A Call for Help: Battle of the Smartphones, Boca a Boca

We are well overdue for a smartphone that can work for us, instead of one that we struggle with for basic functionality. In other words, it’s time to enter the mainstream.

And with that, we’d like your help, your opinion.

Mobile Phone Cookies - Osh, Kyrgyzstan
Mobile phone cookies in Kyrgyzstan. If only choosing a phone were as easy as eating one.

During the last few months, our mobile phone situation has been a bit of a disaster. First, our HTC smartphone — which was lackluster and slow (it ran Windows) — was stolen in a market in Cochabamba, Bolivia. More recently, the microphone on our ancient Sony Ericsson back-up phone died, underscoring that mobile communicators cannot live on SMS alone. And long before that, we carried various Palm PDAs that did some things very well while always conveniently neglecting to include Wifi.

What is Boca a Boca? A couple of days ago, we visited Carmelo Patti, a small winery in the region of Lujan de Cuyo near Mendoza. The winery’s operations: Carmelo Patti, the owner, and one assistant. Yet Carmelo’s wines are distributed in the United States and Europe, he was recently written up in The Washington Post, and he refers visitors to a large stack of other publications that have highlighted him for the quality and originality of his wines.

How did such a small winery get such great press?

“Simple,” he said as he swirled a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. “Boca a boca. (Meaning “word of mouth”, but literally translated “mouth to mouth.”) My wine is good, people come here to visit and have a good experience. Then they tell others. That’s the best kind of marketing.”

Boca a boca also strikes us as a good way to gather relevant advice.

Current Smartphone Thinking

We would like two devices (one for each of us because we plan to use our devices to read books). As such, only one of the devices absolutely needs to be a phone. The gadget combinations we are currently noodling:

1) Two iPhones – we will own all Mac, and Mac will in turn own us
2) One iPhone, one iPod Touch – same as above, but a little bit of variety and a bit less expensive
3) One iPhone and one Google Nexus One – more variety, allows us to use and test competing units on-the-road; drawback = compatibility and sharing
4) Another dark-horse under-appreciated phone of your choosing

Whatever our decisions, we plan to make our purchase during an upcoming return trip to the United States. Our goal is to use our phones in places like Eastern Europe, East Africa and the Middle East (anyone sensing an “East” theme?) and beyond.

Man on top of an Elephant Using a Mobile Phone - Angkor, Cambodia
Even a mahout in Cambodia is better connected than us.

Our Smartphone Requirements

Our needs are not exceptional, but a few key items come to mind:

1) GSM network capability

The phone needs to take a GSM SIM chip from any country in the world and work on the local GSM provider network straight away. This means we need to have a phone that can be purchased unlocked, or which can easily be unlocked after purchase. We’ll jailbreak and hack as needed, but we’d like to keep that to a minimum.

2) Kindle application

We have previously resisted the idea of reading books on a device, but we’re coming around, having been convinced through conversations with friends (there’s the boca a boca thing again) that it’s time to make the switch. Given our travel schedule and line of work, we need to keep things light.

Not to mention, quality bookstores and book exchanges are difficult to come by. We have no idea who reads some of the stuff we’ve found at book exchanges in Latin America. We can’t imagine the selection getting any better in Africa. With Kindle, we’ll be able to buy any book we’d like when we want it (provided we have an internet connection). We can’t tell you how liberating this sounds.

3) GPS capability

We’re a bit geo-crazy, especially when it comes to our photos. If we take a photo with the phone we’d like it to automatically be geotagged. Additionally, we’d like to be able to use Google Maps and other applications that are geo-aware and support geo-location.

Imam Talking on Cellphone - Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Hoping to catch up with this imam in Tajikistan in terms of our mobile communications technology.

4) WordPress, Twitter and Facebook applications

We are looking forward to the day when we can update Twitter, Facebook, and our website on the fly without necessarily having to pull out our laptops. Needless to say, the web browsing experience should be terrific.

5) A wide range of other awesome applications

Some argue that a smartphone is only as strong as the energy of its application developer network.

There are probably hundreds of other applications that we won’t be able to live without once we’ve found out about them. If you have a favorite application, please let us know about it in the comments section below.


So boca a boca, what’s your advice? Which smartphone should we buy and why?

And Where Should We Buy It?
1) eBay
2) Your friend is upgrading to the latest and greatest and wants to sell his at a favorable price to some sweet, kind travel bloggers
3) Your e-tailer of choice

Thank you in advance for your help!

