The history of my various mobile telcommuncations contracts is a long one, so I’ll spare readers the details but after my recent customer service debacle with Three, I’ve cut them loose (they tried to offer me an iPad 2 for “free” to stay with them… the sort of “free” that involves a 2 year contract… no thanks…).
I planned to use an O2 SIM that was already activated for mobile data in my iPad so I cut it down to micro SIM size, using a cutter that I bought on the ‘net for a few pounds. After booting the iPad with the new SIM, it found the O2 network but told me that I didn’t have a data contract and gave me a number to call O2, and a reference to quote (the identifier for my SIM).
O2 told me that it would require a tariff change and that iPad data is different to mobile broadband. I’m sure they meant that it’s billed differently, rather than that it’s different in any other way (special Apple “iTCP/IP” or “iHTTPS”?) but Tim Biller (@Timbo_Baggins) suggested I look at the Access Point Name (APN) settings.
The advantage of this approach is that the same SIM now works in my iPad or in my dongle (using an adapter) allowing 3G data access from either device, on the same bill, but only one at a time (that’s fine).
Next step is to switch my phone over from O2 (£16.50 a month including 500MB data) to Giffgaff (£10 a month with unlimited data, same network…). I already have the SIM, just waiting to get Christmas out of the way before I try to transfer my phone number!
[Update 16 January 2012: Some time over the last few days, this stopped working for me. The SIM is still active and works in my 3G dongle, but I guess O2 have made some changes in the network that stop this simple APN change from working with an iPad – madness, as my iPad must place less load on the network than a dongle with a Windows PC, albeit more than a smartphone would…]
The Lumia 800 is slightly more expensive than I would like, but I still managed to get it contract-free for just under £400 (and I can’t get an iPhone 4S for that money, much as I’d like to for my wife…).
So, what’s it like? Well, before I answer that, I should explain how I got to this point:
I’m a heavy Apple user (two Macs, a succession of iPods, iPhones and an iPad) but I’m not religious about it. If anything, the evangelical approach that Apple fans tend to exhibit turns me off (I know that Apple devices have their faults too) and, frankly, after 4 or so years, I’m bored of iPhones (although I still use a 3GS at work, and my iPad is my social media triage/e-mail catch-up/media on the move device of choice). I think iOS has become stale – generations of iterative updates have confused the interface in places and it’s in desperate need of an overhaul.
I’ve considered Android smartphones but I’m confused by the plethora of devices and operating system versions that may or may not be available for a given device and, frankly, more than a little alarmed by the lax security in the Google Android Market.
Blackberry is on a fast track to no-where: as far as I can tell they are in the middle of a transition between two operating systems (Blackberry OS and QNX); their tablet was a complete failure; and the company is now worth less than Apple’s App Store (just the App Store, a small part of Apple’s business).
Then there’s Windows Phone, which offers something different. A really innovative user interface, designed around the things we do with our phones; not about the device but about the data. Except that no-one (well, nearly no-one) is buying it. The channel wasn’t ready (or sufficiently incentivised) and Microsoft has a huge hill to climb but they simply can’t afford not to have a mobile platform. I just hope they don’t try and kill it next year to put Windows 8 onto phone hardware. And I hope that the tie-up with Nokia helps to reverse the platform’s fortunes…
So it’s a good phone with a bad OS then? Well, no, not exactly. I still really like it but here are a some of the comments I have:
Nokia’s Lumia 800 unbox experience is as good as for the Apple iPhone. In fact, it’s better: Nokia includes a protective case for the phone and there is no need to connect to a PC to activate the handset. Unfortunately it did tell me that I needed to connect to a computer to install an update – I found the Windows Phone Connector for Mac to be horribly buggy (locking up the computer mid-update, at which point I risked bricking the phone by restarting everything…) and I resorted to installing the Zune software on a Windows PC.
The handset is attractive and well-made. It feels solid, but not too heavy (just 2g more than the iPhone 4S) and the 3.7″ AMOLED screen features Corning GorillaGlass, so I don’t use any screen protection. I’d like to have seen NFC and a multi-core CPU in the Nokia Lumia 800 specifications but I guess those features will come in a new handset next year.
