HTC Hero – the Good, the Bad (and the Ugly?)

Monday, July 12th, 2010

After a good few weeks of using an Android phone for the majority of tasks I perform (except receiving calls), how have I found the phone? Thanks to 3MobileBuzz, I’ve had an HTC Hero on loan, and although not the newest of phones, it’s still interesting to see whether it can handle all my needs.  In fact, just before the phone I wrote down the 30 most important tasks I currently use my Symbian for just to remind me the sorts of applications and tasks I needed the phone to perform.

So, a small caveat; as the phone came preconfigured with a SIM, Google Account and Spotify Premium account, I haven’t used the phone with my Google Acount (ie Mail, Calendar etc.) and I haven’t used it for receiving calls (as none of my friends know this phone’s number). Finally, as a loan phone, I have limited myself to *free* Android apps.

The Good – In nearly every task I’ve thrown at it (including a few extra ones), it’s excelled, and the phone has worked well.  Applications have been available to help with the task at hand.  Spotify (in both online and offline mode) proved to be a useful application (although quite why, when you have a track in the local cache, it continues to consume online data I don’t know).  In the majority of tasks I wanted to perform, there was a free app to help out (something that’s not true of Symbian, although it’s close), and in many cases, the best app appeared to be the free app too.  Apps were available to integrate into the phone; although it’s against the T&Cs to export phone numbers from the Facebook site, the Facebook widget was at least able to offer to dial numbers direct for you.  The phone was not too heavy, and easy to use one-handed as well as with two (and not suffering from the way I held the phone 😉  Many options were configurable, or 3rd party tools are available to help achieve a little tweak here or there.

The Bad – Not every app though performed well; a few have crashed regularly, making it feel a little like when you beta test software; some of the apps that crashed had 1 or 2 updates during the time, yet still continued to crash.  Whether or not this is a result of the phone still being on Android v1.5 I don’t know, but this is at least being fixed (hopefully) this month.  Another thing missing (not that Symbian is any better, but the iPhone is) was that there was little consistency in the UI between the different programs from different authors, and little consistency between the widgets available too.  Also, although everyone berates Symbian for constantly asking you which connection you want to use, there were a few times when I actively wanted to use 3G over Wi-Fi (accessing 3UK‘s Planet 3 website or knowing that I was too far from the Wi-Fi for it to work reliably), and this level of control is not available.

So, overall, I enjoyed the phone, and the Capacitive screen made me realise what an impact this has on the whole UI, and whether even the newest phones from Nokia which continue with Resistive screens can be as much as a success (of course, the new Nokia N8 is Capacitive).  Having said I enjoyed it, the third party apps crashing regularly did put me off a little.

The ugly? It may have been this particular phone, but it struggled to hold a connection to my Wi-Fi.  Whenever it lost it (even when in the same room), it brought home that the 3G radio signal was equally awful (The HTC Hero seems to have a reputation for having a poor 3G antenna design especially in poor signal areas), meaning I was often left without net access at home (although in many other areas where the 3G was stronger it performed well).

Would I buy an Android phone? Yes, but more likely the HTC Desire (also available from 3UK), which offers a later OS version and is more powerful, but I would like to see some improvements in the overall experience.

Thanks again to 3MobileBuzz for the loan of the phone.


Three launch The One Plan

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

3UK have launched a new phone tariff, The One Plan.  This is a very interesting move by 3UK.  It’s available on all their phones, and they claim it should be big enough for everyone!

The plan (a 24-month contract) comprises:

  • 2000 cross network minutes
  • 5000 3UK3UK minutes
  • 5000 texts
  • 1GB Internet access

Having 2000 cross network minutes was something we first saw on the Apple iPhone 4 plans launched last week, and although none of these values are being stated as “unlimited” (for which we are very supportive), it’s also fair to say that most people will actually have a challenge getting through any of this limits, except maybe the 1GB Internet data, but even that is more generous that many of their competitors (Vodafone offer 500MB with most phones, as does Orange).

This plan will cost from £25 per month (*), depending which phone you get it with, so, for example, the iPhone 4 will be between £35 and £45 depending on the model and how much you pay upfront for the phone.

3UK have also announced that as from July, they will no longer use the word “unlimited”, something Vodafone announced last year (but only for data), and let’s hope this is the catalyst to encourage all networks to remove this misleading term from their marketing and actually compete with each other on quality and measurable quantity.