Enjoy this?

Then sign up for more travel wisdom & inspiration from 8+ years of traveling the world.


  1. Alleen says

    I am a fan of the iPhone options. I had an iTouch and got rid of it for a real ipod again for the space. The itouch cannot hold enough to be worth it. the iphones are so much better and from what I hear the price has gotten really low in the states. I have my Peruvian cell phone, but I still carry my iphone from the states all around to use as an ipod, for wireless internet, check emails, twitter, facebook, etc. I love it. and you can get a new app, yes, there is an app for that, that shows you free wifi. many use it as their phone also, but i’ve been too lazy to go have my unlocked. :)

    I’ll be interested to see what you find out boca a boca. it is indeed the best source of information!

  2. says

    I’ve had an iPhone for a couple of years now and am quite pleased with it. Since one of your requirements is for it is to accept sim cards from any carrier it will need to be jailbroken/unlocked, which, in turn, means that apple won’t own you quite as much.

    If you go with the iPhone I would think the best option for purchasing it would be eBay as you can get one there without contract and if you pay attention and ask questions you will know which O/S & baseband version it has and if it is unlocked/jailbroken which jailbreak/unlock has been used.

  3. says

    I can’t advise you on the phone part of your needs, but I recently switched from a palm zire71 to a 32GB ipod touch for my PDA device. There’s a lot to love about the touch, but also many things that the simpler palm did more elegantly.

    Pros: Other than it not having a phone, it’s a real convergence device. PDA, music, video, photos, games. Where there is wifi, I can send/receive email, get on the net, check FB/Twitter/social networking of your choice, etc. I’ve heard there is a WP app, but I haven’t looked into it.

    I can sync my kindle purchases and have them also available on the ipod touch. Great for reading where there isn’t much avail light.

    The preponderance of apps makes it appealing for overall day to day organization/listmaking etc, and I use documents to go to sync word docs b/w it and the computer.

    CONS: Once you turn on wifi or use anything but the native apple apps, the battery consumption is prodigious. You can listen to 40 hours of music, but maybe have 4 hours of anything else on a single charge. Something to consider if you’re traveling extensively. (Contrast reading on the ipod to reading on my kindle–I can read for a week on the kindle, where I can barely read for a few hours on the ipod touch kindle app before the battery drains. (This may be improved with the upcoming software update in the fall, but I’m not holding my breath.)

    I still miss data input via stylus and graffiti. I was faster and more accurate on the palm then I am with the touch pad on the touch.

    Ruggedness? I’m not sure how rugged the ipod touch is. My palm was protected in a metal clamshell case that was pretty much indestructible. I haven’t seen the same kind of case available for the ipod.

    Good luck with your choices.

  4. Boz says

    If I was in your situation, I would go one iphone, one nexus. Sure, both of you might be fighting over who gets to use which one, but you’re increasing your apps, cellular/wifi range and overall options by having two different instead of 2 of the same. I’d rather have diversity if I was traveling and needed a failsafe. Good luck in either case, your experiences from traveling will be far greater than the joy of playing with some slick new apps.

  5. John says

    Background and disclaimers:

    a.) I work in the mobile industry (my last employer was Nokia) and have a background in electrical engineering and computer science.
    b.) I’ve been to 106 countries, used more networks than I care to remember (madagascar, kenya, Georgia, Japan, China, Argentina, etc, etc), and have circumnavigated the world once myself (I’ll go the other way around in a couple of years) 😉 Last run was with a Nokia N95 (THE device a few years ago) with a fold out SU-8W bluetooth keyboard.
    c.) I currently own a Nexus-1, have owned an ipod touch, and a drawerful of other devices. (OK, that’s a lie. I’ve had a few drawerfuls of them).

    Some things for you to consider:

    1.) Durability. Everything above involves a capacitive touchscreen (i.e. glass) that can be prone to breaking (do a google search for ‘iF*cked’…Apple isn’t the greatest about replacing them either). While not ‘sexy’ these days, a resistive touchscreen (which is older technology, but made out of plastic) might be better for you. Scratches, dings, etc will happen a lot with the devices listed above as well, so consider something made out of carbon fiber or a very strong material.

    2.) AMOLED/OLED screens (or anything with this type of screen technology, which uses quite a bit less power than ‘normal’ screens). The downside though is that it’s almost impossible to view anything on it in direct/indirect sunlight. (The Nexus-1 has this type of screen and I have problems viewing it on the streets of NYC).

