Getting Around or Going In Circles?

When Circles was launched earlier this year, I was stoked. Even in the early days, I’ve liked supporting underdogs in monopolised fields. I remember Mr Branson’s Virgin Mobile fondly with their new fangled plans and snazzy stickers.

So after being “under the sun” for almost 20 years with nothing to show for it except rising bills and expiration of the promos I signed up for, I was geared to give Circles a go.

Someone at Circles must like their Lion King. Circles.life is in line with modern web design approaches, keeping things simple and clean with branding colours of purples and blues setting them apart from the trio of red, orange and green.

What impressed me the most, was their basic price plan of $28 a month with a 100 minute talktime, unlimited Whatsapp, free caller ID and everyone’s favourite – up to 7GB worth of data (subject to ongoing promo).

This made my existing plan look bad. Real bad. I was paying for almost the same service (I had SMS bundled in but only 4GB of data) for more than double the price.

Though for those used to getting phone subsidies, you’ll have to pay full price with Circles as they do not offer contract plans (and thus rebates) for getting on board with a phone. I didn’t need to change my phone every two years so I’m good.

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They look happy enough. Photo: Circles Facebook Page

As I was still under contract with M1, I hesitated to port my number over. But a quick calculation showed that even with the cancellation fee, I’ll still be paying less overall!

But just to be sure, I checked with one of their “Blackbelt Happiness Expert” to see if there was any chance of me signing up first to leverage the promo, then porting over my number when my contract ends. He said no, so I went ahead to get my new plan with Circles.

It’s been about three weeks in. And here’s my verdict.

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Drumroll. Photo: snopes.com

I really wanted to like this new telco. They are young, fun and audacious. With their new “low-price data-generous” plans, they made the big players finally release their tight rein on the business of data. After their launch, M1 even started messaging me with pleasant SMS to warn me when my data was low. And now I’m hearing Starhub and Singtel has SIM only plans too and alternative generous data plans to offer. So Circles – kudos for showing those big bad wolves for the opportunistic tight-fisted tyrants they are.

But the truth is, the data delivery is sketchy. I don’t make a lot of calls and most of them seem to have been alright so far, but the data network is pretty unreliable. This is a bummer given that is one of their biggest sell.

As the transition was instantaneous, I could see the marked difference between the two telcos. My apps took longer to launch, and the response seems laggy. Dropout rates seem higher and suffers significantly when I step into a building.

Even though M1 had several spots of lapse – for example the junctions at Amber Gardens and the Lavender MRT – this became even more pronounced under Circles. There’s no better way to gauge than to use one of the hottest apps right now:

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Oh no you don’t. Photo:digg.com

Dear Pikachu has nothing to fear from me. Pokestops work fine and gyms are as dodgy as they have always been, but the biggest problem I have now with the game, are the pokemon themselves. Where they used to show up even when I’m on a moving bus, I notice they now only show up if I remain fairly stationary on the bus. This made me wonder if the data transfer can’t deal with something as constant as Pokemon Go.

Worse still, I’m getting almost a 70% “run away” rate after tossing a ball or two, as opposed to previously when I would get it only after more than 5 tosses and less than 10%. Thinking this again might be a lag, I’ve seen occurrences of escapes, only to see the same pokemon reappear again in the area. So did the connection drop out from beneath me again?

Also, when it comes to geo-location, it goes haywire in buildings. I’ll fly all over the place when I’m in places like Raffles City or Raffles Place, even when I just take a step or two.

Of course this is in no way substantial evidence, but my daily usage for the past weeks have convinced me Circles is definitely not on the same bar as M1 yet. I’ve written to their customer care and they have promised to look into this while I “Hakuna Matata”, but it might be a while before the network becomes solid.

I’ve also recently commented on their Facebook page about my disappointment that they now offer the “sign-up now port later” – a month after I asked about it. I don’t blame the previous consultant as I understand that’s how the cookie crumbles, but the response seemed off the mark, as well as grammatically incorrect. My correspondenceI suspect either rote reply from a remote location or possibly a version of the auto-bot reply was at play here. A quick look through some of the other replies do seem a little robotic with a “Stepford Wives” sort of cheer coming through. Having their CirclesCare seem like CircleScare on their website certainly doesn’t help.

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That said, I’m trying to be encouraged by the fact that they are trying their best. And that they seem to be including plans and services that the public are asking for (such as free incoming). And I’d like to hear what the team has to say about the reported bad network in the places I pointed out, because even if the solution is not straightforward, transparency matters a lot to me. But they really have to hunker down and step on that pedal as news of the fourth telco (I’m wondering why Circles wasn’t the fourth?) is on its way.

I’ve not shared my referral code in good conscience but for those who are willing to try even after my piece, or was going to anyway, here’s my Circles referral code to get $20 off your sign-up administrative fee: WOLFL

Good luck!

Update: I recently made a short trip to Malaysia and had to swop out my SIM card. Upon returning, the connection seems better. Will keep fingers crossed! (3 Oct)

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