Is O2 the only place for smartphone users?


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?

HTC Hero (er, sorry, G1 Touch) prices on T-Mobile


While HTC was making a song and dance over the Hero, T-Mobile launched their own version of the same handset only in black and with a name noticeably devoid of the actual manufacturer – the T-Mobile G1 Touch. I wonder if Peter Chou and his men have scratched HTC somewhere on it in very small letters?

The important difference – apart from the colour, obvs – is that T-Mobile has got some prices for us. It’s available for free – good start – from £40 a month on Flext which gives you £225 of effective credit to spend on any mix of UK and international calls and texts, picture messages, 08 numbers, voicemail and includes “unlimited” data.


HTC announces the Hero – the best Android phone yet


It’s being billed as the first ever fully customisable Android handset. The HTC Hero with HTC Sense will allow users to amend almost every aspect of their setup.

Tech Digest has had its hands on the phone and it has to be said that it is a lot more simple and natural to navigate than its predecessors. It’s actually soft to touch and appears to be quite durable. It’s even contoured to perfectly fit a face during a call. It’s slightly chunkier than the HTC Magic at 14.3mm thick.

Tech wise there is a 3.2-inch, 320 x 480, HVGA touchscreen that supports multi-touch and pinch whilst browsing. It has a compass, AGPS and a gravity sensor, which I don’t think we’ve seen before.

There’s no more need to constantly wipe the screen clean too – the Hero includes an anti-fingerprint screen that is also smudge resistant. A welcome inclusion is the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Browsing should be improved with the inclusion of Flash and there is also a search button that explores everything from your apps to your Twitter feed.

The Sense feature allows for widgets that push content, different customisable content profiles called scenes and it also combines all communication channels into one screen. That means Twitter, Facebook, flickr and the like can all be accessed from one screen. Sense also allows users to link Facebook information, like photos and status updates, directly to contacts.

The white version will come with a Teflon coating – this is a first in the smartphone world and will help keep the Hero fresh and clean.

More spec info:

  • Qualcomm MSM7200A processor running at 528MHz
  • 512MB/288MB ROM/RAM
  • 900/2100MHz HSPA and quadband GSM
  • 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
  • 5-megapixel auto-focus camera with microSD expansion – but no flash

The HTC Hero was announced today at a launch event in London and should be available in July on T-Mobile and Orange. Expect a full review on Tech Digest some time soon.

HTC Hero to come in either QWERTY or soft keyboard?


Would you like that in QWERTY or touchscreen, sir? That could well be the question you hear when HTC launches the Hero on 24th June. The image here is a dead ringer for the Magic with a hard keyboard strap-on but apparently goes by the handle of the HTC Lancaster. I rather like the sound of that.

Now, it could be that it turns out to be a totally different phone to the Hero, as the name would suggest, but the rumours are that it’s the same creature just with the QWERTY and the decision will be yours as to which version you go for.

The only other dubious piece of news is that it looks like the Hero will come with the TouchFLO 3D UI in front of the Android OS. Seems a bit of a shame to cover it up but then the ‘droid desktop isn’t the world’s prettiest. We shall see.

(via Tech Radar)