Editors' note: We updated this review on April 26, 2011, to reflect additional testing.
Last year at Mobile World Congress, one of the most-talked-about cell phones at the show occupied a small red pavilion plastered with Puma's logo. Yes, you heard us correctly; a company otherwise known for shoes and sportswear competed with the likes of HTC and Sony Ericsson to offer a device that everyone wanted to see.
Corporate-themed phones are nothing new, so it wasn't the Puma name that gave the handset such novelty. Instead, the Puma phone's appeal stemmed from its solar panel, a fun design, and a quirky selection of sports-themed apps. Though it remains unlikely that the handset will ever make it to a U.S. carrier, we tracked down an unlocked model to see if the finished product lived up to the hype. Now, after a few days of testing, we can report that it does. The Puma Phone isn't a powerful, feature-laden smartphone by any means, but it offers a unique and enjoyable user experience not many handsets can match. We have a couple of complaints about the small display, but call quality is satisfying, and the solar panel lets you top off the handset's battery.
From the start, you'll notice that the Puma phone is a bit different. A silver Puma logo sits just above the screen, and red stripes and an angled line below the calling controls give it a bit of style. The handset measures 4.01 inches long by 2.25 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep and weighs 4.1 ounces. Its construction feels solid, even if the polished skin is a tad slippery.
The 2.8-inch display TFT display supports 262,000 colors and 240x320 pixels. Though it's not as vibrant as most current touch-screen phones, it's bright enough and it fits the Puma Phone's sporty and functional image. You can switch between red and black backgrounds, adjust the brightness, and change the screen lock time.
The handset offers three home screens. At the far left is a menu for the sports apps, and the far right contains the remaining productivity and media features. Both home screens use an intuitive grid design with icons. The Settings menu is a little harder to find, but you'll soon notice a tab at the bottom-right corner that takes you there.
Between the two menus is a Favorites home screen that you can populate with your top apps. To place them there, just press and hold the icon until it floats over. You'll also find a pull-down bar at the top that offers instant access to your message and voice mail notifications, the phone's available memory, and the battery level. You also can activate the flight and silent modes, the Bluetooth and GPS features, and the alarm clock. It all feels very Android-like, even though Google's OS does not power the Puma Phone.
Below the display are the Talk and End buttons; the latter also functions as the Back key and the power control. Though they're flush with the surface of the handset, these controls give an audible click when pressed. Between them is a Home button that will take you back to the favorites menu when pressed once. Press it twice, however, and you'll call up the "Dylan," the animated puma that serves as the phone's mascot. His only role is to keep you entertained, and he succeeds at that. If you keep tapping the display, for example, he will change positions and move around. But if you leave him alone, he will disappear. Yes, it is a bit gimmicky, but we think it's cheeky and cool.
The display is responsive even if you can't change the sensitivity. It wasn't always accurate, however, particularly when we were tapping at smaller onscreen controls. Swiping through long menus was a bit better, though the phone had a slight lag.
The phone dialer has a standard design with large numbers, though it's odd that the keys aren't alphanumeric. As a result, you may need to glance at another phone when dialing 800 numbers that use letters. For typing the Puma Phone has two virtual keyboards. In portrait mode it's alphanumeric, but when you tip the handset to the left it will switch to full alphabetic. Both keyboards are pretty small, though, so we wouldn't recommend long diatribes. The Puma Phone does not have a proximity sensor.
On the Puma Phone's left side you'll find the Micro-USB port for the syncing cable and the standard wall charger. Unfortunately, it also accommodates the wired headset that comes in the eco-friendly cardboard box. On the left side are the volume rocker and camera shutter. Both are large and user-friendly. The rear side is dominated by the solar panel, but there's room up top for the camera lens and flash (a second camera lens is around front for video calling). You have to remove the battery cover to access the microSD card slot.
The Echo's phone book size is limited by the available memory (64MB), which is shared with other applications. Each entry holds just two phone numbers, but you can add fields for an e-mail, a birthday, a nickname, and notes. For caller ID you can pair contacts with a photo and one of seven ringtones. The selection is pretty unusual; there's just one melody, with the rest being animal sounds like a cat's meow, an eagle's screech, a puma's roar, and a tiger's growl.
Essential features include a calendar, an alarm clock, a calculator, Bluetooth, GPS, PC syncing, and USB mass storage. When using the latter two features, our PC instantly recognized the Puma Phone when we connected the two using a USB cable. You'll also be able to access an electronic user guide and quick start manual and transfer files aback and forth. For security purposes, you can lock the Puma Phone with a PIN lock or an onscreen pattern.
For written communication, the handset supports text and multimedia messaging and most POP3 IMPA4 e-mail accounts (like Yahoo and Gmail) through a Web-based interface. You also get video calling, though we weren't able to try it, and three games. Bubble Tap, for example, lets you pop virtual bubble wrap, and Spin the Bottle shows an onscreen bottle that you can spin with your finger.