back to article Review: Britain's 4G smartphones

It’s been a good few months since the first 4G LTE network fired up in the UK, and wiser men than I have already tossed their orbs about the what and the how of EE’s monopoly 4G network. Time then to consider the 4G handsets now available for use in Blighty, and in the process cast a beady eye on speeds and coverage outside the …


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  1. Alex Walsh


    What's the battery like on a 4G mifi then?

    1. Robert Forsyth

      Re: mifi

      6 to 10 hours, but when it is dead you still have a separate (3G) phone

    2. Anonymous John

      Re: mifi

      Up to 10 hours according to a couple of reviews.It seems to be larger than the 3g E586, so possibly has a bigger battery.

      Edit. 3000mAh as against 1500mAh (E586)

      I can see me buying one from Three later this year, if I can keep my current contract. 15GB for about £18 pm.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    8Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up HSPA+ speeds

    I must be an exception, I've seen 10+Mbps down with over 3Mbps up, I'm with Three...

    I was surprised with the speeds I've seen, and can't see any reason to go to 4G, not until they improve battery life anyway!

    But good review in all, and good advice in the end, stick with 3G :-D

    1. Alex Walsh

      Re: 8Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up HSPA+ speeds

      I've just speed tested my Three connection and I'm showing 14230kbps down and 2362kbps up. That's marginally faster up that I get on my 50meg Virgin Cable connection.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 8Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up HSPA+ speeds

        Around December 2012, on my Note II on T-Mobile I could get between 10MB and 20MB download late at night and early AM because of the HSDPA+ dual channel arrangement. But T-Mobile now seems to limit the download speed and I cannot get above 4MB now! This is force people like me to go to EE!!!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 8Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up HSPA+ speeds

          "Around December 2012, on my Note II on T-Mobile I could get between 10MB and 20MB download"

          Wow 160Mbps is pretty impressive, T-Mobile should be proud...or you should learn the units you're or the other...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: 8Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up HSPA+ speeds

            Okay my bad. I meant 19969kbps.

            1. Danny 14

              Re: 8Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up HSPA+ speeds

              three is good. Ive never seen faster than 10mb/2mb but it is consistently 8Mb even during the commute hour. 4G isnt worth it for me.

        2. Kevin Fairhurst

          Re: 8Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up HSPA+ speeds

          Just managed 10.93Mbps down and 4.24 up, with 45ms ping, on a T-Mobile/EE iPhone 5. You must be holding your phone wrong.... ;)

      2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: 8Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up HSPA+ speeds

        I just got 9738kbps down and 3389kbps via mi-fi on three, and have also seen it higher than that.

        £61 versus my current £22 a month? I don't think so!

    2. Steve Todd

      Re: 8Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up HSPA+ speeds

      HSPA+ is fine in locations where there isn't a lot of users all competing for the bandwidth. In city centres its a different matter. I've just run a quick test. On 3 using HSPA+ I'm getting 440K down and 40K up, with a 340ms ping. On EE I'm getting 19.72M down, 18.05M up with a 43ms ping. It's not hard to see which I'd rather use.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    " iPhone 5 offered a state-of-the-art user experience if you’d never had a fondle of the latest competitor handsets" I made this comment and was slagged off by some of the ladies who frequent this place.

    With regards to bustin' your data cap. Why would 4G make me download/browse/stream more content?

    It's the same file, just getting to the handset faster.

    1. James 51

      It could makes things like skype on the move a reliable reality. If you’re stuck on a train fire up Netflix and watch something.

      The jump from 3G to 4G is going to be less big than from 2G to 3G but we’ll still find ways to fill all the available bandwidth.

    2. Silverburn

      I made this comment and was slagged off by some of the ladies who frequent this place

      Or it could be because your previous posting form points to a preference for spouting troll-like bollocks. Calling people "ladies" is hardly going to get them onside either (apologies to any actual ladies).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "It's the same file, just getting to the handset faster."