The Lumia 800 takes a micro SIM, which means you might need to work with your mobile operator to get a replacement (I dropped into an O2 store and, although they said it could take up to 24 hours for the SIM swap to take place, it was done in a few minutes) – or you can cut down a regular SIM (as I will be doing later this week when my SIM cutter arrives…).
Charging is via a micro-USB cable (supplied in-box, with a mains adapter) but there is a flimsy cover to flip up and expose the socket. I can see that getting broken off and it’s a bit of an annoyance (although arguably it improves the aesthetic appeal of the phone). The port is also recessed which means that not all of my micro-USB cables will work with it. This means I take the Nokia-supplied one everywhere with me (can’t leave one at home, one in the office, etc.).
The supplied headset is much better quality than Apple’s stock earbuds as supplied with iPhones – and the earpieces stay in place when I’m running, which is a bonus. I do wish there was a volume control on the headset though, rather than just a play/pause button.
Based on my use of the Runkeeper app, GPS seems more accurate than on my iPhone (although the app itself is not as good as the iOS version).
It takes a while to get used to the user interface but it does seem to work once you have got your head around it. Charles Arthur is correct about a lack of “information density” and I can’t disagree with his usability gripes either, although I haven’t found them to be a major issue.
Charles’ review also told me how to switch between running apps (press and hold the back button); how to display signal strength and battery status (top the top of the screen). After over a week of using the phone I hadn’t found these so, for all it’s good looks, the Windows Phone operating system is not as intuitive as it might be.
I wasn’t sure which version I was running – was this 7.5 or 7.1? It turns out that Windows Phone 7.5 (codenamed Mango) is a marketing name and the internal version is 7.1. This is madness, but not the first time Microsoft has let this happen (Windows 7 is Windows 6.1 – or Windows Vista R2 if you look at it another way!)
I love the live tiles, and that there is a QR code reader, music and voice seach built into the Bing search app (although Microsoft TellMe is not a match for Apple/Nuance Siri, yet). Local Scout is potentially useful too (although no substitute for real local knowledge).
Integration with Office 365 and Xbox Live is strong – which caters for my email and gaming (not that I’m much of a gamer) – and also meant that I had the phone working with my email (and other social media) pretty quickly.
The ability to link accounts in the People Hub is a great feature too, auto-suggesting potential links (like the same person on LinkedIn and Twitter) as well as letting me put husband and wife contacts together. Unfortunately the groups facility is severely handicapped, with a maximum of 20 contacts per group (and when you follow hundreds of people on Twitter, as I do, I’d like to be able to use groups to control my contact list).
Both the People hub and the applications list could become difficult to navigate as they grow in length but once the reach a certain size (I think, the behaviour certainly seemed to change after I’d had the device a few days) it become possible to click on a section heading (one per letter of the alphabet) and jump to another.
Getting media onto the device involves syncing with Zune (or iTunes, via the Windows Phone Connector for Mac), which is a slight annoyance as I’d like to download podcasts directly but the availability of a Spotify app (and the Nokia Mix app provided on the Lumia – more on the Nokia apps later) mean that there is plenty of music available to me when mobile.
Highlighting text is difficult, at best, with the cursor appearing underneath my finger.
The email signature can’t include HTML links (only plain text, which might then get converted to a link – but that depends on the link and generally doesn’t include phone numbers or @twitterhandle).
The Windows Phone Marketplace is increasing in size but is no-where near Apple (or Android) in terms of app numbers but it does at least support trial purchases (something that Apple really should have implemented in its App Store by now). It’s also got far too many “trash” apps (e.g. simulating a blue screen of death). Some of my most common smartphone apps are there (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Flickr, Amazon Kindle, Shazam, TV Guide, Spotify, Runkeeper) as well as Adobe Reader, Microsoft Lync, Microsoft Skydrive but no Dropbox, LinkedIn, etc. Also none of the apps I use for car parking are available for Windows Phone (although ParkMobile have a Windows Phone version of their app in development). Only time will tell if developers will start producing Windows Phone variants of applications in any great numbers but with limited budgets, focusing on iOS and Android makes sense given Windows Phone’s relatively low market share.
