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FUNSIZE FAX

 

STANDFIRST

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

 

COPY

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 premium.

 

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.

 

PROGRAMMING

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…

 

PERFORMANCE

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 contrasty.

 

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 rip.

 

SUMMARY

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.

 

VERDICT

Ease of use                   *****

Features                       **

Transmit quality            ****

Receive quality            ***

Value                            ****

 

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

                       

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Ó R. Maybury 1998, 0303       

 


 

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