WORLDBEAT: Smile - you're live on the Web
Hats off to Vodafone for delivering a mobile data service that is both fun and useful. Really.
The company's new Live mobile data service lives up to its name, offering instant snapshots, chat, ring tones and more. It's so lively, in fact, that you don't want to be caught anywhere in an embarrassing situation and find a not-so-funny photo of yourself being forwarded around the world. Welcome to Candid Camera Part II.
Privacy aside, we have some fairly positive things to say about Live. We, by the way, are two IDG News Service reporters (one in Germany, one in the Netherlands), plus an 18-year old German mobile phone addict and a 19-year-old Dutch student.
For the test, we used Sharp Corp.'s new GX 10 camera phone, which supports MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) over packet technology. The phone is packed with more features than you can shake a stick at (though some are tricky to find).
If the phone lacks anything, it's a powerful battery. Heavy users will find themselves looking for an electrical socket just about every day.
The most compelling feature, by far, is the camera. It's incredibly easy to use, for both taking and sending photos. Two clicks to access the camera and one more to snap. You can send photos not only to other MMS-enabled phones, but also to PCs -- an appealing feature, since not everyone will own a camera phone.
That said, we could not send an MMS across borders or to other networks in the same country. Network interoperability remains a hurdle. Also, in the Netherlands, pictures sent to an e-mail address don't arrive as an attachment but rather are stored on a Vodafone Web site. You receive an e-mail with a link to that site. Worse, you can't save the photo on your PC. Thankfully in Germany you can.
A shortcoming of the digital camera is picture quality. It's acceptable as long as you view photos on your phone or PC screen. But if you plan to print, forget it. Their low resolution, while ideal for zapping files over the airwaves, is terrible for reproduction.
Another nice Live feature is e-mail. Friends and colleagues can mail your phone, instead of having to torture their thumbs and eyes with SMS (Short Messaging Service). And vice versa, Live customers can mail people without mobile phones.
The Live service offers access to a range of specially-built Web sites. The restaurant guide is helpful; one of our testers found a recommendable place to eat in the small city of Hattem, the Netherlands. The traffic guide displays neat road maps, in color of course.
Some content services are free; others cost up to a couple of euros per session or offer a subscription. Ring tones and games can also be downloaded. Games, like Pacman and Bricks, will bring feelings of nostalgia to some. However, we found