The PUMA Phone

SAGEM phones are powering into the public eye with the PUMA phone. The French company have been around for almost a hundred years, working on everything from power supplies to army equipment, before adventuring into the mobile phone market in the 80s. They’ve been pumping out phones ever since, but it looks like they’re trying to raise their profile in the UK by teaming up with PUMA, bringing a big sporty brand to an extremely sporty phone.

They’re aggressively targeting an active audience, understanding that this doesn’t mean you have to be outdoorsy: every gym in any city is stuffed with sweating people playing music on their pods and phones, so SAGEM stuffed everything else the adrenaline-enjoyer might need in there too. A stopwatch, pedometer, speed indicator (for biking or busting your own sprinting records) with both a GPS and a compass (if the latter seems unnecessary because of the former, it’s because you’re not one of the many outdoor activity fans smiling to see both in there).

These could be how the PUMA captures the hearts of its prey – the software allows users to share their records with others online, providing a powerful competitive edge spurring sporty types to outperform each other around the country. It might sound like a silly high score, but anyone who’s trained for any length of time knows that beating a friend is far more motivating than struggling against your own aching muscles. This also allows the active to track their own progress every day, giving the same spur that the Wii has to so many around the world – without restricting you to a white platform at home.

The outdoor idea is emphasised with the extra universal charger socket – the sky. Most of the mobile’s back is solar panelling, allowing it to energize itself whenever you’re outside (or even under bright enough lights). This is a feature you can expect to see in more phones every year, as the technology finally catches up to the fact that free energy is falling from the sky at all times. It would still take too long to fully charge the phone from the panel, but the constant top-up is seriously useful (while the software proudly points out how many messages you’ve sent under solar power on the screen.)

This ease of access extends to a 3.5mm headphone jack – so no more buying a super-smart phone only to be shackled to forty-pound adapters for the earbuds. This is a particularly thoughtful touch considering its target audience – everyone in the gym has already got a sweet set of earphones they like, and PUMA understand that if they’ve paid hundreds for the phone they shouldn’t be punished with proprietary (and inferior) equipment plugged into it. A MicroSD slot keeps the “uses the same stuff you do instead of expensive alternative parts” theme going, and means you’re not locked into a certain size if you don’t pay more when buying it.

The idea of activity isn’t limited to the feature set either. There’s a real feeling of fun to the whole design. The distinctive red-and-white menu system is a clear rival to the widespread dock, while front-and-rear facing cameras mean you can record the view you’re enjoying, then talk about it face-to-face with those back home. The sharp design makes the screen seem larger than its pretty standard size – a 2.8 inch 240 x 320 capacitive touchscreen. The 3.2 megapixel camera is an effective standard, as there isn’t any point in more without the kind of optics you still can’t stuff in a cellphone. The only lack is Wifi, but with 3G for phoning and bluetooth for device communications they’ve got most of the bases covered.

It’s also an excellent chance for UK phone fans to be in the advance market, stealing that spotlight from the Far East this once. We’re getting this PUMA phone very soon, while our US cousins will have to wait till 2011 to see the same system adapted for their networks. Around the same time we’ll see the second generation of the PUMA phone, an Android-equipped model, and it’ll use the same online interface and cloud data – so this model will be supported far into the future.

Price-wise you’re looking at around three hundred pounds, though you can pull that down to next to nothing with various contract options. You’ll also be able to get it SIM-free in sports stores, with PUMA intelligently understanding that their sales staffs aren’t trained to deal with the complexities of cellphone sales. But you know all about them, and how to use them, and if you like to do so while getting the adrenaline going this is a great choice.

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