I recently applied for, and was accepted into, a trial for the Samba Mobile free mobile broadband service. Samba provide a 3G USB dongle for which you are able to build up credit by viewing video ads via a Firefox extension which also installs a “battery” icon in your navigation bar showing your available credit in days. The more ads you view, the more days of credit you get.
Once you’ve built up enough credit, you can browse the Internet as with any other 3G dongle. According to the paperwork that was supplied with the welcome pack, the dongle and SIM are provided by Nutshell Mobile, which in turn is an MVNO running on the Three network. The supplied ZTE MF112 dongle is the standard Three device (with a paper Samba logo sticker covering the Three logo!), complete with the same standard 3Connect software that Three supply. It all worked flawlessly on my main Windows machine (although I wasn’t able to send/receive texts or view my account details as presumably these features aren’t available on the Nutshell/Samba SIM) and I was even able to get online using my spare Linux machine thanks to the Sakis3G script.
It’s worth pointing out that there are no ads forced upon you as you use the service, so it doesn’t get in the way of your normal browsing. You just need to remember to keep topping up your credit by viewing ads, which is pretty painless and something you can easily do with the sound turned down while you’re doing something else. I would expect the service to stop working when I run out of credit, but I wonder if it would continue to allow me access to the Samba site to build up some more credit on the go.
The Samba website is fairly basic (complete with the misspelt “live alot” tagline) and sparse in information – I have no idea, for example, what the monthly data transfer limit is – but it’s early days and I’d expect that the site would be fleshed out prior to a public launch. Samba might also want to consider switching to a courier service more reliable than CityLink as it took me well over a month to receive my welcome pack!
Ideally, I’d like to see Samba develop their own multi-platform client software that provides a way to view ads and remaining credit without forcing users to use Firefox (not that I have anything against Firefox, but it’s not my primary browser), and maybe provide other ways of getting online such as MiFi hotspots to support a wider range of devices (think iPod and non-3G iPad users), but these things could come later.
I think the Samba Mobile service has the potential to be really popular with consumers, because it offers a useful service for free that would be fairly costly if bought directly from an operator such as Three. I only hope that their is enough advertising revenue to keep the service afloat, as it would be a great shame if the service wasn’t able to get off the ground.
This list of Lifehacker readers’ most recommended free apps contains some real gems, including some of my favourites (Google Chrome, Dropbox, uTorrent, Gmail, Winamp etc.)
Free Rice is a fun word game that lets you build your English vocabulary and donates 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Programme for each right answer. It might not sound like much but the site has already donated over two billion grains of rice to help stop world hunger.
New legal music download service We7 offers free, non-DRM MP3 downloads from a number of popular artists. The catch? Each track has a 10-second advertisement tacked on to the start. A month after downloading an ad-supported track, you are able to go back to the We7 site and download a version with the advert removed. However, I downloaded two test tracks and found that the advert can be removed easily through the use of simple audio editing software. A very interesting business model indeed… only time will tell whether it is ultimately successful.
JkDefrag is an open-source disk optimisation utility (or “defragger”) for Windows operating systems. As well as the standard GUI, it also comes with a command line version for scripting and scheduling, and there’s even a screensaver version installed for defragmenting your disks while your machine is idle.
MozBackup is a free utility for backing up your Mozilla, Firefox and Thunderbird profiles. Mozilla haven’t yet released an official backup tool, and while it’s possible to achieve the same effect by manually copying folders, MozBackup makes the process much simpler.
Alex Feinman’s ISO Recorder allows you to burn CD/DVD ISO images under Windows XP/2003/Vista without the need for a dedicated CD burning application. Lucersoft’s LC ISO Creator enables you to do the process in reverse, i.e. create an ISO image from a physical CD/DVD.
Edit: Alex’s ISO Recorder now supports image creation, removing the need for an external tool such as LC ISO Creator.
Red Dodo: offers free personalised screensavers/animated wallpapers suitable for most popular phones. Quite a snazzy little service, I think.
GetJAR: free applications to add functionality (or just fun!) to your handset.
Lasyk Networks (for Sony Ericsson handsets): software, ringtones, wallpapers, games and more.
I don’t doubt that AbiWord is an excellent free word processor in its own right, but it saved my sanity earlier when I was stuck using a crashy version of Word. The Windows version is a 5MB download (20MB installed) and there’s also a portable version available. It’s able to open, edit and save Microsoft Word, XHTML, Rich Text Format and plain text files as well as its native ABW/AWT format, and while I’m sure it lacks many of Microsoft Word’s advanced features, it’s lean and mean and has handled all the documents I’ve thrown at it. Plus you can’t argue with the price…
AbiWord is also available for Linux and Mac OS, and being truly free software, the source code is of course also offered for download.
The Music Genome Project’s Pandora experiment is a website that allows you to create your own playlists, or “stations”. The way it works is that you enter the name of a song or artist you like, and the software finds other songs it thinks you’ll like. There are restrictions imposed by its licensing agreements, but it is completely legal and plays songs in full, not just clips. Give it a go!