Friday, November 9, 2012

Fun With Mobiles

The last time I was in the United Kingdom, I had an old Nokia that had been used by my boss' son. The thing was reliable, though expensive, mainly because I was constantly texting and buying phone cards at the post office to call people back home - I've gotten a touch better about that in my advanced age). Since I wasn't able to use the Internet in my room during the first few days I was here, one of my first orders of business was to sort out a smartphone. I went to Union Square (some of you may be sensing a pattern here), and after being ignored at the O2 store for about five minutes, I went next door to the Carphone Warehouse.

Now, a few points of background. When my headset bit the dust in May of this year, I stopped using my LG ENV2, which had treated me well since late 2008, and joined the smartphone craze that's sweeping the world. I got a Motorola Droid 4 (pictured on the left), and I've absolutely loved the thing. I think Apple is pure dagnasty evil, so I'm happy to have an alternative from Google, and I love the Droid operating system. I wanted something similar once I got here.

What I ended up getting was a Motorola MotoSmart (pictured on the right). The overall design and functionality are similar to my Droid 4, although the MotoSmart is definitely the economy model. Since I'm only here for a year, I also went with the pay-as-you-go (or "top-up") option, vice going through the rigmarole of getting a contract. After a bit of troubleshooting, I got squared away with two sim cards.

My main functionality is provided through Vodafone, which I chose in large part because the technician said it's the only provider that works in Orkney. Vodafone doesn't seem to be universally adored by the locals, and my mobile Internet coverage is spotty, but it's better than nothing. It seems amusing to think of how far we've come with technology in the last decade or two - what would have once been considered akin to alchemy or voodoo is now mundane, and when it doesn't work perfectly, we tend to get really upset. Since I can remember a time before mobile phones, and I can certainly remember a time before smartphones, I can appreciate what I've got and be patient when it's not perfect. (That said, mobile coverage and quality in the States appears to be both better and cheaper than here in the United Kingdom.)

Unfortunately, the Vodafone top-up program doesn't allow you to call outside the United Kingdom, because... Wait, what? That's asinine. Well, anyway, that's remedied by another chip from Lebara. It's worth noting that the chips themselves are free, but they require a minimum top-up to acquire - I think it was £10. Lebara allows me to call the States for something like £0.06 per minute, but when you spend half an hour on the phone with your mother (Hi, Mom!), that tends to get whittled away quickly. Ironically, the Lebara entry on Wikipedia - the infallible and undisputed source of all knowledge - says that Lebara uses Vodafone's infrastructure by way of a "virtual mobile network", which means that I need two chips to call two different places through one network.

Gus will be arriving presently, and as destiny would have it, the massive pile of "Welcome to Campus" garbage that was waiting in my room when I arrived included a free Vodafone sim, and a free Lebara sim. So, what I'm going to do is get a phone (probably not another MotoSmart, though - sorry, Gus!) and get him all set up so that he can call me (or hotels, or disco dance clubs, or kebab shops, or whatever) with a Vodafone sim, and call St. Jen and Hank with the Lebara sim. Then, when he leaves, I'll retain the phone and sims, and establish a secret identity as an intrepid... Uh... Well, honestly, I'll just be a postgraduate with two phones and two sets of sims. That said, I may be able to make use of the additional phone when I travel abroad.


  1. Really?? Coverage is definitely better in the states - I miss 4G!! However, it is definitely cheaper in the UK. My monthly contract is only £15, whereas in the states it was $95. Same services. Just better coverage. PS, I have an HTC sensation and I love it! I haven't treated it very well so it's kind of falling apart now, but aside from that it is an awesome phone.

  2. You mean the same phone that you couldn't get to work for a solid week once you bought it? :) And here in the UK, I've never gotten the impression that there's a minimum number of minutes - it seems like you pay for every call, even local, even on a land line. My Verizon contract in the States wasn't cheap, but it gave me four gigs of data per month, unlimited calling to other Verizon customers, and I think I had about 450 minutes per month on one of the cheaper plans to call whoever I wanted. No dice on Vodafone, though I suppose it might be a touch different on a contract. (I think I may even be charged for receiving calls, which is hogwash.)