Red Bull Mobile Australia — Review

The other week, we received an approach from Red Bull Mobile Australia (RBMA). Their proposal? Check out our service, have a SIM card on us, try it in one of our prepaid handsets to be supplied, and let us know what you think.

So…

We have.

Those of you who are longer term readers will know a few things about Ausdroid. Firstly, I don’t often do reviews anymore. Secondly, we don’t often review carriers themselves – we’re an Android blog, and we tend to review things Android related. So you might well ask, why on earth are we reviewing Red Bull Mobile?

It’s a fair question.

When we received RBMA’s approach for a review, it initially went into the ‘thanks, but no thanks’ pile, but then reading further into their presser, we realised that the phones on offer (to pair with their pre- and post-paid offerings) were Android handsets. This piqued my interest, so I said we’d give it a look.

Having received the pre-paid SIM starter kit and a dinky HTC Explorer to review it with, I got to work.

Pros

  • Pretty good value – $365 for a year’s access, with unlimited calls and 5gb data per month.
  • The activation process was easy – I mean, visit a webpage and two minutes later be activated easy.
  • Activation took less than two minutes.
  • Everything worked out of the box.
  • The available handset range is pretty nifty – an HTC Explorer for $1 is hard to argue with.

Cons

  • RBMA is delivered over the Vodafone network, as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO).
  • This means you get all the performance (and lack thereof) that Vodafone offers.
  • Checking your available credit is easy – online – but not very intuitive on the handset.
  • While Vodafone’s speed is acceptable, the patchy reception was less than great.
  • Data felt sluggish – small pages took inexplicably long times to load from time to time.

What we like

The single thing that really stood out to me about RBMA’s offerings is their value. I use a Telstra Business plan for my primary handset, and it’s expensive – very expensive. Something in the order of around $130 a month for unlimited calls/SMS/MMS/voicemail and 5gb of data – however for that price, those services are delivered on Telstra’s Next G network which is probably the best in Australia, and the other carriers would probably admit that.

However, that works out to $1560 per year. That’s a lot to spend on a mobile phone.

RBMA offers virtually the exact same thing for $365, or about 70% cheaper. The difference? It’s not delivered on Telstra’s network – it’s delivered on Vodafone’s. What does this mean for you?

It depends a lot on where you live, where you travel, and what you do.

In Sydney’s CBD, the Explorer on RBMA had close to full signal all the time, made crystal clear calls, and had reasonably fast data to match. Given that you get unlimited use of such services, and 5gb of data, for $30 a month, if you’re a city dweller, or city frequenter, you’ll find this service more than adequate, and you’ll be laughing.

If you aren’t, well, see the things we didn’t like below.

I’m also going to comment on RBMA’s mobile portal content. A carrier’s portal content is not something I usually concern myself with – I have no need to access it, nor any real interest in their content. Back in the day, 3 Mobile had a somewhat useful mobile portal where you could access latest news, special apps and details about your account (usage, bills, etc).

RBMA’s mobile portal covers the World of Red Bull – so there’s news, updates and various videos covering Red Bull’s sponsored events such as sports, music festivals and the like. There’s also exclusive content in the form of videos, streaming music, interviews etc. While this is nothing special to me – if you are into these events, then you may well benefit from having ready access to this via your mobile device.

One notable thing I couldn’t find – and maybe I missed it – was an easy way to check your remaining data usage via the handset. This is easy to do from RBMA’s web site on a laptop or desktop, but not so on the phone itself.

What can be improved

Vodafone’s network, however, is not at its strongest outside of the city. My partner has a Vodafone powered iPhone, and while its adequate for her needs, it’s not perfect.

In my experiments with the RBMA service, I had adequate reception at home, great reception at work (as described above), and fair to awful reception while in transit. Admittedly, I tend to catch the trains that act like Faraday Cages, which all but kill most mobile communications, but the service was worse than I expected.

While my Telstra mobile struggles on the North Shore line in Sydney, it usually maintains a steady signal from Hornsby to the City. Data is usable for the majority of the trip. The same cannot be said of RBMA. Frequently, the phone was without signal on the journeys between home and work, and sadly, it didn’t seem to depend too much on what type of train I was on – Vodafone’s reception up and down the North Shore rail corridor is not great – in some places it works quite well, in some places its non-existant. It did seem to vary day by day – some days the network coverage just seemed to be more fulsome than others.

