We’ve read the horror stories about people returning home from their dream holiday to find they’ve spent thousands on data. It’s remarkably easy to incur these charges, depending on your provider. Some UK networks (such as EE) won’t let you use the internet at all until you’ve bought a package. Others (such as 3) allow you to use data freely unless you call them to set a spend limit.
Any content you send or receive that’s not a phone call or a text message is data. Browsing the internet, sending WhatsApp messages, downloading and using apps, syncing email and weather. A lot of this happens in the background – convenient when at home, but a potential nightmare when abroad.
There are a few simple things you can do to avoid any nasty surprises. I chatted about these on Good Morning Britain with Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway.
In your phone settings, look for ‘Cellular’ or ‘Mobile Data’. It may be called something similar depending on your phone model. In there is a switch called ‘Data Roaming’. When switched on it allows usage of data over the cellular network, which will incur charges. Switch this off to know for sure that your phone is not using any data abroad. You can then switch it on for short periods should you need to, for instance, to search for a restaurant. Be aware that when you switch it on other apps and services will update and sync in the background, so switch it off as soon as you’re finished.
Take the opportunity to send photos, sync email and browse the web when availing of free Wi-Fi networks in public places.
Wi-Fi is internet access that relies largely on the landline telephone network. It is then distributed to laptops and phones by a wireless router in the home, office or public space. Whoever owns the router pays the bills, not the end user with a phone or laptop. This means that logging on at a café or hotel is free, unless payment is clearly requested to obtain access.
If the Wi-Fi network has a padlock symbol next to it in the list of available networks, ask a member of staff for the password.
If, like me, you hate the thought of being without Google Maps and TripAdvisor on holiday this tip is for you. Call or go on your carrier’s website to set up a package. Some will offer daily allowances with a daily charge, and some will offfer a total amount of data for the duration of your stay. Think about how much and how regularly you’ll use data services when choosing. And make sure your usage is capped at the package allowance, so you’re cut off when it’s used up.
Every carrier has an app or website for its customers to check their allowances and buy more. Download and login to the app at home before leaving. If it’s a website, load it in your phone’s browser so it’s in your history, or even better add as a favourite.
You’ll need to not be on Wi-Fi when accessing these as they identify you by your data connection over the mobile network. They never charge for accessing this, even when abroad.
So in conclusion, being a little bit prepared is the key. The internet is hugely useful when abroad for finding your way around and communicating. Spend a little time before you go and you can enjoy these benefits without the huge bills!
Now that the dust has settled and everyone has returned to Asia and Scandinavia with their red lanyards no doubt still swinging round their necks it’s a good time to look back, take stock and reflect on the big takeaways from Mobile World Congress 2011:
There were a few nice original touches such as a few phones with HDMI-out like LG’s fast-as-hell Optimus 2X which outputs games, videos and screen mirroring in full HD.
LG also captured a lot of the column inches last week with their Optimus 3D phone which boasts a glasses-free 3D screen and a dual-lens camera which shoots 3D video which can be viewed and shared on YouTube (which is now 3D compatible). They also have a tablet which sports the 3D camera and I think I was the first person ever to publicly upload 3D footage on it (#geekwin):
Confused by the middle ground between phone and netbook? Samsung’s Galaxy Wifi 5.0 will really blow your mind:
There it is next to my iPhone 4. Samsung have filled yet another gap we didn’t know existed with this phone-less bit of hardware that runs Android 2.2 and puzzled many people who wondered whether it was a big media player or small tablet. You decide.
Ultimately, if – and only if – these tablets are released with a much lower price tag than the iPad they may gain ground with the masses, particularly with heavy Google users such as myself and many of my fellow iPad-carriers. Android has matured into a serious contender to Apple’s crown and it’ll be interesting to see how Apple parry the blow on 2nd March 2011 with the big iPad 2 announcement.
This stand had… a slide which made you a free physical photo of your trip down it, a smoothy bar, free drinks upstairs, a chilled seating area, an ‘Androidify Yourself’ free sticker-making station, free collectible pin-badges, free collectible Android figurines and loads more stuff. I mean it was totally mental, like so much more big and fun than any other stand, but not only that, they reached out to all corners of the event with an Android welcoming you to most other stands too:
The Androids were giving out green sweets and collectible pin badges which @alicam did a fine job of collecting:
All in all it was a fun(ish) and interesting conference. I learned a lot about mobile and got to see Barcelona too, which is a great city despite my vegetarianism eliciting the kind of face I imagine people would make if you asked to see intimate photos of their wife. Anyway, some pretty photos of Barcelona here.
This Monday, 14th February, will see 50,000 people descend on Fira de Barcelona in the centre of the Catalonian capital to gather at Mobile World Congress, the biggest date in the mobile communications industry’s calendar. It is typically where the big players like LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Samsung et al announce new technology, phones, tablets and gadgets. LG are kindly whisking myself, @alicam and @mayhemstudios out there to witness their product unveilings, which include the much-hyped first ever 3D phone! So in anticipation of this almighty tech-fest, here’s a quick look at what I’m most excited about seeing next week:
LG Optimus 3D
OK, so LG are the reason I’m out there. But seriously, a phone with 3D screen and camera? I need to see that. The grass is always greener on the other side and having had an iPhone for so long I could very easily be tempted to switch over to Android by this phone which is rumoured to have a dual-core 1GHz processor, an 8 megapixel camera and ‘multi-channel RAM’. I’ll publish full details as we get them at MWC, but in the meantime here’s a teaser trailer LG just released:
The ‘Playstation Phone’
I love my Playstation 3 and for a long time loved my (cracked) PSP, but the poor old handheld has been gathering dust since 2008 when the iPhone 3G gave us decent games, with internet, email, a phone and all your digital media thrown in too. So it would be cool to see Sony bring the goods with its ‘Xperia Play’. The Android phone/console hybrid will run Playstation One games though we don’t know what games will be available until MWC, and that ultimately will determine this device’s success.
Interestingly, by the end of 2011 Sony plans to have allowed other mobile and tablet manufacturers to adapt their Android OS to run Playstation games and have access to the forthcoming Playstation app store. Details are scant until the press conference on Sunday. Until then here’s the creepy ad Sony ran during Super Bowl to officially announce the phone:
Let’s face it, it will be years until someone other than Apple beats the iPad at the tablet game so I, like many, will be looking on in amusement and curiosity at the tablet launches at MWC to see what lengths manufacturers have gone to to try and tempt those considering Apple’s ‘magical and revolutionary’ device away from the easy choice.
Samsung’s Galaxy has been on of the more successful underdogs and it’s successor will be unveiled on Sunday night. Rumours are also circulating that the Samsung Galaxy’s successor will be announced and that HTC are preparing their first tablet to be unveiled. LG are also said to be launching a larger version of their Optimus 3D phone, a tablet with rear-facing stereoscopic camera and glasses-free 3D screen.
Whilst the gallery of speakers at MWC 2011 looks like the members book of a white supremacist chess club, there are a few heavyweight keynotes at MWC 2011 that I’ll be making an effort to see.
Eric Schmidt should be interesting because of Google’s burgeoning stake in the mobile OS market and how advertising might develop in mobile.
Steve Ballmer because I kinda hope he’ll go a bit mental… again.
Jack Dorsey because since co-founding Twitter he’s set up Square, a revolutionary product that is as beautifully simple and useful as his first famous venture. I’ll be interested to hear where he plans to take it and which industries they’re focussing their marketing efforts on (do market traders generally have iPhones?).
Dick Costolo because he’s CEO of my favourite social website – Twitter – and I’ll be keen to hear how things are going back at HQ and where they plan to take the business. He’s also an interesting figure in the start-up world having founded Feedburner and invested in several start-ups including Twitter back in 2007. I’m sure I’ll happen across other speakers and be pleasantly surprised, which I’ll report back on right here.
So stay tuned as I post videos, photos and new product specs as they’re announced. You can also follow the #MWC11 hashtag on Twitter, and also me – @willfrancis, @LGmobileMWC, @alicam and @mayhemstudios to see what we’re up to!
On the off-chance that you 1. feel the irresistible urge to tweet 2. reach into your pocket to find your phone is dead and 3. happen to be walking past one of these public Twitter booths recently installed in Russia’s tech hub Skolkova, all at the same time, then this might be of use to you. Though maybe ye olde public payphone’s fate awaits this fun experiment. My money’s on this being covered in piss and prostitute calling cards within a month.
After queuing last week at UK mobile phone carrier O2’s store on London’s Oxford Street for over 2 hours, I actually came away feeling a bit silly. As I weaved between the tourists, pigeons and ‘Golf Sale’ guys clutching my prize I thought to myself “I’ve just queued for 2 hours… for a mobile phone… have I gone crazy? Is my life so empty that I needed so badly to upgrade to the iPhone 4 today?”. Well yeah, it was. The internet was alight with debate around Apple’s new device so I couldn’t possibly miss out, the curve might get ahead of me!
So after over a week in possession of the latest shiny object to drop out of Cupertino, here’s how I got on with iPhone 4:
I upgraded from a two-year-old, jailbroken iPhone 3G so I was always going to be blown away by the speed. Nevertheless, it is impressive wherever you’re coming from. The speed has changed the way I rely on it (ie. even more). For instance I can open ‘Maps’, search a street and pinpoint where it is within a few seconds. No delay in opening the app, typing or locating me. This could take a whole minute on the 3G, now I can do it in just a few paces.
With Apple’s A4 processor and 512MB of memory it’s no surprise that this thing never stutters. Multitasking seems smooth and I’m yet to crash or freeze an app.
Amazing. When they made a song and dance about the screen at WWDC 2010, where the launch of iPhone 4 was announced, it seemed like a fairly trivial point to drive home. Apple call it ‘retina display’, which basically means that the pixels are so small and numerous that the eye can’t detect that your text and images are in fact made up of little blocks of colour. In practice this is a really important feature. It removes another barrier to the phone, making it easier on the eye, more readable and just looks gorgeous. Apps are starting to update to make use of the higher resolution (old apps look really pixelly on iPhone 4). Notable updates so far include Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn and Twitter.
One big ‘problem’ this brilliant display poses is that if you’re an iPad owner, your ‘revolutionary and magical’ device will start to feel a bit old-fashioned. The display is of course bigger but I started to notice that it was made up of pixels. I found the same thing when opening my MacBook Pro. This really highlights what a step-change Apple have brought about with retina display and we the consumer will no doubt start to demand imperceptibly high resolution from all our devices very soon.
The accelerometer has always been more than satisfactory for me in terms of detecting movement on the iPhone, largely for the purpose of games, but Apple have fitted iPhone 4 with ‘Gyroscope’, an enhancement in tilt detection. This means incredibly accurate pinpointing of exactly how the iPhone is oriented in relation to the earth. This can be seen in updated shooter game ‘Gun Range’ which isn’t the best game in the world but demonstrates just how accurate the gyroscope is by relying on it to aim your weapon (instead of the old method of tapping the screen where you wish to shoot). Check out the game here.
This isn’t good news for my compact digital camera (a Canon Ixus 870 IS since you ask, and it takes nice shots for a compact). The iPhone 4 not only has a 5 megapixel sensor but the lens itself is bigger, taking richer-looking shots and working much better in low light. Throw in 720p video, iMovie (which is £2.99 in the app store and offers basic but decent editing functionality) and I think you really can leave that proper camera at home… unless you’re going out on a photography field trip.
The iPhone has also grown a second, front-facing camera which whilst not the same quality as the back camera is perfect for Apple’s new video-calling service FaceTime. To maintain a high-quality experience, Apple has restricted use of FaceTime to wifi connections, and having made Skype video calls through a tethered iPhone 3G I’m down with that. Until our mobile data networks can handle higher up and down speeds video calling will always produce Monet-esque results.
The Antenna Issue
There are enough column inches… and pixels written about the iPhone 4’s antenna problems. Suffice it to say that I find in strong reception areas it doesn’t matter how I hold the phone, but in weaker signal areas covering the bottom-left corner with my hand does make two or three bars disappear from the signal indicator. I love Apple (can you tell?) but some things they do royally piss me off. Like releasing new products and constantly being out of stock. Like rejecting perfectly good apps from the App Store whilst allowing that same store to be flooded with a long tail of dross. And like charging £25 (around $37) for a rubber band to put round your iPhone 4, which apparently helps with what is ultimately quite a big product fault. I can’t actually believe people are really buying them.
The new operating system is awesome, offering a long line of small but welcome tweaks such as a new iPod interface, better typing correction, smoother GUI animations and many more. Probably most significant is multi-tasking which allows you to access an app menu and open a new app whilst already having an app open and seems to work well, though with the speed of the new iPhone, opening and closing apps is pretty swift anyway.
The great letdown with iOS4 is simply that it’s not available for the iPad until ‘fall 2010’. Like many people I’m using my iPad as a replacement for lugging my MacBook Pro around town (nothing could replace it at home of course). But using the iPad as a business machine could really do with multitasking. Along with the relatively low-res screen this is another reason my iPad feels a bit ’09 now.
In short and sweet conclusion, this is the iPhone you need to have. If you’re still clinging onto that Blackberry or Android, this is the mobile that I guarantee will make you forget all about your old brick. In my opinion this is the first iPhone that really lives up to the hype and now that we have a mature and thriving app store plus tons of websites optimised for it, the iPhone 4 really does stand clear above any other mobile phone, mp3 player or PDA. Just pack a fold-up chair and some lunch when you go to buy one 🙂