The Puma Phone was undoubtedly the surprise package at this year’s Mobile World Congress shindig back in February. Its solar-powered tech and sports apps rightly grabbed a share of the limelight, alongside more stellar smartphone acts like the HTC Desire and Legend.
Eagled-eyed phone spotters will know the Puma Phone isn’t the first eco-friendly, sun-fuelled handset – that honour goes to the Samsung Blue Earth S7750 – but it’s the first to hit UK shores and deliver more than just a green outlook.
Puma hasn’t worked alone, recruiting French manufacturer Sagem to build the compact and solid but rather unimaginative hardware. But the sports apparel giant’s handiwork is more evident in the UI’s cool and irreverent design flourishes.
Whisper it quietly but the Puma phone almost possesses a personality. It’s ‘Happy’ when the battery is full, ‘Hungry’ when running low and ‘Feeding’ when charging. Dylan, the live animated Puma, also pops up as an interactive screensaver – a stroke of the screen pacifies the big cat.
These type of details and animations are littered throughout the phone: set yourself a Puma roar or eagle cry as a ringtone or access the settings menu on each feature by lifting up a curtain – a trick clearly half-inched from the maps function on the Apple iPhone. It even has its own ‘Puma Speak’ SMS icons when words aren’t enough.
It doesn’t stop there: the old-school graphically rendered stopwatch starts by pressing down on the large button while the music player fires up with a vinyl record dropping on a turntable, letting you scratch along to your tunes.
The homescreen’s bold icons are also simple but nicely drawn, split over three sliding screens: one for lifestyle, another for sports-related fun, with a middle screen customisable with up to six of your favourite features. The red/white or black/white skin colour schemes are also in keeping with the phone’s unique UI style.
However, while these quirks are charming and a constant source of fun they alone don’t make a user-friendly handset and unfortunately the Puma phone is not without its niggles. The 2.8in capacitive screen is receptive enough and highly usable but the horizontal onscreen QWERTY keyboard is a little too cramped for typing at speed.
Web browsing over HSDPA also proved stubborn – we’re putting this down to early production jitters – but there’s no excuse for omitting Wi-Fi, especially when the phone sells for £400 SIM-free. Likewise, the lack of a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack is a tad annoying, although an adapter is bundled
Along with the entirely recyclable packaging, the rear solar panels are the Puma Phone’s only other major eco feature. A charge indicator lights up when bathing in sunlight and rather impressively it even tops up in incandescent light.
Puma claims one hour in the sun can provide a fantastic 17 minutes talktime, 35 texts and two hours music playback and the eco-conscious can easily keep tabs on how many calls, music and messages they’ve consumed off the back of the le soleil through the main menu sun icon.
The sports app suite caters for the runner, cyclist and even seafarers with a 3D Yachting compass. Working over super-quick built-in A-GPS, both the fully-featured pedometer and cycle monitor track your progress. Sadly, there’s no facility for serious PE-types to upload times online, although Puma says something may be in the pipeline.
Puma World is the sports brand’s own portal, giving access to customisable RSS feeds, social networking websites and a smattering of Java-based apps. It’s no iTunes App Store and needs serious work to become a compelling daily destination.
Puma Phone certainly stands out from the touchphone slop. It’s not just the sun-seeking tech or its sporty side that gives this phone its individual personality but also those cheeky graphic details and animations. There’s room for improvement but Puma’s debut handset still has major appeal outside of the smartphone oeuvre.