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Smart Signal on Honest Mobile: is it worth paying extra for?

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Honest Mobile have a clever system that lets you flick onto EE or O2 if you’ve got no signal. We test how it works and if it’s worth the extra cost. Last updated: 21st December 2021.

In our Smart Signal guide

In a nutshell

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What's good

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What's bad

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How we rate it

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How Smart Signal works

You used to be able to switch networks if you were in a blackspot

Screenshot of Smart Signal app

Switch from one network to anotherRead Honest’s guide

at honestmobile.co.uk
(opens in new window)

Honest Mobile’s Smart Signal scheme is currently suspended. We suspect this has been done so that they can focus on bringing out their 5G. Once their 5G is out, we expect to see this feature return.

The basic idea of it was that if you were in a total blackspot on Three’s network (Honest’s hosts) then you would be automatically connected to an EE or O2 signal. You’d have to install their app for this to work.

It’s technically called “domestic roaming”. When you connect to O2 or EE you’ll see a small R symbol at the top right of your phone (as you would when roaming) which lets you know it’s working.

You didn’t have to do anything manually, as the app would sort it all out for you. And you could add or remove it from your plan once a month if you wanted. We managed to test it in real life. Read about our findings further down the page.

Useful link: Honest’s FAQ page

Benefits of Smart Signal

It was genuinely useful and works automatically

SMARTY coverage map

Honest don’t have a coverage checkerCheck Three coverage

at SMARTY.co.uk
(opens in new window)

We’ve said in our review of Three and the other providers that use them that Three’s main weakness is indoor coverage for call signal, blackspots in rural areas and a lack of consistent 4G when compared to other networks.

They’re not the best network Honest could have chosen (but we suspect they’re the cheapest) as their network host, but they’re a good base to start with.

So having Smart Signal was a good idea, as they could offer a benefit that Three’s other virtual providers don’t. But for now, Three's coverage is just something you’ll have to put up with until Smart Signal’s released again.

What was really nice about it was that it worked in the background and the app would do everything for you automatically. It silently switched networks without you needing to do a thing.

Useful link: The best networks for indoor coverage

Everything works like normal when you're on O2 or EE

Screenshot of FAQs from Honest Mobile's website

Honest don’t say much about Smart Signal nowRead all FAQs

at honestmobile.co.uk
(opens in new window)

It’s a pretty rewarding experience when you see that little R symbol flashing up at the top right hand corner of the screen as it tells you you’re beating a Three hotspot by “roaming” on O2 or EE.

You’ll notice no difference in how the networks function on a basic level. Your number stays the same when you switch network and texts send and receive just like normal.

The only difference we did find were in data speeds between the networks. It’s obvious when you try it yourself that O2 are noticeably slower than other providers. EE is almost always the best.

We noticed that depending on which network you use to make a call, your number may show up with a +44 at the beginning or the regular 0. One of our test phones asked us what country code to put in front of the number we dialled

Useful link: Honest Mobile's full help section

You don't have to play around with multiple SIM cards

1pMobile's pay as you go tariff

1pMobile are a good backup SIM on EE’s networkSee their PAYG SIM

at 1pmobile.com
(opens in new window)

There is a real alternative to Honest’s Smart Signal and that’s just straight up having two SIMs if you have a dual-SIM phone (if it has two SIM slots). This lets you have two SIMs active on two different networks in one phone.

You could take a cheap deal from SMARTY (on Three’s network) as your main plan. Then as a backup you could get a cheap pay as you go SIM on EE like 1pMobile that you can use if you need it.

Doing this would be cheaper than getting on Honest (whose prices are actually fairly high) and paying £10 extra for the Smart Signal add-on. But you wouldn’t get three networks at your disposal that way.

Having two SIMs would also mean having multiple numbers, which is a bit of a faff when you can use the same number with Honest Mobile’s Smart Signal. It’s a case of convenience against cost.

Useful link: Find a dual SIM phone contract

We found we could force it to choose the network we wanted

Screenshot of choosing EE network manually

We could select EE as our network

You’ve got two ways of using Smart Signal. You can either let the app do its own thing in the background and connect you automatically, or you can manually tell it which network to connect to.

If you’re in an area with poor 3G-only signal on Three, for example, Smart Signal won’t automatically connect you to a different network. In this case you can manually set it to a different network.

While Honest said it wouldn’t work on Android, the two Android test phones we used worked when we tried to switch networks manually. But, doing this caused us a lot of problems that we didn’t encounter with our iPhone.

