Typically, in order to experience rich content delivery services such as Telstra i-mode, you'll need an expensive 3G handset with a plethora of bells and whistles that you won't necessarily use. Pleasingly, the Sagem S343i is an exception to this rule, offering a basic set of features and i-mode support at an affordable price.
As the attached images can attest, the SG343i is a two-tone black/silver slider phone with a fairly clean facia. Navigating the menus is handled using a four-way directional pad, with an "OK" button in the centre to confirm your selections. Flanking the directional pad are four buttons -- two for accepting/rejecting calls, one shortcut to the "i-mail" e-mail service menu, and another shortcut to the "i-mode" service.
The rest of the front real estate is consumed by a speaker and a 128x160 pixel LCD display, while flipping up the slider reveals a fairly standard number pad. Blue LEDs fitted behind the buttons spring into action when the phone's in use, which is a nice aesthetic touch. Conversely, we found the square antenna that juts out from the top of the phone to be an unnecessary eyesore.
With dimensions of 81 x 41 x 24mm (with slider down) and weighing just 85g, it's one of the smaller phones out there and you'll hardly notice it sitting in your pocket.
Compared to other phones we've tested, the SG343i's feature set isn't anything to write home about. However, it's more than adequate for those with basic needs.
Its standout feature is the Telstra i-mode service, which is essentially a mobile content delivery/information service that, in exchange for a subscription fee, allows users to access up to 200 i-mode websites (e.g. sports, movies, news, games and e-mail) as well as horoscopes and weather forecasts, etc. It also offers video downloads, but this is only available to 3G handsets (the SG343i is 2G).
Before purchasing an i-mode phone, be sure to check out Telstra's pricing information, as content hounds will undoubtedly rack up huge bills in a surprisingly short period of time. It's also worth considering that, since the phone has been designed specifically for i-mode, you're stuck with Telstra as your service provider. Telstra's a great phone network, but it's still nice to have the flexibility of switching providers down the track.
The phone boasts a 2-megapixel, 640x480 resolution camera, which is simple to use and takes acceptable shots provided you're in optimal lighting conditions. It's got nothing on the 3.2-megapixel Cyber-shot camera found on the Sony Ericsson K800i, however, and the measly 3.7MB of internal memory limits the number of shots you're able to take (less than 40 in high quality mode). Disappointingly, there's no memory expansion slot.
Call quality is impressive -- both on the sending and the receiving end -- while the phone's three hours of talk time battery life matched Sagem's promises. Standby time is rated at 300 hours, so as long as you're not constantly on the phone, you'll easily stay connected for a number of days on a single charge.
The integrated camera is great for taking the occasional snapshot, but as mentioned above, lighting conditions must be optimal. There's no flash, so low-light shots are dismal, and if you're in direct sunlight it can be difficult to read the screen. However, if there's a liberal amount of indirect light, the snaps are passable.
Telstra's i-mode service proved quite handy for passing time on long commutes, and having constant access to e-mail is also convenient, as long as you don't go in expecting a BlackBerry. That said, the i-mode service is limited by the SG343i's comparatively small screen, and we did notice a slight button lag that fast becomes tedious when you're trying to access certain functions in a hurry.
The Sagem SG343i isn't the most stylish handset available, nor is it rich with multimedia features such as audio/video playback. However, at AU$199, it's great value and well-suited to those that require a basic feature set. The ability to run i-mode is an added bonus.