The cost of fax machines has plummeted over
the past few years, down to just £120 in the case of The Compact Fax from
Sagem. Rick Maybury gives it a whirl
The Compact Fax from Sagem is a Dixons
exclusive, currently selling for the remarkably low price of just £120. When
they called it Compact they weren’t kidding! To give you an idea of just how
small it is, put two VHS cassettes on top of one another. The Compact Fax is a couple of inches wider,
an inch or so deeper and half an inch taller than the tapes. The footprint is
only around two-thirds the size of a sheet of A4 paper, which makes it one of
the smallest machines on the market. For the record it measures 268 x 140 x
68mm, which might be worth knowing if real estate on your desktop is at a
The downside of being so tiny is that there’s
no room for any frills. It is very, very basic. In fact the only user-option is
normal or ‘eco’ transmission mode. Eco in this context has nothing to do with
saving the planet, it means economical, for sending large text or easy to read
graphics. Like pretty well every other fax machine on the market it can be used
as a copier, and it can be set to automatically answer incoming calls.
Being so small has one other disadvantage. It
can only accommodate skinny rolls of fax paper around 10 metres long. That’s
sufficient for around 30 A4 sized sheets, which rules it out for use in a busy
office. There are no paper handling facilities for incoming or outgoing faxes,
which is not a problem, providing you’re not expecting to send or receive a lot
of long documents.
On the plus side, being so simple means it is
very easy to use. There are only three buttons and a couple of indicator lights
to worry about (power on and problem). There’s no status display, or clock, so
documents are not time or date stamped. Installation takes about 30 seconds,
simply plug the captive adaptor into a BT socket, and your phone or answering
machine into the pass-through socket on the adaptor.
By the way, the very brief instructions could
have usefully spent a little longer explaining how to open the paper holder
compartment. It’s very stiff when new, until you discover the trick of pressing
on the hinge bar. Whilst we’re on the subject of doors and compartments,
there’s a hinged flap on the underside, for getting at paper jams.
You may be wondering how on earth the header
is programmed, with so few buttons? The header is the line of information
printed on the top of a transmitted fax, usually the user’s company or name and
telephone number. Sagem have come up
with a particularly ingenious solution. The outfit comes with a set of
programming sheets. They contain a series of printed grids; simply black in the
squares that relate to the letters and numbers of your name and phone number,
and user-settings (auto/manual answer, number of rings etc). Feed the sheets
into the machine by holding down the eco button, it draws it in, reads the
information and stores it in a non-volatile memory. The grids contain lots of
other mysterious squares, marked ‘Do not Blacken’, presumably for setting other
non-user functions and diagnostics.
To send a fax insert the first sheet, if the
text is reasonably large choose the eco transmission mode, otherwise use the
default ‘fine’ setting and dial the number of the receiving fax machine. As
soon as you hear the handshake tone, press the green button. The machine is
factory set to auto-answer after 4 rings; if the unit is going to be used with
a telephone answering machine, the TAM should be set to pick up before the fax,
otherwise it may get confused…
The paper path for the original copy is very
tortuous; documents are fed in through a slot on the front and pass through a
sharp 180-degree turn, coming out underneath the original. This means it can
only handle fairly lightweight paper. It will not accept photographic prints
for example but standard copier paper, up to 100 gsm seems to be okay. The
copier function is quite good for text, it has a stab at halftones, though its
16-bit greyscale resolution is about as low as it gets and images look very
On a good phone line plain text faxes arrive
at their destination in reasonably good shape, though it’s not terribly quick.
A moderately densely printed A4 sheet (approximately 30% coverage) takes a
minute or so to send. When transmission is complete the machine prints out a
short report, confirming it was sent, though there’s no record of time or date.
The machine has only rudimentary error correction facilities, so sending faxes
abroad could be a bit hit and miss.
Resolution in the eco mode takes a bit of a
dive, but it’s still okay for clearly printed black on white text. Simple
graphics come out cleanly too, but black and white halftones can end up looking
a bit messy, unless they’re quite light to begin with. Forget trying to send
colour images, unless they’re very light.
Received faxes were very good, again the
limited greyscale doesn’t do much for photographs, but black on white text is
crisp, clear and legible. One last minor grumble; we wouldn’t have expected a
paper cutter on a machine this cheap, but the serrated edge used to tear off
the printout is not very sharp, and unless you get the angle just right, it can
The Compact Fax has two things in its favour
and that’s small size and low price, however both involve a series of
compromises. It’s not very sophisticated, and you will need to supply your own
phone, so in the end the actual space saving may not be all that great,
compared with a normal compact one-piece fax-phone. The Philips HFC-21, for
example, has a footprint the size of a sheet of A4 paper, and costs just £150
from your local Argos catalogue showroom; moreover it has lots of extra bells
and whistles. The small size puts a restriction on the amount of fax paper it
can hold; 10 metres is not a lot, so if you’re expecting a lot of incoming
faxes you really should be considering a machine with a larger capacity.
Incidentally, fax short rolls are not very economical so here’s a tip, buy
longer rolls of the same width and roll your own…We tried The Compact Fax with
several different types of paper and it works just fine.
It’s very cheap, the performance and
facilities are adequate for low volume domestic and very occasional home office
use, but we have to say it’s a bit too rudimentary for anything more demanding.
Ease of use *****
Transmit quality ****
Receive quality ***
Sagem Compact Fax, £120
Features: normal/eco transmission modes,
16-level greyscale, copy facility, auto/manual receive, 10 metre fax rolls,
auto switching for telephone answering machine, BT socket adaptor supplied.
Dimensions 268 x 140 x 68mm, weight XX grams, captive AC adaptor included
Ó R. Maybury 1998, 0303