Quite often, data would go from H(SDPA) to 3G, then to G(PRS), then to nothing at all. This would be acceptable if it recovered quickly, however experimentation shows it doesn’t. From the Sydney Harbour bridge into the underground rail network through the city, all mobile phones lose signal until they arrive at Wynyard station. However, while the RBMA mobile recovered signal, the data connection did not re-establish. The data continued to remain offline into Town Hall station, up the stairs and onto street level.

In fact, the data connection did not re-establish until I turned the phone to airplane mode, and then back on. I’m not sure whether this is a quirk of the particular handset, or a quirk of Vodafone’s network, but it was annoying none-the-less. I can tolerate a dropped connection if it re-establishes quickly once the network coverage returns, but having to manually intervene is a bit much.

One other comment on data – as it’s something you’re likely to use a bit – is that for some uses, it felt laggy. Twitter would update fairly quickly, but browsing websites (or using included data via tethering) felt slow – pages would often show they were loading for quite some time, then load all of a sudden quite quickly, whereas the same pages loaded almost instantly on other handsets. This seems to be a quirk of Vodafone, and I’m not entirely sure why it does this, but it was quite consistent.

Update: Just for a comparison, I tried the RBMA SIM in my Galaxy Nexus, just to rule out the HTC Explorer as being the cause of slow data and ordinary reception. It seems that the hardware might have had something to do with it – no sooner had I dropped the RBMA SIM in the GNex, and the data speed increased and performance was all around acceptable!

Sitting in the same place as the Explorer had days earlier, the GNex had speeds 2.5 times faster, reasonable reception and the data sluggishness – referred to above – was no where to be seen. The moral of this update? Your mileage may vary, and vary quite a lot.

RBMA supplied us with a pre-paid SIM and HTC Explorer phone for the purposes of this review. If you’d like to get your very own, you can sign up online at www.redbullmobile.com.au, or you can pick up SIM packs from certain bricks and mortar locations around the place – find a list of such places here.

Conclusion

So, what do we think of the Red Bull Mobile Australia service?

In short, it’s great value and it will work well for many people. If you’re in a good Vodafone coverage area, and you don’t mind the trade-off of a few drop-outs for a bargain basement price, then you’ll love RBMA’s offerings – the value is just too good to deny.

However, if you demand performance, and require availability in more places especially when on the go, then this product may leave you a little wanting. For my particular usage requirements, I won’t be switching to Vodafone just yet – but that’s me. My day job has me travelling a bit, and I need my phone to work first time every time, with no missed beats.

Not everyone is as unfortunate as I am, and for the rest of you, I’d say give RBMA’s offerings a go – at the price, it’s hard to say no.

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  • http://twitter.com/JM77 Jason Murray

    The underground-to-overground connectivity issues you describe here I also saw regularly on my Nexus S on 3.

  • http://ausdroid.net/ Buzz Moody

    To get wings, must you pay extra?

  • GrKTcB

    I’m not sure if you checked the APN settings of the phone, but removing the proxy and proxy port in the APN will improved your latency and data speeds by a huge amount.

    Here’s a screenshot of my Red Bull Mobile prepaid SIM in my iPhone 3GS. Ignore the upload speeds as this is a limitation of the 3GS’s 384Kbps radio for uploads.

    http://i41.tinypic.com/2qusolg.png

    Anyway like you said, speeds and signal vary from tower to tower and area to area… but the Red Bull proxy has been a hindrance when it comes to data speeds and latency.

    • Greviousmcg

      Hmm, so if I remove the proxy port in my TPG APN setting, will I get a faster speed too or is this just for Red Bull? Anyway I’ll give it a go.

      • GrKTcB

         I’m not sure how the Optus network works with the proxy and if data will work if you remove it. It can’t hurt to try though.

  • Cameron

    The situation you described with different phones on the same network offering different speeds seems to be rather common amongst Android devices. It’s quite sad that these manufacturers can’t get these things fixed up. It really makes recommending an Android device a difficult prospect when you’ve got no idea if the hardware and radio will actually work.

    • http://ausdroid.net Chris Rowland (Team Ausdroid)

      Fair point. The networks are all somewhat predictable – Telstra is almost always best, Optus and Vodafone are sort of.. well, ordinary, and 3 just suck and will be dead soon anyway. Finding a phone to match your network is tricky.. the Explorer just doesn’t like Vodafone much, but the GNex doesn’t mind it at all.

      • Danny!

