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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Musings on my next personal phone & contract

I'm coming up to the point of deciding on my next main personal mobile phone & contract.I thought it might be worth going through my thought processes on the blog, which may highlight some factors that reflect wider industry trends - or perhaps just reflect my outlier status as a user.

Although I've usually got a couple of spare devices around, and occasionally play with new ones to get a feel for things, I don't tend to chop & change, and I don't review handsets. Up until two years ago, I had separate voice/SMS/camera and email/data-centric devices, but I've switched to a single-device approach since then.

I'm currently using an iPhone 3GS on Vodafone, with an 18-month contract that's just expired - but with the "grandfathered" 1GB a month allowance. It's still in decent condition after 15 months (my first one fried its baseband & was replaced), despite not using a case. I'd like a better camera but it's actually sill pretty functional.

I'm tempted to just keep the current phone, either get it unlocked & port to another network, or stay on Vodafone, and switch to a rolling 30-day contract at half the price.

My criteria for choosing an operator / plan are:


  • 1GB+ per month (I use around 600-700MB typically). This could be done with 500MB + an extra 500MB package, or maybe just reasonable overage charges
  • Cheap data roaming. This is imperative. Vodafone (in Europe) is now good with its £2/day plan for 25MB
  • Cost - my base plan is £41 per month (which obviously included the initial subsidy repayment) & I have no desire to increase this.
  • No heavy-handed branded operator bloatware, or attempts to put an extra software layer between me & what I want to do.
Important considerations
  • Decent 3G coverage in central London (Vodafone is surprisingly poor)
  • Low network latency (difficult to tell network vs. phone, but I see 3G latency as *much* worse than WiFi - even when done via my 3UK MiFi)
  • Reasonable network policies (eg no VoIP blocking, no unnecessary data/video optimisations)
  • (up to a point) OK WiFi offload and a decent "my account" dashboard app
Basically, I want the best pipe I can get. On this basis I may have to grudgingly stick with VF, despite their iffy coverage (still no 3G in Primrose Hill, 7 months after this post) as the others don't stack up for roaming as well.

Choosing a phone is also complicated.

Let's get one thing out of the way first off - no Androids. I don't/won't use a Google login for my primary device account. For me, a Google account is purely for business, not personal, and I always try to avoid blending the two on any ecosystem (Facebook=personal, Twitter=business, iTunes=personal etc). I usually log out of Google when I'm not using Blogger (or if I'm forced to use Google Doc by a client). I've got a Gmail account but hardly use it, and have clicked the "stop spamming me with invites" link for G+. That's not changing. (Unless it's possible to fully log out of Google while using an Android phone? Let me know).

On "coolness" grounds I'd prefer not to have an iPhone, but something more individual & unusual. I see so many in London (and so many Macs), that having an Apple feels like driving something like a BMW: a boring, default, sheeplike choice. Well-engineered but a bit soulless & dehumanising.

On the other hand, it does "just work" (well, apart from my first one that committed suicide), the swipes and menus are pretty nice, and I can express my individuality in plenty of ways other than through the brand of telephone I'm carrying.

I've been tempted to switch to using a BlackBerry for a while, as so many of my younger friends have them for BBM but I'm sensing that that ship may have sailed (especially with WhatsApp and other similar messaging services on other platforms)... and the current (12/10) outage won't have helped.

Windows phones are appealing because they're different & I quite like UI. I'm interested in seeing what Nokia comes up with, but that may be too late for me anyway. Also, the tiles look a bit like another attempt at social network aggregation (no thanks) which I'd need to be able to switch off. I'll definitely check out one or two though... but... the kicker is application support.