On top of that, they have massively clarified their old Internet tariffs too.  Since the introduction of the 24month contracts, they offered “unlimited” internet, which was really “only” 500MB.  To start, they will be converting that 500MB into 1GB for all existing customers on Internet Texter 500 or 900 plans and the Internet Talker 900 plan (over the next few months; you’ll get a text telling you what’s happening).  For elder contracts, although occasionally bundled into a deal, the majority of people pay £5 per month to get 2GB of data (at times it was sold as “unlimted” or 1GB, but in most cases it was actually 2GB); now this option still exists today, so people who were on 2GB per month will remain on that; no sly reductions here, and even better, 3UK have confirmed that the customers who are getting 500MB or 1GB free with their new contracts can still pay the £5 per month to add an additional 2GB of data to their contract.

So, it would appear you could take the new One Plan, and for £30, get all those minutes listed above and have a total of 3GB Internet allowance per month too!

Yet again, 3UK are leading on their tariff options, and these internet options make 3UK a very realistic option for many.

(*) We should point out that at the time of writing, the One Plan seems to cost at least £28 buying the cheapest phone, so although in time it will be offered for £25 with certain mobiles, it seems to cost a little more right now. The £25 per month option is for the SIM only 12 month option, offering the same level of contract, but for just £25 per month, and only on a 12-month contract.

So, looking at some popular phones right now, these are all free on a 24-month One Plan contract, with a monthly cost:

Given the phone is free, these are all very good value, especially given the amount of service you are buying.  The Internet Texter and Internet Talker plans still exist for those who don’t need this amount of minutes / texts.

As always, these offers are available from the 3Store.


Looking for a cheap smartphone…?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

3 logo

3UK have updated their selection of refurbished handsets that are available for purchase.  The current range includes (of note):

  • Nokia 5800 XpressMusic
  • Nokia 5230 (although announced, it was not available on the website at the time of writing)
  • Nokia E71
  • HTC Hero

In my opinion these are all good phones (although in different ways), and if you don’t need the latest greatest device, but are looking for something cheap, then you might well want to consider one of these devices.  Although they are generally available with a new contract, some are available on PAYG, such as:

These are also very good value options for someone who has a simpler phone today and is looking for something a bit more special.  Don’t forget you really need an Internet connection to get the most out of these phones, especially the HTC Hero.


HTC Hero firmware update now starting, but not for all

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Last week we mentioned that there was a minor firmware update coming to prepare HTC Hero devices for the Android v2.1 firmware.  Well, that firmware (which was not needed for all UK variants) has been released and now the v2.1 full firmware has started to arrive on European devices, but it appears that, as we predicted, it won’t be arriving for all devices.

HTC have confirmed that in the UK only SIM-free devices will be seeing the firmware in the coming days / weeks (it does take time to roll it out to all devices), with some of the networks apparently not yet approving the firmware for release at all.  The networks who have approved the device should have their branded firmware release starting in the next few days, whereas there is no ETA for the update on the other networks; I would like to suggest which networks this is likely to be, but I’ve received conflicting information from different sources, and hence I’m not confident about which we’ll see, only that I do know we won’t be seeing all network branded versions receive the firmware update this month.

Remember that the delays are caused by the network who either have to make or request changes to the stock firmware and then test both those changes and the overall package on their network; some networks are fast at this process, and some don’t even seem to bother with it at all, so whether your device will ever see the v2.1 firmware is down to the network who supplied the device.

This is the same situation we’ve seen for years with Nokia devices (many other brands don’t release any firmware updates to the public so get away with not having this problem), and as we’ve commented before, the only exception to this is Apple, who force firmware updates onto the networks (and generally prevent operator branding in the first place).


HTC Hero 2.1 definitely coming soon

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Although it’ll be no surprise that a firmware update was coming to the HTC Hero (we covered it here), and last week the Android v2.1 update started to roll out in Asia, HTC have now confirmed that the Android v2.1 update for the European HTC Hero will start (but not complete) this week.

The firmware update will be a two stage process.  The first stage, a small minor update, should start appearing on HTC Hero devices over the next few days, and will be followed by the main update “towards the end of the month”.  This second update will wipe the phone (so you’ll need to backup your data beforehand) and is sufficiently large that HTC are recommended you use a WiFi / Broadband connection to download the update.

Overall, this is good for the HTC Hero, and will of course allow access to many application which are Android v1.6 or higher, and give access to many of the latest applications of which some even require v2.x, however, what is currently unknown is how quickly the operator specific firmwares will be released.  I would hope to see these be available in a similar timeframe, but as with Symbian branded firmwares, you may see a delay between the HTC release and the update being available for any individual device.