        Your statement about three is contradictory because their network was built together is telstra and with de branded or custom rom you can see that you get reception from 3telstra. My galaxy s doesn’t support the 850 networks so three is currently the best thing for me. Here a speed test for fun http://www.speedtest.net/android/162331541.png

  • http://profiles.google.com/imroykun Ian Tester

    Maybe your Galaxy Nexus was using Vodafone’s new 850 MHz network. Just a thought. I don’t know how you can check what band your phone is on though.

    • MattH

       This is almost certainly what happened. No way hardware alone connecting to the same network would have that kind of difference.

      Moral of the story? Get an 850MHz compatible phone :)

      • http://ausdroid.net Chris Rowland (Team Ausdroid)

        Nope, that’s not (likely) to be the reason – the HTC Explorer supports UMTS 850MHz as well.

  • http://fashionfaves.tumblr.com/ Charles Kane

    My son and ex have this deal.
     
    Let’s be clear, for a dollar a day you get truly unlimited phone calls to wherever for however long you like, unlimited SMS, 5gig download a month (!), without before or after hours limits or any other limitations.

    For a total of a dollar you get a low range android phone thrown in which you don’t have to use at all, like – sell it for $50 if you like and stick the Redbull sim in your latest Nexus.

    Frankly an unbeatable deal imo

    • http://twitter.com/AXIS_of_Reality Alex Baldwin

      While 5gb and unlimited calls/text is awesome, if you care about the handset then for a bit cheaper ($29 a month) you can get a Galaxy S II or HTC Sensation XL on the same network (Vodafone).

  • Michael

    Is the handset locked?

    • http://ausdroid.net Chris Rowland (Team Ausdroid)

      Yes it is.

  • Cam

    I have a 365 day recharge in my gs2 and it works great on 850. The explorer handset supplied for $1 extra is 2100/850 so it is fine for vodafone in large cities and surrounds but it won’t access the country regional voda 900 network. The HTC expolorer handset supplied is unlockable for free at http://www.vodafone.com.au/unlock so then they are also compatible with next g. The RBM data network sometimes is down during peak periods but that generally is not a problem for me. Since I have unlimited voice calls, I tend to use local gateway numbers such as skype to go to dial into skype conferences that can go for hours, plus voice is better on a gs2 battery than using 3g skype app with finite data which can be better used elsewhere…. My advice is if using voip take advantage of aussie gateway numbers if available than using your data allowance… Other great thing about red bull is that since the gs2 doesn’t have a msg indicator, i get the voicemail to call me when i get a message which comes up as a call with my mobile number… Of course if you want better coverage outside large cities you may be better off with amaysim as optus has better country coverage… Both are great choices on pre-paid and literally change the way u use a mobile as you are not thinking about the cost or will I get a bill for some unwanted behavour? In the case of red bull, no thought of billing or payment for 12 months is the best part!

    • http://ausdroid.net Chris Rowland (Team Ausdroid)

      An excellent point well made. No bills, and all you can eat calls/sms/etc .. you can’t really beat that.

  • Ru

    Guys, 5GB is not a true indication of the data you get. Red Bull charge data sessions by 250kb increments. That means 4 push emails = 1MB minimum.

    We saw the same thing with Woolworths mobile and their 4GB data offering, but charged in 1MB (!) increments! It’s like monopoly money but in data form, soon we will see 100GB offerings on phones with data charged per 100MB per session.

    • http://ausdroid.net Chris Rowland (Team Ausdroid)

      “Guys, 5GB is not a true indication of the data you get. Red Bull charge data sessions by 250kb increments. That means 4 push emails = 1MB minimum.”

      That’s not quite true. Unless your data connection actually drops between each push email, it’s not going to be counted as 1mb. Basically the only time you’ll hit that minimum session of 250k is if you constantly (a) turn your data on and off, or (b) lose reception a lot. Otherwise that won’t really make much of a difference in practical terms.

    • GrKTcB

      This is totally incorrect. That’s not how a session is defined.

      A session will only terminate to the nearest 250KB if the data session drops. Smart phones with push and notification services maintain a constant data session so the session does NOT drop if signal is maintained.

      You may drop a data session if you’re in an area without signal for a long period of time, the phone has low signal and drops to 2G for long periods of time or there are issues with the APN connection to the network for whatever reason.

      I’ve been on the same data session on my iPhone using Red Bull Mobile since the 25th of March and it hasn’t dropped yet. I generally average about 3-4 sessions a months since there are only minimal times that I’m left without signal.

