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Puma Phone review

Puma Phone review
Richard Lai
Richard Lai|@richardlai|October 17, 2010 3:30 PM
So it's true, we're living in an age where people would shamelessly line up for certain electronics and luxurious fashion items. Why? Just because they can, and for that reason, some swanky outlets -- namely Christian Dior, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, and Versace -- have attempted to exploit our gadget lust by offering self-branded phones at extortionate prices. In the eyes of every-day consumers, there's really not much appeal in these soulless devices except for the logo and some extra bling, but apparently these two factors alone are enough to make some aficionados drool a river.

On the other hand, Puma -- a less luxurious but naturally more accessible fashion brand -- has decided to do more than just slapping an OS skin onto its aptly-named Puma Phone. Priced at a comparably affordable £300 ($469), this Sagem-made featurephone packs a few unusual features such as a solar panel, a sports tracker, and even a virtual cougar named Dylan. Read on to find out if we could sense the Puma spirit in this device.%Gallery-99609%

The first thing that caught our attention wasn't the Puma Phone itself, but rather its eccentric packaging. Molded like a toolbox à la frozen Han Solo, the eco-friendly box reveals all the accessories inside before you even open it. You'll probably also get a few chuckles from the fine details dotted around on the outside -- have a look in our gallery. Once opened, you'll actually see the USB cable and earphones all coiled up rather than laid out as portrayed. Our heart sank a bit here, but there were bigger issues to worry about -- for instance, the complimentary wiping cloth was poorly cut and served better as a lint-disposer instead of a dust-gatherer. We then had a closer look at the accessories -- there's not much we could nitpick from the wall plug and USB cable, but the handsfree kit is doomed by one serious flaw: while the mic module lets you plug in any earphones, the lack of a shirt clip means you'll have to either get headphones with a very short cable (just like the bundled ones, which frankly don't sound great), or hold the mic during phone calls and then put it back in your pocket when done. Unless Puma specifically asked for this "feature," this isn't really what we'd expect to see from a fairly experience mobile phone manufacturer.

Moving on to the meat. Upon first touch, the Puma Phone is -- due to the solar panel on the back -- a tad heavier than it looks, but it does feel solid with just a little creakiness when squeezed. There are only a few physical buttons dotted around the phone: send, end and home buttons on the front; volume rocker and a camera button (which also triggers the flash light if held down) on the right-hand side. Other visible features include a 240 x 180 front-facing camera for generic video calls and self-portrait shots, an earpiece that's cunningly hidden behind the front Puma logo, a microUSB port under a flap, and a 3.2 megapixel camera with LED flash on the back. So, how do we switch the phone on? Turns out we use the end-call button, which also serves as a "back" button within apps -- due to the lack of labeling, we had to succumb to the good old manual to work these out.

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten the two significant features on the back of the phone, but for now, we'll save the camera for later and focus on the solar panel. Puma claims that "one hour of sunshine provides power for one hour and 30 minutes of MP3 play or enough energy to send about 30 text messages." That's a pretty bold statement, and sure enough, our phone didn't charge at all from the hours of daylight its solar panel was exposed to. Good thing the battery normally lasts for well over a day's worth of usage. Speaking of which, we also like how the phone uses "Full," "Happy," "Hungry" and "Feeding" to indicate the battery status.


As with many featurephones, the Puma Phone's list of software goodies and quirky dialogs won't disappoint you. Once booted up, you'll be briefly greeted by Dylan the cat, followed by three pages of red and white-themed menus: Sports, Favorites (for your app shortcuts) and Lifestyle. You jump between the menus by swiping left or right (with subpar scrolling smoothness), and you can also access the phone status tab -- where you can enable flight mode, Bluetooth, alarm, music player, and silent mode -- at any time by dragging from the top. Likewise for the settings page, but you drag from the bottom right corner instead.

Time to trawl through the sea of apps. Let's start with the Sports page: it includes a running tracker, cycling tracker, digital compass, alarm, news reader, and timer. We particularly like the running tracker -- not only does it have a pedometer, but it can also track your running pace, speed and distance, as well as visualizing your route on a map courtesy of GPS. As you can see in the picture above, the tracker worked just fine for us, but having a weighty brick swing around in our pocket while running was hardly pleasant -- Puma really should've included an armband instead of selling it separately.

