Why I’m going to be reverting back to SIM only pay monthly once my contract with EE is up..

.. because I feel they haven’t made it significantly clear as to the ownership / rights of the mobile phone you take out with them on a fixed monthly contract.  In my case it’s 24 months, and you’re essentially tied into the EE ecosystem for upgrading even if you take them up on the annual upgrade plan.

In trouble with the Imperial Forces.. again!

My problem?  I caved in after three months of using the iPhone 8 Plus and bought the iPhone X – despite the many, many times I’ve said to people I wouldn’t – including an article or two here too.  As it so happens, I bloody love it.  The screen, the size, the battery life, the Face ID – all of it.  It is definitely the best iPhone Apple has ever produced, and I thought the iPhone 8 Plus was a pretty damn excellent beast.

So now I’ve bought the iPhone X – untethered from the shackles of EE or any other provider’s contract lock-in – I thought I could sell the iPhone 8 Plus through one of my usual go-to companies, Envirofone.  They’ve been excellent in the past – but generally because I’ve been selling them phones that I’ve bought without any contract to any of UK telecom companies.  I haven’t been on a pay monthly contract with a phone for well over 3 years that I’ve forgotten what it’s like.  I’ve preferred to buy the handset outright and just buy a SIM only contract.

Haven’t heard anything from Envirofone for 4 days after they’ve received the device,  I today received an email which read:

Thanks for trading-in your old device with Envirofone.

We’re very pleased to tell you that we’ve received your old device(s). However, we need to let you know that there’s a difference between the value you were originally quoted and our final offer.

Here are the details:

ItemQuoted PriceRevised PriceNotes
Apple iPhone 8 Plus 256GB EE570.000.00• Software or Hardware Faults : Device has been blocked or stolen

This is because one of your items hasn’t passed certain checks carried out by Checkmend. Every item we receive has to pass these checks before we can process your payment.

Unfortunately, following these checks, we can’t pay you for the following device(s).

ItemReportedCheckmend Certificate ID
Apple  iPhone 8 Plus 256GB EEReported failedXXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXXXX

If you think we’ve made an error, please email support@checkmend.com and use the certificate ID above to find out more about why it hasn’t passed.

What concerned me more is what they didn’t say – what was going to happen to the phone that they have in their possession?  So I first of all called EE and explained that I had bought the iPhone X and, in order to recoup the cost a bit, sold the iPhone 8 Plus to Envirofone, but it has come back as being “blocked or stolen”.  The operator checked and confirmed neither was the case, only that the phone couldn’t be locked until after 6 months had passed.  That’s fine, I said, they know it is locked to the EE network.

So I called Envirofone next.  The operator there told me that EE still considers the iPhone 8 Plus their property and have been talking to such companies about the preventing of these still-in-contract devices from being sold.  Yet, I am pretty sure that having read the terms and conditions of signing back up to EE, I did not see this clause.  Indeed, you’ll be hard pushed to find it on the EE website itself.

I will be getting the handset back (via Special Delivery – thank goodness), and I’m still deciding what I’m going to do with it.  Given I’m locked solidly into a two-year contract with EE and have never once missed a payment with them, I find the situation a farce.  Luckily I can recoup the costs through other means, and it does give me a backup phone, but what an enormous pain in the rear end it is.

I’m annoyed with Envirofone as this stipulation is not mentioned anywhere during the point of sale process, nor is it made clear in the email above.  The web site doesn’t mention it either.  And neither does competitor Mazuma Mobile whom I emailed and received the following reply:

We have been notified by network providers that a high number of contract devices are being sold into the second-hand market (high street traders, recyclers etc)

As you may be aware, a network provider has legal title over a mobile device for the first 6 months of a new contract or upgrade and it will state within the contract terms that the device cannot be sold within this time.

We have been instructed to ensure any model received is thoroughly checked and to reassess the IMEI after the device is received.

So the telecoms companies are enforcing contractual obligations through third-party companies like Envirofone and Mazuma Mobile.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  On one hand I can see why they have to do this, but similarly, as you’re paying off the mobile phone through the contract which you’re obligated to pay until such time the contract is either terminated by either party or the commitment period is over.

