Roaming; how to keep costs down

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

The last article was about Vodafone European roaming rates for PAYG customers, so I thought I would jot down some of the techniques I use to try to minimise my roaming costs when going abroad. I should note for my last trip abroad I used 30MB of data (over 4 days), and a handful of texts, yet kept my total spend below £10, and could not have spent more than £20, yet that spend actually got me a bundle of texts, calls and data for the UK leg of the journey, and whilst abroad I could have used upto 100MB without spending any more money!

So, what techniques do I use:

Firstly, I carried my primary UK phone number in a phone where I turned off roaming data whilst still in the UK. In fact, as I left the UK, I turned off mobile data completely. This phone I only use for emergencies, being contacted if needed. This limited usage kept the battery going for 2 days without a charge.

I then carried a second phone, in my case, an old Android phone from a year or so ago. This had been wiped clean and just had the apps needed, with most of the sync functions turned off (actually, I kept calendar / contacts syncing, and ran a couple of Social Network clients). Although I kept the syncing turned on, to minimise usage even further, I would turn this off, as it only adds to the usage, and most changes could wait until I returned. Again, roaming data was initially turned off.

This phone carried a Vodafone PAYG SIM, which I topped up with £20 before I set off. This topup gave me minutes, texts and 500MB of data in the UK. As I’m already opted in to Vodafone Passport, I knew that if I kept data to less than 25MB per day, my data costs would be £2 per day.

Before I left the UK, I used those bundled texts that came with the topup to alert a few key people that if they needed me over the next few days to use this number in preference to my normal number.

Once I arrived, I was greeted with text messages to both phones informing me of the rates (which, given it was before the new 1 July 2012 roaming limits are imposed, were somewhat of a shock (eg £3.07/MB for data!). I then turned on roaming data on the Vodafone SIM, and then used the normal data on/off functions to control my usage. I had a data counter installed (I use 3G Watchdog Pro, which included the ability to create a widget on the homescreen which monitored and reported my roaming usage) to ensure I was kept aware of my usage.

So, with careful use of data, I kept within the 25MB daily limit Vodafone include with the Passport option, sent and receive a few texts (11p per text, but coming out of the £20 credit), and spent under £10 all in. Given the phone only had a £20 credit, even if something went wrong with the Passport data options, or I suddenly started making lots of calls (or my phone had been stolen; though I’m not sure a two year old Android phone would have been that worthy), my absolute roaming spend was limited to that £20 topup. I appreciate the UK networks have now introduced roaming cost caps to limit bill shock, but this method truely limited my costs to a fixed amount.

In addition, I ran mapping software which allowed me to download the maps beforehand, so I wasn’t paying for Google Maps type data transfers of map data all the time (and in fact, since travelling, Google Maps on Android now has a formal offline feature for downloading the maps, but not the turn-by-turn navigation). I didn’t need to drive / travel any great distance, but if I had, Nokia Drive on Windows Phone (or Symbian) still makes a lot of sense as it provides true offline navigation.

Most importantly, as I was travelling with my family, by having an old phone without every latest bit of software installed, and a need to keep data usage down, I mainly had the phone for emergencies, and enjoyed the holiday.

If you are travelling abroad this summer, you will firstly benefit from lower roaming rates within the EU, but either way, spend some time thinking about the costs and researching it before you leave, and make sure you plan a way that works best for you; this is even more key when you leave the EU, where the caps and new low rates won’t apply. With many of the networks now offering bundles and good rates on PAYG SIMs, it’s well worth considering taking a second phone (or simply an old phone in the cupboard) to best save money and keep down the risk of bill shock.


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Mobile World Congress roundup

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

It’s been a few days since the end of this year’s Mobile Web Congress, where many (but not all) device manufacturers announce their new products for the next few months. Of course, many are well into planning future products, but right now, there’s been a lot of products announced (ie launched, not yet actually available), and I thought I’d summarise the devices that caught my attention the most…

So, in no particular order…

Nokia PureView 808

This device can’t be ignored. Yes, it’s running Symbian (but the newest version of the OS, which makes it much closer to Android), yes, people still feel Symbian is past it’s best, but this device has a major selling feature; that 41MP camera!  One of the best features is to use all those megapixels not to produce a very hi res photo, but to reduce the resolution of the end picture.  This can either be because it’s a low light situation, and having much bigger groups of pixels collecting the light will make for a better picture. The other reason is to allow for a decent quality digital zoom without any interpolation going on. As the successor to the Nokia N8, I believe this phone will sell well. Nokia have indicated that this is not a one-off device, and we will see future devices with equally high megapixel counts. For some, this may be good enough to actually replace a low to mid range camera too…

New Nokia Lumia devices

On top of the Nokia Lumia 800 and the Nokia Lumia 710 launched last year, we now have the Nokia Lumia 900 and the base model, the Nokia Lumia 610. The Lumia 900 was expected (as the US version was already launched), but I suspect this will be popular as it’s the current top of the range model, with a slightly larger screen than the Lumia 800. Personally, I don’t feel WP7 needs such a large screen, and many people will cope much better with the rest of the range. The Lumia 900 should ship around May time.

