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Paul Reviews... the Virgin Mobile Lobster 700TV

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PaulOBrien

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Introduction

Orange, T-Mobile, O2, Vodafone and 3... what have they got in common? Yes, they're all UK providers, but more importantly, they have all offered Windows Mobile devices to their customers. There's one major UK provider missing from the list (Yes, I know they're an MVNO*, but still, quite big!)... Virgin Mobile.

Virgin Mobile are definitely late to the 'Windows Mobile Party'... but it looks like they plan to make up for lost time with the launch of their new 'Lobster 700' device, which focuses on providing a Mobile TV and Radio experience.

The platform that underpins the Mobile TV offering is a 'DAB-IP' platform provided by BT and named 'Movio'. The system uses the DAB Digital Radio system to deliver both DAB Radio and Live TV, with added features such as a 7 day TV guide and interactive 'red button' functionality, which will be familiar to those readers using Digital TV already.

The initial launch channels for the service are BBC1, ITV, Channel 4 and E4. It should be noted that Channel 4 is only a 'short cuts' sub-channel, and some of the other channels do not display 100% of the programming available via other mediums, due to broadcast rights issues.

Virgin / BT have stated that further handsets will be available in the future that all support the Movio DAB-IP service... but let's get down to business with the ground-breaking Lobster 700 :rolleyes:

Buying the Lobster 700

At the time of writing, the Lobster 700 can be purchased from your local Virgin Megastore FREE on a contract, or �199.99 on PrePay. I simply popped into my local Virgin in Norwich, saw the dummy device, played with a real device (no TV reception instore!), and handed over my 200 notes - job done!
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For my money I got the device, a Virgin Mobile SIM with �5 credit, a �20 top up voucher, and a mail-in card redeemable for a �25 Virgin Megastore voucher... so effectively the handset costs �149.99 - not bad for a device of this calibre.

If you pick up the device online (here), you can pick up �35 instead of �20 free credit, but I assume you forfeit the Megastore voucher.

Unboxing the Lobster 700

There's something strange about all devices manufactured by HTC... (the Lobster is a HTC device codenamed Monet)... and the strange thing is that they all come in boxes that are exactly the same size :(

The Lobster is no exception, but it sure is pwetty :) The box itself is a colourful 'test card' pattern, with a sleeve with clear '700TV' and lobster shaped cutouts. As you remove the sleeve and open the box, this is what you find inside...

- Lobster 700 handset
- 1150mAh battery
- USB Sync cable
- Stereo Headset (also functions as Radio / TV antenna)
- Mains Charger
- Manual
- Quick Start Guide
- ActiveSync CD
- Modem Driver + ClearVue 2.4 CD

No memory card is included.

Hardware - overview

Let's get down to the nitty gritty... the hardware specifications. The Lobster is by no means at the very forefront of mobile technology, packing only 2.5G/GPRS and not 3G radio, but that's not to say that any of the device specs leave you feeling particularly hard done by!

The specifics...
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- OS: Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphone AKU 2.6
- CPU: TI OMAP 750 @ 201MHz
- RAM: 64MB
- ROM: 128MB
- Interfaces: microSD (under battery), Bluetooth 2.0, MiniUSB,
- Radio: Tri-Band GPRS
- Screen: TFT 2.2" 240x320 pixels QVGA, 65K colours
- Camera: 1.3MP
- Battery: 1150mAh LiIon
- Dimensions: 111.2mm (L) x 52mm (W-mid point) / 58mm (W-bulge point) x 23.8 mm (T)
- Weight: 140g

It's interesting to note that the device features a TI OMAP 750 processor, whereas Tornado based devices such as the SPV C600, i-mate SP5 etc. use the newer 850 variant. That said, in use the device feels snappy... definitely helped in no small part by the generous 128MB ROM.

As you can see, the microSD slot is under the battery, and in fact under the SIM. Once you've got it in there, you don't want to be taking it out too often ;)

Note that there is no IR port on the Lobster 700. No great loss you might say, but I do find it useful for beaming pictures etc. around to devices that don't have Bluetooth.

Let's start working our way around the device!

Hardware - around the device

Let's start with the overall construction of the device. The feels fairly solid, if a little 'plasticky'. The bulge on the right that houses the TV button doesn't make it uncomfortable to hold, and in the flesh, the device has a smart look about it. A mix of black / grey / silver with subtle 'Lobster' and 'Virgin Mobile' branding, the device (IMHO) looks good.

