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Why I switched from BlackBerry to iPhone

A couple of days ago, I wrote about my switch from PC to Mac, and said I’d also explain how I’d come to switch form BlackBerry to iPhone. So here I go…

Vodafone Logo

Vodafone Logo

Back in December 2008, I was using a Nokia 6110 Navigator, and felt I needed an upgrade to something a little more modern and useful – so I started looking. I decided that I needed a true smartphone, and felt that I probably wanted something on the Vodafone network as I knew them and liked them.

That ruled the iPhone out. But I’d decided I didn’t really want one of those anyway – I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of a touch screen, and heck, this was a phone that couldn’t handle MMS or cut-and-paste. In many ways, it would be a downgrade.

However, I was attracted by the iPhone’s big screen… and also by the idea of a BlackBerry, which I’d heard were ‘rock solid’ for email – and email was one of the big things I wanted my new phone to do better. So I looked at the newly released BlackBerry Storm, and quickly came to love it.

I’d read all the negative reviews, but playing with it repeatedly in-store reassured me that it was right for me. The ‘click’ of the screen helped me to overcome my fears about using a touchscreen, and the reputation for rock-solid email convinced me further.

In March 2009, as I blogged at the time, I upgraded.

BlackBerry Storm

BlackBerry Storm

And I loved it. It connected with most of my email accounts out of the box (with the exception of my NHSmail account, which I never anticipated it connecting to), and it worked exactly as I wanted it to. The SurePress screen was a massive hit. The battery life wasn’t great, but I’d planned for that and bought a charging dock to keep next to my bed, and used the phone as my alarm clock. The perfect solution.

But over the next 12 months, things began to niggle me. The Storm crashed quite regularly – perhaps once a day, a battery-pull would be necessary to reboot the device to get it working again. And rebooting a Storm is not exactly an instantaneous process. Syncing the phone over-the-air worked brilliantly for my Calendar and Contacts, but when I wanted to connect to my PC to transfer photos from the device, it was more than a little laborious.

As time went on, I simply became more and more frustrated with the device, and had my mind set on a high-end QWERTY BlackBerry as my next phone of choice.

But then, I discovered Mac. I bought my MacBook Pro, and started playing with the iPhones in the Apple Store. I discovered that my previous complaints about the iPhone had largely been fixed, and that typing on a touch-screen was actually quite easy. The seamless syncing between my new MacBook and the iPhone also seemed attractive. The seeds were inevitably planted.

Whilst particularly frustrated with my Storm one day, I vented my anger through twitter, citing my frustration with the Storm and desire for an iPhone. Having seen my Tweet, in a show of exemplary customer service, Vodafone called me, and within the week I had a shiny new iPhone 3GS (and, as it happens, Vodafone also reduced my monthly contract cost).

And, much like the switch from PC to Mac, it wasn’t until I started using it that I realised what I had been missing.

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone just works in a way that the BlackBerry didn’t. As per the comment on my previous post, the iPhone is more transparent to the task than the BlackBerry could ever hope to have been.

The App Store makes the iPhone sing in a way that the App World could never do for the BlackBerry. The App Store experience is seamless, the App World experience, well, isn’t, to say the least.

And, perhaps most surprisingly, since the release of iOS4, the iPhone connects to all of my email accounts – including NHSmail – without a hitch. Surprisingly, I think the iPhone has actually surpassed the BlackBerry for email solidity.

The MacBook syncing is as straight-forward as I’d hoped, and typing is as easy as it seemed in the shop. And I’ve never had to perform any equivalent to the constant battery-pulls I had to endure with the Storm.

Once again, Apple has won me over simply through offering the better user experience. I can’t quite say that I don’t miss anything from the Storm, but there is only one thing that I miss – the little notification LED on the top of the device. But then, I’d had to hack that with BeBuzz to make it useful to me. All-in-all, there’s no question in my mind – I prefer the iPhone.

Also, Vodafone has amazed me through their exceptional level of customer service – a level of service which has improved immeasurably from a couple of years ago to become truly First Class. I was impressed when they upgraded me to the Storm, but this time even more so – picking up on a single tweet and responding to it in such a supra-satisfactory way is truly impressive of any company, and has certainly guaranteed my custom for many more years to come.

This post was filed under: Reviews, Technology, , , , , , .

Why I like Three’s MiFi

Having a usable computer based internet connection when traveling is great. I am a convert to surfing on the train, and have been for a couple of years now. On top of that, having reasonably priced access to the internet when staying in hotels is always great too.

To this end, I’ve used a number of set-ups over the last few years. Initially, I used bluetooth tethering over 3G with my then everyday Nokia phone. This was great. I didn’t have to carry any extra kit, and I only had to get the laptop out on the train to surf – the mobile never needed to leave my pocket. Great for those moments when you’re absorbed in something and suddenly realise you’re pulling into your station, as there’s little to pack away (as someone who’s very easily distracted, this often happens to me…).

The problem is that this method is slow. And I mean S-L-O-W. At the time I didn’t mind, as I was a virtuous individual who spent most of the time completing BMJ Learning modules on the train. These aren’t exactly data heavy, but even moving from one page to another in those was, well, tiresome with a slow connection.

Contemplating Hagen–Poiseuille’s law (yes, really, I am that dull), I reliased that the Bluetooth ‘pipe’ was the limiting factor to the speed of connection, and started carrying a USB cable. But that was all a bit hassley, getting out the phone, plugging it in, getting it and the computer talking – just hassle, and more often than not I just bluetoothed it.

