Should I buy a Nexus 4 to get phone/data service when I travel abroad?
September 5, 2013 7:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of getting a Nexus 4 for whenever we travel abroad, and just getting a SIM card in the airport. I'd like to use both voice and data when I'm away. Will this work, or is there a better way?

I'm currently a Verizon user, and whenever we travel abroad I have to get an international plan that's expensive and a pain and may not even work. When we went to Iceland, Verizon had to send me a different phone entirely. It's 2013, so I figure there has to be a better way.

I know people get SIM cards in airports and just pop them into their current phones. My current Galaxy S4 is locked, though it seems like it's possible to get VZW to unlock it. Wouldn't it just be easier to have an unlocked phone that I can use anywhere? Enter the Nexus 4. I figure if I get a Nexus 4, I can drop a SIM card into it anywhere. I can keep the phone up to date with Android via wifi when I'm home.

Will this plan work? Is there a better way? Is anyone doing something like this? What do you use when you go abroad?
posted by gchucky to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I also have a Nexus 4 and just did that on a trip to Ireland. If you go on eBay, you can actually buy the SIM ahead of time and top it up before your trip; that's what I did. My wife's iPhone also got a SIM (she has had it long enough that Sprint was willing to unlock it for her). Both phones take micro SIMs but this was no problem. If you think it might be, just get a SIM cutter tool.

You could wait until you get there but verify that the airport has a store that sells SIMs for your desired provider. Dublin airport apparently does not.

It worked pretty seamlessly, although I did have to enter all the APN configuration stuff manually into both phones. You could do this before leaving though, just swap the foreign SIM in, configure the APN, put the original SIM back in (be sure you're on WiFi so you don't burn up any data "roaming" in the US). I think the phone will remember the APN configured with a particular SIM.

If you use a security program like Cerberus, make sure you authorize the new SIM too, otherwise it'll burn hellacious battery doing location reporting all day since it thinks the phone was stolen.
posted by kindall at 8:04 PM on September 5, 2013

nexus 4 needs a micro sim, hopefully somebody will chime in if overseas places commonly stock microsims instead of the regular size sim cards. I havent dont this plan myself, but plenty of people seem to. Some countries you can order the sims ahead of time.

Worldwide networks are GSM, verizon is CDMA+LTE, their phones used to not be compatible with overseas gsm networks, but that may be somewhat out of date knowledge.
posted by TheAdamist at 8:05 PM on September 5, 2013

I happen to have a separate unlocked phone, and I use a KeepGo SIM for travel. It works beautifully, but I don't really know that it's simpler than having a single unlocked phone.
posted by grudgebgon at 8:06 PM on September 5, 2013

The Nexus devices are nice because a) they are unlocked and b) they are 'pentaband' which means they should generally work on most GSM networks. You may not get full HSPA+, but you'll get something.

I have an older Galaxy Nexus, and when I travel, i usually do exactly what you suggest. Spend $25 at the airport, get a sim, and prepay for a bunch of minutes, texts and data.

It's very useful for maps when travelling, data stuff and outgoing texts, messages and phone calls. Incoming is less useful, as it requires sharing an international phone number, but still, totes fine, yo.

So far, i have used my Galaxy Nexus in Iceland, the UK and Jersey, China and South Africa in this manner. No probs. As far as I know it's the best way of travelling with mobile service.

If you are going somewhere in particular, it may be worthwhile to look up what providers there operate on what networks, as the Nexus 4 offically supports:
GSM/EDGE/GPRS (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
3G (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz)
HSPA+ 42
posted by Sleddog_Afterburn at 8:06 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm american and I've traveled to both Europe (France, Italy) & Asia (Taiwan, Phillipines) & Canada with a nexus 4 and it works really well for both voice & data when using local SIM cards. It won't work in Japan as they have their own proprietary CDMA-esque system. It's also my primary phone in the dc area, I use it with T-Mobile and I think it's great.
posted by askmehow at 8:22 PM on September 5, 2013

Your Verizon S4 comes sim-unlocked right out of the box - and will happily accept a foreign SIM card and connect to any GSM network anywhere in the world just like a Nexus would.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:38 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another option is picking up a super cheap nokia locally (or whatever is out there) for $20-$50. I did this in Malaysia several years ago and used it for six months. Worth a look over dropping a bunch on another smart phone. If you're not otherwise bringing a laptop you can bring the galaxy with as well for wifi / internet use.

US carrier plans overseas are never worth it. They're geared to business users whose companies are picking up the tab. The best case is to forgo the plan and just pay the $1.20 a minute fee or whatever for emergency or really brief calls.
posted by MillMan at 8:42 PM on September 5, 2013

I used an app to unlock my phone. Maybe there's a similar app for your particular phone model?
posted by hooray at 8:51 PM on September 5, 2013

I have a nexus 4 and recently used it with local sims in Germany and Norway. I found most sims now come with perforations for micro sim use. I got mine from Rewe supermarket but there wereplenty of other options. One annoying thing is you need the little tool that comes with the nexus to open the sim compartment. I forgot to bring mine.a paperclip didn't work. A pen didn't work, but eventually a safety pin did. But since o was out and about when trying to do this, it meant much wasted time looking for shops that would sell or loan me little pointy objects.
posted by lollusc at 8:59 PM on September 5, 2013

You should definitely ask Verizon; they may be obligated to unlock their phone for overseas use. If they can do it, it shouldn't cost you anything.

I also have a Nexus 4, and just got back from Japan with it, where it worked fine (note that I only had a data-only SIM and plan). You should know that it ranks near the bottom of every smartphone battery life chart; when constantly using GPS to figure out where I am and how to get to where I am going, the battery was often dead before dinner. For solely that reason, I would shop around a little more for something maybe slower but with a longer runtime.
posted by meowzilla at 9:05 PM on September 5, 2013

A Galaxy Nexus might serve better as a travel-only phone as it takes full-sized sims and you can get larger batteries for it that will give you a full day's real use (and then you'll have a spare to swap in as well). You should be able to find one for fairly cheap now that it's almost 2 Nexus generations behind, and that said I haven't noticed any real speed differences between it and the Nexus 4 (except for the camera rotation, grr). Just make sure you get the Google Play store model (GT-i9250) and not the Verizon model.
posted by bizwank at 9:31 PM on September 5, 2013

I use my Nexus 4 all over the world and with T-Mobile in the u.s.
posted by k8t at 11:54 PM on September 5, 2013

Seconding what kickingtheground said: your current phone is unlocked. There was an issue with the S III where Verizon disabled the APN edit functionality, but that's gone on the S IV.
posted by asterix at 12:14 AM on September 6, 2013

Regarding battery life for travel, you can buy little outboard batteries with built-in charging cables. There are various ones for about $20 on Amazon and they're great, I use them for long bike trips.
posted by mindsound at 11:13 AM on September 6, 2013

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