Smartphone for Travling/Living Abroad
October 18, 2012 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Smartphone filter: I will probably be moving to South Korea for a year when I graduate in May. I want to get a nice, new smartphone now. What is the best option for a phone to use overseas?

I currently have a three year old pseudoblackberry which is slowly dying on me. I want to splurge for me and get an iPhone or Galaxy S3, but I am seriously looking into teaching English for a year in South Korea after I graduate from college in May. I was thinking about waiting it out and buying a phone in South Korea when I get there as the easiest possible solution, but I really don't want to suffer through my phone's increasingly annoying quirks for another six months.

If I do buy a phone, out of the iPhone 4S, 5 and Galaxy S3 is one better than the other for living in Korea or traveling in general? I want to stick with Verizon in the US because I currently have a grandfathered in unlimited data plan. Is there another smartphone that is exceptional for traveling?

I've googled a bit and it looks like I can switch the simcard in either the iPhone 4S, 5 or S3 with a Korean provider once I'm there. Is this easy/difficult/expensive/possible?

Finally, would it make sense if I just dealt with the phone until I got there and just bought a new one? I am frustrated, but it would also save me money so I'm not totally opposed to it.

posted by raeka to Technology (9 answers total)
Sorry, one more question.

Will I be losing a lot of functionality/ease of use if I get iOS6 with an iPhone and want to use the GPS to travel in Seoul/around South Korea?
posted by raeka at 3:05 PM on October 18, 2012

From where are you moving to SK?

Finally, would it make sense if I just dealt with the phone until I got there and just bought a new one?

Yes, do this.
posted by elizardbits at 3:09 PM on October 18, 2012

So I've got some news for you, which you are probably not going to like...your grandfathered plan goes away with an LTE based smart phone, and probably doubly so if you want a subsidized one.

So, another wrinkle, South Korea uses LTE band 5, not used in the states so you're going to be giving up the high speeds. Sadly, LTE and global frequency usage isn't ubiquitous.

My suggestion, buy a used non LTE handset (3g) that will work on verizon (Galaxy SII, Original Galaxy Nexus/etc), do an ESN swap, keep your phone and data plan for your remaining time in the states. Will be cheap, like 1-200 bucks max and then buy the modern hotness in S. Korea when you get there that is compatible with their version of LTE and their frequencies.
posted by iamabot at 3:10 PM on October 18, 2012

I don't know what frequencies and technologies they use in South Korea, but Verizon phones work almost nowhere else on the planet.
posted by zjacreman at 3:48 PM on October 18, 2012

I wouldn't update to iO6 yet, google maps is too useful for corralling bus and subway info together - otherwise you have to work with two separate apps, and can't easily compare routes - that's just for transit. (Jihachul is the subway transit app you want, there's not a *great* one for buses)

I'm not sure if one phone is better than the other for travelling, or if my friends with other phones are just bad at travelling, but iphone is aces on that point.

I use google maps all the time for knowing where I am, bookmarking friends' houses, dropping pins to people for meetups etc, so I'm resisting the update to iO6. I have an iPhone 4S, my friends are split between iPhones and the newest Galaxy. Browsing the internet is mostly reasonable, but video is usually slow for iPhones here, my friends that have phones with 4G capabilities seem to have faster video streaming than my iPhone 4S with it's 3G and wifi. I'm not sure what LTE is about, but the ads are great.

It's very easy to get a phone once you're here, (MUCH easier if you bring a Korean-fluent friend or coworker) but you may have to wait about a month for your moving here paperwork to process. You sign up for a 2 year contract, which cuts and then subsidizes the cost of the phone (depends on the phone but 8-20$ a month), and get an unlimited data plan - runs 40-60$ a month, and get insurance. If you leave before your contract is up, you have to pay the remaining balance of your phone, plus a contract cancellation fee, which for my contract is 20$.
posted by nile_red at 4:47 PM on October 18, 2012

Do you intend to learn and communicate in Korean while you're there, or mostly hang out with expats? My friend in SK says Android has much better Korean keyboard options.
posted by vasi at 5:09 PM on October 18, 2012

iPhones are pretty well supported in Korea, and very popular. If you buy an iPhone 5 on Verizon, it'll be unlocked, and it looks like you'll be able to use it on Korea's Olleh network (formerly Korea Telecom). Check this FAQ:

Q. Will my GSM iPhone work in Korea?

A. (...) This means that iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 (non-Verizon model), and the iPhone 4S (all models), will work without issue on the KT network.

If the iPhone 4S works, then the iPhone 5 will probably work as well.

tldr; buy a verizon iphone which is unlocked, go to Korea and use it.
posted by suedehead at 5:53 PM on October 18, 2012

As a note (not that it matter, I think) the Iphone 5 hasn't been released over here and I haven't seen release dates.

When you know where you'll be teaching, get on the city's expat FB group. Plenty of people are going home and wanting to sell off their old phone/contract. I see a couple a week (at minimum) on Daejeon Peeps.

And do consider Daejeon... smack dab in the middle of the country. Pretty much equal bus/KTX/train rides to Seoul and Busan.
posted by kathrynm at 5:17 AM on October 20, 2012

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