The front of the device is of course where the bulk of the action is ;)

The bright, crisp 2.2" screen itself is set back inside the case, with the clear plastic lens in front fitting flush with the rest of the case. The screen surround is black and shiny, emblazoned with white 'Lobster' branding above the screen, where the standard 2 LEDs for Bluetooth / Charging / Service are found, together with the speaker. The fact that the screen surround is flush with the rest of the case means that it could be particularly susceptible to scratching, particularly if placed face down - this is going to be a device that needs you to take care of it to keep it looking its best I suspect :P

Below the screen sit the 2 soft keys. These are dark grey, and thin in height, but nice and wide. They have a raised centre, and are nice in use. Worth noting is the fact they are not illuminated, nor is the directional pad or the TV button, which sites to the right of the screen, on the 'bulge'. ;) The TV button has a TV icon, and a 'red button', which is often referred to in the TV application / web pages, and will be used for interactive content.
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For me, quite often a device lives or dies by the quality of it's keypad... so how does the Lobster 700 fare?

I'm not sure if it's just me, but i'm having real issues with the Lobster 700's keypad! Let me explain.

The Home, Back, Red and Green keys are all fine. The directional pad is perfectly fine in use, and definitely better than some devices i've used (most of the Hermes variants for example). What about the number keys? Well, 1,4,7*,2,5,7 and 0 are fine (i.e. the left and middle columns). The problem i'm having however, is with the remaining keys, that make up the right hand column. In their infinite wisdom (presumably due to the fact that these keys perform a specific function in the TV application), the designers of the device have made this group of keys a different texture and a different shape.

For me, they've made the keypad into a bit of a nightmare to use! When I type a SMS for example, I mis-hit keys or double-hit keys whenever they are in the right hand group! Whether i'll get used to it only time will tell.

The top of the device houses the power button, which is actually a breath of fresh air compared to the normal HTC designs. It's easy to press, has great tacticle feedback and, er, just works :D

The left of the device is home to the volume up / down keys.

The right of the device is home to the Camera button.

The bottom of the device has a miniUSB port for power and synchronisation, and a 2.5mm port for the headphones (which also function as a handsfree of course, and function as the TV / Radio antenna). These need to be connected whenever TV / Radio is being used, even if sound is being played through the (weedy) loudspeaker.

On the back of the device is the 1.3 megapixel Camera, which is typical HTC affair, i.e. poor. It has a pretty silver surround, but no mirror for self portraits (and of course no flash). Above the camera sits the subtle Virgin Mobile branding, to the right is an external antenna connection (for the phone only), and below the Camera you'll find the battery cover. The battery cover clips firmly into place with a nicely designed clip, and the cover itself has a slightly rubberised texture, which feels quite good in the hand. The cover is embossed with the same 'TV' logo found on the front TV button, a DAB logo and a Windows Mobile logo.

When the battery cover is removed, the battery remains clipped into place. After it is removed, a somewhat complex arrangement sees the microSD clipped partially underneath the SIM card.

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Software

The Lobster 700 runs Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone AKU 2.6.

If you've used any Windows Mobile Smartphones before, everything will be very familiar :D AKU 2.6 includes all the standard AKU2 features such as push e-mail, and is very much a standard-HTC-build, virtually indistinguishable in operation from a C600, i-mate SP5 etc., with the exception of course of the TV application.

The device ships with a simple Virgin Mobile homescreen that shows a MRU (Most Recently Used) list, Operator + time / date, Appointments, Profile, Messages and the current TV status.

