three uk

Goodbye Virgin Media Mobile

Today I'm getting a PAC code from Virgin Media Mobile and transferring my number to another network provider. The reason for this is the changes Virgin Media Mobile made to their Pay As You Go Big Data & Texts tariff and the reduction of the data allowance on the tariff.
The "Unlimited" data allowance with every £10 topup is gone, replaced  by a 1GB data limit. This isn't enough on the device I use that number in, as I stream podcasts while on the go to it.

I'll be switching to Three UK who offer 300 minutes, 3000 texts and All You Can Eat Data for £15 per month. It is slightly more expensive but I have had good experience with Three UK with my contract SIM cards and their data service in Edinburgh is excellent.
Hello again!
So long Virgin Media Mobile. I hope to see you change your tariffs again. If the changes are good I might be back, but for now I'm off to Three.

As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions below. 

My Nokia Lumia 710 is now running Tango! (Finally!)

I've been moaning about how slow Nokia/ThreeUK were to roll out the Windows Phone Tango update to my Nokia Lumia 710 recently.
Last Thursday the update was finally pushed to my device, and through Zune I finally updated.
The Windows Phone Tango 7.5 update brings two main changes to the phone, and others are marked as coming soon. The most important change is the addition of an "Internet Sharing" function (which can be accessed in the settings menu). Internet Sharing is essentially tethering, I can now connect my shiny Nexus 7 Android tablet to the internet using the Nokia Lumia 710 as a WiFi hotspot.
New option in the Settings menu: Internet Sharing
The other big change I have noticed is the change of the icon for the Windows Phone Marketplace. It may sound silly to you but this has great importance to Nokia, Microsoft and consumers who are just buying a phone and who don't worry about smartphone operating systems, software version numbers and service/hardware ecosystems. The Marketplace now has a Nokia logo'd shopping bag, which means the Finnish phone manufacturer has taken a big slice of Microsoft's brand value of the operating system as its own. This is a pretty loud statement from Nokia, as if they were saying "This is a Nokia smartphone, it just happens to be running Windows Phone." Apart from the icon, the Windows Phone Marketplace is much the same as it used to be. Nokia Collection is still a section of the Marketplace, but the Camera Extras are not available there yet.
New Marketplace icon. Strong statement from Nokia?
Apart from these two big changes (in my view), I haven't really noticed any other changes from Windows Phone 7.5 Mango to Windows Phone 7.5 Tango. It may be that the battery life is slightly better, but that may be because I have been using my Nexus 7 a lot and haven't had the need to tether, pardon me use Internet Sharing, much. The Nexus 7 is a fantastic bit of kit, I'll be blogging about that here soon.

As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions below.

My Nokia Lumia 710 Update Woes [Updated]

I've had a Nokia Lumia 710 for a few months now. I like the Windows Phone running Nokia a lot, and even my Android fanboy feelings don't stop me from telling people that the device is excellent value for money, and an easy to use device for non smartphone geeks. Sadly Nokia have dangled the Windows Phone 7.5 Tango update at me for months now, and I'm still waiting for the update to be available for my Lumia 710.

All is well with the device, I have had no hardware problems with it at all. I purchased non-original spare batteries for the Lumia 710 at a very reasonable price, and with my Galaxy Nexus it is currently always with me. I actually use the Lumia 710 as my main mp3 player. Zune, the desktop sync software for Windows Phone, allows me to manage my podcast subscriptions easily and quickly, as long as I remember to boot into Windows.

A few months ago I was excited by Nokia's announcement that the Windows Phone 7.5 Tango update would be soon available for the Lumia 710 and Lumia 800. Since then there was a long period of silence on the matter and then at the beginning of July Nokia started the update the rollout. The update was available on certain carriers in the UK, and marked as "Waiting for approval" on other ones. H3G (Three UK) were one of the carriers "Waiting for approval" and when I checked back this morning it was marked as "Update Available".
On both Zune and the handset itself no update is available for my Lumia 710. I'm still waiting.

This makes me think that the one of the most important "features" of Windows Phone is a bit shaky. Android Fragmentation is often used as an argument against using Android. The lack of update support and the delay of updates caused by device manufacturers, network providers and regional settings may not actually be a problem solely existing on the Android platform. I have a friend with a Dell Venue Pro, a discontinued Windows Phone made by a company who has given up on the smartphone market for now. He already has the Windows Phone 7.5 Tango update, while my shiny and relatively new Lumia doesn't. I'm peeved to say the least. Windows Phone updates are supposed to be rolled out almost all at the same time to everyone with a Windows Phone, avoiding a fragmentation of the market.

Not only the Windows Phone 7.5 Tango update is a fragmentation issue. Windows Phone 8 has already been announced by Microsoft. Existing Windows Phone devices will not be able to support the new smartphone OS. Instead, Windows Phone 7.8 will be rolled out to existing devices with a few cosmetic changes and not much else. I wonder how long it will take my Nokia Lumia 710 to get the update to 7.8. Probably ages.

