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Mobile TV, Anyone?

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In the last few weeks I’ve seen two handheld devices that let you watch TV on the move. Not little clips of ‘made for mobile’ stuff, not highlights, not download and watch later stuff, but real TV, just like you’d expect to see on the set in your front room.

The two handhelds I’ve been using are the UBiQUiO 401 and the Virgin Mobile Lobster. These are different technologically, but very similar in premise. They assume you want live TV anytime, anywhere. The two handhelds are the 700TV.

The UBiQUiO 401 is only available only from Expansys in the UK and has quite a few novel features. For example, it runs Windows Mobile Pocket PC phone edition but behaves like a mobile phone in that it incorporates a slider mechanism that hides a number pad away. It has an FM radio and you can record radio to the device or a memory card. And you can use the recorder to set up on-device voicemail so you don’t have to pop off and dial into voicemail.

Now, if this were a fully fledged review I’d be going on at this point about the fact that the UBiQUiO 401 it is a bit on the large side (109 x 53.5 x 24mm, 153g), and during my extended experience of it I found it just that bit awkward to use as a piece of hardware. But what interests me here is the TV side of things. In this case what the UBiQUiO 401 offers is an analogue tuner and the ability to show channels on its 2.4 inch screen in landscape format.

The Lobster 700TV I’ve reviewed in full already – read the review later if you want the full low down. In short though, this is a Windows Mobile Smartphone that supports TV and DAB radio. Both are delivered via DAB-IP a competitor for Nokia’s DVB-H service. DAB-IP is an enhanced DAB system, which enables TV to be delivered alongside radio.

The Lobster 700TV’s service is provided by BT as the BT Movio service. This includes the full spectrum of DAB radio stations, but a very truncated selection when it comes to TV. You currently get BBC1, ITV1 and E4 alongside Channel 4’s Short Cuts – a made for mobile channel that is not the same as the Channel 4 you see on your TV.

The UBiQUiO 401 has no restrictions on what you can see. Once you have tuned in you can watch whatever is showing on the range of stations you can pick up – the tuner is not digital so the list is fairly small, but access is unrestricted.

The Lobster 700TV however, may not always be showing what you could be watching on the same channels in your front room, as restrictions on some American film and sports content may apply.

As far as the UBiQUiO 401 is concerned, once you’ve bought the device you can watch what you like, when you like, at no extra cost. The Lobster 700TV situation is different. On pay as you go, after 90 free days of viewing you pay £5 a month. On a £25 contract TV and radio are included.

Neither of these handhelds has an antenna built in. You need to use the provided headphones, into which the antenna is built. You can play sound output through these or the device loudspeaker. That’s not unusual – users of phones with FM radios will be familiar with this already. But when the antennas are not much cop or their sockets don’t let you plug your own headphones straight in then there is an irritation factor. The Lobster 700TV socket is 2.5mm while the UBiQUiO 401’s is proprietary with a wired converter to 3.5mm provided so if you want your handheld to double up as a mobile music player you’re forced to carry a jack converter and a better set of cans.

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