Is O2 the only place for smartphone users?

iPhone, Mobile phones

O2 has little need to worry about quality of service when they snap up the two hottest smartphones on the market. I’ve been using an iPhone 3GS for a few weeks – it’s review model I’m praying Apple will forget about – and, aside all the minor issues one might have with it, the one real problem is that it’s stuck on O2, unless you’re happy to spend £900.

I found myself asking the question of whether it was worth it; whether I could stomach this very expensive, exquisite handset when the network drops more of my calls than any other I’ve ever used, and that’s the middle of London?

So, I’ll try the Palm Pre before I make up my mind, I think, but yesterday I, and many others, have been stumped with the unofficial news that O2 has won/paid over the odds for exclusive rights to that smartphone too. And the Pre isn’t just any smartphone. For many, it’s the only serious competitor there’s been in the last two years to the iPhone.

It kills me because I’ve still never actually had my hands on one but I’m lead to believe that the screen is just as much a joy as the Jesus Phone and that all its wonderfully usable Palm OS and open sourcery goodness are enough to make any tech nerd weak at the knees.

It’s hard to tell whether the Pre is going to have the same mass market appeal as the iPhone – I suspect it won’t – but the point is that that’s not something O2 is going to have to worry about when throwing money at the problem, money that might better be spent invest in the quality of their network such that people in rural Scotland and Wales can actually get a signal.

Worse still for the consumer is that we’re all now going to get ripped off on the Pre. O2 can’t possibly sell it for any less than the iPhone without causing major waves from Apple HQ and I’m quite surprised that Palm is going to let that stand given that it’s the kind of move that could bury the Pre in the UK. But that’s their choice. Where does it leave us, the UK consumer? Are we still going to have to pick up sticks and trudge on over to O2 to get a serious smartphone?

Well, my first instinct is – no, of course not, but thinking about it, I’m not so sure. The serious smartphones out there, the super smartphones, the top notch devices are the iPhone, the Pre, the HTC Magic, HTC Hero and the Nokia N97. I haven’t included the TG01 or the G1 because the latter has a battery life too poor to be a real option and the former is, as yet, to be announced, let alone have anyone actually touch it.

I’ve had my fingers on four out of that five and, if I’m hearing that the Pre is like the iPhone for UI, then I’m calling it five. The Magic, the Hero and the N97 just don’t compare for touchscreen interfaces. Take my word for it if you haven’t tried them. They just don’t and, for me, that’s the key to enjoying a smartphone. I don’t care how many profound functions it has or just how well it synchronises your Twitter, Facebook and phone book contacts. If it’s a pain in the arse to use, it’s impossible to learn to love it.

That said, the the Magic, Hero and N97 are a lot more responsive than any other touchscreen phone aside O2’s exclusives. They certainly outrank anything I’ve seen from the pseudo-smarts like the LG Viewty and Arena. The trouble is that if you’re really serious about your smartphones, if having a pocket computer is of paramount importance to you, if you want the best, then sadly, it seems like O2 is the only place to be.

I absolutely loathe the business model they’re employing to become the biggest provider in the UK. I have no particular love for their main rivals, Vodafone, but at least you can get a decent signal with them. At least they don’t drop calls by the dozen, at least they don’t charge a premium for their very best handsets and at least they haven’t ripped anyone off on issues like tethering.

There’s an excellent chance I’ll be defecting to O2 in the next few months. I don’t want a good smartphone. I want a great one and I’m prepared to put up with a lousy network for it. All I can hope is that the Digital Britain powers that be start putting some serious pressure on O2 to invest in their infrastructure or that their business model falls in on itself and the other networks get to pick up the pieces as well as the nest of the handsets. Neither are particularly likely but one can dream. Instead, I’ll take solus from jailbreaking whichever handset I opt for, tethering it at my convenience and bleeding O2 of as much free high speed data as I can.

Related: Which is the best mobile network in the UK?

Daniel Sung
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  • High speed data – I thought you had reviewed O2’s network – you should know you’re not going to get any of that!

    I moved from voda with a hacked iPhone to 02 with a brand spanking new 3GS on O2, it’s slow at downloading anything…

  • Dan you are so right!

    I would have brought an iPhone in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for the lousy o2 network, part of me was praying that another operator apart from o2 would pick up the pre – but now it appears as i’m going to have to bite the bullet, if I want the pre. I’m going to have to jump ship to a lousy network provider who are offering lousy tarrif deals just to get one of the best handsets around.

    There must be some sort of EU monopolys rulling for this sort of exclusivity restriction 😉

  • Dan is right. I have an O2 phone (iPhone) and a Voda one and I get great coverage all over London from Voda – with O2 it is a hit and miss affair. I think the iPhone is wonderful on wi-fi, but the minute you shift to 3G it struggles. I am not sure if this is the network or the phone – maybe a bit of both

  • “and bleeding O2 of as much free high speed data as I can”
    Well thanks for that. Make sure those of us desperately trying to load a webpage to check our train home cant get any bandwidth because you’re hogging it all for your bittorrent on a laptop. Do you steal pennies from the tip plate as well? Or how about driving in the middle of two lanes so that others can’t pass you?
    As far as o2 networks are concerned, ive been with every provider, and ive never had better coverage or reliability than with o2. My brief spat with T-Mobile provided a signal so low I couldnt go into any building and use it and about 60% failed call rate if not higher.
    Dont confuse your local backwater coverage for the entire o2 network. They are number one at the moment for a reason, to be honest im happy they have the iPhone, While I admit that having the pre too is bad competition wise, I wouldnt want to get either on another network myself.

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