      Not if you're watching adaptive bitrate video it's not.

    4. Matt_payne666

      sort of and generally speaking your right, but I know that with available bandwidth I like to ramp up streaming quality... I use plex and if I could afford a 4g connection I know id enjoy loosing some more compression artifacts...

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Guess the theory is if the connection is faster you will do more than you did before - for instance if it was too slow to stream video you are not going to do it - but if it was you may make video calls instead of standard ones etc.

  4. PC Paul

    4G scanning

    Surely these days it wouldn't be hard for the operators to keep an occasionally updated database of 4G locations/cell towers on the device, so they don't waste battery power scanning for non-existent 4G signals?

    1. James 51

      Re: 4G scanning

      It wouldn't but they have kept the data about 2G and 3G towers to themselves, can't seem them handing out the info for 4G.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 4G scanning

      You're thinking like an engineer. Phone carriers think like marketing departments.

      1. Ted Treen

        Re: 4G scanning

        Marketing departments think?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Steve Evans

          Re: 4G scanning


  5. James 51

    The Z10 or the Q10 are the handsets that would interest me most though I can't help but think it would be best to wait for the next generation of 4G chips to come out in the hope they will be more efficient.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Blackberry are pretty much dead in the water though. No point in buying an OS that will likely be discontinued in 6 months.

  6. Bakunin

    Faster, higher, better ...

    ... but never lasts as long.

    The merits of 4G aside, I do wish the phone manufacturers would put more effort into battery life. We've gone from phones and PDAs which would last most of the week to barely scraping though 24 hours.

    A net connected personal device is great, and I use it every day, but how did end up in a situation where you feel nervous spending a full day away from a charging point?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Robert Forsyth

      Re: Faster, higher, better ...

      Doesn't push services like MS Exchange demand you have an always on connection?

      Pulling/polling on the email/calendar server every 10 mins (using lowest power data) and switching to fastest when there is something to down/upload, perhaps.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Faster, higher, better ...

      The things are near enough exploding anyway. There is only so much energy you can get into a little box, lithium batteries are already getting close to dynamite energy density, and I doubt many people will want energy cells based on RFNA and UDMH any time soon.

      You used to be able to get big batteries for BlackBerries with bulging backs, but marketing departments are creating the expectation that new phones will have enormous screens and be very thin. That simply does not go with good battery life.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pathetic: 500MB for 31 pounds

    I used to get 5 GB for 7 pounds on a monthly contract with Three.

    Download speeds are 3.5 Mbit and Upload 1.5 Mbit throughout the country.

    Why pay for this LTE service when most likely it is only available in a handful of locations and then

    falls back onto Three's network of 3.5 Mbits.

    Three's 3.5MBits service is sufficient for watching several HD online movies at the same time.

    You could easily watch a movie whilst downloading other stuff at the same time.

    If you realy want fast speed on the go then join BT Fon by subscribing to BT Broadband for 23 pounds/month.

    You get 10 GB fixed line download and unlimited wifi. Your more likely to be in range of a BT Fon wifi signal than this new LTE service.

    23+7 = 30 pounds and hell of a lot more download allowance.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: Pathetic: 500MB for 31 pounds

      Your cheap £7 deal was SIM only and limited texts/calls. £31 includes a subsidised phone and unlimited texts/calls, its not a like for like comparison.

      HD (at 720p) needs about 4Mbits/sec for decent playback. Unless 3 can AVERAGE more than that then no, it's not good enough for a single HD stream.

      Non of the solutions you suggest will work well in a busy city centre, oh and the EE deal includes unlimited WiFi also.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pathetic: 500MB for 31 pounds

        BBC's iPlayer can do 1280x720 resolution (720p) using h.264 with a bitrate of 3.2Mbps and 192kbps audio.

        This is fine for Three's service even at peak times. How many places is EE's LTE service available at and what bitrate does it offer at peak times?

