As noted in my previous posts on the subject, I changed mobile phone providers at the end of last week. On Saturday, a day after I ordered it, I received my new phone from Three. It's a refurbished Nokia 6280, and the tariff ain't too shabby.
However, I just noticed that they changed the tariff deal between my finding the deal and actually signing up for it... When I originally noticed it, the deal included double talk and texts for 6 months, meaning I'd have 600 minutes and 2000 texts for a third of the contract. Now it seems I actually only got 300 minutes. This is my own fault for not signing up on Thursday when I saw the offer, and not checking the deal in detail when I finally signed up. I knew that Three was changing their deals (and launching X-Series) on Friday. I decided to gamble. Fortunately, the basic deal was kept in place, and it's still easily worth my while. I'm not particularly upset about losing half my minutes, as according to Orange I only use about 45 minutes a month anyway.
Anyway, I've had it for a couple of days now, and while I haven't really put it through its paces, I think it's worth writing up my first impressions, albeit in a haphazard manner.
The phone itself is fairly non-descript. It's a very good refurb, as new, with no obvious scratches or defects. It's a slidey phone, which I'm always slightly suspicious of, and in this case, I think it's well-founded. The action seems like it should be pleasant. Unfortunately, there's a certain looseness that's particularly evident when pressing the soft-buttons. They creak. The whole phone wobbles. It's not right. I'm not sure whether this is the fact that it's refurbished, or whether they all do that. Anyway, build quality: 2/5.
I've heard that the reason Three's offering these refurbs is because they recalled so many of them due to bad firmware, and they've got truckloads to get rid of. Right now, this doesn't actually surprise me.
The software is, on the face of it, not too bad. It's a lot snappier than the supposedly advanced "Series 60" interface on the 6680. My major criticism of my previous phone was the sluggish reactions of the interface and OS. It usually felt like I was running Microsoft Windows.
On the other hand, there are a few odd quirks about the 6280's software. Nothing I can really place my finger on, but it just feels a bit unfinished at times. I do wish Nokia would get someone smart in to rethink the whole interface. Historically, the old monochrome dumb phones they made always had the neatest interfaces. Nowadays, it's all kludgeware, with silly menus on top of menus.
There are two features/flaws/bugs I've found that annoy me slightly.
The first is the fact that you can't record new voice tags, or indeed remove them altogether. Instead of the traditional mechanism whereby you record your own tags, the Nokia 6280 does it for you with a particularly robotic speech synthesiser. Mimicking the robotic voice feels really humiliating, and it doesn't seem to get the right ones anyway. I'd prefer to record tags for just the people I call often enough to make it worthwhile. Saying that, I never use voice tags anyway, so I'd be happier removing them altogether.
The second it the incredibly annoying "Note: Active Incoming Call Diverts" message that appears for a second every time I make a call. This happens even when I've cancelled all my diverts, either manually or by using ##02#. From what I can tell, it's network dependent and fairly normal on other networks. It's never happened to me on Orange, though. It's a pointless distracting message that prevents me from seeing the status of the call just when I need to. It's also astonishingly cryptic. What does it actually mean?
Regardless, I could probably live with this software, as long as I treat this just like a phone, rather than the all-singing-all-dancing lifestyle device it's meant to be. As I understand it, there's a new firmware out (5.92, compared to the current 3.81), but I don't expect Three will spend any more time on this lemon of a phone and authorise the new firmware. If I'm feeling lucky (punk), I might try flashing it myself at one point.
MSN Messenger: this was the fun toy that attracted me to this deal. Unfortunately, the software sucks. Since the 6280 doesn't multitask, Messenger needs to be running full-screen to work properly. When you "hide" it to go back to normal phone functions, or to lock the keypad, it effectively shuts down, and instead Three act as a proxy. Incoming messages are then sent as SMS texts, albeit with a single click to start MSN Messenger. Problem is, Messenger takes a good ten seconds to start. Worst thing is that more often than not, the incoming message then doesn't actually appear! A few times I've had to message whoever I know who's online to ask them if they just sent me something. Bottom line is that, to me, this is unusable as-is.
Anyway, to solve this and other problems, I've asked Orange to unlock my old Nokia 6680 for the bargain price of £20. As the 6680 is a BB5 phone, a normal third-party unlock won't work. See comment #1 for more details.
While I'm not particularly thrilled with the 6680, it's going to be my spare in lieu of paying £5/month for insurance I'm unlikely to use. And, if it works well, I'll probably use it as my primary phone. Since I flashed it last month with the generic Nokia firmware, it's a bit more stable and a bit snappier than the old, bloated Orange firmware. Since it's Series 60, I'm also hoping there's a good multitasking MSN client that I can use on Three.
This brings up another idea: if they'd offered it and it was cheap enough, I would have been happy to go with a phoneless tariff. Since a lot of new customers have existing phones, maybe the networks should offer a cheap tariff and a bill credit equal to the unlocking cost charged by the old network. That way, they wouldn't need to subsidise the cost of the phone.
Anyway, onto the Three service itself.
One thing I wasn't particularly impressed by was the new customer pack. After reading the pamphlet, I wasn't much more informed than when I started. I wasn't sure whether I paid for voicemail calls, how much insurance would be if I wanted it, whether "3Mail" will cost me money or not, how to call Customer Services, etc. I've found these answers now, but there wasn't *quite* as much handholding as I'd like.
The "My 3" site is basic, but functional. The most useful feature is an up-to-date "Check my Usage" section, which will be very handy over the next few months as I get a grip on what costs what. One useful improvement would be up-to-date itemisation. I'd like to see instantly how much a call costs me.
"Planet 3": this looks fairly neat on the face of it, although not much different from Vodafone Live! and Orange World. However, just like Orange World, I'm unlikely to use this service that much. The only thing I ever really used that kind of thing for was checking the odd phone number, train times, or directions to somewhere when lost in London. Even with the £5 of included downloads I get on my new tariff, I don't think I'll find anything I particularly want. The free news and weather videos look neat, though.
It's nice that they're clear about the pricing all through the site: browsing is free, and you're told about the costs of items before you actually buy them. Okay, that pretty much describes any real-world shop, but it's not obvious on the other networks: I was never sure how much stuff cost me on Orange, and with the inclusive bundles, it was hard to figure out afterwards. I'm also convinced that seeing the prices would make me more likely to buy something. With Orange, I was always afraid of being surprised by a massive bill if I used any of these kinds of features. With Three, I know up front, and I'm more comfortable spending that money.
"3Mail": I'm still not exactly sure how much I'd pay for this if I used it. I don't think I ever actually used "email@example.com" other than for testing, and I'm not sure I'll use 3Mail either. It is nice to see that there's a level of integration between the voicemail system and the email system, with voicemails being stored in my inbox as WAV files. Neat. Obvious, but neat. In fact, I think I saw something similar on my sister's cellular service in the States a couple of years ago.
They seem to offer a bunch of different email options... 3Mail, Mobile Mail, Office Mail, etc. No idea what does what and for how much. While push email (a la Blackberry) sounds cool, I'm not sure I'd use it that much even if it was free, no matter how addictive it's meant to be.
Overall, the Three service looks a little complicated overall, with a lot of confusing and potentially overlapping product names, and they could probably be rationalised a bit. I'm sure it'll become clear before too long, though.
Anyway, it's only been a couple of days and I haven't really put this thing through its paces yet. When I get the 6680 transferred over (7-14 days), I'll see how it does on the new network. For now, I don't think I'll be taking advantage of Three's 14 day return policy...