Saturday, 14 February 2015

Breaking the Apple/Telstra Nexus

Like many of my friends and colleagues over the last 7 years I used iPhones 3, 4 and 5 on Telstra 24-month plans with varying upfront payments. iPhones 3 and 4 suffered from the barely tolerable intermittent home button problem and iPhone 5 from the increasingly intolerable battery fail problem.

During my iPhone 5 ownership it became clear that Android and Android phones can match and sometimes exceed the iPhone performance. As well my average of 50 minutes of calls and 20 SMS messages per month meant I was significantly overpaying in my $55-70/month Telstra plans, and had to live with a meagre 1 GB of monthly data - very restricting. When Telstra's hugely expensive iPhone 6 plans were announced it was time to search for much better value for money. I was also determined never to be manacled to a 24-month contract again which meant the upfront purchase of an unlocked phone.

I researched iPhone 6 Plus equivalents (from among Samsung, Google, HTC, Sony, Motorola) and eventually settled on a 16 GB LG G3 which has equal or superior hardware specifications. The screen resolution, SD card and camera are the standouts for me. Since I keep the vast majority of my content in the cloud I always choose the phone with the lowest memory (and lowest price). With iPhones 3 and 4 this worked well but the Apple faux pas with the memory-hungry iOS 8 upgrade meant I had to delete some stuff from the iPhone 5 - really annoying.

The outright purchase price of my LG G3 was $499 as opposed to $969 for the iPhone 6 Plus (Kogan prices). Then it needed a shop around for pay-as-you-go bring your own phone plans which can be cancelled in any month. All major carriers and MVNOs offer prepaid plans. I looked at Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Amaysim (used for my mobile hotspots), Aldimobile and others. My phone usage is data heavy and voice/SMS light. I effectively use it as a handheld device for accessing Internet services like email, web, news, social media, Skype and a big range of other services. Most prepaid plans emphasize voice/SMS with pitiable data allowances.

I eventually settled on the 4G Spintel service (uses Optus) shown on the left where you can choose the mix of voice, text and data to suit your needs.  Compare the $86/month Telstra iPhone 6 Plus plan which, had I followed the herd, I might be using now. It allows $550 voice, unlimited text and 1 GB data - unsuitable for my needs. The relative costs over 24 months are:

After 9 months I will be ahead in expenditure with the option to switch to a new phone and/or a new carrier. The phone came with Android 4.4 but was updated over the air just after Christmas to Android 5.0 Lollipop which was welcome.

I am 3 months along this trajectory, very much enjoying the phone and thinking of lowering my monthly cost as I predicted I am using only about 15% of my voice minutes and about 10% of my SMS. Typically using the phone's hotspot from other devices in the last days of the month I have been consuming just over 90% of my data. I would like more data but after 2.5 GB Spintel charges $15/GB or part thereof. I prefer to wait until later in the year when my second choice carrier Amaysim will have 4G and their $44/month includes 5 GB data with unlimited voice and SMS.

Yes, there are downsides. Five weeks of my trial have been in Tasmania where Optus signal very occasionally is absent (that can also happen with Telstra although rarely). The G3 has no fingerprint reader but I find the knock code feature a great substitute.

I am extremely happy and my initial nervousness with adopting Spintel has been completely dispelled. Therefore I thoroughly recommend my LG G3/Spintel combination.