Smartphones on Pay-as-you-Go? Watch out!

Smartphones are exceptional pieces of kit nowadays. Models like the Nokia Lumia, HTC One and Apple iPhone have reached the point of being decent replacements for the ordinary digital camera, with the added bonus of being able to make and receive calls too! This can however cause problems for the non-technical customer, as these phones are capable of much more than just photos and phone calls.

They can also consume considerable amounts of data.

Take my step-father, for instance. He likes photography but doesn't want to carry a large camera around any more, and is impressed by the ads and reviews of smartphone cameras. One thing he doesn't want, though, is an ongoing monthly cost - so it would probably make most sense to buy a phone outright and get a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) SIM. He liked the Nokia Lumia 930, and went into his local Vodafone store to see what they could offer.

At the point of sale, everything sounded fine. My step-father made it clear that he didn't want to spend anything on the phone unless he actually made calls on it. The Vodafone salesperson gave him a decent price on the Lumia 930, sold him a PAYG SIM and threw in a 1-month Freedom Freebie package. The phone was reasonably straightforward to use, although my step-father was frustrated at the lack of any user manual. Only with my help could he figure out how to check his balance and get rid of apps that he didn't want.

It didn't take long for the data problem to arise. When he received a text from Vodafone that there was a charge of £2 per day for the first 50MB of data usage, my step-father checked his PAYG balance and there was under £1 remaining from the original £20 balance! In the space of a couple of weeks, almost all of the credit had been used up - not at all what he had in mind.

When I looked into the phone's settings, mobile data usage was enabled, and the "Data Sense" app informed us that over 350MB of mobile data had been used in the last month. Additionally, 1GB of wireless data had been used. That's a lot of data for a phone that has only been taken on daily walks, and only used for taking photos whilst on those walks. I immediately turned off mobile data (and mobile roaming), and we agreed that a new trip to the Vodafone store was in order.

The shop assistant was vaguely sympathetic, but was of the view that "of course these phone consume lots of data". He said that Windows phones are particularly bad, because of their constantly-updating tiles. We eventually got our missing balance reinstated, but were quite shocked at the complete imbalance between the phone and the PAYG package. The original sales assistant would have known full well that the phone would be consuming data all the time, so how could she sell it with a SIM that charged a minimum of £2 a day for data - and not even mention it? In my view it was deeply irresponsible, and she should at the very least have recommended that my stepfather disable mobile data usage on the phone.

What I wonder is, how many other people are being caught out like this? They've bought their fancy new phone, with a simple (supposedly cheap) PAYG SIM, and don't realise that they're spending most of their balance on data consumption that they're not even making use of!


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