* Prices may differ from that shown
After some skilful negotiation, I managed to get myself a free Sony Ericsson K750i as an upgrade on my Orange contract last month. However, I was not planning to keep it. Within an hour of putting it on Ebay, the phone had sold for a massive ₤200, a sign of its popularity and quality. The revenue generated would serve me very nicely in my next purchase, the Sagem MYX-8.
Released last year to the surprise of most electronics reviewers, the MYX-8 is the highest specification mobile phone Sagem have ever produced. The screen even beats the Sony Ericsson K750i, currently considered to be the best non-3G phone on the market. Whereas the K750i has a display resolution of 176x220 pixels, the MYX-8 displays an enormous 240x320 pixels, putting it among the best screens currently available to the general public. At 262,000 colours, this is equivalent to the Sharp 902, which is the highest specification phone on sale in Europe at the present time. In fact, some have argued that the display is actually produced by Sharp, such is its similarity to those of Japanese manufacturers. It is wrong to say that Sagem, in comparison with other mobile phone manufacturers, exhibits a history of innovation when it comes to their handsets, but the MYX-8 at least has produced a number of firsts for the company.
Unlike anything the Paris-based firm have offered before, the MYX-8 features Bluetooth, an MP3 player, the aforementioned 262,000 colour QVGA screen, an automatic flash for the camera (which itself operates at a 1.3 Megapixel resolution) and a really state-of-the-art design. Possibly taking into account the criticism that has been leveled at their design department over the past few years for producing phones which either look too similar to other manufacturers models or just dull, Sagem enlisted Ora-ito to sketch out their latest offering. It has to be said that he has done an excellent job, although it looks as if he himself should be paying royalties to Apple, given the choice of materials and overall look of the device. Granted, the MYX-8 does have an MP3 player, but there was possibly not such a massive pressure on Ora-ito to make it look so much like an I-Pod! That said, it is unique-looking as a phone, and thus does draw some admiring glances. Conscious of the design heritage, Sagem have also chosen to have Ora-itos picture on the phone box, have his name printed on the side of the handset, and to include a large number of his abstract designs as screensavers. Incredibly, none of this looks in any way naff, especially given Nokias recent tie-in with Carl Zeiss to produce their new N-series models, and I hope that other manufacturers can take such steps in order to ensure good-looking products. So, on the outside, things look very good, but can the phone stand up to such strong opposition as the Sony Ericsson K750i, Nokia 6230i and Samsung D500, all of which seem to be selling for a similar price? Not according to the networks in this country.
None of the four major networks in Britain have agreed to support the MYX-8 as a contract phone. The only way to get hold of an example is to buy the phone SIM-free on the Internet (hence the sale of the K750i), and prices start at around ₤250. This is where my degree in French and German came in handy, as I was able to find an example in Germany on Ebay, which came in at ₤191. Saving money was a good idea, but at just ₤9 under what I had obtained for the K750i, should any Sagem be worth so much money? Unfortunately, the build-quality on the MYX-8 is similar to the rest of the Sagem models I have owned in the past, which is a poor sign. After only five days, the phone already appears to be creaking in certain parts (although most mobile phones do creak in some places), and the joystick is a real pain to operate. It may look nice having such a small item in order to navigate the menus, but after a while, it does make one wish for even the old Ericsson T68 joystick, which was much better than this. Possibly because the MYX-8 lacks the same extensive feature set as the industry-leading K750i (the camera has a worse resolution, there is no radio and the MP3 player is much more basic), the networks have decided that there is no place for it in the mainstream market. Even worse news is to come with what is included in the standard package.
I am fortunate to been in possession of a Sagem data cable, which I bought a few years ago for use with an MYX-6 which I had at the time, and it is just as well that I had this when the MYX-8 arrived. Handsets like the Motorola V3 RAZR and the K750i now come with a software CD and data cable in the box, so that users are not forced to have to download the software themselves, and buy data cables separately. Sagem, however, have decided not to be as generous with the MYX-8. Although a stereo handsfree kit is included, no doubt because of the MP3 player, there is nothing else in the box apart from the battery, manual and charger. The V3 RAZR and K750i, which also support MP3s, already have the handsfree kit included, so Sagem only loses points here, particularly with the already outrageous cost of the phone in the first place. Also worthy of note is the lack of expandable memory included with the standard package. The K750i has a 64MB memory card in the box, whereas the MYX-8, featuring yet another Sagem-first of a Mini-SD card slot, has nothing. Forking out for a Mini-SD card was not a cost I would like to have had to endure, but for my own personal reasons I considered it necessary. The one saving grace appears to be that Sagem have used the MYX-8s considerable size to cram 40MB of user-available memory into the phones internals, which is plenty of room for the average user. In fact, this is almost identical to the Sony Ericsson K700i, which was targeted as a music phone only twelve months ago, and had no memory expansion. However, with K700is now being sold for under ₤100, this is small comfort to the MYX-8 user. Another problem with the handset seems to be common to most which are released these days.