        Why would you want to be watching a HD stream on a mobile device anyway? The screen needs to be bigger than 30 inches for you to notice any difference.

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: Pathetic: 500MB for 31 pounds

          1) Unless my maths are wrong then that's only a single stream inside of 3.5Mbit/sec rather than the MULTIPLE streams you were claiming.

          2) You certainly won't get 3.5Mbit/sec all over the country at peak times. I'm not even reaching 0.5Mbit/sec at the moment, and that's with 5 bars of signal strength.

          3) YOU were the one to mention HD streams. I can however see the difference between HD and SD on a tablet with a better than 1080p screen resolution (hint: you look at tablet screens from rather closer distances than a TV screen).

          4) EEs 3G network is no better than 3's, but then you can get unlimited 3G contracts (data, texts and minutes) SIM only for £16 if you're not going to spend most of your time in a 4G area.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Pathetic: 500MB for 31 pounds

            I am sorry EE is currently doing a lot of exaggeration which also gave me the bug.

            You are right only 1 HD steam.

            But I have to disagree a SD stream on a sub 10 inch screen is more than adequate. I regularly watch BBC iPlayer SD content on a 17 inch laptop from pretty close and its more than acceptable.

            iPlayer has got the SD stream down to under 1.5 Mb/s.

        2. M Gale

          Re: Pathetic: 500MB for 31 pounds

          "Why would you want to be watching a HD stream on a mobile device anyway? The screen needs to be bigger than 30 inches for you to notice any difference."

          Maybe on a 30 inch screen sat across the living room from your eyeballs.

          On a bus where the 10 inch screen is about a foot and a half from your face, you'll notice the difference.

          As for whether it's worth me swapping from the unlimited-means-unlimited rolling monthly One plan from Three, and then forking out for an expensive new phone that has a battery-sucking 4G chipset in it.. nah.

  8. irneb

    Razr HD?

    Would have loved to see a Moto Razr HD compared to these. Or even the Moto RazrHD Extreme. Would most likely have blown the socks off even the note's battery life. Just sorry it's still a US-only device!

    But as stated by someone else ... what kind of downloads are you doing with your phone that warrants a 12-40Mb/s baud? Should we be worried? Are you running some torrent app on your phone? Or are you using your phone as a concurrent hotspot for your PC's, Laptops, Media Streamer, Email / Web / FTP Server, Massive Data Centre, etc. at home? I'm sure you could do better in that case using a fixed line?

  9. Lockwood

    Heh heh heh

    "I’m never happy with less than 4.3 inches in my hand"

    That's what she said!

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Heh heh heh

      Sounds like low expectations - unless it's on a very cold nudest beach.

  10. Great Bu

    Not until the competition is out......

    Let's face it, anyone taking on a 4G contract (especially over 24 months) before the other carriers launch their 4G services is kerayzee. The comedy 500Mb cap on a £31 pm contract will be gone as soon as EE have any actual competition and anyone stuck on one of those contracts will surely be kicking their early adopting selves.

    The handset costs will also fall exponentially as the actual addition of 4G ability to an existing design is a fairly trivial and low cost process so plenty of 4G handsets will be available subsidised on £20-25 pm contracts too.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. M Gale

        Re: Not until the competition is out......

        Friend of mine was trying to tell me how shit my phone is and how his contract is awesome because his iToy was "free" from EE and he'll be getting a "free" 4G upgrade soon.

        I did the math and pointed out that buying a sim-free phone and going for a rolling monthly contract meant that after the first 12 months I have already spent less than him, and with each passing month I spend even less than he does, for more-or-less the same type of phone plan. In fact I could buy a new phone outright every couple of years and still pay less than he does.

        He didn't like that.

