As some of you may know, my brother works for 3, the 3G only mobile phone operator here in the UK.
Not surprisingly he has been trying for years to get myself and Beth to switch over to his companies network from our current operator O2 who I’ve been with since I got my first mobile phone back in the the days when it was known as Cellnet.
Well this week he finally succeeded.
The fundamental reason I haven’t switched over until now has been the attitude of 3 towards data usage. Although Beth uses her phone as a phone so-to-speak, my main usage is data. Indeed for the past few years I’ve been on a long retired low user with only about 30 minutes of free monthly calls – which I don’t use, and then a data bolt on. Through the phone I can access pretty well anything I like on the internet, including downloading my e-mail, any websites I want and so on.
Until recently, for a domestic mobile phone user the situation on 3 has been very different. The company operated their mobile internet service as a Walled Garden offering only approved websites, so I would be unable to use the phone to access my own e-mail or websites, and a lot else besides. However at the tail end of last year that all changed, with the launch of the X-Series offering. There are lots of bits and bobs in the package, including a version of Skype, and a version of Microsoft Messenger, but the key things that attracted me were that it was flat rate unlimited mobile internet usage, and in one package they were offering a Slingbox at almost half-price, complete with a client for the phone. Cost wise it is a Â£10 a month add-on to any of the regular tariffs, or Â£5 without the Slingbox. When you consider that this is around what I’m paying O2 for a 5Mb allowance, after which I get charged about Â£1 a Mb, you can see why the deal is so attractive. On top of that you obviously get a new handset – currently only the Nokia N73 is supported, but with other phones to come – and I was hooked.
So as Beth wasn’t left out (and so I had someone to video call) we also got a new deal for Beth, in her case she got an LG U830.
Anyway, the postman turned up this morning with a couple of packages for us containing the new phones and the Slingbox which we spent the day playing around with and sorting out.
The Nokia N73 is one of the large range of Symbian based Smartphones. It is certainly clear when you take it out the box quite how far things have come since my previous dabbling with a Smartphone, with my Nokia 3650. The screen is a significant improvement, and higher resolution, and with one of the best cameras on a current phone – second only to the camera on the Sony Ericsson K800i it is definitely clear how far things have come.
In terms of size and looks things have improved too – size wise it is not that much bigger than my current Sony Ericsson K750i – thickness is about the same, the main difference is in the length.
Anyway, since we have to wait twenty-four hours for the phone to be activated, I’ve only loaded my calendar and contacts onto the phone, and trying out some of the online toys will have to wait. Not that it mattered though, as I had the Slingbox to play with.
As you can see from the pictures, the Slingbox isn’t all that big either, but it definitely is powerful in what it can do. Essentially the box makes a connection between your TV reception, and your network, allowing you to watch TV anywhere that can access your network. As a result, not only does it allow you to watch TV on any computer in the house, but if you have remote access to your network, any computer in the world. The software that goes with the box is also clever enough to adapt based on the speed of the connection between your computer and the box.
Unlike a lot of audio/visual equipment, the Slingbox comes with everything you need, including all the different sorts of cables to connect to your TV and video equipment. Although the box can drive a Sky, or indeed a Sky+ box, it takes it over – so if the Slingbox is watching one channel, the TV can’t watch another. The real power is that the box also includes both an analogue, and a FreeView tuner. Now although we’re not in an official FreeView area currently, we will be when we eventually move. As a result I didn’t set the box up permanently, but instead had a play around. Beth probably wouldn’t have much liked it being left set up anyway – as the nearest aerial point to the broadband connection is in a different room on the other side of the house, for most of the day I had 15m of network cable trailed across the house!
Anyway, the Slingbox was remarkably easy to set up – with the wired connection and UPnP enabled on the router it really was plug in and play, even on a Mac.
I’m quite used to, even with equipment that is listed as Mac compatible, to find that it is a lot more difficult to set up without a PC, but that’s not the case with the Slingbox. Although still in beta, the Mac version of their client worked flawlessly, and took me through configuration of the box, including updating the firmware over the network, and configuring all the channels. I also found that despite not being in a FreeView area, the box managed a pretty large selection of the channels that are available, including all the major stations. The picture was okay too – at least until the wind started to blow the aerial on the roof around a bit later on. Certainly it was enough to try out the box, both across the wired network, and also from a laptop hooked up wirelessly.
The main criticism I have is that the box runs pretty hot – not quite as hot as our Sky and Sky+ boxes, but certainly enough that putting the Slingbox into the same enclosed TV stand that we have our upstairs Sky box in seemed to be asking for trouble. As a result of that, plus the current need to have a network cable trailed across the landing, I packed the box back up until I could sort out the networking, and find a better location for the box. Since I’ll have to do the same anyway when we move, I suspect that, unless there is some pressing need for the box (like a US trip where I need to bring some British TV along with me) it will be something to look forward to when we move into the new house.
If you want to find out more about the X-Series offering, take a look at the main website which lists all the key features, and has prices too. The offer is only available direct from 3, they’re not allowing it to be sold through any third party. There is also a great X-Series blog maintained by some of the people at 3, which includes a regular posting of the frequently asked questions about the service.