I was told by another operator at EE that I wouldn’t be able to use my iPhone X to upgrade next September – they’d only accept the iPhone 8 Plus.

Definitely going to terminate EE contract in 2019 and will either look at an alternative company or just switch to a SIM only contract and I’ll deal with the handset upgrades myself as and when.

EE’s a lovely company – technically very good and reliable – but I’m not keen on their contracts very much anymore.  And EE – don’t expect me to buy anything new from you for a very long time now.

Do I regret buying the iPhone X?  Not at all.  But it’ll just take me a bit longer to pay it off than I would have liked.

(The bloody irony of all this is that I’m a member of EE’s “Listening Post” survey emails – the most recent of which is what should be done about mobile phones when you want to upgrade; I feel like re-answering that survey again with some carefully chosen words)

Apple gadgets update: October, 2017

iPhone 8 Plus

Still happy with the phone.  Does what it says on the tin.  The beauty of it is that when paired with an EE contract, you’re getting a good all-rounder.

In many areas I’ve visited, I often get between 40Mbs – 100Mbs 4G connectivity.  When connected to Wi-Fi the device switches to Wi-Fi Calling which is a significant battery saver (unlike Three’s implementation of Wi-Fi calling which will only kick in if there is insufficient cellular strength).  Plus there is the new higher quality HD voice calling – available only through EE at this time.  Haven’t had a chance to give that a go as yet since it requires the other person to also have another iPhone 8 (or better).  Plus EE fully supports Visual Voicemail too.

I had a chance to give the free inclusive London Underground calling function which kicked in automatically as soon as I got to the platform at Waterloo’s Bakerloo line station.  Wi-Fi just kicked in automatically – no need to configure or select the Wi-Fi hotspot – It Just Works(tm).  Really handy.

The quality of the camera is something I’m still undecided on.  Yes, it is better than the iPhone 7 Plus, but many photos are still very “painting-like” in comparison to say, the Galaxy Note 8 or the forthcoming Google Pixel 2 XL.  I’ve enclosed a small sample of unedited photos, shot in the new HEIC format and exported to JPEG.

(Click any of the following photos to get full-size image – but a reminder – all these photos are copyright and I have all rights reserved on them – if you want to use them, please get in touch first)

The video quality looks okay, but I’ve found that with the release of MacOS High Sierra, Photos does not automatically import videos.  If I AirDrop a video to my Mac, it inexplicitly saves it as H.264 – especially odd as one can only shoot in HEVC at 4K 60fps.  I’m hoping that whatever is causing the block in automatic video importing via Photos/Photostream will be fixed in an iOS or MacOS update shortly.   I will say I am particularly disappointed in Apple for not releasing an update to Final Cut Pro X to enable HEVC before or after iOS 11/iPhone 8 was released.

Battery life is good – especially if the phone is using Wi-Fi Calling – and having bought a Belkin induction charger, I just plonk it on the charging pad each evening that sits just under my monitor.  And I can continue to use the phone while it’s charging – and just pick it up without entangling myself in wires.

Oh, and EE’s 6 months free Apple Music and streaming data is good.  One has to make sure that if you have let your direct-with-Apple Apple Music subscription expire, after applying the EE offer, you’ll need to log out of iCloud Music Library and log back in otherwise weird stuff will happen within your desktop iTunes application.

Apple Watch Series 3 with Cellular (LTE)

Very happy with the new series 3 watch.  It’s faster than its predecessor (app switching and general app usage is now usable!), has more storage, and the new cellular capability means that I can make and receive phone calls in the toilet(!) or on the way to the local supermarket to pick up lunch whilst leaving my phone at my desk.  Yes, the watch is still tethered to one’s iPhone, but it gives the watch a much bigger range away from it.  One problem I’ve noticed is that whenever I enter and leave the Wimbledon branch of Sainsbury’s, I always set the alarm off.  It can’t be the watch, surely?

