Mobile Foxtel: the review (Verdict: far from real Foxtel, some merits)

foxtelmobile.jpgIt's been almost two weeks worth of playing with the Samsung Widescreen phone and its super-duper support for the NextG Mobile Foxtel service. So what's the story? Is it worth changing services / plans / phones for?

In the most basic sense, this isn't a true enough mobile edition of Foxtel for my liking. It's still made up largely of looped content rather than streamed live channels. I'm not as down on the concept as I have been in the past, as it does adjust shows to deliver entertaining 5 minute bursts of content you can dive in and enjoy. Likewise the 15 minutes at a time 'rule' seems more like a battery-life failsafe - when you've been watching a while you do get bumped, but it pops up a 'resume viewing?' query so you can jump back in. Of course, if that happens right in the middle of watching something it's certainly a nuisance.

The overall interface looks great. The channels are easy to navigate, and all channel buttons show what is playing right now. There's a problem, though - quite often this is out of sync and when you jump in some other show is playing.

Once in a channel, an EPG appears in the lower third so you can explore the next few shows in the line up. You navigate upcoming show listings pressing left-right, and up-down explores other channels and what is showing on them. All while your current channel keeps playing, so it is a genuine EPG experience. Nice. When this is open, the content is boxed quite small, so you can shift into full screen mode when you're done browsing the EPG.

This leads to compression. When viewing fullscreen, you can see visual compression artifact but it is not at all distracting. This is the best quality mobile video I've seen streaming to a handset, and the 3 Mobile TV services are nowhere near the quality we've seen here.

Content looping is very much the norm across the entertainment, sports, and kids channels, while the music and news channels were the main areas you would find non-stop programming. The loops were most disappointing upon realising they are not updated daily - you could quickly encounter programming you had seen earlier in the week.

Strangely, on one day we came across an episode of Smallville playing on Fox 8, while the EPG made reference to the usual loops of shorter content (highlights of Jerry Springer, Fear Factor, etc between eps of King of the Hill, Futurama, The Singing Office, etc). Whether this points to occasional bursts of live streaming is hard to say - but full 46 minute TV eps really don't suit the format and definitely don't suit the usage limits Telstra places on the service.

To that end, we've run a lot of hours worth of content on this handset over the last couple of weeks and have not been kicked from the service. This is a pre-paid NextG SIM that was not marked as a review unit, so it's unlikely we were getting special treatment. Mileage will no doubt vary, particularly if larger numbers of customers start using the service, but it was nice to see the 200 minute limit is not being monitored as a hard ceiling.

Here's a list of all channels currently appearing in the service:

Entertainment: Fox 8; The Comedy Channel; TV1; Sci Fi; Biography; E! Entertainment; Fashion TV
Sports: Fox Sports News; Eurosportnews; Union; WWE Mobile
News & Docos: Sky News Headlines; Sky News Business; CNN; Fox News; BBC World; Crime & Investigation Network; Discovery Mobile; National Geographic Channel
Kids: Nickelodeon Mobile; Nick Jr; Disney Channel; Playhouse Disney; Cartoon Network; Animax
Music: Channel [V] ; Channel [V] 2; MTV; Max; TMF; CMC

It's a distinct improvement over the first generation of Mobile Foxtel, and if I was a NextG user I'd consider paying the $12 a month to have it. But when it slides up to the full price of $18 early next year? Not so much. [Foxtel by Mobile]