    3.) Network compatibility. At a minimum you would need something that has quad band GSM (old, “2G” networks found almost everywhere (but Japan)), but what you failed to mention was that most of the planet has 3G networks as well (currently on 5 different frequencies….well 6 if you count China’s proprietary TD-CDMA). The two devices mentioned above somewhat cover Asia/Europe (though you’ll have problems, for instance in Japan and Africa). In North America (where you are planing on purchasing it), they only support T-Mobile (for the Nexus-1) and AT&T (for the iPhone). The iPhone has horrible wireless reception (due to the antena configuration) and the Nexus one has some 3G issues as well (it drops to 2G quite a bit). South American/African 3G support with either one? Forget it.

    It would be good for you guys to have a device that supports 2G and 3G in its entirety. Unlocked is a must, so you’ll be paying for it retail (“SIM free” in the industry parlance with no contract). Keep in mind that you need something that accepts normal SIMs, not micro sims (such as in the iPad, etc). (support for micro sims is scarce in most of the world).

    4.) While both have wifi, neither one (currently) is capable of doing 802.11N (B, G only although the Nexus-1 can and will support N with a software upgrade).

    5.) External connectivity. Bluetooth support on both of the above is a joke. This is useful for people who want to send you direct contact information, file exchanges without wires (or networks), external keyboards (small, expandable ones rock on the road). Or how about a micro projector? (Toshiba makes a phone that splits in half; the lower half becomes one). Great for movies, presentations, etc.

    6.) Device support. If something breaks, how are you going to get it fixed? Can you find a local retailer (and support shop) where you’re going?

    7.) Camera. At least 12 megapixels is the norm for a ‘smartphone’ these days (the iPhone’s is a joke; the N-1 is OK, but fairly paltry at 5mp). The ‘point and shoot’ camera is going the way of the dodo and will be eclipsed by these devices, so you want something with a decent glass lens (and flash, double Xenon). (case in point, Sony’s cybershot line’s software is actually in their latest smartphone product (the Saito)).

    8.) Keep in mind that devices like these are theft magnets, so you should do what you can to alleviate that (covers, etc). Anything with a touchscreen is going to stick out though.

    9.) Mac support will be minimal for anything but the iphone (hence the need for 3rd party support, bluetooth, etc). Unfortunate, but true (even as I write this from my MBP).

    10.) Global application support. Apple is actually pretty great and bad at this. Great in that they have a huge amount of applications, bad in that the only way to get them on the device is iTunes/app store. If you’ve got limited connectivity, this will be an issue (also, you might get a surprise when all of your purchases are now in Euros in Madagascar ;-)) Google’s Android marketplace is getting better, but at least you can get stuff on the device locally (i.e. computer to computer, or in the case of other vendors (Symbian) phone to phone and even MMS ;-).

    11.) Network support for applications. A lot of google/apple apps are made with the assumption that you have wifi/3G network support (and are paying for it). Google maps is an example where it’s a fantastic app that is pretty useless if you don’t have a dataplan (as you can’t store maps locally on the device). And it’s buyer beware, of course.

    Recommendations? Personally, this will sound cliche (since I used to work for Nokia), but I would check out the new Nokia N8 for at least one of your devices. It has an insane amount of connectivity options (and the only device that I know of that supports all 5 3G (i.e. WCDMA) bands), 802.11N support, Bluetooth 3.0, direct USB support (so you don’t need a computer to dump stuff to flickr, etc), GPS (with on-device map storage of more places in the world than others (due to navteq)), has a 12 mp camera, glass lens, HD video recording (720p!), Dolby 5.1 surround sound!, etc, etc, etc. It hasn’t quite come out yet (I’ve played with the prototypes), but has an amazing price point (~$495 USD unlocked) given how much stuff is packed into it . The OS is Symbian, which is pretty dog eared, but you’ll find that pretty much every kid from Cape Town to Karachi knows how to use it, fix it, and operate with it on their network (Nokia has 75% market share in most of Asia (china, india, etc) and it’s the only game in town in Africa). It has OK support for the Mac (again, you’ll find this a problem with everyone sans apple).

    If I was to do another 2 years around the globe, this is the device I would would be checking out. With perhaps another folding bluetooth keyboard for longer blog entries, etc.

