Review: Mobyko mobile phone backup service

SMS Text News contributor Ben Smith has been testing out mobile backup service Mobyko. How did he find it? Read on…

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It’s easy enough to lose your phone – when you’re not leaving it in the back of a taxi after an evening’s liquid refreshment some light-fingered type is taking it from you in broad daylight. In the UK we lose around 4.5 million handsets a year (of which almost 900,000 are accidentally flushed down the toilet). In fact, if the Home Office are to be believed (pinnacle of excellence that it is) 800,000 of us had a phone stolen last year (that’s a phone stolen in more than 50% of all robberies). Of course, a lost or stolen phone can quickly be rendered a useless brick with a call to your mobile operator, but the cost of a replacement handset is often minimal compared to the inconvenience of losing your phonebook (or that text from the cute girl in the pub). Two groups of people know this – the bad guys (who having stolen your phone offer to sell your SIM card back for a tenner – see Ewan’s story) and the good guys… Mobyko are the good guys.

Launched in January this year, Mobyko is a UK-based start-up offering a free over-the-air backup service for contacts, texts, videos and pictures. They support around 80% of the existing handsets on the market by using the SyncML standard to synchronise your contacts wirelessly with their servers without needing any special software on the phone. This means that even the the most basic phones on the market can use the service. Texts, videos and pictures can also be stored by forwarding them to a Mobyko number which adds them to your online backup. You can mange, add to and edit all your data via the Mobyko website from which they also provide web-based text messaging and sell a range of music, wallpapers and videos which are sent direct to your phone and automatically added to your backup. ‘Live chat’ help is available and a premium service (£24.99 per year) provides extra storage, credits for downloads / texting and telephone support. So far they’ve backed up over 700,000 contacts (266 of them mine)… not bad for just on 6 months open for business.

Of course, Mobyko are not unique is offering this type of service. There’s competition from established players such as Zyb and the confusingly similarly-named Mobical, but those services don’t provide the breadth of features and there are a couple of other things that mark Mobyko out as worth serious consideration too… First up is their sign-up process – it’s real ‘anyone could follow this’ stuff. A clear 4-step process walks you through the business of signing up, showing screen shots of exactly what your particular phone will look like at each step of the way. Then, based on the information you supply, they send all of the pre-configured settings directly to your handset including all the data settings for your operator. The second is the way they address the privacy of your data… I was hesitant to send all my contacts to some unknown website…. there’s my friends, colleague’s, client’s and family’s numbers in there and you don’t win prizes for upsetting that lot by giving their details to spammers. So I had a look at their privacy policy (it’s there linked at the bottom of every page) and it spells out in words pleasantly free of legalese what they will do (look after your data) and won’t do (sell it). And, because they’re UK-based the information they hold is covered by data protection legislation and they list addresses and phone numbers you can contact them on. Nice…

My first sync whipped through a couple of hundred contacts in a few seconds using the unlimited data on my 3 X-series tariff, but checking the phone’s logs only a few kilobytes of data were transferred so the cost wouldn’t have been terrible even on the most expensive of data tariffs. The process (at least on Nokia phones) is manually started through the phone’s menus which means there’s no unpleasant surprises on your bill if you still pay-as-you-go for data (oh, how last year!) and if remembering to sync regularly is a problem there’s a text reminder option. Another nice feature, not greatly emphasised on the site, is that contacts deleted from the phone aren’t actually removed from Mobyko – just moved to a ‘deleted’ area so they can be recovered at a later date. The web-based text worked quickly and puts your number in the ‘from’ field so replies are sent to your phone.

The service wasn’t completely problem free – the first couple of text messages set to the site for backup failed to appear as did a few of the wallpaper images I bought, but this was quickly resolved by customer support who knew their stuff and replaced more than the lost credits by way of an apology. Feature-wise there’s no way to recover anything other than contacts directly back to the phone although you can e-mail them. Also, the choice and quality of downloadable content is a little limited at the moment – there’s some cool cocktail mixing lessons on video, but ‘Hip Hop Freestyle Frenzy’ turned out to be a couple of guys rapping to the camera, without music, apparently in a hallway somewhere… not something I’d pay £2 for, but then again I’m not very ‘street’. Mobyko recognise there’s a few kinks to be worked out and promise more content and features in the future.

Would I use this service? Probably not. I’m mainly a business user. My data is synchronised from an E61 to an Exchange server and I need constant and automatic sync for my calendar too. However, I suspect I’m not really Mobyko’s target customer – the normal ‘consumer’ user doesn’t want this complexity or expense and to them I would happily recommend the service. Many people I know have never backed up their phone’s contacts, but would be lost without them – they might know they can connect it to their computer but it seems complex or inconvenient. Mobyko’s friendly sign-up process is clear enough I would be happy to point even the least technology-experienced person at the site and be confident they could get it working. Syncing really is as simple as a few clicks. The web site is more convenient than desktop software as it’s available from anywhere, and the text feature was an option which I was surprised to find myself using frequently without really thinking about it – you can’t really beat the speed of a full-sized keyboard. I’m not completely sold on the pay-for-content part of the site yet, but there’s no obligation to use it and I wouldn’t be surprised if that cocktail video doesn’t come out at the next party. Oh and frankly, free isn’t a price you can complain about so overall it’s a resounding thumbs-up.

Having established the existing user-base primarily by word of mouth, Mobyko say they’re seeing good rates of user retention after initial sign-up (initially 1 in 3, but improving). Privately funded at present, they’re focusing on developing and maturing the product in the UK market and then extending geographically – they’re currently soft-launching in Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden to test network compatibility. The site refers to forthcoming Podcast functionality and if they can deliver new features such as this, expand to the new markets, add more content for download whilst maintaining the ease of use of the current site there seems no reason why the current impressive rate of growth couldn’t be sustained.

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Thanks Ben!

By Ben Smith

Ben is an expert on enterprise mobility and wireless data products. He has been a regular contributor to Mobile Industry Review since 2007 and is also editor of Wireless Worker.

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