The original version of the MYX-8 firmware included bugs which prevented any files being copied onto a mini-SD card, which must have been doubly frustrating for any user who had already bought one to make use of this feature. However, as with the whole of the Siemens 65-series of phones and early versions of the K750i, a firmware update could be obtained from the manufacturers website which did solve the problems. This did appear to work, even with my unofficial Sagem data cable, which makes it easier to implement than the Siemens firmware update, but even so, a phone should not be released onto the market with such fundamental flaws in the operating system. The K750i is apparently the worst of the lot, with menus sometimes crashing and reading as nonsense, but this is little comfort to the average owner, who does not have a data cable and fast Internet connection. The problems with availability, build quality and firmware stability have somewhat undermined my confidence in the MYX-8, but these aside, what does the phone have to offer?
Sagem have certainly thought about the presentation of their top-of-the-range mobile phone, and this is reflected in the menu. Like so many phones with decent multimedia functions these days (the K750i springs to mind yet again), the main menu is arranged in a 3x4 grid of icons, which is much easier to navigate than any other system. The problem comes that the bottom row of icons are not accessible by using the number keys as shortcuts, which is the advantage of the old 3x3 icon grid system, as still used by Siemens. Although the top nine icons can be accessed by pressing the corresponding number key from 1-9, the bottom three (two of which are possibly the most important icons of the lot, being the MP3 player and Phone Settings) are only reached by deft manipulation of the terrible joystick. Once in the sub-menus, there is a familiar feel to everything for anyone who has come across a Sagem before, although the icons are considerably better animated and designed than before. It looks like Ora-ito has been in here too. All these sub-menus are in lists rather than in a grid system, but it does make them easier to understand. The icons here are no less impressive than in the main menu, and certainly better than in the majority of other phones I have come across. It is not quite as easy to set up shortcuts on any Sagem phone as it is on a Siemens, for example, but at least the two softkeys can be set up to whatever one might wish. The menu system itself is pretty straightforward, and would even be easily comprehensible to the average Nokia 3000 series user, which is saying something. Its basic functionality is also easy enough to understand.
Once the user gets to grips with the fact that pressing the green send button is the standard way to access the list of calls, and that the phonebook is accessed by pressing down on the joystick twice, the MYX-8 is actually relatively uncomplicated to use. Sending a text message is slightly hampered by the small joystick and strangely shaped (but very stylish) keypad, but this is compensated for by the fact that a 160 character message only fills about two-thirds of the screen. For those with slightly-impaired vision, Sagem have even thought of a button to toggle the text size from large to small at a moments notice, since the standard setting does have very small text indeed. However, one disadvantage appears to be that starting a sentence does not automatically mean a capital letter. This is compounded by the fact that it is necessary to hold down the * key every time a capital is desired, which is less convenient than it could have been. This is a lot better than Sagems of old, which tended to lack character counters, had very difficult menus and were a nightmare in this department, but, in the words of another, a texting machine it is not. There seem to have been a few other changes from the last time I owned a Sagem too.
The MYV-75 (almost identical to the Sagem MYX-7, the model before the MYX-8) had two features which I sorely miss on my latest acquisition. The first of these is an easily accessible speakerphone, which used to be excellent for use when driving, since two presses of the green send key would both answer the phone and activate the speakerphone. Now, the user has to enter the menus in order to turn on the handsfree mode, which is a lot less convenient, and not as safe as before. Granted, it is much safer to take calls on the move using either the supplied handsfree kit (which even has a button enabling the user to do so) or with a Bluetooth headset, but I would have liked to have kept the function there. The other problem concerns the screensaver. With a phone which has such a large, high-quality screen, it is understandable that the battery will drain very quickly unless there is a power-saving mode. Anything from the MYX-5 onwards, which was the first Sagem phone with a colour screen, has had such a mode, but this time, it seems a little overenthusiastic. There is no way of knowing whether the phone is still on when the screensaver mode has been activated without pressing the red hang up key, which is extremely irritating. The MYX-6, MYX-7 and MYV-75 had a setting whereby it was possible to see the amount of battery left, whether the phone had access to its network and time during this mode, which answered the question as to whether the device was on and displayed useful information in one fell swoop. Why this has been removed is a mystery I am unable to fathom. Even accessing the time in this mode requires the joystick to be pressed down, which is really quite unacceptable. If two useful features have been removed, then there is another which has been added which is poorly executed on the MYX-8.
