A product and service review by Bobulous.
The R310s is a mobile (cellular) phone by Ericsson designed to be water, shock and dust resistant. It's available in four colours (orange, yellow, blue, green).
Virgin Mobile provide call service to mobile phones. They don't much like the conecpt of peak-time hours, nor do they like call-credit that expires after any period of time.
As you do not necessarily have to use these items together, I will review them separately.
I wasn't interested in buying into a contract, and no vendor on Earth seems to offer the R310s in a pre-pay deal, so I was forced to buy the phone unlocked (Orange and one2one love to 'lock' the handsets they provide so you can only use them with their services) and offline (i.e. without a SIM card and, consequently, without call service) by myself.
It isn't hard to find places that sell handsets unlocked and offline. I saw the R310s on sale on the Web at Mphones for £219.99. Unfortunately, my impatience got the better of me and I bought it from a Carphone Warehouse outlet in Harrods (the store on Tottenham Court Road only had the handset in the murky blue colour) for £230. Note, though, that the outlet in Harrods has no visible markings to show that it is a Carphone Warehouse.
It's important to understand that buying the R310s offline means that you cannot use the phone straight away. You will have to choose a service provider yourself and buy a SIM card to put in the phone. I chose Virgin Mobile as my provider (see below) but with an unlocked handset, you're free to choose almost any provider you wish.
My use of the phone has been anything but intensive, so my observations may be useless to people who spend hours using a mobile phone each day. I don't know whether holding this phone to your ear for three hours will produce more or less arm/ear/wrist/brain/mouth ache than other handsets. Personally, I don't care. If you use a mobile phone that much in one go, here's a tip: go find a landline.
As to the objective matter of how the phone compares in physical terms, I'll make it simple: it's huge, it's heavy, it's bright orange and it has a shark-fin antenna. Those children among you who own a phone to be seen with, and those that think that small really is beautiful / useful / otherwise important are not going to like this at all. It's not the size of matchbox and it's not light enough to make a pound coin look like a weight burden. In fact, the phone has a mass of 170g and stands at 170mm in height (40mm of which is just the shark-fin-shaped aerial). To compare, the Nokia 8210, the smallest, lightest handset on the market at the moment, is 79g and has a height of 101mm. Or, if extremes don't interest you, the popular Nokia 3210 handset measures to 151g and 124mm. So, of any user of recent handset technology, the R310s might knock the eyes out of the sockets. The over-excited colours available are capable of that alone. But don't get carried away. Even at 170mm in height, the handset fits comfortably even into my (annoyingly) tight jeans side-pockets. The pockets on my larger trousers would probably allow any smaller-sized handset to slip right out unnoticed. Bigger is better as far as I'm concerned. And the handset certainly doesn't feel heavy — I don't even notice it's there. Though, compared to my 95Kg of mass, a 170g handset hasn't really got a lot of chance of making an impression on me. Dinky people might find otherwise.
The build of the handset is superb. It looks and feels very solid and robust. Some of the handsets I've seen look utterly useless — I'd have them broken in two or three pieces within days of carrying them around. Most handsets don't look much better. But the R310s is a chunk of hard-arsed, hard-bodied, hard-headed resistant materials. Even the aerial, in its unique shark-fin design, is flexible enough to seem indestructible. I can attest to the shock resistance. It survives drops, knocks and violent jostling for sustained periods. I had it in a knee-pocket all night while dancing (imagine an epileptic fit induced by hardcore gabber techno) and it couldn't care less. I've dropped it while mid-conversation and it just bounces its rubber-edged body a couple of times — the conversation continues unaffected (though you may get asked what exactly you're doing by the person on the other end of the call). I so far have to take the water-resistance capabilities for granted because I haven't used the phone in pouring rain yet, but the manual suggests you wash the handset under a tap if it gets dirty, so I think Ericsson are more than confident in the unit's ability to ignore water. It is not, I'm informed, water-proof. You should not keep it by your side when you go swimming, nor should you casually place it into a tub of water. Seriously rain-proof, though, I'm sure it is, and that suits me fine. It's also designed for dust-resistance, but I'm not even sure how I'd test that — people in the construction industry looking for a phone should be interested, though.
The phone is jammed with all the features you'd expect for serious use — phone book, call list, caller identification, text messaging, call handling, etc. The software seems to be exactly the same as that found on the Ericsson T28 and similar models (including the games Solitaire and Tetris). You can set up to six profiles, naming them suitably, for different situations. So you can have the Normal profile with typical ring-volume, ringer-sound, vibrating alert, etc; then name a profile Meeting or Lecture and set it to have no ring-volume, and vibrate only; maybe a profile that doesn't ring or vibrate, just rejects all calls to voicemail. The profile feature is a handy way of choosing a lot of settings at once. You can't, however, customise the phone fashionably — no custom graphic startup screens, no downloadable ringer-sounds, no Mission-bloody-Impossible theme tune playing out of your phone unless you know how to enter the tune yourself in the custom-melody creator. I think theme-tune-ring-tones should be a crime punishable by exile, so the loss of features like this doesn't make the R310s any less worthy in my view.