    As for the second one, that’s a tough call. It would definitely be an android device though. While it doesn’t have the amount of applications that are available for the iphone (it’s growing at an amazing rate though), it does have the advantage of loading things directly to the the device (over wifi, no computer needed). It’s also the hot OS for most of the newer phone manufacturers, so finding support will be fairly easy. Perhaps an HTC desire (a newer version of the Nexus-1).

    If you want advice on a particular model/manufacturer/os, feel free to contact me personally.


  6. says

    +1 to @Margaret , even despite having a degree in Computer Engineering. Plus, if you get hungry, you can eat said cookie phone.

  7. John says

    I’d be wary of buying anything on EBAY (you might not get what you expect, such as NA/European restricted devices, locked, etc) in a timely basis. Amazon and MobileCityOnline usually have pretty good stock/Prices (the latter getting in things before the ‘official’ retailers in NA sometimes).

  8. says

    Have you considered no phone & reading books on your mac laptops? That is what we have done the last four years & it’s worked well ( we have 2 Macs & 1 pc laptop). Even our child does much of her reading online on her laptop & visits libraries that way.

    We like NOT having a mobile device on us and being truly unplugged unless we pull out the laptops. Too easy to get pulled into the internet world that sucks time away & living in the “now”. We like to keep that to nights only or early morning.

    That said, I’ll be very interested in the answers here & what you end up choosing. I just wrote a similar post & there might be some answers there that could help you:


    Do you have a library card? There are a TON of great, free books that you can access that way, plus many other sources.

    We have until October to make our mind up ( when we visit family in US on our way to winter in Asia so our child can immerse in her Mandarin) , but I really like hearing what other people choose who are like you and us …living a mobile life style long term in MANY different countries. We have unique needs, so it’s hard to find people who can compare various things with the same kind of needs. Unlike you and many travelers, we are total ungeeks.

    The more I learn, I’m not even sure if we need to buy anything, but still keeping an open mind. At the moment I’m leaning towards the Nook….& maybe an ipod touch. I’m a little afraid to cross that border…of the handheld…..especially with a kid because as much as I love the internet, I also think one must heavily monitor the addictive aspect…even more so with kids.

    We researched & bought a top of the line quad phone before we left in 2006 & hated it and very quickly never used it. We have a very cheap cell phone that we use only in Spain, but almost never..it’s primarily for people who are not computer active here in the village…to call us. We can go weeks without using it or hearing it ring as we see most folks as we do our business around town, so not much need to call. We have never even bought a sim card in different countries…attempted a few times, but was always too much hassle to find a place where they sold & skype is so easy for us.

    We call friends & family on our laptops because we love the big webcams. We even do local business calls, banking etc all on skype via laptop & we don’t even use a mike or anything. Works fine. Kidlet calls local friends cell phones & far away friends both on skype while on the laptop. Sometimes we have 2 different skype conversations going on at the same time as we sit across from each other on different laptops talking to different folks. LOL.

    Anyway, that is how we do it, your needs might be quite different. Our primary motivation is to have best, cheapest access to books for our voracious reading 9 year old, but since we are adding something to our minimalist traveling life, we are wondering if we should get something that gives us more answers to other challenges. I love all the bells & whistles of the ipad & iphone, but not sure we really need this , worry about the added costs & I want to be able to strongly monitor kidlet’s online time…& I want her buried in great books, not internet games & crapola for kids. Like junk food, junk internet is best out of site, so out of mind. 😉

    So glad you posted, can’t wait to see what transpires! Thanks!!

  9. says

    You guys have proven my boca a boca theory on getting relevant and accurate advice. Thank you for your great comments and suggestions!

    @Alleen: We hadn’t thought about the limited space on the iPod Touch vs. the traditional iPod, so thanks for bringing this up. Our goal is to get something that will take away the need to carry a separate iPod (like we have now).

    @Will: Thanks for your first-hand advice regarding the iPhone. We have been leaning towards the iPhone, but are wary about the whole jailbreaking thing and buying on eBay.

    @LJCohen: Thanks so much for your comment. Dan was a Palm person for many years and really liked the keyboard and durability of the Palm phone, but the company seemed to get behind in terms of technology and functionality. But, you bring up a good point regarding the durability of the iPhone/iPod Touch. We can always buy a hard cover to help, but nothing is 100% secure. We’ve also heard complaints about the battery life as well.

    @Boz: We are curious about the Google Nexus One since we don’t know much about it and haven’t met anyone with one yet (while everyone we seem to meet on the phone has an iPhone). I have to admit that I’m a bit intimidated by all the apps and don’t plan on using many except for the Kindle and a few other select applications. Since we’ll be in areas (e.g., East Africa) without much wifi, we won’t be as connected to the phone as in other areas.