One smart feature is the ability to browse the Marketplace on a PC and then send an app to the phone (a bit like buying Kindle books from Amazon) but it comes over the mobile network (not Wi-Fi), which might be problematic if you live in a GPRS-only area, as I do!
Nokia has also put some of its apps on the Lumia 800 – I haven’t used them all, but Nokia Drive did a decent job of navigating its way to my hotel in Lincoln earlier this month and will come in handy when we drive to France next year (the maps and voices seem to be free of charge – although my data usage won’t be). Unfortunately that means I have two maps systems (Nokia and Bing) and two music systems (Nokia and Zune) – hopefully they will be more closely integrated in future.
In summary, great hardware (aside from battery life) but the operating system is still a little rough around the edges. In addition, the quantity (but more importantly, the quality) of available apps needs to increase. After that, one final tweet from Tim sums up the situation for me:
Windows Phone 7 #Mango feels like an under-populated city. It will be great if/when the people arrive.
I’m certainly no celebrity and I don’t expect every company to roll over when I act like a petulant teenager, but they could at least try to address my issue. Couldn’t they?
To be fair to Three, their online team @ThreeUK (which is clear about its online hours: Monday-Friday, 9am to 5.30pm) responded but their response simply bounced me to another Twitter account operated by the company:
Ignoring the grammar, if you care about customer service, what happened to owning the customer’s problem and managing it to resolution?
Clearly Three have (at least) two Twitter accounts operated by two teams: marketing and customer service. That’s OK, but they don’t seem to be able to take a problem inside the organisation to work out the best approach – they simply bounce me from one to the other. Oh dear.
“My issues here are: having to pay to speak to a customer service agent and being kept on hold for a while; getting poor advice from the agent (unless Three can tell me how to drag and drop my bill from their portal to my email, on an iPad); and not getting an answer to my problem. Visiting a store is simply not worth the effort (20-odd mile drive, pay for parking, an hour of my time) – but could well lose Three a customer.”
I even threw them a lifeline:
@ThreeUKSupport Thank you for responding... even if both you and @threeuk have failed on the customer service front...
Now, I know that implementing social media for large corporates is bloody hard. I tried – and there is a lot that we can do better where I work too… people in glass houses and all that… but this is me, responding as an individual, not as an employee, so hear me out, please.
Firstly, if you want to operate a corporate Twitter account (or any other “social” account), be ready to deal with complaints. For support, be ready to direct people to official channels but for customer service issues, then a little more tact and diplomacy might be required.
Secondly, if a customer outlines multiple issues to which they would like a response, it’s OK to ask them to supply some contact details so that you can get in touch and investigate further.
Finally, if all you do is provide stock answers then you’ll annoy a customer who is already unhappy with your company’s service.
For whomever is responsible for social media at Three, there’s a really good book I can recommend: it’s called “Empowered” and it’s written by Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff (@jbernoff) and Ted Schadler (@TedSchadler). The book talks about groundswell customer service and provides real-world examples of how innovative leaders and their teams use technology to solve customer problems… it’s definitely worth a read. And Forrester released a report yesterday entitled “Twitter: the public forum for your brand”. If you don’t have access to the report, it’s author, Melissa Parrish (@melissarparrish) has some great blog posts about the use of Twitter too.
Incidentally, Sainsbury’s, another company that recently incurred my wrath on Twitter after failing to follow up on a customer service email about the quality of the groceries they had delivered a few days previously deserves mention for fixing my issue. Their social media team took action to get my enquiry dealt with and compensated me for the problems I had experienced. Arguably, that is how to respond… Three’s example is how not to…
I started this post with a quote, so I’ll finish with another:
“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.”
