business phone, lightweight (78.5g) and slim (13mm) with brushed aluminium on the front and an easy-grip soft-touch coating on the back. Inside there are PIM functions, fax and document viewing, POP3 email, and other businesslike attributes.

This one probably doesn’t have a direct competitor at the moment, and if the build quality is as good as the phone looks it ought to do well as a low-to-medium priced business handset.

All these should be available in March.