Using the phone is a delight. It's very easy to get a comfortable grip on the handset, the size and the rubber-edging making it fit snugly in the hand. The buttons are all spaced nicely so that my large, clumsy fingertips don't have a trouble hitting the right key. I can even use my oversize thumbs to operate the whole keypad, and that really is impressive. Battery life is 120 hours standy, 4h20 talk-time and this seems to hold true (though if you turn the phone off at night, it often seems to have lost more power come the morning than it should have done in the interval). Leaving the phone on all day and turning it off at night for about eight hours, it seems to go a whole four days before being so low on charge that you'll feel the need to recharge it. Which isn't really a problem because it charges from empty to full in under three hours (using the Ericsson battery that comes with the phone). The sound quality is very clear, and the volume control allows you to vary the ear-piece output from a discreet whisper to a painful level that can be heard a metre away from the phone even with mild background noise. And a nice feature of the phone is voice-dialling. The unit holds ten spaces for voice-dialling speech, so you can dial your most important contacts just by holding the YES button and saying their name (or whatever speech sample you recorded and linked to them). This works impressively well. The system differentiates between Mark, Marko and Michael without problem. A very nice shortcut.
The R310s is a superb piece of equipment. Strong, well-built and reliable. It operates very well as a phone, loaded with useful features. Its size and mass (and perhaps price or colour) may be a problem to some, but those willing to accept this premium should be very happy with what it buys them.
If you don't feel the Ericsson R310s is for you, but you do need a tough, resistant handset, there are a couple of alternatives.
Nokia's 6250 model also boasts water, shock and dust resistance, and WAP features. I know next-to-nothing about this phone.
Siemens make the M35i which is much smaller but is still water, shock and dust resistant and also offers WAP features. While considering this handset, I found several reviews that complained about it having lousy sound quality. I cannot comment independently on this.
The Virgin Mobile SIM card necessary to use the service comes as part of the Virgin Mobile Service Pack. I bought one from a Virgin Megastore but you can order them online at Virgin Mobile. Price £10, includes £5 of call-credit.
Once the SIM card is neatly slotted into place within your phone (see your handset manual for advice about installing it), turn on the phone and you're online. You start off with £5 of call-credit, but you can increase this anytime by visiting the Virgin Mobile website, or calling the Virgin Mobile service number from your phone, and having your credit card ready, or by buying top-up cards from a Virgin Megastore or affiliated high-street outlet. This is all explained very nicely in the service guide that comes with the SIM card.
Virgin Mobile offers voicemail and caller identification so you don't miss important calls if you're temporarily busy or unreachable. I somehow manage to answer less than half of all calls that I get, so I'm glad that calling voicemail is free. It's also free to call the service centre to find out how much call-credit you have left. The service also permits SMS text-messaging at ten pence per outgoing message.
I don't use my phone very often — it's more an emergency / urgency facility than anything else — so I refused to pay a monthly charge to keep my phone online, and I am positively disgusted by pay-as-you-talk schemes that only give you thirty days to use up call-credit that you've paid for. Virgin Mobile doesn't care how long you hold onto your call-credit. There is no daily, weekly or monthly service fee of any kind — I've checked very carefully, and the only thing that depletes your call-credit is making phone calls. So I'm happy with the arrangement.
I also figure that I will be more likely to use the phone in the daytime than the evening, so peak-rate hours bothered me greatly. Virgin Mobile don't care what time of day it is, so again they appeal. The tariff charges the same way every day, any time of day — fifteen pence per minute for the first five minutes of each day, then five pence per minute after that. Calls to mobiles not on the Virgin Mobile network are charged at thirty-five pence per minunte at all times. In the light of what some cheeky operators charge during the day, this all seems very reasonable to me. Perfect for occasional, irregular use. However, this tariff scheme is of no use at all to people who only bought a mobile phone to get free evening or weekend calls. And people who use a mobile all day might be better served by a heavy-usage tariff elsewhere. But I'm neither of those people, and a peakless-stepped tariff works for me.
Virgin Mobile is run using the one2one cellular network. Being the highest-frequency band in the UK, getting a good signal on the one2one network has never been as easy as with other providers. But, as the coverage map in the service guide shows, outdoor coverage is now pretty great across the UK. This is outdoors, though. Indoors, in heavily-built-up buildings and especially in basements, you may get no signal at all. If you're going to be indoors all day and need your phone, this may pose serious problems.
The Virgin Mobile service is reasonably priced for irregular and infrequent use, especially suitable for emergency-only phone usage because of its non-expiring call-credit.
The indoor signal weakness may be a problem to people who need to be in constant contact.
The service offers all the usual features of a provider, without charging any service charge.
In the interests of making this service review look like less of an informercial on behalf of Virgin Mobile, I think it would help to mention some alternatives.
After Virgin Mobile launched their peakless-stepped tariff, Vodafone eventually grew to like the idea. They offer a similar pay-as-you-go scheme called SmartStep (25p/min, first three minutes, then 5p/min) which will almost certainly offer stronger indoor reception.
Orange now offer Just Talk, a pay-as-you-go tariff scheme that allows users to select which hours are off-peak for them.
4th April, 2006: It's been years since I added credit to my phone, and almost a year since I last used it to make a call. But a call to Virgin Mobile shows that my airtime balance has remained at £3.20 regardless. Virgin Mobile really don't punish you for not using your phone. And the current tariff specifies exactly the same call costs as it did six years ago. So I'm fairly impressed.
1st September, 2010: So long has passed since I last made any use of the Virgin Mobile SIM that my R310s now simply reports "SIM Card error" if I attempt to use it. Which means you will eventually be punished for idle thumbs.
Also, the tariff has changed hugely in the last few years. For instance, Virgin now charge PAYG customers to make calls to the voicemail service, which I think is appaling, but I notice is now standard practice across all of the UK cellular networks. And Virgin also despicably use the term "Unlimited" when in fact they mean "Limited" [at 26 Jan 2011, clause 7 of their mobile broadband terms and conditions begins
If your Contract Allowance provides unlimited data access within the UK this will be subject to a fair use limit of 3GB.], another common practice which I would outlaw given the chance. So I'm in no hurry to get a new SIM from Virgin Mobile.