3UK launch new site and new tariffs

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

3 logo

INQ £15 Texter 18month contract

Yesterday 3UK launched an updated website.  Although this new site has received mixed comments with some people liking it, and others not, there are a couple of things to be said about it.  Firstly, 3UK have kept all the information you need handy, such as coverage checkers.  Secondly, and this won’t be obvious from the site, but internally within the company there were champions requesting (and ultimately succeeding) that the website was not Flash based (and with it the potential to not allow direct links to product pages).  Overall, I’ve had a few visits to the website, and I’m happy with the redesign.


At the same time, 3UK have removed the Mix and Match tariffs and removed the Texter tariffs (and the old Internet Texter tariffs). Now, there is 3 choices:

  • SIM Only remains, offering a 1 month rolling contract for those who already have a phone, or are happy to buy PAYG phones to use with the service.
  • Internet Talker tariffs, all 24 month contracts, all include “unlimited” 500MB Internet, and the standard range of free facilities (Skype, Windows Live Messenger, Twitter) and “unlimited” 3000 3UK3UK minutes per month.  4 tariffs are available, called 100, 300, 500 and 900, which denotes the number of cross network minutes or texts per month available.
  • For an additional £3 or £5 per month (depending on tariff), there are 4 Internet Texter tariffs, which offer the same 100, 300, 500 or 900 cross network minutes per month, but also come with “unlimited” Internet (*), and “unlimited” 3000 texts.

(*) It seems there is an inconsistency on the 3UK website; although both the Internet Texter and Internet Talker tariffs have a headline of “unlimited internet”, when you look at the detail the Internet Texter tariffs are shown as “unlimited internet”, whereas the Internet Talker tariff are shown as “500MB data”.  This either means 3UK has dropped it’s “unlimited” cap from 1Gb to 500MB, or there is a difference between these 2 tariffs of an additional 500MB.  Either way, some clarify is definitely required over how much internet is or isn’t included with these tariffs, and equally why has the limit dropped…

So, if you were after something like a Nokia 6700 Slide, to get it with 300 cross network minutes (24 month contract) will cost you:

  • Internet Talker 300: £10 per month
  • Handset: £6 per month

therefore a total of £16 per month.  To add those “unlimited” 3000 texts as well would cost an additional £5 per month, so the Handset with the Internet Texter 300 tariff would be £21 per month.

On one hand, I have to offer 3UK the greatest support for taking the initiative and including Internet access with every tariff (apart from SIM only), and that can be as little as £10 per month (it looks like this was the plan 3UK were talking to me about a month or so back), however, on the other hand, making all contracts 24 months may backfire for the many people who don’t want to be tied in for that long. I’m also not happy with the lack of clarity over what “unlimited” internet means, and why it’s now dropped from the old 1GB limit to the new 500MB limit (in fact, you’ll actually get your first warning at 400MB, whereas with the old limits your first warning was when you hit 1GB, and you could actually keep going for some while before being charged).

Having said all that; looking at the Internet Talker 300 tariff, it means you could have a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic for £10 per month (24 month contract) a Nokia E71 (Refurbished) for £13 per month (24 month contract), or if you fancy Android an HTC Hero for £19 per month (24 month contract, 2 months Spotify Premium) or even the HTC Desire for £20 per month (24 month contract, 2 months Spotify Premium); that’s an impressive range of handsets at impressive prices as long as you can accept the 24 month contract, and are happy with the 500MB per month data limit.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the majority of the prices I have quoted regarding these new tariffs are the online prices, which have an online exclusive £2 per month reduction over store prices, so to get many of these deals, you will have to visit the 3Store as opposed to going to your local High Street.


Google now offering Navigation in the UK

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

For many Android users, they are finding out today that Google have enabled Navigation within their Google Maps application on Android.  This adds:

  • Business search
  • Traffic alerts and auto re-routing around problem areas
  • Satellite and ‘Streetview’ views whilst navigating
  • Layers with ‘points of interest’
  • Voice activation
  • Low data use:  typically 200KB for a 20km route. Data is pre-cached and navigation continues if internet access is lost.

That last point is very interesting; one of my major issues with Google Maps (and why I often promote other solutions such as the free Ovi Maps on Symbian instead) is the need for a constant data connection, which simply isn’t always possible in the UK.  Now, it seems, Google agree, and can support navigation (at least) continuing without that data.  Of course, what would be even more interesting is if they offered these same facilities on Symbian and took on Ovi Maps directly.

As can be seen from the screenshot above, the software offers multiple choices when initially calculating the route, and clearly shows the traffic on each route (if available) with colour coding; this is a nice touch.

