French manufacturer Sagem has dabbled in the realm of designer phones before -- most notably with car company Porsche -- but the Puma Phone is an uncharacteristically bold move from the cheap and cheerful firm. With its prominent branding and potentially game-changing solar panel, Sagem's latest designer handset is certainly capable of catching the eye. The designer exterior, however, merely conceals the rather uninspiring tech beneath.
The Sagem Puma is currently available for around £300 SIM-free, with network-specific carrier deals yet to be confirmed.
Cool for cats
Boasting a strong brand identity, a playful attitude and a raft of fitness-focused applications, there's loads to like about the Puma Phone. The rounded design sits pleasingly in the palm and, at 115 grams, it won't rest heavily in your pocket.
One of the key talking points is the solar panel on the rear of the device, which purports to charge the battery when placed in direct sunlight. Those of you expecting a long-awaited release from the pain of pesky wall chargers will be disappointed to learn this unique feature is more about topping up your reserves than giving a full recharge. Still, it's a welcome addition for eco-warriors, and we expect many other manufacturers to follow suit with similar designs in the future.
Other elements of the design are less impressive. At just 320x240 pixels, the 71mm (2.8-inch) screen has a disappointingly low resolution and, although it's the capacitive type, its responsiveness leaves plenty to be desired. Finger contact often goes unregistered and overall accuracy is poor.
Lamentably, there's no 3.5mm headphones socket, which forced us to cart around a special adaptor whenever we wanted to enjoy music on the phone. Mercifully, this adaptor -- which also has a hands-free microphone -- allows you to plug in your own set of headphones. This is a godsend, because the included ones are of a predictably poor quality.
The Puma's proprietary operating system is quirky, to say the least. Turning the phone on results in an intentionally retro-style boot sequence that playfully informs you it's 'laying red carpet' and 'loading as fast as possible'. After this initial chat, a photo of a real puma -- apparently named Dylan -- appears on the screen, further reinforcing the all-important branding.
The unconventional nature of the device doesn't end there. The usual battery status bar is replaced by textual descriptions of the phone's current power status. 'Happy' means you've got a nearly full tank and 'feeding' is displayed when you plug the handset into the wall charger. This cheeky sense of humour runs through the entire interface and makes a refreshing change from the usual straight-laced manner of other phone operating systems.
Feline less than groovy
Navigating the Puma's menu structure is less intuitive than it should be, although there are some good ideas on show here. Sagem has wisely taken a leaf out of Google Android's book by including a slide-down status bar that's visible on almost every screen.
From there, you can toggle options such as switching to silent mode or firing up Bluetooth connectivity. You're also informed as to how much memory is available and what network connection you currently have. It's a brilliant way to access all your essential functions as quickly as possible. What's more, the straightforward menu system keeps things simple, and the fitness applications are undeniably useful. Sadly, almost everything else about the OS is a let-down.
The camera app is slow and cumbersome. Its sluggish operating speed produces poor results with the lacklustre 3.2-megapixel lens. The music player is a nuisance to use and hitting the Net is like pulling teeth thanks to the unresponsive touchscreen and pitiful Web browser.
Sagem has made a big noise about the online Puma World portal, but, aside from a smattering of Web-based apps and occasional news posts, there's little else worthy of note. To top it all off, the phone doesn't offer Wi-Fi connectivity, something which is de rigueur for most of today's high-end handsets. It does have 3G connectivity, though.
As unorthodox as the Sagem Puma Phone may be, there's not actually that much to shout about underneath the stylised user interface and witty menu dialogue. The solar panel isn't quite as revolutionary as we're led to believe, the operating system is painfully limited and the underlying tech is weak. Considering the premium price of this designer device, it's hard to recommend the phone to anyone but the most avid collector of Puma merchandise.
Edited by Emma Bayly