Apple TV 4K

As a 4K/UHD owner, getting access to 4K content can be a little tricky.  So Apple’s foray into the 4K space was always going to be welcome.  Especially the free upgrade to 4K streaming of existing iTunes Movie library content.

The first thing I noticed was that ALL video had significant motion blurring.  This was because my LG 4K TV has a number of picture “enhancements” that I had to find and turn off.  I’ve had the TV for over two years and I hadn’t even noticed them buried within the myriad of options.  But turning them off – including disabling 4K upscaling on my amplifier/HDMI switch – did the trick.

I don’t have HDR, so the video output from the Apple TV 4K is always 4K SDR.  And with the TV’s motion enhancements out the way, the picture quality is excellent to the point I’m using the Apple TV’s Netflix app as my default, along with NOW TV (whose app is now looking a little decrepit now and isn’t near as useful as that on the LG TV, but Apple TV’s performance is far better) and BBC iPlayer.  Like NOW TV, the BBC iPlayer too is looking a little long in the tooth and really should get an interface update to make it more like other platforms.  That said, Apple probably enforces UI policies on these things, so there’s that.

Are 4K iTunes movies worth it?  The answer is: yes.  They do look better to my eye than HD.  I do not care about HDR.  My TV doesn’t support it and even if it did, given the age, it probably wouldn’t support the right type.

I’ve relegated my forth generation Apple TV to the bedroom which is ruddy useful as I can pick up where I left off upstairs or downstairs – whenever or wherever I feel the most comfortable at the time.

MacOS High Sierra

It’s okay-ish, but shutting down the 2017 MacBook Pro attached to the LG UltraFine 4K monitor results in the monitor showing a cyan screen every time.  Automatic Time Machine backups are rather spurious – I have to untick and tick the automatic backup flag to get it to work, only for the backup to complete and the Time Machine Systems Preferences panel telling me the next backup will only happen when the disk is next connected.  It’s almost always connected!  Then there is the issue of Photos and iCloud Photo Library’s Photostream.  Not all photos transferred automatically from the phone, and absolutely no videos transfer.  I have to AirDrop them and import.  And using AirDrop to High Sierra does not result in HEVC video files for some bizarre reason!

High Sierra is not Apple’s finest moment, I have to say.

A short iPhone 8 Plus review..

I took the day off today to await the delivery of my new iPhone 8 Plus and Apple Watch Series 3 watch.  The first thing to note is that I’m coming from an iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch series 2.  So why do this?  All devices run iOS 11 and WatchOS 4, so what’s new?

The iPhone 8 Plus has the A11 “Bionic” processor which is, according to benchmarks, the fastest processor ever in a smartphone – on par with the performance of my MacBook Pro 13″.  As this article quotes, “it is legitimate to directly compare scores across platforms” but “laptops are better at delivering sustained performance over a longer period, as opposed to the shorter max burst performance that benchmarks like Geekbench 4 are designed to measure. In other words, the iPhone 8 simply doesn’t have the thermals and heat dissipation necessary to replace your laptop.

Holding the iPhone 8 Plus you’ll notice that it is heavier than the 7 Plus.  This is because Apple has returned to using glass on the back – necessary for wireless (read: induction) charging to function properly.  But the extra weight feels right, and it makes the whole phone look very professional.  That said, I’ve stuck it in my old 7 Plus Apple leather case.

Moving to the 8 Plus couldn’t have been easier.  As soon as the phone had switched on, the 7 Plus knew its time was up.  It immediately offered to transfer its data to the new phone, and I didn’t have to do very much.  So within about 10-15 minutes, I had a fully working iPhone 8 Plus.  Passwords for the various services one uses don’t transfer – so you’ll have to re-authenticate.  That was the longest part of the process.  Setting up two-factor authentication again is a PITA.

The 8 Plus’ True Tone display is brilliant.  Formally only an iPad Pro feature, you won’t notice it in day to day use – but comparing it against the 7 Plus was like night and day.  The 8 Plus display looked so much better regarding colour balance.