  11. morgannick2000

    Orange or EE coverage

    It remains to be seen if Orange coverage will improve. Where I live its laughable, you struggle with GPRS never mind 4G. O2 doesn't fair much better but at least I can make a call on O2. Vodofone seems to be the best. (other networks and sub-networks available)

    What annoys me the most is that Siri doesn't work without 3G, so the hands free (in car) experience is poor - my old 3GS with Voice Control did a much better job of voice commands, now I just get "I'm not able to do this at this time" - progress eh??

    Bottom line - Live outside London forget data being reliable it simply isn't and I can't see how 4G is going to change this (get on a Virgin train and travel up and down the country - do you get 3G for more that 30 mins in 2 hrs?). Come on mobile phone operators you take on average £200-£400 off us each year - you must try harder!!

    1. Jim Wilkinson

      Re: Orange or EE coverage

      4G? Err, it would be nice to get 3g. But then coverage is always measured by population and not area. TV transmitters always try to get full coverage. Why not the mobile operators?

      1. Polyphonic

        Re: Orange or EE coverage

        People don't like mobile masts as they think it fries their brains but like huge TV masts, and in our village repeaters, because they cannot do without Bargain Hunt. Even then some of us have to rely on freesat because we cannot get a terrestrial signal. Mobile signal propagation is challenging, as is any radio signal, and up to now the spectrum available hasn't helped.

  12. ukgnome
    Thumb Down

    Nope, Sorry!

    Just why do you need to stream that much data to your phone? Call me a cheap skate, but I pre-fill all the content I need onto my device and then I don't need a data budget.

    We have all been conned that we actually need internet on the move, just how many pictures of cats do you need to upload to facebook whilst you're on the go?

    1. Chris Miller

      Re: Nope, Sorry!

      A tad harsh, but I agree with your general comments. Perhaps if you can't get a decent fixed connection speed you'd want 4G speeds to support 5 simultaneous HD feeds for your household, but if you can't get decent ADSL, what are your odds of getting 4G coverage?

      Speaking for myself, I'd rather have a reliable 3G 1-2Mb link that doesn't drop out every few seconds/miles. And I'm not talking about the wilds of Sutherland, but on the train from London to Manchester or the M4 outside the M25.

  13. Joel 1
    Thumb Up

    More like 2G to 4G

    Following the OFCOM spectrum auction, I think 4G will have a much bigger impact than people are expecting. O2 has taken on a commitment to give 98% indoor coverage by 2017. Never mind the increased speeds, the increased coverage is looking much more interesting.

    The biggest problem with 3G is its non-availability over so much of the country more than a decade after the 3G auction. 4G looks like it might finally give a decent communications network.

  14. petef

    Frequency band support

    The article might have emphasized the support of the handsets for the five frequency bands that may be used for 4G. Any missing frequency for a handset will effectively reduce its 4G coverage. EE use 1800 MHz now, the auction has given them 800 MHz and 2600 MHz for later this year. The variation consultation should give them an option of 2100 MHz too.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pricing is still screwed - I pay about £15 for 10Gb/month on a 30 day rolling contract with Three.

    EE want £15.99 for 3Gb and to tie in for 18 months - sometimes I may get 4G speeds but Three and HSPA+ / DC-HSPA is already pretty fast - to the point of not really making a difference on normal use.

    EE want £25.99 for 8Gb (so still not as much data) - which is their nearest plan but still almost 2x the price.

  16. 1Rafayal

    I am actually considering EE at the moment, not for 4g speeds but for the fact they seem to be the only provider in the UK who offer (almost) unlimited roaming in Europe.

    I cant seem to find another provider who offers this service, I dont care about 4g at all really.

  17. Tim 69

    Of course the biggest issue if you have a Windows phone is that you can't receive calls....

    That's right, if you are on a 4G network, Windows Phone doesn't hand over from 4G to 3G properly, so the other party can't actually call you. It's a bit of an issue for something that is supposed to be a phone and happens rather more than anyone would like you to believe.