I'll give you a quick run through of what's installed on the device as standard (in the order it's placed on the Start Menu)...
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- TV & Radio - This application is, surprisingly enough, where you'll find the TV and Radio functions! I'll cover this in more detail below
- Internet Explorer - This is Pocket Internet Explorer for web browsing, with support for frames. It's not bad :)
- Camera - This is used to take photographs and videos, this is the new-generation client, on a candybar Smartphone for the first time. I'll cover this in more detail below
- Windows Media - Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, for playing streaming media, or music / videos from your device / Storage Card. WMP10 Mobile syncs with Windows Media Player on the desktop
- Messaging - Messaging allows you to manage SMS, MMS and email, synced with Desktop Outlook, Exchange or synced directly onto the device
- Calendar - View the calendar stored on your device. This may be synced with Desktop Outlook, Exchange or created locally on your device
- Contacts - View contacts you have stored on your device. These may be synced with Desktop Outlook, Exchange or created locally on your device
- ActiveSync - This is where you manage sync connections to PCs and Exchange servers
- Call History - This is where you view your made / received calls
- Games -> Bubble Breaker - Previously known as Jawbreaker, group and pop bubbles of the same colour
- Games -> Solitaire - The old Windows favourite!
- Voice Notes - Record and playback Voice Notes
- Pictures & Videos - View pictures and videos stored on your device
- Accessories -> Calculator - A simple calculator
- Accessories -> Clear Storage - Hard reset your device back to factory defaults
- Accessories -> Download Agent - You'll never use this
- Accessories -> SIM Manager - Copy contacts to / from and manage your SIM contacts
- Accessories -> Wireless Modem - Use your phone as a Modem for your PC
- Comm Manager - Quickly and easily enable / disable the Phone, Bluetooth, Push Mail etc.
- Tasks - View Tasks you have stored on your device. These may be synced with Desktop Outlook, Exchange or created locally on your device
- File Explorer - Explore the files on your device...
- ClearVue Document (installed from CD) - View Microsoft Word documents
- ClearVue PDF (installed from CD) - View Adobe PDF documents
- ClearVue Presentation (installed from CD) - View Microsoft PowerPoint documents
- ClearVue Worksheet (installed from CD) - View Microsoft Excel documents
- Midlet Manager - Use Java MIDlets
- Pocket MSN - Setup your HoTMaiL sync, use Messenger
- Settings - Change your phone settings
- Speed Dial - Set up your Speed Dial shortcuts
- Task Manager - Manage currently running tasks on your device
- Video Recorder - Record Videos - launches the Camera application in Video mode
- Virgin Xtras - SIM Toolkit app, top up, use Virgin Mobile services etc.

In use

I'm going to talk about the device in use generally before I talk about the TV and Radio performance, apologies if that's what you came here for :D

As i've already touched upon, the device is quick to respond in general use. Only very occasionally are there 'timer' moments, and i've used the device in anger for a couple of days, and am quite impressed.

I think that Virgin Mobile could probably have chosen a better colour scheme for the device out of the box. The homescreen isn't very appealing, and as you can see in the screenshot above, the black mask on the Start Menu icons looks pretty awful (particularly on the Comm Manager icon). Thankfully, of course, this is changeable... and I imagine that's something new Lobster 700 owners will want to do pretty soon after purchase :)

As an AKU2.6 based Smartphone, the Lobster 700 has all the latest features. It has a stable OS, a capable browser, push e-mail and all the expected Windows Mobile-y goodness, together with a bundled version of ClearVue... everything you need to make it a capable business tool.

The included headphones are 'OK', and with Windows Media Player Mobile 10 and a 2GB microSD tucked away under the battery, you've got a pretty decent music player. Combined with the TV / DAB, the potential to be a great entertainment device is there. The potential...

Unsurprisingly for a HTC device, the Camera is pretty damn awful. In good light it's so-so, in low light it's awful. The new Camera application (a number of screenshots below) is an improvement, but IMHO HTC just aren't placing enough importance in improving the quality of cameras in their devices. Compared to it's competition, the Lobster 700 is a let down in this area.

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So, to the TV / Radio aspect of the device! :D

Let me talk about how it works, step by step.

The Lobster 700 receives both Radio and TV using the DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) Spectrum, and has nationwide coverage. By using effectively conventional broadcast techniques, the device takes a different approach to most Mobile TV services, which rely on streaming the TV via a 3G connection. Taking this approach theoretically allows BT to provide better coverage.

A side effect of this is - as with conventional FM radio equipped handsets - an antenna is required to pick up the signal, and this is the headset. Therefore whether you are listening through the headphones or using the loudspeaker, the headset must always be plugged in. It also remains to be seen what impact this will have on using 3rd party headsets. Finally, it means A2DP Bluetooth headsets will never be ideal for this application.

So how do you launch the TV / Radio application on the device? In one of 3 ways! You can hit the dedicated 'TV' button on the right hand side 'bulge', Click on the TV homescreen plugin, or select the 'TV & Radio' option in the Start Menu.

When you do so, the application is launched with a short DAB / Movio splash screen, before you are introduced to the first-use configuration. At this point, the device will scan for TV and Radio channels. A large number of Radio Channels are available (the exact availability depends on your location), TV currently consists of BBC1, C4 Short Cuts, E4 and ITV1.

How much you'll pay for TV depends on how you buy your device. On Virgin Mobile Pre-Pay you'll be paying nothing for 90 days then �5 per month... if you are on a Contract tariff of �25 per month or more, you will get TV for free.

