Is This The Best Phone Plan in Hong Kong?
I hadn’t thought about changing my phone plan until I started hearing my friends tell me how much they were paying. I’d tell them what I was paying and I’d usually get the same line: “Wow, that’s really expensive.” I hadn’t realised how much cheaper I could pay for my phone plan but it makes sense, considering Hong King is one of the most competitive markets on the planet. I have been using 1010 (a luxury brand spinoff of CSL) for the longest time. I was paying HK$330+ for a 4G, 10GB data package. The performance was stellar and I had no complaints, but it just hurt the wallet a bit too much so I decided to look into some cheaper alternatives.
What are the Alternatives?
I decided to skip the major carriers and I asked for some ideas from my friends. One friend mentioned that I should check out what some domestic helpers use called Kabayan. “It’s data only and cost like $100 dollars a month but you don’t get any free voice minutes.” He said. I had a quick look but the offer didn’t really appeal to me. I don’t want to route most of my calls through Facebook-owned apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. After a bit of digging on some forums, I kept hearing about this company called “Birdie” and decided to some digging. This forum post is packed full of information!
So, How Much Does it Cost?
A darn sight less than my 1010 contract, that’s for sure! I was worried about data usage so I was immediately attracted to their 12GB option. In my mind, if you are going to pay for 7GB at HK$120, you might as well pay the extra HK$20. I think this price point is very reasonable, but it left me with a lot of questions.
Who Are Birdie?
If you look at their about page, it’s very whimsical. They use lots of words like “unwinding” and “relaxing” but when you cut through the marketing fluff, you see that Birdie is a service offered by SmarTone and uses its network infrastructure, exclusively.
Before switching, I decided to check how well these networks from SmarTone covered Hong Kong compared to my current 1010 (CSL) network. I didn’t expect it to be too different. Actually, they look practically the same. Use this tool if you want to do a check yourself.
Tap (click) on the image below to see a comparison between 1010 (CSL) and birdie (SmarTone).
Knowing that Birdie uses SmarTone networks alleviated any concerns I had about their network coverage and piqued just enough curiosity for me to order a sim card and give it a whirl. I opted for the 12GB plan and if it turned out to be rubbish, it’s contract-free, so I had nothing to lose.
How Do You get a Sim Card?
It was actually pretty easy. You need a Hong Kong ID card (HKID)to sign up. They have multiple options for payment. According to one forum poster, you can even pay with a Neat credit card
Get a Neat prepay Mastercard, works online for most things, including Birdie. — Kimwy66, GeoExpat forums
For people thinking of buying before you come to Hong Kong, it might be an idea to get a friend to purchase a sim card for you and just transfer it when you get an HKID card.
If you are coming from another phone company and would like to keep your number, you can. Just transfer it over and set your plan from Birdie to start as your last bill from your previous company ends.
I opted for mine to come in the post which was pretty quick. You can opt to pick it up at 759 stores, which are plentiful in Hong Kong. Once you have your sim, you activate it, stick it in your phone and you’re good to go.
Network Speed and Stability
One thing I was eager to test was the actual 4G speeds (they claim 21Mbps) as well as observing if the data signal varied/dropped throughout the day as some users had reported.
i’m in taipo, village house near HLY area. Good signal when outdoor, but no signal when i’m inside the house — Andy SNK, GeoExpat forums
Personally, my connection has been quite steady. I have experienced some drops in areas, especially in toilets (don’t judge!) and the MTR stations during peak hours. Sometimes the drops can be enough to impede use. I did notice that my connection drops to 3G way more often than when I was on 1010. I guess I have been spoilt by their luxury service. It also cost more than double the price of Birdie’s most expensive offering, though.
When using 4G day-to-day, the speeds have been solid. I will say that it takes a second to get going. When I was on 1010, My videos would load in HD instantly, looking crisp! When using Birdie, the first couple of seconds are pixelated, or you end up seeing the loading circle on YouTube for a second but it’s fine after that. This frustrated me at first but my frustration soon faded. These are the speeds I got at home while using mobile data on 1010 compared to Birdie.
As you can see, the speeds almost seem the inverse of each other but what it really means is that my connection to Birdie at home is better than the one I had with 1010. This should be taken with a pinch of salt and doesn’t really reflect day-to-day use. Each location will give you a different result. As I mentioned before, my connection to Birdie in most areas has been fine with the noticeable time to connect been a little longer than it was on 1010.
What’s Unique About Birdie?
Birdie is a purely online service which I think is a plus. They have a nice little app that you control everything from and for me, it’s been great. It’s pretty granular and gives you access to pretty much everything you need.
Another reason that might draw you to Birdie’s service is their take on roaming. They offer roaming passes which allow you flexibility when you travel. We went to Japan recently and paid HK$100 plus for one of those WiFi eggs, which I actually think is a pretty good deal but the prices Birdie offer are competitive. If you’re just going to China for a couple of days for work, you have the option of adding $HK40 to your bill while keeping your sim in your phone, which a lot of people will like. Birdie also offer a roaming voice tariff and IDD tariff if that’s your poison.
For travel, your phone could act as a mobile hot spot or you could even put your sim card into a WiFi egg for easy sharing with friends as mentioned by one forum user. You might want to keep an eye on everyone’s usage though!
Data P2P is also unique to Birdie. If you are running low one month, you could have a friend or family member send you some of their unused data which I think is really smart!
So, is it the best phone plan in Hong Kong? For what I need a mobile service to be, I would say it comes pretty close. My main aim when I was looking for a phone company to replace 1010 was to find something that was reasonably priced and offered a compelling product. 12GB of LTE data a month is really compelling for the price plus flexible roaming plans and data sharing add icing to that cake. Network speeds and stability are solid 90% of the time and for the times that it’s difficult to connect, I look at it as an internet break and let’s be real, who doesn’t need one of those?