RealOne for mMode Review


Well, just a few minutes ago, AT&T Wireless sent me a WAP Push message announcing their new mMode service which I wrote about earlier, so I decided to take a few minutes and check the portal out, and more specifically the new RealOne video services in order to compare it to MobiTV.

The XHTML-based portal is good looking and easy to use, though the lags between pages are a bit annoying, but then again that's a general trait for all mobile web sites. It's a real shame that the integrated XHTML browser from Nokia doesn't have a full-screen mode, it would've added a lot to the service. I guess that's why all those manufacturers are moving to have Opera their default browser (among other reasons) so they don't have to constantly add features. I didn't get explore the portal much because as I clicked around I ran across the RealOne services pretty immediately and signed up for the free 7 day trial.

After I chose the RealOne option from the main menu I thought that was all there was going to be to it, but for some reason I was asked to set up an "e-wallet" in a 4 step wizard by entering my credit card info. I thought AT&T Wireless already had this stuff? Oh well, it was very easy to step through the options, only having to enter in numbers for the most part. I'm sure that in other parts of the portal I'll simply be asked for my PIN if I want to buy stuff later on. I was then bumped out of the main purple-background mMode pages into the RealOne Home page (still XHTML based from what I can tell).

On the RealOne page - as I suspected - you have a list of canned video and audio clips that you can download and watch. This is just like the RealOne service for their web clients which I signed up for in Europe when I was jonesing for American TV last year. The good part is that the content is (for now) relatively fresh and the video is great looking, at a better frame rate than MobiTV by far. However, with only 2 minute clips (300k maximum it says) and only a few videos to choose from (the rest are audio only) I can't see this service keeping you occupied for any period of time, during long airport layovers for example. MobiTV definitely has the better idea: Live TV is the only way to go.

At first I made the mistake of thinking that the RealOne Player needed an open network connection to view the videos, so I chose an open Access Point when prompted instead of the mMode WAP gateway AP and was hassled by my 3650 asking me if I wanted to switch connections every time I chose a video. I thought to myself that there was no way that AT&T would do this to consumers (who probably didn't even know they can *have* an open connection to the internet), so I changed my AP in the RealOne player to the mMode WAP AP and low-and-behold it worked! They must have some magic on that WAP gateway for streaming media (i.e. opened that port). The result is a pretty clean integration between the media player and the WAP2 browser.

I think AT&T Wireless is just getting up to speed because more than a few of the menu options resulted in a media file that simply said "Sorry, we cannot find this preview requested, please check the url and try again". Since there aren't more than a couple dozen media clips to choose from right now, these missing entries are a real oversite.

In general, this service falls short on many fronts and isn't worth the $5.99 a month they want to charge at all. Even though much of the content is audio (but aren't marked as such), it would be useless in a car for example because of the short clips and the effort you'd have to make navigating the menu to find them. The videos are nice to look at, but end way too soon. And the whole process of having to sign up with a credit card will definitely be a barrier for many people - even I was a bit reluctant to pop my credit card number into my phone (the first time I've done that). And despite the fact that you are paying $6 a month, you're still getting charged per kilobyte for each video clip (around $3 per clip at 1 cent per kb).

MobiTV still wins hands down. First because of the ease of installation and use, secondly because of the content which is live and not canned, and three because of the automatic billing. Also, because Sprint offers an unlimited data option, on the whole the costs will be much lower for a Sprint customer watching mobile video than an AT&T customer. But we already knew their capacity for screwing over their customers, so that's not a surprise is it? Hopefully competition will rectify this sooner than later.


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