Please Nokia, if you want to survive as a business and win back customers, if you want to shine again rather than just be another Windows Phone OEM get the updates rolling out quickly and smoothly. Windows Phone Fragmentation is the last thing you need.

So my suggestion is that bloggers, tech journalists, and smartphone geeks start speaking of the teacup elephant in the corner: Windows Phone Fragmentation. Seriously, it is unlikely it will ever happen. At the moment and for the foreseeable future the Windows Phone market share is tiny and hiccups like these will only hamper its growth.

[Update] Less than a week after this blog post I got the Tango update. You can read my impressions here.

Right, I'm getting back to playing with my shiny new Nexus 7. As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions below. I'll update this post as soon as I get the Windows Phone 7.5 Tango update on my Nokia Lumia 710.

Three Web Cube - Easy WiFi

After a week of regular use, today I'm reviewing the Three Web Cube. 
The Three Web Cube is a wireless internet access point for the home. Rather than connecting to the internet through a normal phone line, the Three Web Cube connects to the internet through Three UK's mobile broadband network. This means no line rental or lengthy contracts with traditional broadband providers. If you need to move you can easily take the web cube with you: all you need to do is unplug the device from the power socket, take it with you and plug it in at your destination.
You can connect up to five devices to the Three Web Cube at once. This is now quite a likely scenario, since most people have more than one device that connects to the internet through WiFi (smartphones, tablets, laptops, netbooks etc...). I successfully had five devices connected at once. For all basic application and web browsing needs there was more than enough bandwidth to cater for all devices. 
Shiny blue light: it must be good!
As I already mentioned, the Three Web Cube connects to the internet through Three UK's mobile broadband network. At time of writing, the Web Cube is on trial in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Leeds. I'm lucky enough to live in an area of Edinburgh where there is very good coverage from Three UK, that's one of the main reasons I use Three's network for my smartphone too. Setting up the Web Cube and getting online was a piece of cake: I just had to follow the simple instructions that came in the box.
The Nokia Lumia 710 connected to the Three Web Cube (@fatoldgingercat assisted with the testing and review)
The Web Cube I was sent came with a Three UK mobile broadband SIM card. Once that was popped into the Web Cube, I plugged the device into the mains and it lit up with a cool blue light. Deep inside me I always think that if it has a cool blue light it must be doing something very clever. All my devices could see  the Web Cube as a wireless access point. After connecting to it, I was prompted to enter the network access key, which is printed both on a sticker at the bottom of the Web Cube and on the instruction booklet. All my devices connected to the Web Cube without hiccups, apart from my Nokia Lumia 710. It turned out that the Windows Phone 7 autocapitalisation was interfering with my WiFi key entry...
Not bad during rush hour: that's faster than many people's home broadband
At peak times of the day (rush hour in the morning and rush hour in the evening) the internet connection was slightly slower than during the rest of the day. That's probably due to the fact that I live near a main road in a densely populated area of Edinburgh and that's when most of the mobile web is used. Even so, at peak times I was getting consistently good connection speeds of between 3 Mbps and 5 Mbps for downloads and between 1 Mbps and 3 Mbps for upload. Three say that potentially the device should be able to handle up to 21 Mbps download and 5 Mbps in optimal network conditions. 

Once connected to the Web Cube, all my devices operated as usual. To get into the Web Cube's administrator control panel, all I had to do was type "http://3.home" into my web browser address bar.
The Three Web Cube's web interface control panel
From the administrator control panel you can check the status of the Web Cube, read and send text messages (it's technically a mobile broadband device...), find out how many devices are connected and manage advanced settings. I decided to mess with the neighbours a bit and renamed the web cube to "NewsInternationalSurveillance" for a while...
An easy way to mess with the neighbours...
The Three Web Cube is a capable device, essentially a MiFi for the home. For many people it could quite easily replace a basic home broadband connection, considering how competitive Three's mobile broadband packages can be. It could also be handy for people who travel a lot, or just don't want to commit to a lengthy fixed line broadband connection. While not being as fast a connection as my Virgin Media fibre optic broadband one, the Web Cube performed very well and didn't really leave me wanting for anything more. So as a conclusion to this review, I'll give the Three Web Cube a big thumbs up!

A quick disclaimer: I was not remunerated by Three UK for this review, and the Three Web Cube I reviewed was on loan and will be sent back. All opinions expressed on this blog post are my own, are subjective and the speed test run is probably flawed and should not be taken as an objective result. OK, Leo Laporte vs Mike Arrington situation averted...

You can find out more about the Three Web Cube and if the service is available in your area here.

As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions below.

Three UK To Sell Galaxy Nexus

I just read on the Official Three UK Blog that 3 UK will be selling the Galaxy Nexus, the Google phone running Android Ice Cream Sandwich!
Good times! My favourite network stocking what may well be my next favourite phone!

You can read the full post here.