    Apparently EE have raised it with Microsoft, Nokia and HTC, but still, I have a 4G phone on a 4G price plan that I can't do more than 3G+ on because the phone software is crap.

    To be fair, one of the fixes in iOs 6.1 was because iPhone5 also had this problem, but still, six months later and the Lumias haven't been fixed. I could rant for ages, but frankly right now, I'm a little fed up and subdued and there is little point. I await the reduction in Tariff I get from EE for the remainder of my contract thanks to this...

    And I know there are people out there who will say "Serves you right for buying a WinPhone"...

    1. Al Taylor

      Re: Of course the biggest issue if you have a Windows phone is that you can't receive calls....

      "Windows Phone doesn't hand over from 4G to 3G properly, so the other party can't actually call you"

      I didn't experience any such problems with the Lumia 920 that Nokia provided though of course I can't speak for other 4G WP8 devices.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Of course the biggest issue if you have a Windows phone is that you can't receive calls....

      Hmmm. Not an issue with me. Perhaps you are being a computer user (non technical)?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Of course the biggest issue if you have a Windows phone is that you can't receive calls....

      A friend of mine has a 920 on EE, as does his wife, they've had no problems of this nature.

  18. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Once bitten, twice shy.

    Long ago in the days of contracting, I talked myself into buying an Orange "high speed" card for my laptop (this was in the days before neat 3G USB dongles). What a mistake! Performance was scorching, just about everywhere I didn't need to use it, with Orange's "coverage map" turned out to be as big a work of fiction as the average politician's manifesto. Ten feet outside of central London it was down to a very ropey GPRS signal. Calls to Orange's customer support, whilst polite and as helpful as the staff could be, proved fruitless, and I decided i was being ripped off given the awful coverage. Looking at the coverage map for EE, which is WORSE than the old Orange map, and even without taking into account the "optimistic" picture it shows, there is no way I'm paying out for 4G any time soon!

  19. Lars Silver badge

    And some people

    Think it's hard to choose a Linux distro.

  20. Lusty

    On the same page...

    Come on, seriously?


    "I’m never happy with less than 4.3 inches in my hand"


    "BlackBerry also deserves credit for kicking off the new range with a sensible 4.2-inch"

    1. Al Taylor

      Re: On the same page...

      what's a tenth of an inch between friends?

  21. Andrew Barratt


    Didn't realise el-reg had staff in Swinetown! How did the coverage go if you moved out towards the deep, dark Walkden area?

    1. Al Taylor
      Thumb Down

      Re: Random

      There was no 4G at all in central Walkden (around the big new Tesco store). Picked up a signal once I got down to the East Lancs but still only talking one or two bars.

  22. jibberjabber

    Use case?

    I'm still at a loss for a use case when I seem to get ~9Mbit on 3G.

    I guess... for gaming, or swapping large multimedia files - postproduction maybe? Keeping Debian distributions up to date?

    Can't think of many other applications.I can stream HD-quality Netflix films on my Three account, and there's no official fair usage cap.

  23. FanniM

    I was very impressed with my friend's Blackberry Z10. It transmitted the entirety of Jump Street 21 via DLNA at 720p to our BluRay player using only battery.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <3 my Note II

    Note II for £40 on a 2 year contract from T-Mobile (including Employee Friends & Family Discount), and the 3GB £46 package with 40% off when I moved over to EE.

    Without a discount, I wouldn't have touched the contract with a barge pole - and agree that the 3GB package is basically the 'minimum' package.

  25. Hans 1

    £31-a-month deal with 500MB

    What do you want to do with 500mb? With those "theoretical" download speeds, your monthly allowance will only last a couple of minutes! Ridiculous.

    NB: Theoretical in the sense of "In theory, there is no difference between practice and theory; in practice there is."

    1. illiad

      Re: £31-a-month deal with 500MB

      so are you one of those crazy guys that wants to d/l a distro with your phone????

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