Phone Wars: Which is the best for RTW travel?

I’ve been a very happy BlackBerry (BB) user for 7 years now and never found anything that would change me.  Until the iPhone came out.  That problem was solved, however, quite easily when I found out it would be through AT&T.  I don’t know many companies I despise more than that one, so I put it on hold.  Now that I will be travelling the world, I’m looking at switching from BB to either an Android phone or the iPhone as I want something with more robust apps.  So I’m turning to my fellow globetrotters to help me figure out which is really the best phone to go for.  I don’t want to be dependent on needing WiFi, but I’d like to be able to tap into it when it’s available.

So what are your thoughts? BlackBerry, Android, or iPhone and why?

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  1. Have you ever considered creating an ebook or guest authoring on
    other blogs? I have a blog centered on the same ideas you discuss
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    shoot me an e-mail.

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    • I do guest post on other travel blogs, and I am working on a few different ebooks. 🙂

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  2. Wow, thanks for pointing me to this post! It sounds like you are/were going through the exact same thing as me! I was pretty overwhelmed with the amount of iPhone support I got on Twitter because all of my friends here (in Italy) are die-hard Blackberry users… my boyfriend has an iPhone and I guess I just didn’t find it all that exciting. However, that’s because he doesn’t have all the cool apps for travel that I would have!

    I got a new touch screen non-smart phone last year but the touch screen isn’t that great and it is mostly just a fancy looking phone considering that the internet never worked and was a very dumbed down version of what I would see on my laptop.

    Like I mentioned on Twitter, I like the BBM feature but then again since iPhone has so many great travel apps plus What’s app… it always seemed like it would be a bit better for what I was looking for. I don’t want to buy a phone solely based on using it for email and blogging but then again, what’s the point of getting a smart phone if it doesn’t help me out in those areas. I got a lot of responses for the iPad and although I see the appeal of that, it’s just one more thing for me to carry around and since I’m not a ‘professional’ blogger just yet I don’t need something that serious.

    One thing that I noticed a couple of times is the mention of the iPod Touch for the blogging/travel part and a normal unlocked phone for calls and texts locally. That is definitely something I will consider.

    I am currently in Italy and will be spending the summer in the USA before moving onto Australia for probably at least one year and who knows from there. Basically the more versatile and useful it is across the world the better. I don’t necessarily want to write blog posts on it seeing as I’ll almost always have my laptop. It will definitely be handy though to tweet and answer emails from that so that I can keep up with the promotions and social media/communication part of the biz.

    Thanks everyone for the insights (for me and Talon 😉 ). I’ll definitely be coming to you guys when it comes down to crunch time!

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    • I’m so glad it was helpful! I went with the Android phone over iPhone based on the information here & am VERY happy I did that over iPhone. But everyone has their own need/pref. 🙂

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  3. buy an unlocked iPhone so you can just buy SIM cards and airtime as you travel along. MUCH cheaper that way !

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  4. iPhone without a doubt. Mine is my lover… I’m not sure why I waited so long to get one, it will definitely come in handy for keeping in touch with my family when I’m back in the US later this year.

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  5. For the European countries I would go with getting an unlocked phone and getting a T-mobile SIM card. I have an iPhone, bought on craigslist and then unlocked it so it can take t-mobile (what I have now). T-mobile is everywhere in Europe, very convenient for “topping-up”, however, also very expensive. I might also just buy a pre-paid phone and get an iTouch for email and apps, but that does tie you to wifi. Once you leave Europe though it may be a different story and you may have to switch providers/get a new SIM card. In New Zealand they had vodafone so I just got their SIM for $20 and put $20 worth of minutes on there (about 20 mins it turns out) and it came with 50 megabytes of data and free Facebook access.

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    • I figured I’d have to do some switching of providers along the way, but still cheaper than paying international roaming & data on my current acct. LOL

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  6. Looks like everything has been covered here, but to toss my hat in the ring on the Android side of the fence. Been an Android user for a while now, currently using a Droid X. Love the OS, and like you, I HATE being tied to iTunes

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    • Thanks. The other thing that has always bothered me about the iPhone as well is that you can’t replace the battery yourself. Not sure why they came up with that idea. Seems pretty stupid to me.

