Three brings back their fantastic roaming deal

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Three logo

Three UK have brought back their fantastic roaming deal; a lot of people were upset when they dropped their “3 Like Home” roaming deal a few years back, but the new “Feel at Home” deal actually has some pretty good terms attached to it. As before, the deals only apply to countries where Three already have a sister network, though the deal will apply whether you are actually roaming onto the Three network or not.

Firstly, the list of countries:

  • Australia
  • Italy
  • Denmark
  • Austria
  • Sweden
  • Hong Kong
  • Republic of Ireland

What is different, however, is that it now applies to most customers and tariffs, whether you have a phone contract, PAYG SIM, 3g dongle, or even some business contracts.

So, if you had 5000 texts to send per month in the UK, you can still send 5000 texts whilst roaming without any additional charge. Also, if you have 3UK-3UK minutes, these can additionally used to ring 3 customers in the country you are roaming in. There are a few minor exceptions to this deal (eg certain numbers, such as premium numbers starting 09 would be excluded in the UK, and are still excluded when abroad), and you should check the terms before travelling (especially if you are a PAYG user, as more restrictions apply). You should also still study the remaining roaming charges (eg receiving calls from international numbers).

I should add though, that although data is included in this deal, there are a few limitations to data usage that you need to be aware of: firstly, tethering is NOT included at all, there is a 25Gb limit per month, and data speeds may be slower than the UK.

In fact, Three UK point out that should you exceed 25Gb of data, 5000 texts or 3000 minutes per month in any two months within a year, they may block the service. I doubt the text or minute limit will be a major problem, but if you assume you are limited to just under 1Gb of data a day (which is still a lot of data!) you should be fine. Obviously services such as Netflix could easily exceed that usage, so you do need to think carefully about data usage, but it’s still way more than the other UK networks currently offer.

If you want more information, especially around those restrictions, head to this page on the Three UK website for more information.


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Vodafone showing innovation around phone signal

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Vodafone have started a new blog covering some of their activities, called Vodafone Social. Of late they have covered three items of interest, which if you haven’t seen, show they are aiming to keep at the forefront of technology and innovation. Firstly, they have documented how they have provided a whole village with signal, whereas it used to be a mobile “not-spot”; in fact, to show they are quite serious about this, they haven’t just build an open femto-trial in one village, but have now completed this in three villages; East Garston, Cranborne and Newcastleton.

However, if you are ever in London, you will be well aware of the new tall building, The Shard. As part of the visitor centre high up in the sky, Vodafone have also provided a similar solution to those visiting, and you can read all about that here.

If you think that’s quite impressive, I’m also impressed they’ve spent the last year working with East Midlands Trains to improve the signal strength of Vodafone customers on their Meridian trains, which feature a metallic coating (to protect commuters from the bright sunlight) but which also hinder phone signals, and have deployed another variant of the technology that Vodafone have embedded into the trains themselves to improve the signal, even when travelling at full speed. If you are interested, you can read about that here.

It’s well worth you considering putting Vodafone Social into your RSS reader, as it does give an interesting insight into projects involving Vodafone that you might never find out about.


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Three competing in roaming deals too

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Last month I talked about the new Vodafone roaming deals, and the new offer of £3 per day to access your existing UK bundle. Well, Three UK also launched their offer; for £5 per day, you get All You Can Eat data for 24 hours (I assume it’s UK time, not local time). You also can’t (yet) buy this upfront for a whole holiday (you can buy in the UK on the day before you travel to cover the first day), or you can wait until you arrive and 3UK will text you details. It’s not the same as The One Plan; there’s no tethering allowed, and the quality of the roaming network may not be as good as the UK network which has been designed for high volumes of data, but it may be better than nothing.

As it’s the Euro Internet Pass, it doesn’t apply to all countries (especially those outside of the EU), but the 3UK website does have a list of countries that are and aren’t covered by it. Another small nice feature; the Euro Internet Pass website is actually free to access whilst roaming (though you would need to watch out for other background applications spotting the active connection which would be charged until you sign up for the day).

