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NEC N411i i-mode phone

i-mode arrives

First off let me congratulate O2 for insisting that every 'official' content provider must offer a certain amount of free content. This means that you can get an idea of what subscribing will provide you before having to put any money down. Another good move is capping the subscription cost at a maximum of £3 per month, although a great many services have a far lower subscription cost. If you're worried about subscribing to services by mistake and ending up with a huge bill, don't. In order to subscribe to a service you have to confirm three times before the subscription is activated.

NEC N411i i-mode phone

The breadth of content available is quite staggering. Check out the lifestyle section and you'll find familiar magazine names like Heat, Glamour and Evo. While for those desperate enough to need to look at pictures of naked women on a tiny mobile phone screen, there's also Zoo, Nuts and FHM.

But it's not all puerile content for teenagers, there are some truly excellent services as well. For me it's worth having i-mode just to have streetmap.co.uk in my pocket wherever I go. For a bargain price of only 25p per month, you can look up any street or postcode and have the map sent directly to your phone. Another very useful feature is the BAA live flight information, something that I made real use of when I had to collect my wife from the airport last week. O2 has assured me that there will be a similar service for train times, but it hasn't gone live yet. There are also news services, sports channels, TV gossip services and music and video download services available. Put simply, there really is something there for everyone.

One of the most impressive aspects of i-mode is the navigation system - not only is the i-mode button and standard four-way navigator intuitive and easy to use, but every i-mode handset has to employ the same navigation method. This means that if you change your handset, you don't have to learn how to navigate i-mode all over again.

Another great i-mode feature is page caching. This means that when you jump back pages, the transition is instantaneous, since that page will have been stored locally, so there's no need to download it again. This is particularly useful when you're moving around a map in streetmap.co.uk, since the various areas will be cached. However, I'd like to see more pages cached, since the caching is very limited - to be honest I'd like to be able to reserve an amount of phone memory for caching, and have all pages cached until that area was full.

An i-mode phone is also equipped with push email, just like a Blackberry. So, if you absolutely have to get your email wherever you are, you can just have it all forwarded to your i-mode phone, although you're obviously going to have to pay for all the data that you receive. The beauty of the push email is that you just forward your email to the phone when you need it, that way you're not constantly bombarded with email all day. My advice would be to never give out the actual email address of your phone, that way you can avoid spam while maintaining a useful mobile email option when necessary.

All the i-mode content services are free until the end of the year - well that's not entirely true, you're allowed to subscribe to up to ten content providers for free until the end of the year. i-mode email is also free until the end of March 2006.

NEC N411i i-mode phone

But good as it is, i-mode isn't perfect. Take streetmap.co.uk, for example. To use it you need to navigate to the StreetMap site listed under the Travel section, then you have to download a Java application in order to use the service. Once the Java application has been downloaded, you don't go to the StreetMap site under the i-menu to use StreetMap. No, you have to go to your Java menu and launch StreetMap from there. I don't see why you can't go to the StreetMap site under the Travel section and have the Java application automatically launched from there if you have it installed - surely that would be the most simple and obvious route for users?

Next page: Verdict

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