One downside though; this needs Android 1.6 or above, which rules out many devices, including the hugely popular HTC Hero, still stuck on Android 1.5 (it seems it’s not just Symbian phone that suffer firmware delays).  We’re hearing that this update will be available for the HTC Hero, but we’re hearing different dates; HTC have hinted at a firmware release within the month, whereas Google seemed to state this new navigation wouldn’t be available for the HTC Hero until June.  Equally, we’ve heard that the HTC Magic will not receive any OS updates at all, leaving them to potentially never have access to this new version.

Some content, including the new features courtesy of The Really Mobile Project, and the screenshot is courtesy of David Carrington on Flickr.


Vodafone & 3UK Update their Handset range

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Portal

There’s been quite a lot of change in the Handset lineup of both Vodafone and 3UK that it was time for an smartphone update:

If you are interested in the Samsung Galaxy Portal, it’s worth noting 3UK have it available in both Red&Black or White&Green (shown above) colour combinations, and as well as including their range of 3UK specific application, it should also ship with Layar, the augmented reality browser and the Spotify Android client (although not with the Spotify Premium promotion that was on offer with the HTC Hero).

If you are keen on Spotify, but less sure about Android, then the Sony Ericsson Vivaz from 3UK is also shipping with the Symbian Spotify client pre-installed.

It’s nice to see Android devices getting more popular, and I think this year will see a lot more people walking around with Android devices…


Are 3UK about to launch a £10 per month contract plan?

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

3 logo

INQ £15 Texter 18month contract

I received some limited information from 3UK yesterday, about a new £10 per month plan.  This is aimed at the many current customers who topup with £10 a month; in essence, 3UK seems to be saying “instead of spending £10 per month on topups, take a £10 per month contract, and this means you won’t need to topup each month, and we’ll even throw in a new phone in the deal”.

Given 3UK‘s current lowest plan is a £12 per month contract, and that’s a promotional rate, it’s not clear whether this will be a promotional tariff or a permanent plan (as permanent as any mobile tariff ever is).  Also, I wouldn’t expect the high end phones such as the Nokia N97 or HTC Hero being available on this plan, but it’s interesting that they are looking at providing a low end tariff.


Is the iPhone about to come to 3UK?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

iPhone 3GS

When I met up with 3UK last month, they were explaining that generally the main reason they take longer to get phones is that as a company they will purchase a much smaller quantity of any particular phone than the larger networks, and hence their requests for stock and customisations will always take second place.  They also commented that in terms of phones like the iPhone, they felt the costs were too high, both to them and to the consumer.  Well, I think this is about to change…

The day before I met 3UK I heard rumours that their Customer Services staff had been saying they would be carrying the iPhone within 3 months, and both that and a direct question on whether 3UK would be stocking the iPhone were, looking back, not actually answered on the night.

This week I’ve heard more Customer Services staff saying the iPhone will come next month (although personally I suspect it’ll be announced in the next month or so, as opposed to being on sale), and 3UK have put out a statement today saying that they don’t have a commercial relationship with Apple, but that they hope to resolve that in 2010.  That post also states that the Nokia E71 was their best selling phone of 2009, but what it doesn’t say is that the HTC Hero, costing £35 per month, is their current best selling phone.  This shows that buyers are willing to spend £35 per month on a 3UK contract, something that may not have been so apparent a year ago when PAYG and £15-£20 per month contracts were much more common.

Combine all these thoughts with statements by 3UK last month that they felt they should advertise their “Coming Soon” phones better and I think the iPhone is going to be announced fairly soon; in my opinion it’s rare for networks to talk about phones before they are pretty much ready.  With the experiences of the HTC Hero, 3UK know their customers will happily pay more for high spec smartphones, and with the comments from their own Customer Services staff I think this all shows it’s coming to the network.

Now, I might be wrong of course, and I suspect it’s possible they’ll only pick up the iPhone 3G, although I suspect they’ll be able to sell the iPhone 3GS too.  I also suspect that if / when a new iPhone 4th Generation model is announced in June / July, it won’t be seen on 3UK for a little longer than the other networks (due to the commercial points in the first paragraph), but we may well see some form of iPhone on sale on 3UK before too long.

Interestingly, unlike some Nokia phones, it appears that people aren’t having problems getting their 3UK SIMs to work in unlocked iPhones, so that bodes well.  Of course, I would expect 3UK to ship it with their own Skype on 3 and Email on 3 solution, which may take a little while to get ready and released into the App Store.  In fact, I wonder if this is the only thing stopping the announcement happening today, hence why 3UK are happy to start talking about the device…