Review: Samba Mobile – Ad supported mobile broadband (updated)
Advertising-supported services for various things have been around almost as long as the advertising needed to support them has.
Over the years various companies have experimented with offering a full gamut of services from advertising-supported mobile phones through to PCs and internet access. For various reasons, many of those services are now not around any more having failed due to lack of demand, limited buy-in from users, ononerous demands in terms of the advertising content – or just not being able to balance the books.
Samba Mobile have launched recently with the focused aim of providing mobile broadband access, in exchange for watching a few minutes of ads on your phone, tablet or computer. They’re using Three UK’s mobile network, and as such the internet access side of their service works extremely well whenever you’re in a Three coverage area. Three’s network offers blazingly fast connectivity and is getting better all the time.
The only costs involved are those associated with buying a SIM card. Both standard and Micro SIMs can be provided depending on the device you want to use with their network, and can be ordered easily through www.sambamobile.com for £2.99 + P&P (Correct at time of writing).
Ordering a SIM was pain-free, and it duely arrived in the post a couple of days later. Samba don’t provide any devices at this point so your SIM is simply posted to you in a jiffy bag along with a Welcome / Getting Started leaflet. With the SIM in your hands, simply pop it into your 3G dongle, iPad, laptop or MiFi and fire up your browser. No activation is required and it arrives with a little credit to get you going. For any serious usage however you’ll probably want to dive straight into topping it up through watching ads.
If you’re using either Chrome or Firefox on your computer SambaMobile have a plugin which provides you with a little Samba Mobile “Battery” icon within your browser. The Samba Battery provides easy access to the ad content & gives you a visual indicator of whenever you need to “recharge” by topping up your account. If however you’re using IE, Safari or want to manage your account through a mobile device simply head over to http://www.sambamobile.com/ads to get going.
Watching adverts entails simply picking something (ideally) of interest and hitting play. The advert content seems to be of a high standard from mainstream advertisers, and will play unobtrusively in a window or with the sound switched off… on an iPad the ads will stop if you switch to another browser tab so if you’re wanting to charge up your credit you will need to set the device aside for 5-10 minutes to play ads.
Interestingly you can view ads to charge your account from any device and any network connection – so if you live in a poor signal area for Three you can still top up your account using your home broadband connection so that it’s ready for use when you’re away from home.
As an alternative to watching adverts you can opt to top up your account using cash, with transactions processed by PayPal. This process is simplicity itself and will cost you £3.49 for 250Mb or £5.99 for 500Mb of data allowance, which will expire after 30 days.
Simply pick which one you want, provide your PayPal account details, and job done. Your account’s then topped up with the respective amount of data and you’re good to go.
Everything seems to work fine, and once you’re connected internet access is indistinguishable from a standard Three connection. I assume you get some sort of reminder message when you run out of credit but haven’t experienced this yet.
If there is one major barrier to adoption, it’s the limited advertising content. When setting up your account you’re prompted to define your interests/likes & dislikes which are presumably used to refine the adverts you see. However, after I’d played the 6 available adverts to top the account up this morning, the website informed me that I would need to come back tomorrow to top up again. If you didn’t want to topup by cash and had run out of credit, I can see that this could get annoying. I suspect the limitation is imposed due to limited advertisers at this stage. Short of playing all the ads multiple times, once you watched them once any potential benefit/sales/return on the advertisers’ investement would be somewhat limited.
In summary, if a Three mobile broadband connection is something that would be useful to you and you have a suitable device, I can only recommend giving Samba Mobile a try. For the price of a few minutes of advertising content you effectively get a PAYG Three SIM to do with what you want.
Updated 8th July, 2012
The major issue with Samba Mobile, like possibly all other ad-supported ventures before them is that they have yet to reach an ideal balance between the amount of credit you can earn through watching ads compared to how much data you’re likely to use.
Some fairly normal browsing with a couple of connection speedtests quickly bumped my account up to 370Mb of usage over a couple of days. Watching all available adverts by contrast only allowed me to “earn” about 75Mb of data, clearly leaving somewhat of a shortfall. Once this point was reached, it seems that Samba Mobile opt to quickly suspend your account – requesting that you either watch some more ads, or buy credit to continue using the service.
Slight issue – given the small amount of data credited per ad, the only real option is to either buy credit or not use the connection for a few days until you’ve cleared the deficit!
Seems I’m not the only one to experience this either:
welp some pretty normal browsing on @sambamobile left me -200MB in the red and now they’ve cut me off. not enough ads to support use
— electronic musician (@conelraduk) July 8, 2012
All in all, I think I’m reaching the conclusion that Samba Mobile is ideal if you need occasional or very low usage mobile broadband (and would prefer to not pay for it). Anything else, or if you need to use more than 10-40Mb of data per day – I’d have to recommend looking at “real” PAYG or contract mobile broadband from Three.