We review Red Bull Mobile’s prepaid service, and found it a mixed bag.

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.


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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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.

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.

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.