    @John: Your comment is exactly what we were hoping for with this post – to bring up issues and models we hadn’t even thought of before. We both carry Macs now for laptops and have found the service support to be almost non-existent in many of the places we’ve traveled. I imagine in most of Africa we won’t have access at all to 3G, so that’s another consideration.

    We may take you up on your offer for more advice on specific models/OS and functionality once we get closer to our decision point. Thanks again. Your comment was super helpful (as well as made us think of other considerations!)

    @Margaret & Kyle: Mobile phone cookies are sounding like a good alternative right now as I try to get my head around everything else!

    @John: We’ve had good and bad luck getting stuff on eBay so we would prefer to buy a used/unlocked phone from someone we know. When I checked Amazon the other day, it seemed that the US store didn’t carry the phones…probably because you have to get a contract with a carrier when you buy it in the States. Thanks for the tip on Mobile City Online – I’ll check them out!

    @soultravelers3: I completely get the whole idea of not being so connected – it actually kind of scares me when we return to the States/Europe and everyone has their noses in their phones and can be contacted at any time. In many of the places we travel, wifi is a luxury (and will likely be in East Africa where we plan to go soon) and we don’t give our local numbers out to anyone except people we’re working with on local projects (i.e., other clients call us on our US-based Skype in number) so we aren’t as accessible as some think thanks to poor internet in many of the places we visit :)

    Currently, I really don’t like reading lots on my Mac laptop. I use the laptop so much for work (writing/editing/website) that my eyes get tired easily when I try to read long articles. Perhaps this will change when I update my 4+ year old Powerbook to a MacBook this summer. But, everyone we’ve talked with who uses their iPhone/iPod for reading says it’s much easier on the eyes than a laptop screen. We’ll see! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and hope you might get some useful information from these comments!

  10. John says

    Au contraire, you might have more 3G access than you think. Almost all of Eastern Europe and the Middle East have 3G coverage and there are wide swaths of East Africa that do (South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Egypt just to name a few).


    http://www.worldtimezone.com/gsm.html (this is out of date, but should give you and idea of the frequencies you’ll encounter).

    Zain (Bahrain), MTN (South Africa), Vodafone (UK), and Safaricom (Kenya) are the leading players. Of course you’ll need 2G coverage as 3G isn’t complete. Also keep in mind that while a device might technically support a frequency, it might not work on a particular network (i.e. Japan supports the 2100 band 3G frequency, but is notoriously fickle as it was the first global deployment of the system….in 2001).

    Remember that in most of East Africa, a mobile is the way they do banking (you’ll pay everything from cabs, hotels, to you dinner with one). Safaricom’s mpesa is the choice in that part of the world:


    So make sure you get one that works with their networks. Yes, these enterprising folks are well ahead of the curve than the USA and Europe 😉

    Wifi is surprisingly easy to come by in most places in Africa and the Middle East…smaller devices make it easier to pull out and double check things, are pocketable, and tend to be easier to keep in working order than a laptop, which I find too heavy to lug around/screen too easy to smash for my taste. I put my secure browser of choice (Opera) on a secure USB thumbdrive (with a physical key entry for usage) and pay for a full size computer at an Internet cafe. Safe from keyboard logers, etc and easier to lug around in the bottom of my pocket. I can’t comment though on the ease of reading aspect as that’s way too much of a personal choice 😉

    Oh, another thing to keep in mind is that you can find the operating instructions for almost any device online these days (so you can get a decent feel for something before you purchase it). You’ll also want to carefully consider the warranties as well. (Case in point, if you buy an a Apple product it is only serviceable in the country of purchase…)

    In the end though (as much as some companies might deny this), there is no “one size fits all” decision here and you have weigh which features are most important to you. This is ultimately why there are so many different models, because in the end we’re all different people with different needs. And I, for one, like it that way. 😉

    Here’s a sample grid that might help you get started:


    (it’s a bit out of date and I’m sure there are others out there, but this will help with some of the initial considerations, etc).



  11. says

    I’ve got to say – my iPhone has been incredibly handy right now. And although I am not a Mac person in the least, I love all that this device can do, and jailbroken it works fantastically overseas and the amount of apps are endless. I think that because so many of the Androids that have similar capabilities to the iPhone are mostly first generation that at least one iPhone between you would be one of the safest bet – the first generation devices are not a particularly great bet since you want to head on the road with these!