I don't claim to be an expert in the technology, but it appears that when you first view TV, the client fires up Pocket Internet Explorer and redirects you to a Virgin Mobile page in order to 'acquire a licence'. Very much like a Windows Media DRM licence, you are taking through a few steps to confirm you wish to pay for the service (if appropriate), and then the licence is downloaded and installed on the device. After this is done, you can immediately begin watching TV. Interesting to note is that a licence also seems to be required BBC1, which is provided for free, and you can continue to watch without paying Virgin Mobile (hurrah for the licence fee!).

After you have completed the initial setup, launching the TV & Radio application in the future will present you with the TV Guide. This lists the 4 channels, and what is currently showing. A nice touch. The bar at the bottom of the screen displays the time slot you are currently viewing (a 7 day guide is available), and a signal strength meter.

Clicking on a channel name starts that channel.

Now here's the interesting part. When you start TV playback, you'll see the channel logo at the top of the screen, the TV in the middle, and a small area of white space underneath. The current time and the signal meter are still visible. Your first instinct, if you're anything like me, will be to switch to landscape full screen mode. D'oh, you can't! The option isn't there! This to me seems like a glaring omission, and something I really hope will be fixed in a future update, but I don't know if this is either possible or likely. The TV & Radio application does have an online update feature, so cross your fingers ;)

When watching TV, you can view information about the start / end time of the current program, mute the sound, or switch the sound to loudspeaker. This would be a lot better if the speaker on the device wasn't quite so poor. Sound is very tinny, so you are probably going to want to keep your headset on!

TV quality seems very variable indeed. Even when you are in full coverage, it seems you should not expect the kind of quality that you would normally associated with a broadcasted TV service. My testing to date has shown that the quality is more akin to an average internet TV stream (which probably makes sense since it's IP based), the downside being that the stream is suspectible to the famiiar MPEG artefacts, sound breakup and very occasional 'buffering'.

Use of the TV in buildings proves to be very patchy, as does use on the move. The signal meter seems to peak / drop off quickly, affecting TV reception as you would imagine.

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From the TV guide page, a simple tap of the soft key brings up the Radio Guide, which looks very similar. It lists all of the available Digital Radio stations (25 where I live), together with information about what is currently playing if it is available. Again, a quick click of the pad launches the selected station.

When listening to the radio, there are some nice features, such as radio stations broadcasting the track title / artist and other information that are then in turn displayed on the device screen.

Unfortunately, the reception / quality story is much the same as with TV. When you have a good strong signal, the sound quality is good, it's true stereo, and a pleasant experience. However, moving in building or travelling seem to break up the signal all too easy, leading to the robotic-sounding signal breakup common to digital services.

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The only other thing to mention about the TV & Radio service is the use of the 'Red Button'. The TV button doubles as an 'Interactive' button (similar to the red button found on Satellite or Digital Terrestrial TV), which then launches Pocket IE to browse to that content. I'm assuming the fact that the service is so new is the reason I haven't actually managed to find any interactive content yet.

Network / Pricing

Of course, the Lobster 700 is only available on the Virgin Mobile network. The Virgin Mobile network is backboned by T-Mobile as Virgin is just a MVNO ('Virtual Operator'), so coverage is exactly the same as you would find on T-Mobile.

I have found the performance of the Lobster 700 to be on par with, if not slightly better than my other devices when it comes to strength of phone signal, which is encouraging.

Virgin Mobile's tariffs are interesting, particularly the pre-pay proposition where the Windows Mobile market is limited, and the device is competitvely priced, particularly taking into account the free airtime and vouchers offered.

Of course, if you are a Virgin Mobile customer, then this is your ONLY option for a Windows Mobile device, and that needs to be taken into consideration.

The Lobster 700 IS SIM locked to Virgin Mobile SIM cards.

Conclusion

So, to the conclusion... and this is a really hard one to write. As I mentioned previously, I have been really excited about the Lobster 700 for a while (as I know many people have), and I headed out as soon as I heard it was available and picked up a unit.

I'm disappointed.

I'm disappointed because the TV and Radio reception in my experience at least is not as good as I had hoped, and for me that is the main appeal of the device. I'm also disappointed by the keypad which is causing me issues personally, although I accept other people may not have problems with it, and it is something that you may be able to adjust to.

However, I also appreciated that for some people, the TV and Radio will be a secondary function to the fact that this is the first Windows Mobile device available on the Virgin Mobile network.