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  7. You know i had to respond to this techie post!
    Talon, I would start with listing what you want your phone/device to do for you.
    1. Do you even need a phone? For many travelers who don’t stay very long in one place, and have no friends in the places they visit, then traveling with a phone is not necessary, perhaps a laptop will do for communications. But, if you are (and you ARE) staying in places for a few weeks or more, and there are friends (ahem) there, then a phone is essential.
    2. Cheaper approach: For myself, I use my ipod/touch for my ‘smartphone’ needs (web apps, news, blogging, games, skype), and use an older simple phone for calls and texts. Get the iOS experience without the steep cost of an iphone. Many travelers I’ve met use netbooks, and buy cheap Nokias simply for calls and texts.
    3. OS preference? If you already know that you prefer a particular OS, Android, iOS, WebOS, Symbian, etc., or particular apps, then start shopping accordingly.
    4. Maker preference? You can find many unlocked high end phones (like here in Thailand) by Samsung, Nokia, Blackberry, LG, HTC, even the iphone (offered by more than one network). Then you can use these phones back in the states with T-mobile or ATT (GSM networks that accept SIMs).
    5. Touch or buttons? Self explanatory, but might help in narrowing down your choices. If you love iOS apps, but hate texting on glass, then…. you might prefer a phone with slideout qwerty or BB style.
    6. Camera? Do you want a nice camera and ability to upload them immediately? Nokia N8 is the best (IMO) camera phone now (12MP autofocus, HD video), and iphone isn’t bad either. Some LG models are also known for their nice cameras.
    6. Budget? Unlocked high end phones are much more expensive than phones on contract, but you get freedom to choose carriers, and won’t be stuck with high data plan prices, too. Amazon has a decent selection of unlocked phones by many makers, as well as Ebay, but be diligent about the seller’s history and location, so you don’t get a knock off.

    Anyway, enjoy phone shopping! Ultimately, you know what your needs, (wants) are, so have fun researching the myriad of choices that are out there! The fierce competition is good for us consumers in the end…

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    • Thanks, Bubba. Some good criteria!

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      • Thanks, gents! It was fun talking tech!!! Everyone, feel free to join our FB group, “Insane Geek Talk”. Don’t worry, this isn’t spam, I’m not selling anything… just created a venue so we can talk freely about gadgets. 😉

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        • I can vouch for Bubba’s Insane Geek Talk group. It isn’t a sales or affiliate thing. Just a bunch of gadget geeks. 🙂

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    • Good point, he can use a tablet if he decided not to use a phone. I don’t know Talon, but it seems to me he would like to have a way to semi-keep in touch with his twitter/facebook/emails, etc without a netbook immediately.

      That is what I do, my phone keeps me in touch immediately with contacts, email, twitter, etc but all this can be done on a tablet with wifi access. I don’t do blogging, lengthly reading, lengthly emails, etc I do all that on my tablet.

      Good info there Bubba 🙂

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    • Just happened on this conversation from a different blog response. Would it be cheaper to get a smartphone (like the ipod/ touch) once you get to your international destination rather than buy it in the US? I’m planning to travel extensively through several African countries and would like to maintain some contact with family/ friends back in the states as well as folks I may meet on my journey.

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      • I’m sure Bubba will have a response for you as well, but generally what I’ve seen is prices are similar, if not more expensive, overseas on these items. In some countries you may be able to recoup a bit of the cost from the VAT when you leave the country, but the markup is still very often quite high for some items. In speaking with other travelers, it does seem like prices overseas are at a minimum comparable to US prices.

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        • This is a pretty true statement. Electronics overseas are rather surprisingly more expensive (at times by a wide margin) than they are in the U.S. I priced out the exact same netbook I bought in the U.S. for $300 while I was in China and it was over $500. Same with digital cameras…huge markups.

          That said, as stated in my comment on this post, I was able to buy an unlocked Samsung phone in Thailand for about $15. Seems that phones (with the exception of name brand phones, like a real iPhone or other smart phones) are cheaper. My phone doesn’t do any fancy tricks, but it does have text input in like 8 languages and, of course, I need an adapter to plug it in while in the U.S. (but thankfully not a converter).

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          • Definitely true. I bought a phone in the Philippines, and the phone plus SIM card was cheaper than anything in the US. But it isn’t a smart phone, and I want apps! LOL

      • Hey, I forgot to follow up on this thread… thanks for all the comments on my comment…;-) As others have mentioned, prices (in my limited experience so far in Thailand) are higher for the genuine articles (laptops, cameras, lenses, etc.). If you’re in N. America, definitely buy them there (preferably in Oregon, no sales tax! -or Amazon, depending on your state of residence, free ship and no tax). If you are already in the destination and want to buy something, you can always check the online classifieds of local ex-pats who are selling their ware, and they usually have authentic stuff since they reside long term in the country and it would be easy to hunt them down if they sold you a replica… but of course use the same caution buying used as you normally would.

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  8. As I mentioned before, Android does not have all the DRM restrictions like iPhone/ITunes has, sure you will run into some DRM but its rather limited in scope when it comes to Android/Google as they seem to practice the open source theory IIRC.

