Lobster 700TV

11th Dec 2006 | 00:00

Lobster 700TV

An interesting idea that has some great features

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

This is a fascinating proposition that really has the potential to catch on, we look forward to the next generation

Like:

<p>Shows real TV</p><p>Good battery life</p>

Dislike:

<p>Bulky handset</p><p>Some sigfnal issues</p>

Virgin Mobile and BT Movio have brought live mobile TV to the UK. They're joined by some high-profile terrestrial channels, who are simulcasting via the DAB network and onto this innovative handset. The Lobster 700TV is a very well specified smart phone.

Running the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system, it offers the ability to use cut-down versions of familiar Windows programs such as Internet Explorer, Outlook Express and Media Player 10 alongside a 1.3 megapixel stills/video camera. But the principle reason for buying this phone has to be its TV capability.

Being DAB-IP-enabled, it presently receives five TV channels: BBC One, ITV1, E4, ITN News and Channel 4 Short Cuts (highlights only for now). The number of channels is limited at the moment by capacity; as more spectra are released, BT Movio (as the wholesaler) can increase the offering. The handset can receive DAB digital radio too, notching up 51 stations in the London area.

A seven-day EPG is included, which can accommodate scheduled reminders and indicates any programmes or adverts not available to view (due to rights issues). Red button capability has been added, although it directs you to a related WAP site, rather than BBCi or similar services, to view interactive content using the phone's browser. The TV/radio aerial is in the supplied headset.

The handset is easy to use and Virgin Mobile's estimate of three hours of viewing time from a single charge is very accurate. TV can be accessed via several routes, the fastest being the dedicated TV button, while the menus are wonderfully simple to navigate. Our only grumble is about the size of the soft keys below the screen. They're so thin that you'll probably find yourself pressing the 'home' and 'back' keys by mistake.

Picture quality is a mixed bag, depending on different factors. Thanks to the broadcast platform and compression technology BT Movio has developed, you quickly get accustomed to watching TV on the small screen and the well saturated colours really help, too.

Choo-choo buffer

But there are some downsides. Because of the phone's 96kb audio and video bitrate, the picture can appear juddery and is out of sync with the audio, which plays in real time. It doesn't handle fast motion that well, creating block noise that becomes an issue when watching music videos, for example. Generally speaking, the more static the content, the better the picture.

But the biggest snag is signal breakup. One of the real appeals using of mobile TV is being able to tune in on the train, but if your route has tunnels or the train travels fast, you'll notice regular disturbances. On a 30-minute train trip, the signal only dropped out completely once (in a tunnel), but was interrupted and had to buffer again some five or six times.

Stay still in an area of good reception though, and the signal is very solid with hardly any drop-outs. The audio fares better however, with a strong, stable and reasonably dynamic soundtrack on TV broadcasts and excellent radio reception via the DAB network.

If you take the Lobster 700TV on a monthly contract of £25 or more, the handset and TV subscription are free, but for pay-as-you-go customers the phone costs up to £200 plus a £5 monthly TV subscription. Your home TV licence will cover it for viewing on the go.

For a smartphone with such features, £200 is a very reasonable sum and £5 for a month's unlimited TV viewing is pretty fair too, if you can get a stable enough signal. As a first attempt it's a fascinating proposition that, with some refinements, could really catch on.

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