As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions below or on Three's Blog.

INQ Mini 3G [Blast From The Past]

Here's a small blast from the past: almost two years ago I got an INQ Mini 3G phone from a Three store in the UK. It was cheap (£39.99 at the time) but what interested me about the device was how easy it was to use Skype, Facebook and Twitter on it. In the second half of 2009 Android was still in its infancy and a Nokia was still my main handset (the mythical E71). The INQ Mini 3G offered easy access to Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Windows Live Messenger and GMail. It was cheap and when used with my Three UK SIM card didn't cost me anything extra on data charges.
The INQ Mini 3G's front

In the second half of 2009 using Skype on a mobile phone was not as easy as it is today. The network operator Three UK made it simple by having their own system which used a normal voice call to a portal that then did all the clever VOIP stuff. If you wanted to use Skype (and I used it a lot) Three was the network to go with and usually relatively expensive Nokias were the handsets to go with. That's why the INQ Mini 3G caught my attention. Skype was just as easy to use on the INQ Mini 3G as it was on the much more expensive Nokia E71.
The INQ Mini 3G's back
The INQ Mini 3G is a simple candybar with a QVGA screen, a numeric keypad and a bright red back cover. I enjoyed using it and it was one of the devices that helped me get away from Facebook use and more into Twitter. It served me very well for a long time before being passed on to my parents who now use it when they visit the UK (Free Three to Three calls rock!).
The INQ Cloud Touch
Now INQ Mobile have moved onto making and selling inexpensive Android smartphones with deep Facebook integration, easy access to Twitter and Spotify. Soon I will publish my review of the INQ Cloud Touch here on, so be keep your RSS reader and eyes peeled for the upcoming review!

Three MiFi - Freedom Is Easy

Last week I travelled from Edinburgh to Prestwick Airport by means of public transport. Along the way I took my trusty Asus EEE PC 900A netbook a Three UK MiFi as well as the rest of the luggage I was taking to Italy for my spring holiday.
On a train, using my netbbok and MiFi
My netbook is currently running a beta release of Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal. This version of Ubuntu has drivers built in to use all the most popular mobile broadband dongles and usually there is no need to load additional software to use them. I have tested my netbook with my Three UK mobile broadband dongle and with my T-Mobile one (both are made by ZTE but run on different chipsets).

For this trip, I was not going to be taking any dongles to connect to mobile broadband though. Recently I won a competition organised by Three UK and was sent a Three MiFi device. The MiFi is a portable WiFi hotspot, that lets up to five WiFi devices connect to mobile broadband through it.

The MiFi is great if you are travelling and using a netbook on the go. Rather than have a dongle sticking out of the side of your netbook, you can have the MiFi in a pocket and use WiFi to connect to the internet through it. I can think of three main advantages of this:

  • Not having a dongle sticking out of the side of your netbook reduces the risk of accidentally damaging both your netbook and/or dongle. Think about it - if your netbook were to slip/fall or lean on the dongle, leverage could damage both the dongle and the netbook's usb port. (I have had this happen to me once... RIP Acer Aspire One ZG5)
  • Using a MiFi your netbook's bettery life should be better. This is because your netbook is not powering the USB device that is connecting to the mobile broadband, you are just using WiFi. The MiFi is powered by its own internal battery, and recharges using a standard Micro-USB connector. This is useful to me because both my mobile phones use the same charger format, so when away (as I am now) I only need to take one charger with me for three devices.
  • You can connect up to five devices to the MiFi at once. I did connect more than one device while sitting in the Costa coffee bar in Glasgow Central Station. Both my netbook and my HTC Desire were using the MiFi while I was using Gwibber and downloading a podcast to listen to on my flight. I didn't really perceive any slower network connection while doing so.
Having a hot chocolate, using the MiFi and netbook as well as my HTC Desire.
When I got my first broadband dongle and was using it on Linux (at the time Ubuntu 9.04 and Mint) I had to add drivers and go through a long set up process to make it work properly. This was usually quite a hassle, but was made  relatively easy for me thanks to posts by Liam Green-Hughes on his blog. Those days seem to be gone with Ubuntu 11.04 as dongle support is much better. To tell the truth I wish that back in the day I had had a MiFi. Messing around in terminal windows and adding repositories was fun, but a MiFi would have made life so much easier.
I used the MiFi for most of the trip while I was in the UK (on buses, trains, in stations and airports) and had no problems with reception along the way.  I was happily able to use my netbook and still had enough battery life to watch a couple of episodes of Mostly Photo on the flight.

I'm currently in Italy enjoying the spring weather and time with my family.

Just a quick disclosure at the end of the post: I did not pay for my Three UK MiFi device or the mobile broadband sim card with 12 Gb of data on it. This was my competition prize and I was not remunerated by Three UK or any other entity for writing this post. Hopefully this disclaimer avoids any Mike Arrington incidents...

Please feel free to leave questions/comments. Any feedback is appreciated!