    As for buying one – I got a 3G off of a friend and it has done all that I need – perhaps Craigslist while your back stateside?!

  12. says

    Lots of great info in the above comments, so we’ll just add our 2 cents. The 2x iPhone choice would be the one for us. We’ve done this in the past, and also owned a Touch. The touch’s antenna isn’t that great and often has wifi issues. You also have to pay for firmware updates (supposedly this is going to stop, but ?) and I love needing something online, turning on the iphone or loading up an app and it just WORKS. Nearly anywhere. The touch isn’t that reliable.

    For us, we only stick to Apple products when we have the choice. I like their support and the way they stand behind their products. This basically doesn’t exist with any other cell phone companies. The iPhone is SO much more than a phone, and its all the extra things that we love about it.

  13. Vaniah Elmström says

    I would recommend option 5) two cheap as chips tri-band mobile phones which do what they say on the tin – make calls and send SMS’s AND two iPhone touch’s. That way you can both read your books, calculate currencies, play games etc on the iPhone (a fantastic piece of kit for travelling with btw – we really made good use of ours), and if your mobiles are stolen in the next market, you won’t be too sorry.

  14. Doug Trapp says

    I would recommend an iPhone combined with another device. No reason to have two of the same. But rumors are swirling that Apple will release a new, large-capacity iPhone in June (maybe 80GB). So don’t buy an iPhone now unless you are leaving soon.

  15. says

    I don’t have any good advice for you guys on the smartphones (though we travel with an iPhone and iTouch). I wanted to say my boyfriend and I also visited Carmelo Patti’s bodega in Mendoza and chatted with him for quite a bit. He could tell us exactly which stores sold his wines in south Brazil, where BF is from. What a neat guy – with great passion for his work! Thanks for reminding me of a really great experience!

  16. says

    Shannon: We’re leaning towards one iPhone and one Android to balance out the strengths and weaknesses between the two. Thanks for the suggestion for Craigs List – we were checking eBay before, but Craigs List seems to be a bit cheaper, although not the same variety.

    @Eva & Jeremy: Thanks so much for your firsthand advice. Before getting the comments on this post, I was thinking that an iPod touch was the way to go for one of us. But, now I’m reconsidering since it seems like the iPhone is a more powerful machine in about the same size.

    @Vaniah: I definitely see some sense to your strategy in having two cheap phones to make calls/SMS and then iPod touches for the other bells and whistles. However, that means more gear overall with more things to keep track of. Hmm.

    @Doug: Thanks for the heads up on the new model of iPhone coming out soon. We’re planning to get at least one iPhone. I’m not sure if we’d go for the newest model. We are looking at eBay/Craig’s List for older models that are already unlocked/jailbroken. Perhaps after the new model more people will be selling their old one :)

    @Laura: A nice break from cell phone talk! Carmelo is such a wonderful guy and quite modest considering all he’s done and built. We brought back one of his bottles of wine to the States to try on a special occasion.

  17. says

    @Fabricio: Congratulations!! We were just thinking about Neuquen the other day and the good time we had at your place. We’ll be writing about our winery visits soon!

    Smartphone update:
    We purchased the first of our two devices last night – a 3Gs unlocked/jailbroken iPhone from Craigslist (thanks Shannon for that advice). We’re still in the market for a second device. An android phone sounds good, but there is not yet a Kindle App for android phones. Supposedly one will come out this summer, so thinking of waiting until we’re on our way out of the States to purchase the second device. Also thinking about the Nokia John recommended.

    We’ll keep you posted on what we decide!

  18. says

    Hi everyone, great comments and suggestions – posting this to subscribe to the thread. Audrey, we’re in the same situation – looking for a second smartphone/device in the next couple of months, so we’re interested in what you guys decide.

    Right now, we have an iPhone 3G and love how with wifi and huge app catalog, it does pretty much everything we want (phone calls via Skype, Facebook, Kindle app with Lonely Planet Argentina loaded!, games, music, etc.), although the battery life sucks and wifi antenna can be weak. So we were thinking of picking up an ipod Touch, but after reading some of the comments here, we’re starting to look in to Android phones, too, both for functionality and professional purposes…

    Looking forward to hearing what you decide!

