Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
Here’s a scenario for you: one phone network is really cheap for calling and texting your mates in the UK, but is really expensive for calling abroad. Another is great, but only for making calls to family and friends back home somewhere in Europe or further afield.
You can get a couple of different SIM cards, but of course that means you either have to swap the cards over all the time – risking lots of missed calls while you’re switched to the other – or have two phones, meaning lots of expense, and two things to charge and carry around, and risk losing.
This sounds like classic #firstworldproblems, but actually, there’s a solution which is almost unheard of in the first world, and the norm in much of the developing world: dual SIM phones. You can put two SIM cards in the phone, and then whenever you make a call, you decide which network to use. There are a few such phones aimed at Europeans, but they tend to be lower specced and difficult to get hold of.
We tried the HTC One Dual SIM, but it didn’t go as well as we hoped, not least because we had an iPhone already, so changing to Android was a bit of a culture shock. So we looked at another solution: the SocBlue A870, a Bluetooth dual SIM adaptor which connects to the iPhone and gives you space for two extra SIM cards (in addition to the one you have in your phone already).
One problem: Apple’s restrictions mean that it can’t work within their rules, so you need to jailbreak your phone. This is pretty easy these days – and free. What harm could it do?
We went ahead and jailbroke our phone (it invalidates the warranty, and there are all sorts of stories about the chances of turning your phone into an expensive paperweight, but these turned out to be unfounded) and contacted the SocBlue distributor in Germany for an A870 for review. They said no. Having tried it, we’re pretty sure we know why.
The A870 arrived beautifully boxed, but that was the only nice thing about it. Inside was the unit itself, which works via Bluetooth and attaches to your phone like a regular case; a weeny instruction manual (with minute writing in Chinese and English); a thing that looks like an Apple SIM removal tool; and a USB charger cable. We decided it would be best to leave it to charge overnight, so plugged it in and went to bed. In the morning, the little light on the back had changed colour – we assume that meant it was fully charged. Or it could have meant it was switched on. Or it could have meant it was on standby. There was no way of knowing.
The A870 itself looked cheap, with sharp edges where it had been badly moulded. Imitating phone manufacturers, it had its country of origin proudly embossed on the back: Made in China, it declared. They’d even made a cut in the transparent plastic protective wrap so you could clearly read it.
Reading the instruction manual, it told us to insert our SIM or SIMs, and that it’s not hot swappable… we’d need to restart or power it off and on again. This wasn’t as easy as expected, since the hole was so tiny that the prong of the SIM remover was too small to fit in – we needed to use a sewing pin. Powered up, the fun began.
Nothing happened when we first went to settings to connect the phone to SocBlue. Maybe because Bluetooth was turned off? Because of the software hack, the phone now doesn’t even allow us to turn Bluetooth on – that would stop us connecting anything else, including headsets, via Bluetooth.
We tried connecting again, and this time the SocBlue showed up. After a few attempts at connecting, we were able to call a friend by scrolling through the menu, which had imported our contacts. This was the first and only time we got it to work.
The second time we tried to use it, the phone crashed; the third time – and every time after that – it said invalid number, even though it wasn’t.
We tried getting a friend to call us, or to send a text message. These both worked, but it would have been nice if the pop up alert wasn’t in Chinese.
Call quality seemed good… but then, it should be, since the A870 and our phone were millimetres from each other. Apparently, they work 10m away, but we wouldn’t trust it.
We’re told that the mute switch has no effect with the SocBlue; and it’ll still be active even if you switch on flight mode. And finally, if you get a text message over 160 characters (which used to be the limit), you’ll find you only see the first part of it.
SocBlue only lets you use the additional SIMs at GPRS speed, so it’s not much use for browsing.
If you’re like us, though, you won’t get that far – it’ll be back in its box and on its way back for a full refund while you look for something better.