      The last data session I dropped I was in an underground car park without any signal.

  • usman yousaf

    I am using the Red Bull Sim and I have atleast recommended to 4 other friends. 
    I agree from the above review. Its really good if you live in big cities. However, I won’t recommend you if you are a country-side person.
    Also, the data download and upload given above is different depending on mobile you are using. I received almost 2.5 times more given above on pic.
    I also would recommend you to buy this sim as its really worth it.

  • http://www.prepaidplans.com.au PrepaidPlans

    Very popular plans. I really like the offers they have and I would expect that they will expand them to mobile broadband and other services. Yep Vodafone is the network, but it is also for gotalk and CJs and so many others and they are investing in the network so that you can get the coverage you deserve.

  • Sjmerchant

    Another Con is that it does NOT include any International calls or SMSs

    • Jd1408

      It does include SMS unlimited. It’s on iPhone no mms yet

  • Apollo

    The HTC Explorer defaulty isn’t an 850mhz capable handset, which your Galaxy Nexus is.
    http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_explorer-4102.php

    The model Vodafone sells however is 850mhz. Whether these are the same model is unknown – it may be a variant modified for RBMA use, you’d have to ask.

    That would be what you’re seeing. Theres still a massive portion of the Vodafone network (or 3) which are residing on Vodafone / 3 2100mhz frequency. While this doesn’t affect data backhaul if its congested, it will affect transmission and scalability. NSW, QLD and Victoria also haven’t been finished upgrades to Huawei’s Scalability RAN – which incidentally makes a massive difference (variable speed and data transmission based on network load; and also is the whole reason Optus is rolling out Huawei’s RAN – as is Telstra)

  • Sasha

    Hey is the phone that red bull provided, the HTC Explorer locked onto vodaphone?

  • Raj

    To check your data usage and remaining credit on the phone, call the Red Bull customer service number that is pre loaded on the Sim. The computer reads out the info before asking if you want to talk to someone.

  • swilbs

    Have been with RBM for over a year. My experience has been mixed at best..
    I went on the 30 day pre pay as a trial which went ok so I pre paid for a year 6 or 7 days prior to my 30 day credit expiring.
    Got a text saying please top up your credit because are coming to the end of your 30 day period so I rang RBM and asked what the story was as I had paid for a year. Was told “all good you received that txt from an auto service don’t worry your service will carry on as normal”.
    Nope…Without phone for 3 days. I am not popular with my customers who cant contact me….
    This week my 365 day credit is ending so I went to the RBM website 2 days prior to my credit expiry date and was simply going to get another 365 credit. I saw a package deal with a galaxy s2. I already have a s2 but it is pretty bashed up so I decided to get a new one while I was there. How convenient.
    Nope. Was told AFTER purchasing package that my recharge number was being sent out with my phone and as it may take 2 weeks so I would be without service for a week or more…..What a joke…
    24 hours after receiving confirmation of my purchase I receive an email asking me to “provide a government issued photo ID and a utility bill in your name to your address so that we can complete your order. (please scan and email this information) ”
    Are you kidding. You want me to send to God knows where my credit card number, drivers licence or passport and a utility bill in my name…As if…… that’s how people get there identity stolen…
    I was asked for less info. when I increased my credit card limit by thousands…
    I bought a home theatre package worth 5k with just my credit card. No id…..
    I have been a customer for over a year and have had the same credit card number, phone number, postal address, email account and I confirmed my identity with my 6 digit code ….
    Nope not good enough….
    These people are very frustrating to deal with. It is like talking to a robot..
    A very sorry and scripted robot…….

  • Disappointed

    i’ve bought RBM sim card on website on 16th Dec 12, the very next day i received email said it’d been dispatched and send by ‘express mail’. After xmas, the sim card didn’t turn up so i rang curstomer service and was told it could have been delayed as it was a holiday season and gave me tracking no. when i checked it shew as ‘NO EVENT FOUND’ and i still waited…3 days after new year still no sign of RBM simcard, i chased it for second time and connection was cut of during putting me on hold TWICE! eventually, i was informed that they resent me a sim card and expected it to be delivered within 3-5 days, which was last monday…until yesterday (Thur) this RBM sim card still not arrived. I’m not sure who to blame, Red bull or post office? Anyway I requested to get refund yesterday, we’ll see how long will it take for them to finish this claim!!!!