Obviously, if you were on a two week holiday, the costs are still going to mount up (eg 14 days would cost £70), but given that would provide you unlimited data usage, it’s not a bad deal, and if it helps to keep the kids happy, it may well be worth it. Local SIMs (or my suggestions for limiting data costs) may well help, but for those who use a lot of data, this may well be a sensible way forward.

For more information, head to the 3UK website.

Update: As Darren has pointed out in the comments, this only applies to phone contracts, and not Mobile Broadband or MiFi contracts.


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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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Vodafone and European Roaming

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

As part of an EU Directive, all of the UK networks need to reduce their roaming costs, with the directive setting new maximums you pay for calls, texts, and data. Vodafone were one of the first to announce a new way forward; their new Vodafone Euro Traveller allows you to pay £3 per day and then you have full access to your UK minutes, texts and data. This is an improvement on their old scheme, which was competitive (compared to the other networks), which offered to make and receive calls for a 75p connection charge, and then use up your UK minutes.

With the £3 per day option, it’s nice and clear what you can and can’t use each day, although obviously a 14 day holiday would incur £42 of roaming charges, but at least the rest of your usage would be the same as the UK.

So, that’s nice and clear then?

Well, no.

If you opted into Vodafone Passport (to get those good roaming call rates before), then without Euro Traveller, you’ll stay on those Passport rates, except, for many people, these will no longer be the best rate to be on, as Vodafone is introducing a new set of roaming rates for non-Passport customers as from 1 July, which may well work out cheaper:

Vodafone Passport rates are:

Making a call Receiving a call Sending a text Sending a picture message Using mobile internet
75p connection charge plus your standard home rate or you can use your inclusive Vodafone Freedom Freebee minutes 75p connection charge, then no further charge for up to 60 minutes. Then 20p a minute after that. 11p a text 36p a text £2 a day for 25MB (midnight to midnight, UK time). £1 a MB after that

As from 1 July 2012, the Vodafone standard rates will be:

Making a call Receiving a call Sending a text Sending a picture message Using mobile internet
28p a min (minimum call charge of 30 seconds; after that, you’ll be charged per second) 7p a min (you’ll be charged per second) 8p a text 36p a text 69p a MB for the first 2.9MB. Then no further charge until 25MB. 69p a MB after that.

So, let’s take data; it was £2 for 25MB and then £1/MB afterwards, now it’s (assuming you use at least 3 MB) £2 for 25MB, and then £0.69/MB. The only case where it’s cheaper is if you used less than 3MB of data a day…

For calls, it’s less clear, if you make long calls, the old Passport rates may work out better overall, whereas for texts it’s clear the new rates are better.

Also, I should point out that I’ve been looking at this from a European perspective (and mainly PAYG rates); if you travel outside of the EU, you will need to study the Vodafone website very carefully to work out what deal is best for you. One nice feature (at the moment); you can opt in and out of Vodafone Passport as you please, so you don’t have to stick to one of these three pricing methods.

Vodafone continue to show a leading position in their roaming rates in my opinion, and should be a consideration for anyone going abroad.


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Gadget Show Live – Tickets still available!

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

I was fortunate to be invited to the Gadget Show Preview / Professional Trade Show event yesterday, and it’s nice to see The Gadget Show Live even bigger and better than last year. Whilst last year everything was iPhone / iPad related, this year it was nice to see a wider range of devices supported by the various accessories manufacturers at the show, with Kindle and Samsung Galaxy Tablets also getting a look in.

Even better; if you haven’t already bought a ticket, I understand from the organisers that a limited number of tickets are still available for today (Wednesday) and tomorrow (Thursday), although the rest of the week is now fully booked, so don’t travel unless you already have tickets.

Along with the main Gadget Show Live Super Theatre (featuring a massive 360 degrees viewing screen), there are a number of smaller seminar type presentation areas, and a few stands are running their own presentations too. In terms of exhibitors, there are the big guys (LG, Samsung, Sony, Canon, Kenwood, Philips and Pioneer), the larger retailers (PC World, Scan), and even a couple of mobile networks (Orange and O2), both of whom are running Show special deals during the event. As always, there are smaller companies (such as OrbitSound and Bicygnals) who are often worth a look at their slightly more specialised items.