Now bear with us as we quickly list out what's on the Lifestyle page: gallery, video call, solar power meter (which is pretty much useless, as explained before), browser, Puma World, games, calendar, messages (with emails), GPS navigation by NAVTEQ, calculator, music player, and FM radio (wired headphones required, naturally). We'll skip the self-explanatory ones and go straight to the gallery app: nothing too special here except for the funky vertical film reel style scrolling; bizarrely, Sagem decided that it'd be a good idea to leave out an option for a classic thumbnail grid mode, or even any sort of zooming functionality. As for videos, it seems that the gallery app's only designed to play back 3GP clips captured by the phone's camera, so you'd need to convert your AVI and MP4 clips if you wish to watch them on this phone.

The music app is slightly more forgiveable -- both MP3 and M4A formats are supported, although WMA is sadly left out in the cold. Songs can be easily picked from one of the four menus in the library: "Playlists," "Songs," "Artists," and "Albums." Once the music gets going, you'll be staring at an album art (if available) spinning slowly around a virtual turntable -- you can even scratch the disc for a quick laugh. Now here's a shocker: later on we noticed that whenever a text message comes in, the music just stops and fails to resume playback. So sad. On a similarly disappointing note, the whole phone becomes laggy when we have music playing in the background -- not the expected performance for a $469 phone.

Moving on to Puma World: this is essentially a portal to a news reader, official accessories gallery (which is helpfully mislabeled as a shop), a few social networking apps (Twitter, YouTube and Flickr), and a shortcut to Facebook's mobile site. Don't be fooled by this seemingly sufficient package, though, as most of the apps are actually horribly sluggish and very basic -- the Twitter app doesn't do background notifications or even support retweets and hash tags, and it always asks you to log in at every single launch; the Flickr and YouTube apps are merely for browsing purposes, so you can't use them to upload your artistic work. Want better apps? Too bad, because there aren't that many optional downloads, and for some reason, all our download attempts returned with an error.

Still with us? OK, here's our next plateful of disappointment: the browser. First off, there's no pinch-to-zooming or kinetic scrolling here, but that's fine; what really bothers us is that the app seems to be designed to handle just mobile websites, whereas with desktop ones it simply crashes. Of course, the lack of WiFi on this device isn't helping, either; and let us remind you that this is a $469 phone we're talking about here, not some dumbphone from 2003. The second shock wave hit us when we found out that there's no QWERTY keyboard on the phone; the only input method you get is the classic, comparatively more tedious T9 -- great for typing URLs and emails. Not.

If there's one thing that could cheer us up, it'd be the virtual puma cat Dylan that pops up on the screen when the phone is idle, or when you click on the center button when you're in any of the three menus. What we were expecting from this "on-demand digital cat" was a Tamagotchi-type virtual pet that we could interact with, but alas, this feature simply lets us cycle through a set of video clips of a real-life cougar. Anyway, if you must know, Dylan weighs 179 pounds.

As we approached the end of our review, we looked around for a reset option to wipe the phone before sending it back. Well, turns out there isn't one -- Sagem had to send us a Windows program that's tailored for our specific device to do the job, so be warned.

Last but not least, we have the 3.2 megapixel camera on the back of the phone, accompanied by a LED flash light. The accompanying still camera app lets you fiddle with resolution, timer, effects, quality and exposure mode. Picture clarity and sharpness are actually pretty good albeit with slight over-saturation, and you'll have to put up with the ridiculously slow saving time after each shot -- we're talking about six or seven seconds of delay here. You can also switch to camcorder mode for some disappointing 320 x 240 video action, polluted with plenty of artifacts; as for "Photo Booth" mode, it utilizes the front camera for shameless self-portraits limited at a mere 240 x 180. Anyhow, we've gathered a few sample shots below for your viewing pleasure.



We'll be honest with you -- we kinda love and hate the Puma Phone, but it's mainly hate. Yes, it's a feature-packed device with plenty of cheeky drops dotted around the place, but it's also rendered half as useful thanks to some poorly executed software. What a waste. If there's ever going to be a follow-up model, we'd humbly suggest that Sagem ditch the solar panel and invest in a more powerful CPU plus more memory. Hell, might as well throw in a Puma-skinned smartphone OS -- maybe Android?