Mobile World Congress may have ended a month ago but am only now getting ‘closure’ on the event. The reason – I’ve just been reunited with my iPhone that I thought had been stolen at the event. What happened, in case you were interested, is that I had placed my iPhone in one of the many charging lockers around the venue only to find that it wasn’t there when I returned. I couldn’t believe it. The locker was locked when I left it – but when I returned, to my amazement the phone wasn’t there.

A search using the ‘Find My iPhone’ feature did not help – as I had put the device in ‘Airplane mode’ before placing it in the locker in order for it to charge quicker. (A handy tip for you there – as long as you don’t need to try and locate your phone shortly after).

The incident rather put a damper of the show and I returned home rather forlornly.

lost-iphone

Happy days then when I got an email from staff at the venue saying that my phone had been found! While I was pleased, I was very confused by what had happened. Where had it gone? Had I done something stupid and simply looked in the wrong locker? As such, I decided I would keep it to myself and not tell anyone what happened. Apart from my colleagues. And my friends. And family. And this blog post.

After two weeks of some frustrating failed courier pickups later the phone was sent back to me safe and sound by regular post. 

What came of the experience is that for nearly three weeks I had to borrow a phone, kindly lent to me by a friend. It was a two-year old HTC One X. This was noteworthy as it would be the first time that I would be using an Android phone for any length of time since I reviewed the second Android phone ever released, in a previous job.

In those days Android and the iPhone were still light-years apart – can you believe that there was no multi-touch on Android, but these days it’s Android that’s ahead in terms of feature.

Initial impressions using the phone were good. Compared to last time I used it there’s an Android app for nearly everything – though my favourite iOS Podcast app Downcast isn’t there and the interface for BeyondPod, the Android equivalent had me scratching my head somewhat.

But widgets! That’s a feature that I really enjoyed that isn’t present in iOS. You can place a small version of your app on the phone ‘desktop’ – so you can, for example, play or pause a podcast with one tap, or see live train timetable information, without having to launch the app, and then search within in it. It’s great.

However, once past the widgets the experience soon palled. The phone felt very plastickly, apps were slow to respond, while the touch screen seem oversensitive.

Age-of-mobile_2539099b

The biggest issue though, was network speed. This was a 3G phone, and while I expected things to be less speedy compared to 4G I was surprised by how unresponsive everything felt. As Joni Mitchell once sang that: “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

What once seemed easy – checking Facebook or Twitter, downloading a podcast, or just reading a web page now was an almost painful experience. Apps didn’t seem to respond, and the spinning download circle was permanently on screen, either when checking web pages or waiting for the bike hire app to update with some useful information.

Speed tests revealed that despite the ‘H’ insisting I was in an HSDPA area most of the time I was getting less than half a meg of speed. Combined with the high latency inherent in 3G it all made for a frankly poor experience. Rubbish.

However all was finally restored to normal yesterday when I finally was reunited with my iPhone. It was something of process getting it back to working order – charging it up, backing it up, watching it automatically erase when it went online, restoring it from a backup, and then physically cutting down my replacement combi-SIM to an iPhone 5 friendly nano SIM – with all the attendant will it work drama that this entails. That was a fun evening.

Now I have it back to working order, it really struck home that 4G really does enable smartphones to live up to their billing as smart devices and I really appreciated being able to do the things I had taken for granted.

I’m now back at my desk streaming hi-res FLAC music files from my NAS box at home, something that would be completely impossible with standard 3G. But while that might be an extreme use, even for more conventional use 3G simply doesn’t cut it. Yes you can use smartphones at speed on Wi-Fi, but real mobility and freedom comes from being able to able to use the power in your device when and wherever you are.

4G then is now no longer to my mind a next-gen technology– it simply enables you to use your phone as it should be.

Now, where my 5G?

Comments on: "The pain of living without 4G" (2)

  1. Fantastic news that you got your phone back, but when I read the headline on LinkedIn I thought I was going to read about the need to downgrade from 4G to 3G when roaming.

    Having used my Three account at MWC (paying £5 a day for unlimited data) I really did wish the industry was moving quicker to enable 4G roaming.

    However unlike the HTC One X you were using, I did at least have a phone supporting DC-HSPA on 3G, and managed to get speeds of well over 10Mbps even in the conference centre, which is quite amazing given the huge amount of people in a small area.

    DC-HSPA, especially on Three or a recently upgraded EE site, still has some life left in it. My fastest speeds have been just 1 or 2Mb shy of 30Mbps, which is quite stunning. And it’s perfectly possible to get speeds of 15-20Mbps, which are equally usable. Latency on Three post upgrades is generally sub-40ms.

    Clearly 4G is better, and has the benefit of faster uploads that will never be available on 3G (it’s doubtful that many operators will bother with MC-HSPA unless it’s a simple software update at a cell site) but 3G doesn’t have to be that slow.

    If I was a betting man, I’d say the impressive speeds you got were on either Vodafone or O2? They’ve got some seriously old sites out there, but they are being upgraded… slowly.

    • Thanks for the comment Jonathan! I realise that the title and intro were misleading that way. Roaming or not, I was expecting far better speeds that I got from EE on 3G, so it was disappointing. As you say, DC-HSDPA is still very fast. I’ve just now turned off 4G on my iPhone 5, just to check that it wasn’t an issue with the HTC I had on load – 1.35Mb/0.53Mb – not great. 4G back on, 9.74/13.28. It seems EE is not paying much attention to 3G speeds on London, but then with its focus on 4G I’m not surprised. The impressive speeds I referred to was just me reunited with my iPhone 5, and EE 4G!

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