Sagem are clearly marketing the MYX-8 as a multimedia device, and by its size one would certainly think that enough features have been included to satisfy even the hardened technophile. To a certain extent, this is certainly true, as the 1.3 Megapixel camera is everything which it is cracked up to be. The superb display acts as a better viewfinder than even I have on my old Kodak digital camera, and suffers no lag when moving around trying to focus on the subject. There is no zoom lens, but there is a flash, which can even be set to both automatic and manual modes. It all looks impressive, and it certainly is impressive. This is where the old Sagem MYX-6 used to score very highly too, as its 65,000 colour display and VGA camera were better than most phones on the market at the time. The 262,000 colour display and the camera certainly seem even to be a cut above my other phone, a Siemens S65, which purportedly has a 1.3 Megapixel camera, but compared with the MYX-8, it seems like the pictures are taken at half-resolution. Even the flash seems to work adequately. I am sure that excellent prints could be taken from this camera should one desire it. Strangely, given past Sagem camera phones which have had a sliding cover to protect the lens, the MYX-8 has no such thing, although the familiar portrait mirror is still present. This may be down to Ora-ito thinking that such a detail was more practical than beautiful, but one cannot be sure. What is worse, however, is the MP3 player.
On the side of the box, my German-specification MYX-8 boasts of the capabilities of the built-in MP3/AAC player as being one of the main features of the phone. Whilst the quality of the playback is beyond question, and is much better through the loudspeaker than any other MP3-enabled phone I have heard, almost rivaling a small portable radio, the execution of the player itself is very poor. There are no controls for fast-forwarding or rewinding whilst a track is playing, nor is there a counter to tell how many minutes and seconds have elapsed, and the volume control is the rocker switch on the side of the phone. In order to create a playlist, it is necessary to physically import each track from the Sounds Directory in the Multimedia area, and the headset does not come with any sort of control other than a button to illuminate the display when it turns off during the time a track is playing. In short, the MYX-8 is severely compromised as a music phone, although the output is very high quality, and even better when the headphones are used. Games, too, are a bit of a disappointment.
The MYX-8, like all Sagems of the past two years and many other phones, supports Java. Unfortunately, there is only one Java game included with the standard package, and it is singularly inferior to even the old MYX-6s In-Fusio game selection, which did not offer graphics which were as advanced, but were considerably more fun. Undoubtedly, Planet Sagem (Sagems version of Club Nokia) is the place to get more, but this would mean spending more money on Internet access. But what of the phones network and battery performance?
I am relieved to report that the MYX-8 has a very strong antenna, capable of holding a signal just about anywhere. In my house, which is normally a fairly poor spot for reception on Vodafone, the network with which it is being used, the MYX-8 has only ever dropped signal once. My Sharp GX15 used to drop signal all the time, and so it is a pleasant surprise to find something which works well as a device for making calls when it is needed. The battery life does not seem very impressive, despite the over-zealous screensaver, but this is probably due to my use of the MP3 player for hours on end, and admittedly it does seem to stand up fairly well to this.
Other functions, such as infra-red and Bluetooth, are useful additions to the repertoire, but compared with my Siemens S65, both appear to be flawed. It is not possible to send a list of files to the phone at once, which a Siemens copes with fine, and Bluetooth is a little hit and miss in terms of being able to connect to the same device twice. In most phones, it is just a question of searching for the last connection made by the phone with the device in question, which is then quickly re-established. With the MYX-8, it is necessary to perform a manual Bluetooth search to discover the phone every time which is time consuming and unnecessary. These are probably quite minor flaws, but do appear irritating after a while.
With a massive selection of ringtones, and the ability to play MIDI files at a much better quality than previous Sagems, the MYX-8 does have some fairly good qualities. Add to this the massive selection of attractive wallpapers, most of which appear to have been designed by Ora-ito, and the phone is a relatively good multimedia device in the sense that the MYX-6 was a good multimedia device. However, times have changed since 2003, and now a multimedia phone must have an excellent camera (which the MYX-8 certainly does) and a decent MP3 player (which the MYX-8 most certainly does not). With an overcrowded market which values small size and ease of use above display quality and attractive background images, the MYX-8 has apparently missed its target audience. I expected this to be the best phone I had ever owned, since it was twice the price of anything else I have ever bought. Unfortunately, it is not. All I can do is recommend the K750i, as it does all this one can do in a much smaller package, has an even better camera, and at least it is easily obtainable.