The camera on the iPhone 8 Plus is perhaps one of the biggest features I wanted.  And no wonder – it’s just been rated the best smartphone camera on the image quality rating site, DxOMark.  It comes in with a mark of 94.  I’m sure that the iPhone X will outdo that a little, but for now, you’re getting the best smartphone camera on the market.

I’m not going to do much testing of the camera myself until next week – I’m waiting for MacOS High Sierra to be released.  The iPhone 8 Plus uses the new JPEG container format, HEIF (high-efficiency image format) which compresses photos up to 2 times without losing any quality.  And likewise, it also uses HEVC (high-efficiency video codec) for video – which is fast becoming the de facto standard for video (and especially 4K / UHD).  High Sierra will support that out of the box, but in the meantime, the 8 Plus can export to older formats for systems not capable of handling HEIF/HEVC.  I’m not holding my breath for Google (such as Chrome) to support it – they’re using their own codec, and this is a contention point for the new Apple TV 4K – it won’t be able to play YouTube videos in 4K because Google uses something called V9, and Apple uses HEVC.  I do think Google is being silly here since all TVs support HEVC.  I don’t know any that supports V9 or at least both HEVC and V9.

Overall, I like the familiarity of the iPhone 8 Plus.  I use it as I would the 7 Plus, but under the hood is a beast of a system that will keep on top of things for the next couple of years.

The iPhone X factor – not for me

Nope.  Not yet, anyway.  But I’ve decided to go ahead and switch networks again anyway.  Now seems a good time to do so.

I’m moving back to EE, and I’m picking up an iPhone 8 Plus and Apple Series 3 Watch with cellular to go with it.  I’m getting a whopping 100Gb of monthly data (the watch gets unlimited data – principally you can’t really do that much with it – e.g. you can’t watch movies or use other data-intensive applications), Apple Music for 6 months (£60 value), and the ability to roam in the EU as well as the USA and Canada (which Three doesn’t cover, strangely enough).

I’m ditching the monthly iPad Pro data and moving to pay-as-you-go (also via EE).  I don’t use 3G/4G data much on the iPad and it doesn’t make much sense to pay monthly for something I don’t use.

I chose the iPhone 8 Plus for the reasons I’ve already mentioned in my last post.  I think the iPhone X is too big an expensive gamble at this time.  I’m sure Face ID will be fine, but I still think it’s a little early. What’s app support like, for example?  How will existing apps that utilize Touch ID work with Face ID?  How much work will developers have to do to replace Touch ID with Face ID?  Do they have to develop two methods?  Or do you even have to do anything at all?  This should have been announced back at WWDC.  But then again, that would have spoilt the surprise.

Besides which, my new contract with EE also includes an annual upgrade – so if Apple produces an iPhone XI next year with everything fixed from the iPhone X – all will be well. Until then, I personally cannot wait to try the new camera sensor in the iPhone 8 Plus.  I am big on smartphone photography and even though I love my Sony RX100 V to bits, I tend to use the iPhone to “mark” geographical locations so that when I import footage from both the iPhone and RX100 V, Apple’s Photo apps groups them all under one geographic heading.  I’m terrible at annotating my photos after taking them, and this is one little hack that works for me.  Which is probably why I’ve never moved over to Adobe Lightroom…

And of course, there is wireless charging.  When I next visit The Hub by Premier Inn in Edinburgh, I’ll be able to charge my iPhone on their wireless charging pads whilst I eat breakfast.  I think that this, for me, is the biggest and more important new feature of the new iPhone generation.

As for the CPU, it’s rumored that the A11 Bionic processor meets or slightly exceeds the processing power in my 2017 13″ MacBook Pro.  Which is just insane.   A phone having the potential to beat a general purpose computer.

Reviews coming as I get the kit.  If I get the kit.  Delivery times are dependent on supply, and we all know what that’s been like in the past! (That I’ve only managed to pick up AirPods in the past month despite being released nearly a year ago is just insane – imagine what the supply constraints of the iPhone X will be!)