[Donald Porter, British Airways]
[Update 16 January 2012: Three have been in touch and would like to make it clear that they do care about their customers on Twitter. I’m still disappointed about how my calls and social media follow-up were handled, but it is good to know that they are at least attempting to improve the experience that their customers receive via social media.]
I’ve since learned that the crucial field is on the technical contact details for the organisation. A Microsoft Support Engineer wrote in an email to me:
“[…] the company information can be changed from the Online Portal. When you sign in and navigate to the admin panel, you should see your organization’s name in the upper left corner. When you click that, it brings up your organization’s information. The global administrator can edit these fields by mousing over them and clicking the small ‘Edit’ button that appears.”
Three UK (3) has just been added to my list of mobile operators who haven’t got a clue about customer service.
For the last few months I’ve been using Three’s mobile broadband service on my iPad. The in-store service when I joined the network was pretty lousy but today that got a whole lot worse. I needed to store a copy of my bills and found that the My 3 portal was only available to me over Three’s 3G network from my iPad. Access from a PC, or over Wi-Fi needed a password. And resetting that password needed the ability to receive SMS, a capability that my iPad does not have…
So I called Three. Actually, I rang several numbers for Three, trying to avoid paying for the call (I can’t use their free number because I don’t have a phone on their network…) and I spoke to someone who understood the issue but couldn’t help because they were in the mobile dongle department. He transferred me to someone in the iPad team (approx. 10 minute wait…) who confirmed I could only access my bills on my iPad and when I asked how I could download them he suggested either dragging and dropping them to my email (what?!). At this point, I think he was well off his script and just making things up but he asked me if I have an iPhone 4S. I don’t, so he suggested going into store, putting my SIM into the store’s iPhone 4S, and getting the password sent by SMS to it…
[Thinking about the situation as I write this post, I don’t have an iPhone 4S but I do have another phone that can take a micro SIM… but Three asked if I had an iPhone 4S]
My issues here are: having to pay to speak to a customer service agent and being kept on hold for a while; getting poor advice from the agent (unless Three can tell me how to drag and drop my bill from their portal to my email, on an iPad); and not getting an answer to my problem. Visiting a store is simply not worth the effort (20-odd mile drive, pay for parking, an hour of my time) – but could well lose Three a customer.
I did find a workaround though, for anyone who has Dropbox installed on their iPad…
Disconnect from any Wi-Fi networks and open the My 3 portal on the iPad (My 3 loads in Safari without asking for credentials if you are connected to the Three network with a 3G connection).
Navigate to Recent Bills and press/hold the PDF icon to open a bill.
Once loaded, open the PDF in Dropbox – it will be saved as a file called viewInvoice.nocache, which is a PDF file, but without the correct file extension.
Rename viewInvoice.nocache to add a .PDF file extension and open it as normal on any device you like.
Earlier today I noticed that my week-old Nokia Lumia 800 was switched off. I hadn’t charged it overnight and it had quite possibly run out of power, so I plugged it into the mains charger.
An hour later, it was still dead, and refusing to turn on.
First I panicked. Then I swore. Then I went to Google and found a Nokia support discussion forum post that advised pressing the volume down, power and camera buttons together to reset the phone… I guess that’s the ctrl-alt-del or sleep/wake-home of the Windows Phone world and it seemed to do the trick (at the time I had the phone connected to a PC).
Even though it showed a battery dead display (picture of a battery with a small amount of red inside it) when it turned on, it seems that the phone hadn’t completely run out of juice (or, if it had, then it was charging when it was plugged into the mains charger but needed a reset to take it out of a deep sleep) as it was at 70% when I disconnected it 10-15 minutes later.
I’ll be keeping an eye on this but hopefully it’s not a sign of impending battery issues.
[Update 31 January 2012: Be careful – volume down, power and camera is a hard reset and can result in lost data. Today, despite charging overnight, all night, and being fine when I went to bed, the Lumia was dead this morning. I used a soft reset instead (both volume buttons and power) to bring it back to life. There are more details, and diagrams, in this post at UK Mobile Review].