Apps. Now I'll admit to being a Luddite here - I haven't *bought* an app for personal use since 2005. Apple doesn't have my credit card details on iTunes (one of my original criteria for getting an iPhone was the ability to sign up without adding any payment channel). But I do use some free apps quite a lot - almost exclusively for Social Networking, Travel/Transport and Connectivity.
  • Social networking: Facebook obviously, and recently LinkedIn, MeetUp  and Quora.  (I deleted the Twitter app, though)
  • Travel/transport: Barclays Bike Hire app (Boris Bikes in central London), Kayak, Tube Status, British Airways, Addison Lee taxi hire and MapsWithMe (offline Wikitravel)
  • Connectivity: BTFon (for WiFi access as I use BT broadband at home & this gives me a couple of million FON/Openzone spots) and Onavo (for data compression while roaming). I might add the O2 WiFi app at some point as well.
And unfortunately, most of these are iPhone / Android only at the moment (and some just iPhone, or different on Android). All of them also work fine on my 3GS - as yet I haven't really come across anything must-have that needs a 4 / 4S. The camera is tempting, though - but not worth the extra money vs. a small digicam I could carry if I wanted.

Actually, writing all this out has probably given me the answer - stick with the 3GS, batter Vodafone into giving me a new & much lower off-contract rolling 30-day price plan, and then wait until either something must-have drives me to a 4S (better camera maybe, or iOS 5-only apps), or until Windows Phones have enough app support & some cool devices. It's actually been an interesting exercise for me as well - forced me to think about what's important (eg which categories of apps I care about)


Anonymous said...

iOS 5 will work on your 3GS.

Dean Bubley said...

Thanks. I'll leave it a few months anyway, really not interested in getting new OS's on day 1.

Anonymous said...

SIM only doesn't have to be Voda - get the best deal by shopping around.
And no Android, are you OK? I have an Android for work with Exchange Active Sync and Android for home with Gmail, Picasaweb, Google docs, Calendar, Contacts all seemlessly sync'ing with the cloud. I wouldn't swap my Galaxy S2 for a iPhone - but maybe a Nexus Prime?

Anonymous said...

3UK = 500mins/500txt/1GB @ £20/mo. Quite limiting as to which device you get though. HTC Wildfire S best of a thin bench.

It is indeed possible to not use Google services with a 'droid and I do so. You have to log in to do the first-run activation, but you can run K-9 Mail for e-mail, Skype for voice and video and chat, some third party IM client app, Opera or FF Mobile as a web browser, bookmark Y! or Bing search and Nokia Maps or OSM.

If you want to render it totally google-free, install Cyanogenmod or one of the other unofficial versions.

Dean Bubley said...

Anon - I'd use an Android device for business, if I was going to have two phones. But I'm not registering myself with the Google ecosystem for everything I do with the browser & apps.

Yorks Ranter - seems like a lot of hard work. I view modifying phones the same way I view modifying cars - lacking style and taste. I wouldn't put plastic tat from Halfords on my motor, and wouldn't mess around rooting/hacking a phone or installing the most basic apps from scratch either.

For the same reason I wouldn't buy a putative Facebook OS phone either. Apple's OK as I don't really use any Apple-branded services & they don't spam me to start (unlike Nokia used to with Ovi). iCloud may be a good reason not to upgrade to iOS 5 unless it can be switched off entirely.

Of course, as I said in the post, I'm not a normal user - I'm sure plenty of others have different views of privacy, lock-in etc, and they're welcome to them. I do things my way, and dislike any tech or SP which tries to "steer" my other choices.

jason @ mobile website design said...

Quality Blog mate.

Given me a lot of food for thought as my contract finishes in a couple of months (You can tell by the number of unsolicited calls I ignore!) so I'm looking and thinking.

I'm on Vodafone too, and they are already pushing me towards an iPhone (on Blackberry at the mo) but not too sure.

And I live in Stockport, so no idea what the coverage is here. My daughter's iPhone connection is rubbish and she lives round the corner!

If you're up here in a few months, and feel like giving me a hand...?

Martin Geddes said...

I have found a way of scratching the "18 month phone upgrade itch" - which is to buy a replacement battery for my old phone to give it a new lease of life.

simon cavill said...

I would have recommended Three as their London 3G coverage is solid and very fast most of the time and I have a 1G, 3000 mons and 3000 texts for £25 /month, 1 year contract.

However, the killer is their ridiculous credit control policy which won't let me spend more than £75 a month on non-bundle calls... Thanks Three, I'm off somewhere else at Xmas.