The story of mobile TV hasn’t exactly been a Field of Dreams fairytale. 3G networks have built it, but the punters are largely refusing to come. And rightly so – there’s been no killer products, only expensive video streaming and the odd live channel.
But something new and exciting has emerged from Virgin – a phone called the Lobster that picks up live channels over existing DAB networks. Is this start of watching live Sopranos on your phone?
Gift of the DAB
On paper, then, the Lobster is the first essential TV phone, but what’s it like your commute? Not great, we’re afraid to say. The first downer is the picture size. What initially seems like a reasonably big 2.2in viewing area is reduced to a postage stamp thanks to two big black borders. Annoyingly, you don’t get the option of switching to landscape mode either.
This would be bearable if the image quality was great, but it isn’t. The quality is no worse than the jerky streamed content available on 3G networks, but YouTube-quality video isn’t watchable for longer than a couple of minutes, which is a good job, as the battery runs out after about three hours of watching.
Then there’s the final drawback – reception problems. Unlike the DAB radio, which is one of the best we’ve heard on a phone, the TV is very temperamental. We found it did work on a train – at least until another train passed by – but if you’re indoors you need to be near a window to get a picture, and the headphones must be worn at all times as they house the antenna.
Smarter than a telly
These moans shouldn’t necessarily end your interest in the Lobster 700TV. Because it’s a Windows Mobile 5.0 smartphone, you can treat the TV function as a gimmick to show your mates rather than a deal-breaking disappointment.
That’s not to say that the rest of its functionality is perfect. The flash-less 1.3MP camera is straight from 2002, it only has 2.5G connectivity, and the MicroSD slot is annoyingly placed under the battery. You are, though, treated to all the usual Office Mobile functions (Word, Excel and Powerpoint), push e-mail and 70MB of internal memory to fill up with Windows Media Player tunes if you’re bored of the excellent DAB radio.
In all, the Lobster is a flawed, early adopters’ phone that pioneers an interesting new technology. With free-to-air TV broadcasts over DMB-T not likely to arrive in the UK till 2012, Virgin and other BT Movio supporters have got plenty of time to hone the TV-over-DAB trick. But, if the 700TV’s anything to go by, they’ve got a lot of work to do to make mobile telly anything more than a novelty.