Product: 3G mobile phone
Having past the post as the first mobile operator to launch 3G in Ireland, Vodafone is going to great lengths to keep up the momentum, eager to establish a next-generation customer base before O2 and Hutchison launch their services in the coming months. Handset prices have already dropped with the Vodafone Motorola model selling for a modest €59 while the Nokia 6630 is an affordable €169 with an airtime contract. A further sweetener comes in the form of free video downloads until March. But is it all enough to justify giving it a go?
On balance, it depends on how much you like football. Make no mistake, there are teething problems with the network and some of the general content is of dubious entertainment value, but the good stuff is really good and the long-term potential is vast.
The 3G experience will always be dependent on the phone as much as the services and all phones, it seems, are not equal. A spokesperson for Vodafone told me that there are idiosyncrasies with different models, presumably the result of manufacturers struggling to marry mass-produced handsets to the requirements of a particular network.
The 6630, for example, has some handover difficulties on Vodafone’s network. The operators and handset manufacturers tell us that the technical obstacles to roaming seamlessly between 3G and 2G (the established GSM network) have been overcome but no one told my phone. In one instance, having roamed beyond the 3G footprint, it wouldn’t let me make a call and I was instructed to contact the operator. I didn’t get a clear explanation of why this was happening but was told that some handsets might crash at handover and the only thing to do was to switch the phone off and start again.
Another service glitch came when trying to access some of the Vodafone Live! content. In search of a new game, it took me a couple of attempts to successfully download Tetrus and more than once I was asked if I’d like to connect to the server when I thought I already had.
You also need to be mindful of how much memory you have left. In the middle of download a menu popped up to advise me I’d used up my space and needed to delete something. I duly did this only to discover that I’d lost my download connection in the process and had to start again.
Moans and groans aside, 3G came into its own with the killer application, delivering multimedia data at theoretical speeds of 384Kbps. You can download football highlights shortly after a game is over — a feature that will more than justify the price of 3G admission for Premiership fans. Clips are typically around 2MB and take around three minutes to download. Out and about on Saturday afternoon but itching to see who stuck it to who, it’s a service that easily sells itself. Quality of the clips naturally suffers by comparison to broadcast quality but no one I played them to had any complaints.
Video calling is the other unique selling point of 3G and having now dabbled with the experience on both the Nokia and Motorola models, I’m sold. The images may be a tad staccato but it’s a heck of a start and a compelling proposition for anyone who spends a lot of time away from home but still wants to see the kids. Video calls are further encouraged by a neat Nokia accessory, an adjustable stand with on-board camera (it still relies on the handset’s speaker phone) that will happily sit on your desk. The only trouble is finding enough early adopters to take your call.
Nokia has made much about the 6630 being among the smallest of the 3G handsets but one has to wonder where the corners were cut to deliver such a feature-packed handful. I suspect it was in the voice department. While its aesthetic curves manage to accommodate a bigger than average screen for a smart phone, more basic phone performance is worryingly poor.
The earpiece is raspy and harsh, not just for standard voice calls but also for music and audio tones. Real music clips are virtually unlistenable. Having opted for The Passenger from Vodafone Live! as my ringer, it took just two incoming calls for me to select something else. Iggy Pop sounded like he was drowning in my pocket.
The 6630 is pitched as a multimedia phone and is at its best when it comes to picture and video performance. A particularly nice design feature lets you turn the phone its side for an image to fill the screen — great for the football. The 1.2m pixel camera and bundled software add increasing credibility to Nokia’s claim that it is becoming a serious player in digital imaging. We are now nearing the point where camera phones could be an alternative to investing in a digital camera. Naturally, quality-hungry photographers will shy away but I suspect an increasing number of us will make do.
As a here-and-now purchase, the 6630 on Vodafone 3G is a mixed bag. If football comes first, go for it. The more discerning user, with broader requirements from their mobile — such as guaranteed connectivity wherever they are — may resist investing in 3G until the blips have been sorted.
By Ian Campbell