There’s lot of food facilities (though a little expensive), including Subway and Starbucks, and even a chance to try the new Volkswagen Up! car in the driving experience; equally, for gamers, there are plenty of XBox consoles to try out, and a fair few Kinect installations on various stands. If you have children, look out for LeapFrog for younger ones, or something more fun such as the Parrot AR.drone for the older children.

Although The Gadget Show have announced that as from the new series (soon to start) only Jason and Polly will be presenting, all 5 of the “current” presenters will be appearing at the Gadget Show Live this year. For details of the shows and a full exhibitor list, head off to the Gadget Show Live website for more details.

If you want to attend, head over to the Gadget Show Live website and buy your tickets in advance of travelling (if any are left!); also don’t forget NEC charge £8 per car for parking.


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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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Pure launch new Highway DAB Radio

Friday, November 25th, 2011

One of the first articles on the UK Gadgeteer website back in 2007 was around the PURE Highway, a portable DAB radio designed for car use.  This turned out to be a very popular device, although one small complaint about it was that it had to connect to the windscreen mount, and you had to have wires all over the dashboard (aerial & power).  Competitors, such as Revo, produced DAB addon car units which needed more permanent fitting in the car, however, Revo have now left the car market.

Well, Pure are addressing these issues and have launched a new Highway DAB radio, the Pure Highway 300Di.  This unit has a small control unit (removable, for when you want to hide the presence of the unit) using an OLED screen (and backlit buttons).  In fact, the simple display / buttons and control knob remind me of the very successful Parrot range of Bluetooth car kit control units).  This connects to a control box designed for placing behind the dash, or in the glovebox.  This needs permanent connections to the car (I suspect it’ll possible to DIY fit it, but it’s not designed for plugging into a cigaretter lighter, unlike the PURE Highway, which remains on sale for those who want a truely portable unit).

As well as providing DAB (via a DAB aerial which needs external fitting), the unit has a USB port allowing you to plug in USB memory sticks, USB devices, or you can use your Apple USB cable and the device will be able to fully control (and charge) your Apple iPod or iPhone.

Most DAB radios only have one tuner, whereas most car radios adopted the idea of dual tuners quite a few years ago; this allows the second tuner to go hunting for a stronger signal without impacting the radio playback, and in fact, the Pure Highway 300Di has a second tuner which will automatically keep the station list up to date with only the stations available as you travel around the country.

To connect it to your car, you can either use an AUX-IN type socket, or it can use an FM transmitter, either wireless using the car’s existing aerial, or it can be wired into the aerial circuit giving a crackle free experience.

In addition, Pure have added a couple of innovative new modes:

  • Forcourt mode, where the device will go into standby for up to 15 minutes, allowing you to return to your car, and the unit will already be ready for action with the same music.  In you are listening to the DAB radio, you can pause (for up to 8 minutes) and continue listening when you return to the car.
  • Picnic mode, where the device is able to continue playing the music for up to an hour after the car ignition is switched off.  The 1 hour limit is to prevent the car battery being drained, although some cars will limit you to only 15 minutes even though the unit could do longer.

For those wanting to add DAB to your existing car, and want something a little more permanent than the PURE Highway, this may well be the device for you.  Pricing will be £179.99, although it’s not yet available, it will be sold exclusively through Halfords for a period.

Having said it’s not available, I believe it should be on sale within the next week or two, and during the initial launch, Halfords will be offering free fitting (normally around £25).


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Orange launch data roaming bundle, but only if you use it

Friday, July 15th, 2011

This is quite a good deal.  Obviously I would like to see the daily cost drop to a level closer to UK data rates, but I like the idea; Orange will now charge you £3 per day for data whilst roaming, and that £3 gives you up to 30MB within that day.  However, you only get charged if you use any data, so if you went abroad and only used data on 2 days of your holiday, you would limit your bill, and not be charged for every day.

If you want to buy more data, or just have a bit more flexibility, then Orange are also offering bundles that last 30 days:

  • 30MB of data over 30 days: £15
  • 150MB of data over 30 days: £50
  • 500MB of data over 30 days: £150

Now, it’s starting to look expensive; when many of us have more than 500MB included within our monthly bill within the UK, £150 for that same amount of data is very high, but looking at it the other way; £3 a day will start to mount up over a 2 week holiday.

Information from What Mobile.


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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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