    One thing you need to be careful about is no matter what carrier you pick, do not go with Sprint or Verizon if you want world capable phones that being said these two only use CDMA.

    Secondly, expect to pay a LOT more for data services and calling when outside the US you pay big bucks for international roaming. You are better off finding an Android phone that is unlocked that will accept any SIM card and buying a prepaid SIM card anywhere you go and pop it in.

    Honestly and I would still keep my US provider, just pick the cheapest plan and just pay on it monthly so that you have service when you re-enter the US you don’t have to worry about not being able to make calls.

    Of course your Android phone will also access wifi hotspots as well, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to save on international 3G data from your prepaid SIM so you will have it for use later in your trip if/when you need it.

    I have a CDMA phone, I will take it with me, though its limited to where it will work so eventually I need to do something about that.

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    • I knew about the CDMA prob and planned on getting a phone and having it unlocked before we leave because international roaming is so darn expensive, and international data package isn’t all that great either. Good to know about the lack of DRM issues with Android phones.

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    • Good stuff, Shannon! To give you an example, we have SIMs here in Thailand that have a specific price plan (called promotions here), with a good voice, sms, and data rates, depending on whom you contact (in or out of network) and when. I’ve added 200THB to my SIM in early January, and still have 100 left! 200Thai Bahts = $6.67! It’s prepaid plan, but incoming calls and texts are free, and I only used data sparingly to check FB and Twitter when I’m not at within wifi range.. Yup, life is good (and cheap) in Thailand… but no real 3G coverage yet, but Edge seems quick enough for most web apps on the phone…

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  9. I traveled with an iPod Touch. Apps & WiFi so that’s all covered.

    Regarding a phone, I do think it’s important to travel with one. If you plan on CouchSurfing, it’s pretty much imperative as it’s very difficult to make plans to meet up without being able to communicate offline. It’s also great to have to keep in touch with your new found road buddies!

    The phone I travel with is an unlocked phone I bought in Thailand for about $15. It works just fine and all I have to do is pop in a cheap SIM card from whatever country I’m in and voila!

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    • Aaron, that’s so true! Just be sure the phone is quadband, or at least has the bands that work in the countries you visit, and the SIM will work. My dad gave me an older, but mint Samsung phone, that would’ve been perfect for calls and texts, but it was dual band – and not supported by the companies here, so it didn’t work.. I use to look up the specs on the phone I want, then go to to see which frequencies are used in any country. Ciao!

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  10. I know most people will disagree, but I think mobile phone is not essential for traveling.

    I traveled for 20 months and yes, I did have a mobile phone with me, but it was turned off for 95% of the time. During those 20 months I made zero calls from my phone and sent out less than 20 text messages. I had this phone for the emergency situations, but never really had to use it in that way.
    In Thailand and India I bought local sim cards, but it proved to be waste of money, as I never used the phone.

    Instead I used Skype for all type of communication – calls, text messages and chatting. All I had to do was to credit my account once in a while. It’s extremely cheap way of staying in touch.

    Sure, there were situations when internet was not available for a few days (or few weeks like when I was in Myanmar), but 15 years ago people didn’t have mobile phones and life went on. I actually often enjoyed those days without internet 🙂

    I believe that a mobile phone – especially fancy one like iPod – is just another thing you have to worry about. And the less you have to worry about, the easier the life is 🙂

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    • I’ve done both ways and for me I prefer to have a phone avail for texting & apps. Just varies on the person. And, like you said, there are times I will completely shut it off depending where I’m at or what’s going on and go totally unplugged.

      Is a phone “essential” for travel? Not in a general sense, but in a personal sense, yeah I want it. LOL

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  11. I’ve got an Android (HTC Desire) and apart from the lack of internal memory on this particular model, you can’t go wrong with the operating system.

    The two main benefits of Android over the iPhone for traveling in my eyes are:
    – Android is fully customizable with widgets, whereas iPhone you need to go into apps. I’ve got the weather, a tip calculator, countdown widgets, sports scores and calendar on my home screens among many other things which will be very handy when traveling.
    – Android allows you to set up Wifi Hotspots – some hotels we’ve been to allow you to only connect one device. This way you can connect your laptop as well.

    If you need further convincing, here’s a video:

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    • Thanks for your input! Appreciate it.

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      • And since you use Gmail, the integration with Android is brilliant.
        All my contacts are stored in Gmail and sync automatically, beats having to use iTunes!

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        • Not using iTunes is a BIG plus for me. LOL

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    • That video was pretty hilarious! Thanks for sharing it.

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