So... my conclusion is this...

"The Virgin Mobile Lobster 700 is an extremely well priced, not unattractive Smartphone that is a welcome introduction of Windows Mobile to the Virgin Mobile network. The device itself has a generous memory quota, a good, bang up to date software build, and plenty of room for expansion. The screen is bright and crisp, and the device feels good in the hand.

I have reservations about the keypad, although I will keep persevering with it and post back how I get on, and the camera is also poor.

TV & Radio reception for me at least have been disappointing, but of course there is no guarantee that everyone will have the same problems with their usage pattern.

Virgin Mobile do offer an excellent 28 day return on the device, so you can buy it, decide if it is for you, and if not, return it within 28 days for a full refund."


Thanks for reading my review, and of course, your comments and feedback are welcome. You might also like to check out The official Virgin Mobile Lobster 700 'Ask Paul' thread! that complements this review.

P

*MVNO = Mobile Virtual Network Operator - Virgin Mobile runs on the T-Mobile infrastructure.

Edit: Additional Images

Lobster 700 and i-mate SP5:

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#2
awarner

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One for my wish list, nice review :rolleyes:

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#3
PaulOBrien

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A sample daytime pic from Lobster camera, I will post a couple more tomorrow!

P

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awarner

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looks good in the preview just the actual size is a let down :rolleyes:

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Alex (nedge2k)

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I'll say one thing, again designed for right handed users! How are left handed people supposed to press that TV button easily with one hand? Bah :rolleyes:

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randomelements

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Nice review Paul.

If the reception is consistently poor across the country then I can see there being big issues with this.

Lets face it, if you buy this device then you're not really buying it because it's a SmartPhone etc. (if that was your prime concern you could do a lot better elsewhere). As you say, the sellin gpoint of this phone which will draw people to it IS the TV functionality. If that's not of a decent enough quality or reliablity then there is little point getting the device.

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PaulOBrien

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That's why i'm interested to hear from other users :rolleyes:

Even if reception IS OK elsewhere, the lack of a fullscreen option is still a disappointment.

P

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Its nice to see a Windows Mobile device in the forefront of todays Nokia mobile phones :rolleyes:

One thought that occurred to me, as this is true DAB would this qualify as the worlds smallest DAB radio ?

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Zim

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interesting, looks liek i may get the PYG for my cousin, the guy hates missing match of the day! lol

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SlingPlayer Mobile Rules!!!!!
(But welcome to Virgin anyway!)
I bet this will be a big seller with the kids. Aren't they the ones who use Virgin Mobile? They are here. (though the phone is not meant for the US market).

Nice write-up Paul...I no longer have that weird feeling in my stomach everytime I see a new phone not released in the US! :rolleyes:

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Another question, you mentioned it uses GPRS to acquire licenses.

While Virgin have pretty good call/text rates their GPRS rates are very poor, so what I would like to know does the license acquisition eat up your credit? or have Virgin done something special so it 'bypasses' the normal paid for GPRS route?

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preetkk

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i think its free but i never checked my credit so cant be sure as i made a cross network call and went on msn messenger after accuring the licenses

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#13
RT87

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I just checked my balance online, I appear to have been charged 0.01p for getting the license update.

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Thats an unusual amount for Virgin to charge but I suppose the licence is quite small.

Thanks RT87

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Had a play in the local Virgin shop this lunchtime:

Keypad is truly horrible Paul - it's not just you.

Device is okay in the hand, but not overly keen on the bump - if it needs to be that wide, make it that wide all down and give it a larger keyboard.

Seemed very slow to boot.

I'm not sure it's stylish enough to appeal to teens who are presumably it's main target market.

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#16
lllnorrislll

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That's why i'm interested to hear from other users :rolleyes:

Even if reception IS OK elsewhere, the lack of a fullscreen option is still a disappointment.

P


Mine arrived today, as a replacement for my Orange C550, as I am now on the Virgin/NTL Price plan. I haven't yet had chance to go too far with it to really get to try the tv. But i found the signal for the tv radio not too bad at home, which I was surprised with, because the area I live in is usually pants for all signals (mobile, tv, radio and just about anything else).

You are soooo right about the 369 keys being abit strange when texting *screams of frustatration*

But for the price, i still found it one of the cheapest options available. For those of you that qaulify :( http://www.hotukdeal...gin-mobile-payg this makes the phone 144

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#17
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Anyone seen a leather or silicone case for the HTC Monet ( Lobster 700 ) ?

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