I’ve been testing the Android Go system on Vodacom with devices provided to me by the network operator a few weeks back at a media roundtable. The official title of the OS as per Google is Android Oreo (Go Edition), but it’s just easier to refer to it as Android Go. Between my mountain of deadlines, I’ve had time to play with it and want to share some real-world testing in this review.
Vodacom in partnership with Google has released its first entry-level Android Go phones – the Huawei Y3 (R999) and Smart Kicka 4 (R399). Go apps are half the size (thus more storage available) + use less data; and need fewer resources to run. pic.twitter.com/DxPp7SWTac
— Nafisa Akabor (@nafisa1) June 7, 2018
The Huawei Y3 is one of Vodacom’s first Android Go devices that went on sale. The Y3 is an entry-level handset with a 5-inch capacitive touchscreen. The size is ideal if you want to watch YouTube videos or any multimedia content but with YouTube Go, there’s more incentive to stick to Google’s own products/apps. Regular features include a 8MP rear-camera and 8GB of storage. Out the 8GB, 2.4GB is used by the system and after downloading only two apps (Instagram and Whatsapp), 3.55GB is being used; i.e. 44%. This does not include music, photos or games. So you are most likely going to have to purchase a micro SD card slot for this phone, despite Android Go being a shrunk down version of the Google apps etc.
The back plastic cover comes off the way old phones used to, and the secondary SIM slot is covered. I have not put an additional SIM into it to see if it’s usable. There are also signs that tell you not to hot swap.
Inside the box, you get the phone, plug, USB charging cable, earphones and a quick start guide. There’s no emphasis on what type of technical specs it has, considering it’s an entry-level device. What appears on the box is that is has an 8MP camera, 5″ display, smooth experience and large volume (yes, really).
The Y3 is in no way meant for those who love taking selfies and posting to social (incidentally Huawei does make other great mid-range devices for this, also look at Honor range). It’s ideal as a small business phone if you want a mobile device to check emails on the go and use Google apps with less data. Speaking of data…
When I first set up the Y3, I connected it to my home WiFi network; if you own an Android or any smartphone, you know that this is standard when setting up a device, especially if you don’t always have a spare SIM card. Android, as usual, automatically started updating all apps on the device, which I let run because the apps were smaller in size than normal. For regular smartphones, I immediately go into the Settings and turn off the auto-update function.
I was provided with a Vodacom SIM card with 5GB of data to use for my review. Since I set the phone up using my 50Mbps uncapped fibre connection, I did not need to disconnect from the WiFi network. After setup, I checked the balance on the SIM and it showed that the 5GB allocation was down to 4.16GB. That’s 840MB of data vanished.
DISAPPEARING DATA ON VODACOM
Imagine my horror to discover this, but at the same time, I knew this feeling all too well – I am a Vodacom customer. I thought maybe the WiFi got disconnected by mistake and went into the settings to see my data usage. It was sitting at 2.1MB. Yes, that’s not a typo, the phone had only used 2.1MB over a data connection. The Y3 (and most Androids) shows the amount of data that you use over 3G and WiFi.
Here are the screenshots:
Note how the Night Owl balance is also dropped to 4.17GB, considering I hadn’t used it overnight by disconnecting the WiFi. Vodacom has some real issues here, outright altering data allocations. How does 2.1MB of usage equate to 840MB of usage?
ACTUAL DATA USAGE ON ANDROID GO
Aside from the “mystery disappearing data”, this is what actual usage has been like on the Y3. For starters, to use the YouTube Go app, you have to provide your cell number to Vodacom. This does not sit well with me, I always have issue when a number is required to use any basic services (I provide fake ones more than half the time to sign up for stuff online). If I can use the regular YouTube app for free on a normal smartphone, why do I need to hand over my cell number to use it on Android Go? That said, I submitted the number Vodacom provided me with for the purpose of this review to get pass the setup window.
With a 2.4MB usage after setting up YouTube, I opted to watch a video on basic quality. The app shows you in advance how much will get used, in this case, 2.3MB. However, after I watched the video, my data usage jumped to 6.2MB, over than what should have been used. I watched the same video again on standard quality and it used 17.2MB correctly. So looks to be hit and miss, or delay somewhere.
There after I loaded five emails on Gmail Go and it used about 20MB. Granted, they were resource intensive mailouts, from an online store with a bunch of photos showing items of clothing. Then I loaded my blog, which took 5MB to load the landing page. I also then opened my post with the Google office visit in NYC. It was a post with 36 photos, which loaded quickly and only used 2MB of data. I proceeded to download Instagram (33MB) and Whatsapp (32MB) and it used the exact amount of data. The recommended apps that come up on the Play Store are suggested for Android Go.
Like I mentioned earlier, handing over the mobile number didn’t sit well with me, as was the case for setting up Google Assistant Go. It does not work with South African English so under phone settings, make sure it is UK English to use it. Here, you had to give the app permission to track your web activity. Another big no from me. I turn all of these things off because it’s unnecessary info for a company to collect this much data on you. As I could not agree to the terms below, I did not test the app:
Android Go is a great solution for entry-level devices and people with limited connectivity and data. You can browse websites, watch videos, read emails etc; basic stuff that also includes running a small business using the least amount of data possible. Of course, it comes at a price: allowing Google track your activity on websites, Google apps and Chrome history. This isn’t different to those who use Android; and shouldn’t be a concern for who it’s aimed at if you go with the default that Google tracks you.
Unfortunately it is let down by Vodacom’s disappearing data issue. I believe this is a much bigger problem that is taking longer than necessary to fix. In the interim, how difficult would it be to a) disable out of bundle usage once a current bundle is depleted; or b) allow people to transfer data from their own allocation over to another person (you can only do this with airtime, or buy someone a bundle).
The Huawei Y3 is available on Vodacom (gold is a network exclusive) for R999.
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 13 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ firstname.lastname@example.org