International Smart Phone?
May 12, 2013 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I am an AT&T Customer with an iPhone 5. I am traveling to London, Paris, and Dusseldorf this summer and don't want to get killed with international data and cell charges. Plus I want good apps for translation, maps, etc. What's the best way to do this, and would I be better or worse off with an Android phone (Galaxy S4 or HTC One)? Any first-hand experience would be awesome.

In a few years I have come to rely heavily on my iPhone for travel. Texting friends we're meeting, using the maps, taking photos and video on trips, plus just keeping up on eMails etc. while gone is vital to me personally and professionally.

But I rarely travel internationally. This summer, though, I'm going to England, France, and Germany. I've been trying to research pre-paid international SIM cards and such to keep costs down on the trip.

But then I read recently that Android, specifically on the Galaxy S4, has great translation apps where if I'm in Paris I can hold it up and it will tell me in text what someone is saying, and I can speak English into it and it will then say it in French, etc. That would be awesome in a pinch (though annoying for regular use).

I also really love the S4 having interchangeable batteries (I'm a battery hog when traveling and the iPhone 5 juice packs are not as inexpensive as they were for previous generations of iPhone)

Given that I'm under contract to AT&T that is my current limitation, but what phone would be the most helpful as a personal travel companion?
posted by bodgy to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Google translate is available for iPhone. It works pretty decently for simple statements or questions. Galaxy s4 has a different skin, but it's really the same app, powered by android software, which was made by google. The S4 is a great phone, and if you like the battery flexibility and screen size I'd go for it. But for the most part, any android phone that you buy is going to work the same, with slight variations in appearance, despite what the commercials lead you to believe. Most people strongly prefer google maps to apple maps, but google maps are also available on iPhone.

If you're really just looking to use while traveling, I'd try to get your current iPhone unlocked. You can ask AT&T to unlock for international use, I've heard they do that sometimes. Or you could get unlocking service done on eBay, I did this for several old iPhones that family members had a couple of months ago. It only cost around five dollars when I did it, Took less than one day and you don't need to send your iPhone anyway.

Or, You could buy a Nexus 4, which is only $300 off contract. It isn't quite as powerful as the galaxy S4, but much, much cheaper. You'll get substantially the same use of Google maps and translate with either android phone, though the Nexus doesn't have interchangeable batteries. Also, the Nexus 4 comes unlocked, so you won't have to worry about that.
posted by skewed at 9:43 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been trying to research pre-paid international SIM cards and such to keep costs down on the trip.

AT&T generally won't unlock an iPhone 5 for international use unless it's out of contract. If you were to get the S4 or HTC One under contract/subsidy, you'd be in the same boat, more or less. (Verizon and Sprint are better at this because CDMA doesn't travel.) If AT&T won't unlock, you're in the hands of the unofficial unlocking brigades.

A contract-free Nexus 4 might be worth considering, although it doesn't have a removable battery. Taking your iPhone and limiting it to WiFi might also be an option, though I've generally found that a WiFi-only device is a pretty poor relative to a smartphone if you're on the move in European cities.
posted by holgate at 9:48 AM on May 12, 2013

Your AT&T iPhone 5 is a world phone. You can buy a sim card once you've reached your destination and be good to go. My friend has gone overseas three times since his iPhone 5 from AT&T and no problems! You can also unlock your iPhone 4S to use there. Just put your AT&T sim card in something and don't misplace it!
posted by Yellow at 10:37 AM on May 12, 2013

Unlocked iPhone 4s (not the 4S) should be also widely available, and for cheaper than a Nexus 4, for around $200. It will also run Google Translate and have a ton of other translate / dictionary apps. This might be a good option if you have iPhone 4 accessories (like a battery pack) lying around, and you don't want to go through the frustration of relearning how to use your own phone.

When you put a different SIM card in your phone, iMessages may or may not be sent correctly to your phone, and normal text messages won't be forwarded. You may want to consider a solution which isn't tied to your phone number (like Google Voice).

If you get a Nexus 4 or other Android phone, make sure to turn off any background data for features you're not concerned about - I found that battery life (or lack thereof) was the biggest difference between it and iPhone.
posted by meowzilla at 11:02 AM on May 12, 2013

Your AT&T iPhone 5 is a world phone. You can buy a sim card once you've reached your destination and be good to go.

This is not the case according to just about everything I've read. AT&T mostly sells the iPhone 5 locked to AT&T signals. Their iPhone is definitely built as a world phone, but does not function that way when carrier locked. If you buy an iPhone from Canada, or any other country with decent consumer protection, the phones come unlocked free to use as the owner wishes. Or, you can pay the full price from AT&T (I think about $700) and get the phone unlocked from them. But if you just bought your iPhone on contract for $200, it is almost definitely locked. It will probably work overseas on the AT&T SIM, but you'll be subject to roaming fees. You almost definitely need to get it unlocked and buy a local SIM to use it the way the OP wants to.
posted by skewed at 12:54 PM on May 12, 2013

You WILL NOT be able to us a SIM card from your destination unless the phone has been unlocked by AT&T or via Jailbreak/unlock.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:56 PM on May 12, 2013

For maps I've been using tripadvisor's applications for large tourist cities in Europe. The maps are comprehensive and work with GPS. Just search for the city's name in the app store. When getting out of the big towns I've been using an app called "OsmAnd" (android only) which pulls public map data from whatever countries / regions you're interested in. I recommend this also. If you want to avoid tripadvisor's notes on all the tourist stuff you can just use this app period. There is no need to rely on google maps when traveling. There are multiple apps that do this, search around and you'll find something for iOS too.
posted by MillMan at 1:08 PM on May 12, 2013

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