A phone smart enough to cross the Atlantic?
June 29, 2013 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I am in the U.S. and in need of a new smartphone. Catch is that I am temporarily relocating to Europe in a few months, for 9-18 months. Do I sign a contract? Buy a phone and switch to a European provider when I get there? What kind of phone do I get?

I've had an Android phone through Verizon for the last 2.5 years (I'm now contract-free! Hooray!) It's on its last legs, and I'm ready for an upgrade.

My question is, should I:
-get a new (internationally compatible) Verizon phone with contract, then upgrade to an international plan in a few months? Or,
-pay for a phone and switch to a BYO-phone carrier (i.e. T-Mobile) month-to-month until I leave?

If I do the latter, presume I'll switch to a European provider once I move. Are there any network compatibility issues I need to worry about with a new phone? It would be ideal to not have to switch SIM cards every time I get on a plane, but I can deal.

Are there any great Android phones out in Europe right now that would make it worth waiting to switch? Over here I've mainly been looking at the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, though I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to the S4's 5" monster screen.

Any advice from international jet-setters (or one-time relocators) appreciated!
posted by ista to Technology (8 answers total)
If I were in your situation I would buy an unlocked 16GB LG Nexus 4 for $350 and put it on T-mobile monthly, then when I got to Europe I'd buy a SIM card from whatever provider my friends and acquaintances there recommend, but I've never actually done this before so someone else probably has an experienced view to share.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 12:06 PM on June 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding laconi skeuomorph.

Except... when you say you are relocating to "Europe" will you be based in a single country or moving every couple of weeks/months? We recently experienced problems using Dutch SIM cards in Germany and vice versa, even though the service provides assured us they would work. So if you are going to moving quite frequently, perhaps a different strategy would be better.
posted by unlaced at 12:28 PM on June 29, 2013

My vote would be to pay out right for an unlocked GSM phone, then bring it with you when you go. I did the exact same thing by buying a Galaxy S2 before I moved to Norway for 12 months last year, and brought my phone back with me and am still using it today. I found it very easy to find prepaid SIM cards in Norway and other places that I went to visit.

Don't sign the contract with Verizon. The plans you can get for that length of time in Europe will likely be superior and way cheaper than having a US based international plan.

Key thing, make sure you get an unlocked GSM phone! Any other frequency from North America (CDMA, etc) will not work in Europe, and it has to be unlocked to accept a SIM card.
posted by snowysoul at 12:46 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a followup, the reason why I recommended the Nexus 4 is based on the Wirecutter saying:
The best deal in unlocked phones right now, though, especially if you plan to use T-Mobile, is the LG Nexus 4. The 16GB version is only $350 unlocked from Google Play ($300 for the 8GB version), and it doesn’t have LTE, but it does work with T-Mobile’s HSPA+, which the unlocked One and S IV don’t. It’s our favorite phone from last fall and the phone to get if you need a great unlocked GSM smartphone for not much more than the price of a subsidized, contract-locked phone. Like the versions of the One and the Galaxy S IV that are being sold via Google Play, it’s SIM- and bootloader-unlocked and gets its updates directly from Google.
The Nexus is great and $350 and from Q3 2012, while the HTC One and Galaxy S IV are superb, $600-650 and from Q2 2013.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 1:05 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I spend 6 months in Ireland and six in the States. Those who suggested a GSM unlocked/SIM free ( parlance in Europe) are correct. Buy a manufacturers/factory unlocked not a contract or hacked one. You will have no problem buying month to month services in Europe ( or the US for that matter). Do not use Verizon as their service/phones are incompatible with GSM. Enjoy your new phone and time in Europe. I use an unlocked iphone 5 and before that a Samsung.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:28 PM on June 29, 2013

What everybody else said. If you can, I would even wait to buy the phone until I am in Europe. The market is enormous, much more open (much more unlocked product here), and there's lots of price competition. And yeah, don't renew with Verizon. CDMA is a stupid technology that should have died eons ago. A modern multiband GSM device will work in about 80 percent of the world, whereas CDMA will work in the US and Canada, and that's pretty much it.
posted by rhombus at 5:02 PM on June 29, 2013

Are there any great Android phones out in Europe right now that would make it worth waiting to switch?

None that you won't find in the US, for cheaper. If you buy a Nexus, buy it in the US and save a fair amount of money.
posted by cmonkey at 10:00 PM on June 29, 2013

cmonkey is right but you will not be able to buy a sim free/unlocked from the major cellular/data providers etc. But Amazon, etc will be helpful. Comparable phones are less expensive in the US.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:05 PM on June 29, 2013

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