Over time, my demands became greater. As I said above, I’m easily distracted, and so I started to want multiple tabs open in my browser, just like I do at home. This made my previous system grind to a halt – and as I was paying via my contract phone, I was constantly terrified that I was running up a bill the size of a small nation’s GDP (though, in reality, this never happened). So I went hunting for a new solution.

As a Vodafone fanboy and long-term loyalist, I went for the Vodafone PAYG USB dongle-thingy, That may not be its proper name. The reason I chose it was the fairly fair pricing, in that PAYG credit never expires – unlike all other operators.

But this dongle has its own problems. The biggest problem for me is that it doesn’t (easily) support Linux. When I’m traveling, I’m most often carrying my netbook. This has had a number of Operating Systems installed on it during its lifetime, but has most often run Linux (currently running Moblin, actually). It is possible to jimmy linux into talking to the Vodafone PAYG USB dongle-thingy, but it ain’t straightforward, and it isn’t terribly reliable.

The other problem with this solution is the resilience of the Vodafone PAYG USB dongle-thingy. When on a train – and from the design of this device, this must come as a surprise to Vodafone – there are network blackspots. Tunnels, for example. I can accept losing connection briefly during this spots, I don’t expect mobile networks to defy the laws of physics. But I cannot accept the absolutely ludicrous amount of time it takes the Vodafone PAYG USB dongle-thingy to pick up a new signal and make the connection usable. Particularly when using a jimmied linux connection, it seems to take hours. This isn’t a problem for connecting in hotels, but on trains, it is a nightmare.

Actually, the situation got so bad that when traveling on National Express trains, I started to rely on their Wifi – which anyone who has tried to use it will tell you is a serious test of patience. Oh, and then they made credit expire after 30 days, just like everyone else.

So last week, I decided to try something new, in the form of a 3 Mifi doofer. I didn’t expect much. We’ve all heard horror stories about 3’s coverage, and I’m fairly sure that even they would admit it isn’t the best.

But I have been unexpectedly impressed. The device is simple to operate, even though its five multicoloured flashing lights can be a little befuddling at first. The connection is the fastest mobile broadband connection I’ve experienced, and when a signal is lost, it regains it very quickly and seemlessly.

There’s no hassle factor – switch it on, and my laptop just connects, it being one of my preferred wireless connections, and the device doesn’t even need to leave my bag most of the time. When checking my emails in my hotel last night, I actually forgot I was on a mobile connection. I was watching TV, netbook on lap as usual, MiFi dongle plugging in and charging on the other side of the room. Fantastic!

Initially, I was put off getting a Mifi dongle because of the cost. But actually, the cost is a lot more reasonable than it first appears. For example, when I’m away for the weekend, I’m never really going to want to stream music or watch the iPlayer. I want a decent connection for bits of work and checking my email.

3 gives a 1GB allowance for £10, though admittedly this only lasts for 30 days. But looking at this from a different perspective, this is effectively all-you-can-eat internet for my purposes across a weekend, both at my destination and during my journey. Hotel Wifi would probably give me 24hrs continuous access for that kind of price… Much less convenient, and – for the same level of usage – much more expensive.

So the Mifi dongle is great for me. And for people who want the level of net access on the move that I want, I’d recommend it – so I thought I’d let you know.

This post was filed under: Reviews, Technology, , , , , , , .

Vodafone’s great customer service

Vodafone LogoI’ve been a Vodafone customer for about seven years now, and – having previously experienced most of the major mobile networks – I reckon Vodafone is the best.

A couple of weeks ago, I wanted a new phone – the Blackberry Storm. However Stephen Fry opines on the subject, I still believe it is an excellent Blackberry, and I’m a bona fide member of the ‘love-it’ club when it comes to the Marmite-like SurePress screen.

The snag was that I still had five months to run on my previous contract, which had supplied me with the great-for-its-time Nokia Navigator.

My old contract was relatively cheap, and so I decided in my own mind that I was happy to buy myself out of it for the immediacy of a new phone, and I marched into my local Vodafone store all ready to pay – but was told this wasn’t possible.

Apparently, it’s against Vodafone policy to allow people to buy out of their contracts – presumably as it potentially loses them revenue from the calls and texts that people would’ve made in the bought-out period.

Yet on my walk home, I realised this was an utterly flawed policy, for there was nothing to stop me sticking my Vodafone device in a drawer unused, and signing up to O2 and getting a shiny new phone. There is no price differential from my point of view, but Vodafone would lose a customer.

As soon as I got home, I sent Vodafone an email pointing out this absurdity.

Within the hour, I had a phone call back telling me that the policy was indeed absurd in my case. They apologised for messing me – a loyal customer – about, apologised for my tariff (“It’s like something from the 80s!”), and apologised for not treating me more like royalty.

They then offered to do me a free upgrade five months early, with no need to buy myself out of my contract. They gave me a premium tariff, better than that available in the shop or online, a free Blackberry Storm with free delivery, and – for the first time in recent memory from a big company – the assistant gave me her name and direct number for if I had any further problem with either the handset, my tariff, or anything Vodafone related.

And all this for an increase in my monthly outgoing of about a fiver for eighteen months.

A couple of weeks in, and I’m still a very happy bunny. The phone is great, the tariff is liberating, and I have a level of smug satisfaction beyond compare.

This is the kind of service I’ve come to expect from JLP or First Direct, but to unexpectedly receive that level of service from Vodafone is – without doubt – a joy. I just hope they keep up the excellent work.

This post was filed under: Reviews, Technology, , , .

Diary for 13th December 2008

Whatever Stephen Fry says, I still want a Blackberry Storm… But I can’t have one because the meanies at Vodafone won’t give me one 🙁 «

This post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, , , .

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