Review: Virgin Mobile Lobster 700TV

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The propaganda

Through out this year, mobile TV has been heralded as the future by most major mobile network operators.But even the improved data speed of 3G still isn’t enough to make it into the killer app the networks want it to be. However, Virgin’s Lobster 700TV takes a different approach to the streaming problem; it uses an onboard DAB decoder using BT’s Movio to tune into five different TV channels (and it is possible the list will change over time) consisting of BBC1, ITV1, ITN News, E4 and Channel 4, who’s service has recently been updated.

The service is blissfully subscription free too (unless you’re on Pay As You Go) and because it’s DAB, you also get the opportunity to tune into 50 or so radio stations as well. The phone is a bit of a behemoth and aesthetically not to every one’s taste (or as the ladies of Shiny Shiny put it: “it looks like someone has knocked it on the side and a swelling has come up”. Mmm, nice).

It does have a selection of other features too though: a Windows Mobile OS, MicroSD memory card slot, media player, 1.3 megapixel camera and a decent battery life that should give a good couple of hours of viewing time.

The good

Wonderful though the idea of mobile TV might be, it ain’t much use when you’re walking places or are doing anything that requires you some attention from your eyes. For that reason, the integrated DAB receiver is an absolutely great feature, especially if you’re a 6Music addict like myself. Furthermore the sound quality is top notch and way better than anything you’ll get from some piddly FM receiver.

Coverage of digital services in the UK is now pretty good (about 85%) so most places should be able to get Virgin network reception and also TV/Radio reception. Using the radio, the signal only broke down occasionally when moving around inside buildings and never cut off entirely. TV was a different matter, but we’ll come to that shortly.

General operation of the handset was pretty good too; it suffered from the usual slow down you get with the Windows Mobile, but to its credit, it never once crashed. The buttons are quite large and easy to operate one handed, although their movement doesn’t feel as crisp as on many other phones.

The bad

The DAB aerial is integrated with the headphone cable. That’s not a huge surprise (where else are they going to put it?), but if you lose them or leave them at home you’re a bit stuck. And because there’s no 3.5mm socket to be found, you can’t use your own cans and that’s a bit of a shame.

The main issue is that TV reception can be patchy, especially while on the move. The problem is a bit sporadic, even in the city centre where coverage should be strong – sometimes it will work fine for ages, but at other times it will lose signal entirely forcing you to reload the channel and lose valuable moments of viewing time, and that can be a real pain. Another annoyance is that some programs on C4 and E4 have a licensing issue, so you’re just presented with an apology notice when you tune in, but I suppose Virgin can’t really take all the blame for that.

The frame rate for TV isn’t wonderful either so things can end up looking a bit jerky and lip syncing can quickly break down. It’s not unwatchable and when you have a consistent signal it rarely develops any annoying artefacts, which are the bane of the 3G alternatives.

It seems that mobile TV isn’t quite fine tuned enough yet to be relied on to stave off the boredom of your bus journey yet, but if you’re trying to catch a cheeky few minutes of telly while at your desk, you should be okay.

Geek Sheet

Dimensions: 111.2 x 52/58 (at bulge) x 23.8 mm

Weight: 140g

Screen: 240 x 320 pixels

DAB digital tuner

TV channels: BBC1 C4, E4, ITV1, ITN News

Bluetooth

Battery: 5 hours talk time, 140 hours standby

1.3 megapixel camera

MicroSD expandable memory

Overview

The sheer size of the phone is going to be the cause of most gripes, but I didn’t really mind it – sure it’s bigger than most ordinary handsets and probably about four times the size of one of Samsung’s Ultra models for example, but it’s not so big that you can’t fit in your hand or pocket or anything. I do know that some people prefer a little extra girth (ooer!) on their phone and so it shouldn’t be much of a problem unless you have dainty little hands.

If you’re sold on the DAB tuner, you’ll be hard pushed to find a standalone portable DAB that is much smaller and, because you can pick it up from free on contract, it’s a bit of a bargain too. If you’re going for a Pay As You Go contract though, the Lobster will set you back £199 and TV subscription costs £5 per month.

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