The Nokia Lumia 610 is the new base model, and will need the slightly updated Tango version of WP7 to operate. With a slightly lower spec than current WP7 models, there may be the odd application which will need some tweaks between now and June to work fine on this device, but it’s going to allow the networks to sell an even cheaper WP7 device (this could be very popular on PAYG). Microsoft and Nokia’s aim is to get WP devices below £100, which I don’t quite think they’ll manage with the Lumia 610, but given in all other respects it’s got the same capabilities as devices like the Lumia 710, it should sell well.

Nokia Application Updates

Nokia Drive will be updated in the next few weeks to v2. This will add speed camera warnings and full offline searching and routing, functions critical to anyone who travels abroad and wants to minimise data roaming bills by turning off data completely. The current version allows you to download maps for multiple regions, but needs an online connection for routing, re-routing and searching. By allowing the data stored within the maps to be used, this nearly brings Nokia Drive inline with the functionality of the Symbian version. What’s missing? Traffic data and automatic re-routing, although I’ve heard this will be coming in v3, but I have no knowledge of a release date for that version.

Nokia Public Transport will also be released. Back at Nokia World last year, I was very impressed by this application (at that time running on Symbian, but as I reported at the time, it would come to WP7), and the new WP7 version does seem to be well thought out. Two minor issues with it; firstly, it’s an online application (which in the future will allow real time data to be included within the information presented), and currently I understand that although it includes Tubes, Busses, DLR and possibly even Trams, for some reason the various London train lines are still not included. Of course, within Central London, this is not a major problem, and the app in fact looks like it could shine in the suburbs when the train lines break, and only non-train options remain available!

Asus Padfone

Finally, a non-Nokia device; the Asus Padfone was first shown off last year, but is now ready for production. It’s an Android phone (ICS, 4.3″ screen) which can be placed inside a screen dock to create a tablet device. By only using one device it means you can have both a phone and a tablet, but only need one mobile phone contract, and you won’t suffer annoying sync issues between the devices (although Android is good at syncing contacts and calendar, most other apps have no sync capabilities). By placing the phone in the 10.1″ screen dock (Station), you’ll benefit from the battery within the dock to recharge and keep the two devices going for much longer than the phone would last on it’s own. There’s also a keyboard dock (very similar to the Asus Transformer tablet keyboard dock) which has another additional battery which will increase battery life even further.  The keyboard dock also adds a memory card slot and a USB port, which really does give the impression (like the Asus Transformer) that it could replace your laptop.

This is due to be made available in April, although prices are not yet available. I suspect the keyboard dock will be an optional accessory, but I suspect (and hope) most networks will offer the phone with the main Station dock as standard.

Overall, this was a good year for MWC, and I think we’re going to see some very nice devices released and available over the next few months. I’m putting together a separate post on the HTC devices that have been released this week.


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Nokia Map Update

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Back in July I mentioned that Nokia had released a map update for Nokia Maps for v3.06, but not v3.04 (as used on some elder devices such as the Nokia E71).  However, someone mentioned to me the other day that Nokia had updated the maps again. Sure enough, a quick check via the Maps Update function confirmed new maps were available, so I downloaded them via my PC (I don’t have quite enough spare space on the phone to download them directly).  These new maps are dated 26 September 2011, a little over two months since the last update.  As this was the third map update this year, it will be interesting to see whether they have moved to a more regular two-monthly update process, or whether they simply release one update per quarter (ie the July update was just very late).

Also, although the elder v3.04 Maps client doesn’t have a built in Map Update facility, I still connected my Nokia E71 to my PC, and it also offered a map update.  I’m not sure exactly when the update was released, but based on the map data (there’s one major new road near me that’s appeared in both these updates that was not included in the July update), it looks like the maps for the elder client are also very recent.

If you have a Nokia Symbian phone, don’t forget to update the maps every now and then.


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Nokia Sleeping Screen graduates

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Back in April I mentioned a new Nokia Beta Labs application, Nokia Sleeping Screen. Well, this has now graduated from the beta programme and is now available from within the Nokia Store (as part of many other changes this year, Nokia are removing the Ovi name, so what was the Ovi Store is now the Nokia Store). If you want to try out the new Nokia Sleeping Screen, head here.