Apple’s September 12th presentation – some thoughts..

As a massive Apple fan who occasionally wishes he wasn’t (hence my failed attempts to go back to Windows, move to Android, etc.), yesterday’s announcements of the Apple Watch series 3, the Apple TV 4K, the iPhone 8/8 Plus and the iPhone X made for interesting viewing.

I think I may well be replacing my current 4th generation Apple TV with the 4K model for several reasons:

  • Apple is finally showing commitment to UK TV content.  Maybe they had to step on a few feet at a number of UK broadcasters to do this, but regardless of however they did it, us Brits are getting access to the Apple TV app at long last.
  • 4K HDR content that costs the same as HD content.  That’s a HUGE deal for two reasons – we should be able to get more 4K content and it won’t cost us the kind of prices being charged on UHD Blu-Ray.
  • Following on from the above – if you buy a Apple 4K TV, if there is any matching content you’ve purchased that’s available in 4K – you’ll get an upgrade from HD to 4K absolutely free of charge.

So I’m happy.  Or rather, I’m not entirely happy, as the prices of the boxes are rather steep.  But hopefully, an Apple TV 4K should last a good number of years without having needing another major hardware refresh.

The Apple Watch series 3.  For me, this isn’t that important.  I’m happy enough with my series 2.  I don’t need a cellular connection.  The one and only thing that’s of interest is the ability to charge it wirelessly.

Which brings us onto the iPhones.  I’m a bit confused with what Apple is trying to achieve here with the iPhone X and the iPhone 8/8 Plus.  The iPhone X seems very experimental.  While I’m sure Apple has solved the biggest problems with facial recognition (which Samsung absolutely has not), I think there will be problems.  The iPhone X is the first generation of its kind, and there are bound to be a few issues here and there – and while the OLED display with super thin bezels is appealing, the lack of a touch ID (at least as a backup/alternative for Face ID) and the silly pricing puts it out of my reach.

What really has put me off the iPhone X are people inevitably using Face ID at the barriers of London Underground stations and when boarding London buses.  I can just see it now – the phone doesn’t unlock, or they’re leaving the unlocking until the last minute and it delays the flow of traffic through the barriers or boarding the bus.  This is the first generation of Face ID.  I expect there will be issues.

Then there is the iPhone X’s Super Retina Display.  One of the biggest problems I have with iOS at the moment is that there are still too many developers not updating their apps to make full use of the FHD (full high definition) iPhone 6/7 Plus display.  Take National Rail’s iOS app, for example – it looks big and chunky because the development team hasn’t updated the app to take advantage of the higher resolutions of recent phones.  There are quite a few other developers guilty of this.

What I think will happen is that we’ll see one last iteration of the iPhone 6/7/8 form factor in the iPhone 9, then we’ll see the iPhone 11 which will merge everything together and will see a much lower price point as Apple fixes everything from what’s been gleaned from the public using the iPhone X.  I do not wish to be a paying beta tester for Apple (not while I have to pay through the nose for their equipment – hence why I never run any of their public betas), so the iPhone X is out for me.  Which is cool.  It’s not for everybody.

But the iPhone 8 Plus.  Now that’s tempting.  While it looks like an iPhone 7 Plus (which in itself is no bad thing), it gets wireless charging.  When I’ve briefly had Samsung phones, the ability to charge the device wirelessly was a tremendous benefit.  Now Apple is going wireless charging, this is going to be HUGE.  The True Tone display of the 10.5 iPad Pro is beautiful, so I’m glad that the iPhone 8 Plus is getting that (though it’s a shame that none of the new iPhone models are not getting the 120Hz ProMotion technology).  I’m also pleased to see the cameras get some subtle upgrades too, including new sensors and filters.  Will it surpass that of the Galaxy Note 8?  I’m not so sure, but Apple has always had pretty decent cameras and they’ve been good enough for me.

The next few months are going to be very interesting indeed as people get their hands on these new devices.  I really do hope that Apple has solved the facial recognition problem – but it’s far too early, and far too expensive, to be taking a gamble at this time.