I’m not intending to turn this blog into one-man’s-attempt-to-reverse-microsoft’s-fortunes-in-the-mobile-sector but it’s kind of inevitable that a few blog posts will follow my recent purchase of a Windows Phone.
This one is about unlocking my phone to install non-sanctioned apps – either those that are not in an app store yet, or that are written by myself (maybe, one day).
The relaunched ChevronWP7 is the result of that process and, a few days ago (after some teething troubles last month), it was opened up again. For $9 I purchased a code that then unlocks my phone and allows me to deploy applications directly to the device (instead of the $99 it costs via Microsoft) – although I’m not really sure why the app I needed (a screen capture utility described by both Long Zheng and Paul Thurrott) isn’t either a native operating system function (actually, I do know that answer – and it’s related to DRM) or available via the Windows Phone Marketplace.
So, what was involved in unlocking my phone? And what’s the risk?
The ChevronWP7 site says:
“We believe Windows Phone development should be accessible to anyone. We are providing a Windows Phone developer unlocking service to developers across all skill levels and regions for just $9 USD per phone.”
On that basis, it’s pretty simple, for someone who is happy installing software on a Windows PC (i.e. a developer or an IT professional working with Microsoft tools). This is what I did…
Once signed in, I downloaded the appropriate version of the unlock tool (32- and 64-bit versions are available – I used the 64-bit version).
The unlock tool has a number of pre-requisites but the only one listed on the site when I downloaded it was the Microsoft .NET Framework 4 (with a link to the full version). I checked that I have this and found that I had at least a version of it (I’m not familiar with the difference between the client and full versions but both following the instructions in Microsoft knowledge base article 318785 and checking %windir%\Microsoft.NET\Framework and Framework64 showed me that I had the v4.0.30319 client installed).
Before I could successfully run the unlock tool (ChevronLabs.Unlock.exe), I needed to install some other dependencies – the first of which, not surprisingly, was the Windows Phone SDK 7.1. Although this has a small web installer, it actually downloaded and installed 648MB of applications and data to my system before requiring a restart.
The next missing dependency highlighted by the ChevronWP7 unlock tool was the Windows Phone Support Tool v2, as detailed in Microsoft knowledge base article 2530409 (again, there are 32- and 64-bit versions available – the Microsoft Download Center links are in the knowledge base article).
With all dependencies installed, I ran the unlock tool again to confirm that my phone could actually be unlocked (some can’t, my Nokia Lumia 800 could). I then purchased a token from the ChevronWP7 Labs site and pasted the code into the unlock tool before hitting the Unlock button. My PIN kept getting in the way and I had to reboot the phone and retry the process at least once but eventually I found myself in a queue of devices waiting to be unlocked.
After about 10-15 minutes I was presented with an unassuming Windows dialog that said something like “Your phone has been unlocked. Hooray!” and the unlock tool status changed to “Phone Unlocked”.
Was that all? After all those downloads and queuing the unlock process was really fast. The ChevronWP7 guys have done a really good job at providing an unlocking service that’s simple to use.
As for the risk of unlocking, in theory it’s small – you can lock it again (indeed that’s necessary to publish apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, via Microsoft’s App Hub) and, because the tool uses methods that are sanctioned by Microsoft (i.e. Microsoft’s own tools), it shouldn’t brick your phone either. Having said that, I’m not responsible for any action that any readers take as a result of reading this blog post, including, but not limited to, “bricked” phones…
Those who follow me on Twitter may be aware that splashed out and I bought a Windows Phone last week (Nokia Lumia 800, unlocked, SIM-free). I’m planning a blog post about my first week with the phone (spoiler alert: some minor annoyances but, overall, I really like it) but one of the first items of confusion for me was how to (quickly) switch audio settings between ring, silent and vibrate. I could see it was possible in settings, but surely there is a quick way?
Maybe this was a problem in earlier releases (that post is a year old) but it seems like a non-issue to me… I’ve set alarms with my phone on silent, vibrate, and with the ringer turned down to 0 and in all cases the alarm still works (thank goodness, after all, that’s what I would expect!).