  19. says

    @Tony: We’re still learning our way around the iPhone – it is a nice device with so much functionality. Although we don’t technically need two phones (i.e., one device could be an iPod Touch) we are leaning in the direction of a second mobile phone device since it won’t be that much more expensive and would give us the extra functionality. Supposedly, Kindle will come out with an Android application (one of our requirements) this summer so we’re staying patient to see if that happens before we leave the States in July. I’ll be sure to let you know what we decide and how we like it.

  20. says

    @Heather: Thanks for sharing the link comparing the iPhone and the Android. I liked the visuals so you could instantly tell which type of phone was stronger in which area. We ended up buying a used iPhone, so we’re thinking now of getting an Android as our 2nd device so we can do our own comparison.

  21. says

    Audrey, since you chose the iPhone, I’d really love to give you a free download of the Wikitravel application – it’s the entire Wikitravel for offline use (say you’re deep in a cave or on top of a mountain, stuck on the subway or swinging from a vine somewhere and suddenly have the desire to find a good restaurant…) This is an iPhone/iPod Touch app and compresses the whole shebang (no pics tho, obviously) to put it in your hands no matter where you are. Feel free to drop me a line and I’ll shoot a promo code right over :-) leigh

  22. says

    @Leigh: Thanks so much for your kind offer for the iPhone app. I just sent you an email about this. Looking forward to trying it out as we don’t have a data plan when we travel so having offline access to this information would be really helpful.

  23. John says

    I thought that I would drop a bit of an update on this subject due to the release of Android 2.2 (aka “Froyo”, currently only available on the Nexus One) and iPhone OS 4 (aka “iOS4”, with the iPhone 4 being the only device that is capable of using all of its features). Please keep in mind that the following is based on the needs of a traveler (medium/long term) and not from the perspective of a ‘9-5 home user’. Also, I’m only talking about software features and not hardware here (as Froyo will be rolled out to other devices, iOS4 can work on older iPhones, etc).

    To cut to the chase: Android just moved to the top of the heap for the best travel OS when paired with a decent device.

    iOS4, from a travelers perspective, isn’t that big of an upgrade. Bluetooth keyboard support is a welcome addition as is the unified inbox in mail. I think the biggest disappointment is Face Time (a Skype clone that can only be used with another iPhone 4). Video calling has been available since 2003 (as part of the 3G standard) and is on ~650 million 3G devices worldwide (would be more if the North American networks allowed it). Kind of a shame that you can’t use Face Time to video call grandma in Australia on her Samsung when you’re on the road, but some third parties might come out with a suitable replacement.

    Android 2.2, on the other hand, tips the scales for a traveler because it’s finally a fully device centric experience. What do I mean by that?
    • All OS updates are delivered OTA (“Over the Air”) via WIFI or 3G. Definitely not the first to do this, but one of the best at it (unlike Symbian, which has a mixed record with this).
    • The Android Market (aka app store) allows for on device purchases/direct downloads. Some applications allow for direct in-application purchases as well (some apps, such as the Amazon Kindle app on do this in their Android app).
    • Google apps (Contacts, Gmail, notes, photos, etc) are automatically synced with your Google account OTA.
    • As of 2.2, Android applications that are not from Google can also be synced (backed up) to Google servers OTA. You can opt out of this on an individual app basis.
    So why is all that stuff a killer for a traveler? Notice that each of the points listed above said OTA and never once mentioned a computer for those tasks (i.e. iTunes, Nokia Software updater/PC Suite, etc). Even if you didn’t mind lugging a PC around the globe (definitely not my choice), what happens if your bag with your PC and device gets stolen? Or if it gets dumped on the bottom of a harbor while you’re trying to jump off the boat onto the dock? (Happened to me in Palawan, in the Philippines…not fun). In this situation with every other OS I’m pretty much out of luck and all of my data is gone (hope you had another backup someplace…). With a 2.2 device I just have to pick up a new device, type in my Google username/password, wait a few minutes and I’m back to where I was at my last OTA sync point (which is every few minutes on 3G or the last time you used WIFI).

    Other useful travel things in 2.2:

    • The ability to store apps on SD cards (Symbian has had this for years), which means you can have as many apps as you like (or swap in specific ones for specific situations. Say apps for certain cities/counties go on an SD card, etc).
    • Tethering. This allows you connect a computer (either via USB or by Android creating a WIFI network) to the device and have the computer use the 3G network.

    So if I had to leave tomorrow and had to pick a device, it would definitely be an unlocked Android device. More than likely a Nexus One (if I could find one cheap) or the Samsung Galaxy S (with its huge screen).