As I said back in April, I’d like to see apps like Nokia Sleeping Screen and Nokia Situations being included as standard from within the firmware to allow Nokia Symbian devices to compete with the other smartphone OSes, such as Android. Having said that, with the new Belle firmware due out in the next month or so (*) (which will replace the current Anna firmware for Symbian^3 devices), Nokia will have a good all round package to compete.

(*) Nokia are already making new devices available with Belle, but the upgrade for existing models is not due for a little longer.


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Nokia release Map Update

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

As soon as I published the story yesterday about Nokia not having released any map updates since the February 2011 update what happens; yes, yesterday Nokia released an update to their Ovi Maps data for v3.06 (S60 v5 devices).  I should add that to the best of my knowledge there is not an update for the v3.04 Ovi Maps client for the S60 v3 devices, such as the Nokia E71.

If you are already running v3.06 then you can simply go into Ovi Maps and select Update and the update will be available for you.  The UK map is about 219MB to download, but you’ll also need a little free space for it to install the update too, so if you are tight on disk space another option is to use Ovi Suite, which downloads the file onto the PC and seems to need slightly less overall disk space to install the update.

Personally, I seem to always end up having trouble with the update working directly on the phone, but have generally found the Ovi Suite method more reliable.  If you do manage to do the update on your phone, it can take some while, so don’t be impatient.

Interestingly, the update is dated 14 July 2011, which is 5 months since the last maps of February 2011; it will be interesting to see how long we have to wait for the next maps…


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New Ovi Maps v3.08 (Beta)

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Keeping with the Maps theme, Nokia have released (through the Nokia Beta Labs programme) another beta update to Ovi Maps.  v3.08 brings a number of new features (over the earlier v3.07 beta):

Drive Enhancements:

  • Live traffic routing takes traffic information into account to avoid traffic jams automatically (available in Germany, France, US, UK and Russia).
  • Turn on “Avoid traffic” in your “Route settings” to take traffic conditions into account while you drive. Always get the best route for right now.
  • New Drive look & feel – home screen now has buttons for “Set destination,” “Drive home” and “Just drive.”
  • “Just drive” or Drive assistance shows your accurate speed, gives speed warnings, the distance driven and real time traffic.
  • New information bar on Drive navigation and Drive assistance screens.
  • Also easily toggle between Estimated Time of Arrival in minutes or distance to your destination – just tap the icon on the screen.
  • New option menus in Drive.
  • Set a contact as a destination.
  • Easily change your settings during Drive navigation. Changes in settings are immediate and can been seen instantly.

Additional improvements

  • Long tap is now available to give quick access to “Drive to,” “Walk to,” “Share” and various lists.
  • Settings reorganized to “General” “Maps & Walk” and “Drive.”

One key point; this is a Symbian^3 only product, so if you are a Symbian S60 5th Edition (aka Symbian^1) user, then you won’t be able to get this update.  We’ve already seen S60 v3 devices limited to v3.04 Ovi Maps, and now S60 v5 device are unlikely to progress beyond v3.06; what’s not so clear is whether and for how long we’ll see map updates for these elder clients.

I believe the latest maps available for v3.04 are from 2010, whereas the maps for v3.06 haven’t been updated since Feb 2011


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Google adds true offline maps to GMaps

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Although only for Android at this stage (and to be honest, I’m not sure half of the newer features will ever make it to Symbian), the latest Google Maps Android client includes support for downloading maps for offline usage.  This is only the first generation of this, and I’m sure Google will implement more features around this as time goes on.  At the moment, it’s a “Labs” feature, which allows you to choose whether or not to turn it on, but having done so, you can then long press any location on the map and the Places page that you can select has an option to download maps.

This downloads a map approx. 10 miles around the chosen spot (though it’s a square area, so not exactly 10 miles).  If you change your mind, you can go into the Cache settings to delete the download.  Right now, this version will only download the base maps and landmarks, so a lot of detail is missing (and obviously no satellite maps), but it’s a good start, and combined with a few well placed favourites (starred places), this should be better than no maps at all whilst travelling, especially abroad, where you don’t want the roaming charges.  However, don’t plan for that trip abroad too far in advance; Google Maps will automatically delete the data after 30 days, so you need to do this just before travelling.

I have to say it’s a good start, but it still seems a little bit hit and miss, and until it’s a more controllable feature, I’ll be sticking with other apps that use complete offline maps.  Also, if roaming, don’t forget that the GPS uses a little 3G data to get the initial fix, so unless you turn that off (or turn off data completely), you won’t avoid all roaming costs, and, to be honest, an Android device seems to use more data that others due to the background sync options that you need to be careful over roaming costs.

