I’m quite a big fan of Sagem. The company’s mobiles don’t hit the headlines and they don’t have ‘wow’ factor high-end features. But generally they do a solid job for a solid price, and sometimes they really surprise.
For example, the last Sagem mobile I looked at, the my150X, could be had for as little as £10 and I reckoned it was a great mobile for anyone wanting a small handset for just making calls and a bit of texting.
This latest model, the tri-band my511X is a tad more upmarket, and it’ll cost you all of £50 SIM-free from Argos and Woolworths online, both with an Orange PAYG SIM. As I wrote, the Woolworths deal was the better one as this is a price reduction from £70 and includes a 512MB microSD card.
This isn’t, then, a real cheapo-cheapo phone and for that price, even on PAYG, you have the right to expect some reasonably good features. I’ll come to the features in a bit, but first, let’s consider those other all-important factors – look and feel, and usability.
Certainly what you get here is a phone that looks rather good. It is extremely small, light and thin candybar mobile measuring 107mm tall, 46mm wide and 11mm thick, and it weighs a very impressive 81g. These dimensions make it feel very comfortable in the hand and slipping it into a small pocket is no bother. The black and silver colour scheme doesn’t break any new ground, but it is nice enough to look at, and the shiny mirror-like front fascia while again nothing new is easy on the eye.
The 65 thousand colour screen is quite small measuring just 1.8 inches diagonally. It isn’t the sharpest or clearest I’ve ever seen, but it does a reasonably good job.
Beneath the screen are four silver shortcut buttons for Call, End and the soft menus. They are very small, but because they are raised they are easy to hit accurately. The navigation button is a simple ring with a separate select button lying in its centre. Like the shortcut buttons these controls are silver and raised from their surroundings.
The navigation button and select button are marked up for music playback control, with the central select button operating the pause/play functions. A side button starts the music player running when you are on the phone’s main screen, and a long press begins the playback of whatever track you stopped with last time. It is a pity that this button doesn’t function when you’re in an application on the phone, as it would be a great way to get to tunes at any time.
The thing that really lets this mobile down though is the number pad. Now, I don’t differentiate between the most expensive phones in the world and the least expensive when it comes to usability. A well made phone is a well made phone whatever it costs, and this time around, sadly, Sagem has entered the world of flat keyboards and in doing so has made an error.
The number pad looks as though it should be touch-sensitive but in fact you press on the keys to make contact. As you do so a delicate noise is generated to let you know you’ve made contact.
The problem is that the keys are small and not always as responsive as I’d like. Fingernails are needed for ultimate precision in hitting a key in the right spot, and I found texting at speed was not easy. The white backlit keys against their black background might look nice, but they are not the most usable.
You’ll have gathered from my description so far that the my511X has pretensions as a music phone. It only runs to MP3 and AAC; no other formats are supported. Playback controls are quite good considering this is a budget handset, and you can create playlists on the phone itself. My review sample came without headphones and as the only two slots on the handset are proprietary I couldn’t try a set of my own.
There is only 13MB of built-in memory, so clearly you won’t be storing a great deal of music inside the phone. It’s good then, that you have the microSD card slot option. The slot is side-mounted and it looks as though you can get at it by lifting a protective cover with a fingernail. Forget that, though. Try too hard and you’ll break the cover off as it is moulded into the removable backplate. The upshot is that you have to take the backplate off to swap out memory cards. Not a real pain in itself, but something to note unless you want to end up with a broken backplate like I nearly did.
Battery life for music playback was quite good. I played music through the loudspeaker and forced the screen to stay on, and got seven and a half hours of non-stop music. For a budget mobile this is respectable.
There is also a camera, but it isn’t much cop. It shoots stills at up to 1.3-megapixels. There is a tiny self-portrait mirror, but no flash. There is no side mounted launcher so you have to run the camera from the phone menu which takes a few seconds. The ‘shoot’ button is the navigation button’s ‘select’ key.
With the screen as viewfinder there is a constant overlay of the number of photos you can store, the current resolution and image quality. I couldn’t find a way of disabling this information and it got on my nerves a bit when framing photos.
The coloured dish, photographed indoors and under normal household lighting, is fairly sharp but notice the dark discolouring in one corner of the photo. This looks like a case of mechanical vignetting and was consistent across all my test photos. I don’t know if it is an issue with my sample phone or something more general but either way it is a worry.
The white chair is reasonably well exposed for a 1.3-megapxiel phone camera, but the daffodils show that it doesn’t do too well when resolving detail and coping with subtle differences in colour tone.
As for the my511X’s other features, Bluetooth is built-in, a couple of JAVA games are pre-installed, and SMS/MMS are supported but not email. There is a single alarm, timer, and calculator, plus a to do list and calendar which both cater for voice recordings (there is no computer synching here). A WAP browser is included too, but you won’t find a full web one. That said, with its small screen and GSM-only support it’s unlikely that you’d want to go beyond WAP anyway.
The my511X is not as strong a contender as some other handsets I’ve seen from Sagem. I do like the music playback controls, especially the side-mounted button, and the battery life is respectable. But usability is an issue due to the flat number pad, and the feature-set is really very basic, even for a £50 phone.
Score in detail
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.