Smart Signal didn’t try to reconnect us to Three once we manually changed. If you changed it yourself you’ll have to manually switch back to Three. If you’re on automatic mode it will switch you back to Three.

Useful link: Read Honest’s FAQs for more information about their network

Disadvantages to Smart Signal

It only kicks in automatically when you’ve got no signal at all

Readout of signal strength on Honest Mobile

It won’t switch you even with poor signal

One thing you have to know about Smart Signal is that it’s only set up to help you once you’re in a total blackspot on Three’s network. It’s not there to get you the best signal.

So what does this mean? Well, say you were somewhere with one signal bar on Three’s network. In that case Smart Signal would see that as good enough and wouldn’t switch you automatically to a different network.

As long as you have some sort of signal with Three it’ll keep you connected to Three. That could leave you with poor speeds or call quality, unless you switch yourself over to EE or O2 (this is only reliable on iPhone)

For us this was pretty annoying. It should really switch over automatically as soon as you get poor signal. It would prefer an almost unusably weak Three signal over a strong EE or O2 signal.

Useful links: Three vs O2 guide | Three vs EE guide

Switching networks takes time when you need it

A stopwatch with 2 minutes 49 seconds on it

It could take minutes to connect

Switching from 4G to 3G is supposed to be a seamless experience that keeps you connected even when your signal is getting weaker. A network experience is best when you don’t notice these things.

Smart Signal is not seamless. Far from it. When you move from one network to another, your phone has to take time to work out what’s happening. This caused noticeable waiting times, especially when away from home.

When we hit a Three blackspot, our phone took a while to deregister from Three and then took even longer to register onto the new network. In all it took about five minutes for us to switch networks.

We had to be basically without signal at all for it to automatically reconnect. It would be a lot better if it kicked in earlier. It worked far better when we switched over manually.

Useful link: See their FAQs for more info

We were put on O2 more often than on EE

Using EE on Honest Mobile

O2 are the slowest of the three

In our testing we were more often put onto the O2 network, rather than onto the EE network. We can’t say if there’s a commercial reason behind this or not.

It may have just been due to local coverage: O2 generally has better indoor coverage than EE, and we did a lot of our testing indoors. But we got it more often than EE when out and about too.

As a way of extending call signal to more areas of the country, we have no complaints with it. O2 covers more of the UK’s landmass with 3G/2G than EE do. So, for calls, Smart Signal works fine.

But, for data, we’d prefer being on EE. They have much better coverage and speeds than O2 and Three. It’s a shame that 4G calling (VoLTE) didn’t work, as you would have been able to use EE’s great 4G coverage for calls too.

In the end, Smart Signal seemed to prioritise call signal over data signal. Of course, you could just manually switch to EE to get faster 4G, but as we’ll see that only caused us more issues.

Useful link: See their FAQs for current network information

The whole system didn’t work as well as we wanted it to

Screenshot of chat with customer service

We managed to contact the company founders!How to get help

at honestmobile.co.uk
(opens in new window)

What really held back Smart Signal in our eyes was that we ran into a lot of issues with it. Their automatic network switching feature just stopped working for a few days, leaving us stuck on Three.

It makes sense that such an ambitious feature had many margins of error. What had apparently happened was that Honest’s connection to O2 had gone down, leaving users unable to switch networks (even to EE).

And since Honest depend on these other networks, they can’t sort out these issues right away. Like we said, our issues with their network took a few days to get fixed.

There’s two bits of good news. First, you can use the customer service feature in their app which works brilliantly. We even got to talk to the company’s founders! Secondly, when Smart Signal 2.0 is released, it may iron out these issues.

Useful link: You can get more information on their website

Our verdict on Smart Signal

A great idea with plenty of room for improvement
★★☆☆☆ (2/5, average)

If you're looking at Smart Signal because you like the idea of always being on the fastest, strongest data connection possible, we think you'll be disappointed. It's just not what it's for. It doesn't automatically optimise the network you're on for speed or quality signal.

We found ourselves willing it to kick in, only for it to stay on a weak or slow Three connection and then manually having to go through the rigmarole of changing network settings, which quickly gets tedious.

But if you like the rest of Honest Mobile's philosophy and benefits yet the idea of using Three's smaller network is putting you off, then Smart Signal provides a get out of jail free card for coverage you'll appreciate.

At £10 a month we think it'd be worth it if it guaranteed the best/speediest connection. But to just fill in the gaps as an emergency backup? It's a little rich for our blood, on top of Honest's higher-than-average starting rates.

The technical issues need urgently ironing out. Until then, we can't justify the expense. It's a shame.

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