One option is to get inclusive roaming data as part of your contract, and many of the higher Vodafone contracts already include Data Traveller which does just that, or you can add it to a lower priced contract (see here for more details and here for an update).

As always, this is available from the Android Market.

Screenshot courtesy of Google, where you can also get more information.


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Nokia bringing “Anna” updates to older phones

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Nokia started a rollout of new firmwares to a range of S60 v3.2 (3rd Edition FP2) and S60 v5 (Symbian^1) devices yesterday which will bring a range of new features to these phones.

The main update is a new Web Browser, the same as will/is shipping in the Anna update for Symbian^3 phones.  This is much faster than the previous browser, and even in the short time I’ve had access to it, it does seem a much faster and better browser.

Additionally, Ovi Maps has been updated.  For S60 v3.2 devices, the latest version available is v3.04, but that does bring a range of new features such as WiFi and Cell ID positioning to help speed up the initial GPS fix.  For S60 v5 devices, this means v3.06, which also brings the ability to update the maps direct from the device (although the latest maps released by Nokia are still from back in February 2011; it would be nice to see Nokia moving to a quarterly map update schedule).

It should be pointed out that for some of the devices, the Maps update has been available from the Software Update tool built into the phone, and in this scenario, the main firmware update does not seem to include the Maps update.  If you have such a device, you have already got the latest Maps, and the new firmware does not modify that.

Finally, there is support for emoticons within Messages.  If you type characters such as : ) it will automatically turn it into a graphical emoticon.  Otherwise, you can select to insert an emoticon from the keyboard menu.

So, which devices will this be rolling out to?  Nokia have said:

S60 v3.2:

S60 v5:

My understanding is that the Nokia 5230, C6-00, E5, E52 and E72 all started to receive the firmware update from yesterday, with the other devices following over the next few weeks.

If you have a Symbian^1 phone, you can also download the Nokia Evolve theme from the Ovi Store (here), which will give the built in apps the same style of icons as the upcoming Anna update for Symbian^3 devices.

One word of warning though; it seems that this firmware update has a bug on all devices with homescreen widgets which will cause the very useful “Coming Next” widget to break and display an error message.  Nokia are aware of this (basically any attempt to access the Calendar from a Web Runtime Widget returns a blank response), and have indicated it will need a further firmware update for all devices to fix, so if your busy schedule relies upon the “Coming Next” widget, you might want to think long and hard before applying this update.

Overall, I’ve found a combination of the latest Ovi Maps, the latest Anna browser, and the Evolve icons does bring a good refresh to existing Symbian phones, and should extend their life a little further; it’s definitely nice to see Nokia releasing these software updates to elder phones; oh, and if you are a fan of Gravity (the all round best Social Networking client for Symbian) you’ll be glad to know the latest Alpha has an Anna-style application icon to match the rest of the icons.


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Symbian Anna finally coming to existing devices

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

If you own an existing Symbian^3 device (Nokia N8, Nokia E7, Nokia C6-01 etc.) then you might want to keep some time free in August.  The latest major firmware update (now called Anna) has been shipping on the new Nokia E6 and Nokia X7 since release in the last few weeks.  Now Nokia have confirmed it will be available in two phases for the existing devices.  Firstly, if you haven’t yet bought one, those existing devices will start shipping from Nokia with Anna pre-installed from July, but for all existing customers, you’ll need to wait until August when the firmware will be able to be downloaded via the latest Ovi Suite (or direct on the device).

This is good news, although it is a lot later than it should have been.  However, the new styling that Anna brings will breathe some fresh air into those existing devices.

One small ray of hope though; if you have a Nokia N8, Nokia C7 or Nokia E7 from 3UK, and you make a call to another user of one of those devices also where the phone came from 3UK, then you might find your call actually goes via their new HD voice service which will provide much better clarity on the call.  Although currently not available cross-network, 3UK have stated they are hoping to be able to support cross-network HD voice calls soon.


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Nokia update Reader beta

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Last week, Nokia Beta Labs updated the Nokia Reader application.  This is an RSS Reader, and quite a useful one.  However, the previous beta had a habit of constantly asking you for your Nokia Account username and password, and the latest update fixes this.  Although Nokia Reader is suitable for S60 5th Edition as well as Symbian^3 devices, this particular update only applies to Symbian^3 devices.  If you want to try Nokia Reader, or need this latest update, head off to Nokia Beta Labs and download from there.


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