  24. says

    @John: Thank you! This is terrific information and so thorough. I love it. This is a difficult decision (amidst a constantly evolving software, app, and hardware landscape). OTA (particularly with all the Google apps/data) and tethering both are big wins for the smartphone+travel community.

    Now that Android supports Kindle (it does, doesn’t it?), the big question for us is: which device? I’ve heard less-than-stellar things about the Nexus One, so maybe the Samsung Galaxy series is the one to look for? (though these phones cannot be described as inexpensive).

  25. John says

    Yes, there is a Kindle app for Android. It’s actually quite nice since you can purchase books directly in the application (something you can’t do in the iPhone due to Apple’s cut on in-app purchases on Amazon’s profit margin).

    As for not being inexpensive, that’s very true. Perhaps ‘cheaper than list price’ would have been a better phrase. But when you consider the fact that most people grow up with these things being their first ‘computer’ (or personal technology), they are actually pretty economical. Especially when you consider how gizmo packed they are too. Except for the larger screen and keyboard, for most folks they could easily replace a netbook (which is why people flock to the iPad).

    The bigger problem with mobile devices is that they go out of style every 3 months or so (faster with Android; it seems that ever two weeks a new ‘superphone’ comes out). As for a purchase, that depends on the three magic factors: Time, Money, and Personal Taste. The Nexus One is a good device, once you get used to it (of course what’s ‘good’ is very subjective to each person). The Samsung Galaxy S has gotten very good reviews, but I’ve heard that the feel is ‘plasticy’. If you’re a fan of physical keyboards, the Galaxy G was just rumored too.

    My advice would be to narrow your selection to a few devices and then find a nearby rental shop with all of them (which should be easy in Prague). That way you can ‘kick the tires’ of each one relatively cheaply and with no investment needed (apart from time and a bit of money). If you love one on rental, you’re sure to love it even more unlocked and unmolested (by the network operator/dealer, etc).

  26. says

    @John: The point about smartphones (and phones in general) as being the first computer for many cannot be overstated. It’s incredible how phones are the do-it-all go-to device for just about everything in many places we’ve traveled in the developing world.

    I like the Samsung Galaxy series. Any thoughts on it vs. any of the HTC phones (e.g., Desire)?

    Finally, your suggestion of renting a couple of devices in order to kick the tires is a good one. “Unlocked and unmolested by the carrier/operator”…what an apt description. Thanks for all of your input.

  27. Joe says

    Hi Daniel,
    I know this is an older thread but was curious which Android phone you ultimately went with?

    I’m going to be taking off on a rtw trip soon and was looking at a new smartphone as well to cover my phone/camera/mp3 player needs? I have the same requirements; android os, unlocked quad-band gsm phone.

    I’m currently looking at the G2 and the Samsung Galaxy S (but may try and wait for the Galaxy S2).

  28. John says


    Unless you need the keyboard on a Galaxy S, I would take a look at the Nexus S instead (it’s essentially the Galaxy S, but with raw Android (i.e. no Touch Wiz) and updates directly from Google. Currently ships with Android 2.3.3). The only thing the G2 has over the Nexus S (besides the keyboard, if that’s what you like and a microSD card), is the fact that it supports a faster radio (i.e. support for 3.5G ~14mb max download rate max with that chipset). Not sure how much network support you’ll see for that though on your trip.

  29. says

    @Joe: At the moment, I’m (almost) afraid to say that I’m carrying an iPhone 3GS. I’ve been pretty happy with it for my phone, camera, mp3, mail, twitter, reader etc needs. Also, some of the iPhone apps I’ve discovered have been useful from a social media/blogging perspective. Audrey ended up getting an old iPhone 3G last summer because Android did not yet support Kindle.

    Last fall, I continued looking into Android phones to carry and just wasn’t thrilled with my options. And from reading other reviews, I was getting the sense that others weren’t thrilled either. The last Android phone I seriously considered was the Samsung Galaxy S, but like you, I was holding out for something more, something better. It’s clear that the Android OS is an excellent option (especially with over-the-air updates). I was just surprised that the right set of iPhone alternatives hadn’t risen up to meet it. (One of the downsides, of course, is that Apple is trying to control every aspect of the experience.)

    The wildcard might be as John suggests: network support. However, I have found the iPhone to be plenty fast for my needs — when there is a reliable network, that is. Where we travel (Jordan previously, Bangladesh at the moment) connectivity seems to depend more on network availability/reliability and less on the phone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *