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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 14:04 GMT
Tales from the next generation
Dot.life
Where tech meets life, every Monday

Millions of pounds will be spent in the coming months trying to persuade people to upgrade to 3G phones. What do two users of the services which have been launched already think about what their fancy phone can do?

IVAN NOBLE is a technology writer for BBC News. He upgraded to Vodafone Live on its first day, and has been amusing himself with it since.
DAVE CASTELL is head of music for internet service provider Tiscali UK. He bought a 3 phone three months ago; he's still learning about it.

RANGE OF SERVICES

Vodafone
Ivan's Vodafone model
I've got a Sony-Ericsson V800, the top of the range of Vodafone's 3G phones launched on 10 November. When in range of a 3G antenna, it will send and receive video calls, and will download data at a rate approaching cheaper home broadband. The extra speed makes downloading film clips, music, football clips etc a viable option. These and other things - like finding a place to withdraw cash or downloading games - are grouped in the Vodafone Live mobile internet site, which seems to load up on the phone as soon as one so much as exhales.
3 phone
Dave's 3 phone
I've got the LG8120 - and I've had it for three months now. As a network, the range of services are good, certainly everything you would expect; texting, normal calls, picture messaging and the much-promoted video calls. On the screen there's also an icon which launches "Today on 3", which leads to half a dozen features, like clips from the X Factor, MTV, and short films. There's news from ITN - and there's a note saying how much each of the services will cost, eg 25p for news. There aren't enough free opportunities to enjoy video content yet, though.

EASE OF USE

Basic functions like making a phone call are straightforward. Being a clamshell phone, ending a call is easy - just close the phone. Texting is as it is on any phone - a practiced art - but the predictive text software does seem to learn from the input and realise which one of each common word combinations is the most likely. It's certainly easy to use, everything seems pretty intuitive. Every phone I've had before has been a Nokia, and the other manufacturers seem to know that people will be familiar with that kind of set up. It doesn't feel alien. This phone did very well in the gadget reviews, which was one reason I chose it. I haven't tried video calling yet.

SIMPLE TO GO ONLINE?

Finding things online is not easy. If you want the item currently promoted at the front, it is easy. But start wading through the menus and it becomes obvious that despite speedy 3G, something is badly slowing up the little web pages. It is like the web on a 28.8k analogue modem, anno 1999. Step out of Vodafone's walled garden and set the homepage to the BBC's mobile site for instance (I took three days to work out how) and things slow down even more. It's simple, but primarily because you are in a walled-garden environment, much like the experience of having AOL to access the web. You are restricted by the offering of premium content that 3 want to show you, and charge you for. This isn't really very good - there's a lot of rubbish that I wouldn't pay for. I would really like access to the mobile WWW at the touch of a button - that might become really interesting.

BEST THING ABOUT IT

The phone looks lovely, if you can live with being turned into a walking Vodafone promotion, with the company's squiggle everywhere you look. Downloads go like the clappers but one worries the pounds do so too. The camera is pretty good for a phone and the inclusion of a mini-USB port and a cable means getting pictures and clips off the phone and music on to it from a PC or Mac is easy. The handset is a flip-top, clamshell number, and it looks fairly smart. It's got a good sized screen - but the best thing about it is the price. Having premiership goals too - or at least the idea of them since I haven't tried the service yet. Also, the video recorder is a lovely thing - I've never had one before on a phone, and enables me to show friends little clips of my one-year-old daughter.

WORST THING ABOUT IT

Navigating online is slow, slow, slow and searching for a music track in a list of 66 is a grim business. With pages taking several seconds to load, it really is like browsing through treacle. Why, when 3G can deliver data so quickly? The worst thing about the handset is the clunky buttons for texting - they tend to stick a bit when you're using them. And 3 could improve its customer service - it seems to be a bit like the archetypal call centre when you ring.

WHAT ABOUT THE COST?

Vodafone released 3G on 10 November on higher tariffs only. The minimum is 40 a month. As an upgrade customer, the staff in the shop were not clear as to what I got for my money. Either 20 or 50 minutes of video calling (as yet unused as I have not met anyone else with a suitable phone, though I tried one in the shop and it works). And 500 minutes of voice calls. The phone itself is not cheap - the best part of 300 to this upgrade customer, anything as low as 50 to a new user going for a really high tariff. Downloading is fine if you stick to Vodafone Live. Some content is free, some to pay for, but there is no per kilobyte charge. Straying away from Vodafone incurs a charge close to 2.50 a megabyte on the current tariffs and much more on the forthcoming lower ones. The cost was the main reason for getting this phone, I got an outstanding deal which includes 500 network minutes, 100 texts and a month's free premiership goals for 15, but I was a new customer rather than an upgrader. I was previously on T-Mobile, and decided to do a bit of shopping around. I saw the prices on 3, and looked at the others, but no-one could come near their price. I also got a month's worth of free Premiership goals, although I haven't used them. As I mentioned, there are notes of how much the bits of video cost - I think maybe you could get used to paying 25p to see things without worrying about it too much. Because it was so much cheaper, I was prepared for the voice network to be not as good as my previous one, but this didn't turn out to be the case.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO A FRIEND?
I would recommend it to a friend. A rich, gadget obsessed friend, who really has to have the latest, greatest phone and nothing else will do. Then I would have someone to make video calls to. The phone is good fun and there is a lot of tinkering potential. It makes a decent music player if the standard 32MB memory stick is replaced with a 128MB one. But I would recommend the rest of my friends to save their money and wait. I would recommend it, yes, and indeed I have done, on the basis of price alone. I got a similar deal for my wife, which I thought would be good for video calling. But unfortunately she doesn't share my passion for innovative gadgetry, so we haven't used it. If you were going to use it to its full potential it could be a lot of fun, but I suppose that's where it would start costing more too.

The other UK networks will be launching their own 3G packages in the coming months - Dot.life will keep tabs on how they compare.


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