Vodafone has been showing off its Vodafone 360 social networking service and demonstrating it on its about-to-launch Samsung H1 handset. Vodafone 360 (360.com) is a means of keeping in touch with friends and colleagues and creating an ever-expanding circle of them.
One of the key points about the service is that it automatically uploads and saves your contacts, conversations and photos. This means that you need not worry should you lose your phone - at least not about being unable to retrieve the contacts you need or the photos you've taken on it.
An account set up from your PC is all you need to begin using the 360 service and you can then log in from your Vodafone handset. Even without accessing the service from a Vodafone phone users can view contacts and see status information and, depending on the preferences chosen, can see phone numbers and other personal details.
As well as viewing your own contacts, you can see and send a request to become a contact of your friends' contacts. Status update information allows you to see who has recently connected to.
Contacts are colour-coded according to their source, so people in your work email contacts list may show up with a blue tab above their photo while Facebook friends may be displayed with a yellow tab and web mail friends with a green tab. The user can further define groups into which each contact falls. The most-frequently used contacts are automatically shown at the front of the 3D contacts menu and a green dot next to their image indicates that they are available to chat, message or call.
As well as standard text messaging, email and Facebook blogging, the Vodafone service provides for peer-to-peer mobile chat over the Vodafone service. Both this and instant-messaging use are unlimited. Twitter is soon to be added to the list of available contact modes.
A feature particular to the Vodafone 360 service is Location Nudge - a means of seeing where friends are at a given point, making it easier to meet up with them. Having got a status update from the friend you wish to meet - delivered as a discreet message icon at the top of the handset's screen - you can then view their location on a map and get directions to it.
As with other aspects of the 360 service, the end user has control over what information is shared any point and what is automatically and displayed on their 360 account and/or their Facebook profile. In the case of photos, which are automatically uploaded to the 360 service as a means of backup, whether or not they are then displayed and to whom may be important.
Although there is likely to be a limit imposed on how much data - contact information, photos and video - are stored at the 360 site, Vodafone has yet to determine a per-user limit. Should you lose your phone, it's possible to lock the account and to retrieve all your backed up personal information and contact lists.
Customers buying the £35 a month Samsung H1 handset on a two-year Vodafone contract will find the 360 service preinstalled. We tried the 360 service on the H1 and found its 3.6in screen admirably responsive to the touch with no discernible lag when switching between friends' contact details and flicking our way through that 3D revolving list of contacts. In fact, there can be few faster ways of digesting what people you know are up to and what they think about the world and whether they're available to chat.
The H1 goes onsale this Friday, while a cheaper Samsung N1 model is set for launch just before Christmas. Vodafone is also launching the service for Symbian S60 handsets, which covers almost the entire Nokia ecosystem.