Best International Cell phones?
August 30, 2006 9:08 PM   Subscribe

study-abroad-mobile-phone-filter: In Edinburgh for a few months, what's the best mobile phone to use to make international calls to US (amongst other places) from Scotland? By best I mean CHEAP, reliable, think student abroad here.

This question is actually asked on behalf of my boyfriend who will be in abroad and is looking for a cell phone to use while he's here to call home. He's mentioned something like Pixela, or Pixel, something that is designed with abroad students in mind. I'm trying to help him out and for the life of me, can't find any more details about it.

I'm wondering if any of you have had experience with this kind of thing and can recommend something useful here. Ive used mobile phones in other countries but hardly ever to call home much. It doesn't have to be the cheapest thing ever, just as long as it's not crap.
posted by apfel to Technology (14 answers total)
Are you wondering about what the best cell phone is or what carrier is the best? I am traveling abroad to Barcelona next semester and I bought a discounted RAZR here in the states then had it 'unlocked' by a third party company, making it compatible with any phone carrier in the US, Europe, or Asia and all you have to do is switch out the sim card (given to you by the cell phone company). Apparently the RAZR gets very good service in foreign countries and that way I could use it when I get back to the U.S and if I ever want to go to other countries. I was curious though, if anyone knows what the most cost-effective phone carriers were in Europe, especially in Spain.

*One more piece of advice: when traveling abroad, only use your cell phone for calls in case of emergencies. Texting is much more popular in Europe and alot more cost effective when trying to communicate with friends abroad. When calling friends and family in the U.S, buy yourself a cheap headset and use VOIP services to make FREE calls.

hope that helped!
posted by nyu2 at 9:39 PM on August 30, 2006

For outgoing calls, he's probably going to be stuck with some kind of PAYG package and an international callthrough service or calling card. That's still going to come in at 15p/min or so, minimum. Using SMS will make life cheaper; cheaper still would be Skype or some other VOIP service whenever he has internet access. Don't even think about international roaming rates from US providers.

Frankly, he'd be better off making international calls from a landline -- such as a campus payphone -- with a calling card linked to an 0800 number. International calls and mobiles really don't mix.
posted by holgate at 11:08 PM on August 30, 2006

Try the Carphone Warehouse for a pay as you go card on one of their own brand services. Their Mobile world or SIM 4 Travel cards offer cheap calls. Alternately get any old sim and use either a calling card or use call 18866 for cheap calls.
posted by MrC at 1:01 AM on August 31, 2006

That site looks pretty good. Would I be able to use one of those carriers if I was in Spain for a semester or would I need to use a spanish carrier?
posted by nyu2 at 1:17 AM on August 31, 2006

International calls and mobiles really don't mix.

Mobile World is only 5p/min to the US. This may even be cheaper than using a calling card with a payphone.

If you are going to be calling for more than 15 min on a single day, then you will be better off getting an O2 PAYG plan and using one of the callthrough services mentioned above, some of which count as landline calls for O2.
posted by grouse at 1:47 AM on August 31, 2006

The calling card/discount service is the way to go. E.g. the one I remember from adverts on the tube is Alpha Telecom - they seem to think you can get 1p/min from a mobile to the USA but that relies on your mobile operator not charging you for 0800 numbers (which I think is dubious). Their rate from a landline is only 3p/min. I have no idea how reputable Alpha is, but it's an example of the cost he's looking at.
posted by patricio at 2:19 AM on August 31, 2006

For a few months in Edinburgh, he will definitely want to hook up with a UK provider -- otherwise calls across Edinburgh may be very costly for him and his friends. You can easily get good SIM-only deals for a card that fits an existing handset, but note that the UK and US use different bands, so he will have to get a new handset unless he has a quadband, or a triband with the right bands.

At this time, Virgin seem to have the cheapest pay-as-you-go deals. On the other hand, Vodafone have the fewest dead spots without coverage. However, if he plans to spend time in the Scottish Highlands, he may want to get local info about the best network for that area.

The issue of cheapest calls home is slightly separate -- there are lots of ways of tackling that, with VOIP being the obvious choice. Notice the impact of the hour difference on what times will be suitable for calling each other.
posted by Idcoytco at 2:49 AM on August 31, 2006

I should add to this: you should only count on being able to make calls to a callthrough service for landline rates from O2, if you are looking at mobile rates. If you have a mobile plan that lets you make cross-network mobile calls for cheap, that would work as well. You can almost always find a callthrough service that is cheaper than a calling card (e.g. 1p/min on Telediscount to the States), plus you don't have to pay in advance. Prepaid calling cards are almost never the best deal, unless you choose a provider that won't let you use callthrough numbers.
posted by grouse at 3:08 AM on August 31, 2006

Not sure if you have Car Phone Warehouse in Edinburgh but they have their own service, I foget the name, that uses T-Mobile networks (read: good coverage). If he gets the international calling plan calls from the UK to the US run about 3p/min...can't beat that.
posted by ASM at 4:38 AM on August 31, 2006

Get Orange for the best Scottish coverage. If he brings an unlocked GSM phone with him, a SIM card to make it work will only be a few quid.

Don't use the phone to call the US, use a landline or a payphone. The calling cards usually have freephone numbers, so that won't be a problem.

Additionally, most internet cafes now have headsets so you can use VoIP to talk.
posted by bonaldi at 4:54 AM on August 31, 2006

Get Orange for the best Scottish coverage.

Definitely. Orange has much better coverage out in the wilds than other networks.

If he brings an unlocked GSM phone with him...

Make sure it is really unlocked, though. I bought a secondhand RAZR (Motorola V3) that was originally on Virgin Mobile in the UK, and it worked fine with an O2 SIM, suggesting that it was unlocked. Despite working with O2, it didn't work with Orange SIMs.
posted by matthewr at 6:30 AM on August 31, 2006

VOIP is the way to go—a friend of mine who was in Edinburgh this past spring used that, with a Stateside phone number, to call us all (and to run a newspaper in her absence). It's pretty much the best solution, especially if you have a laptop.
posted by limeonaire at 6:57 AM on August 31, 2006

I bought a secondhand RAZR (Motorola V3) that was originally on Virgin Mobile in the UK, and it worked fine with an O2 SIM, suggesting that it was unlocked.

Ah, easy mistake: Virgin uses O2's network.
posted by holgate at 3:12 PM on September 1, 2006

Virgin uses O2's network.

Nope, it uses T-Mobile's.
posted by grouse at 5:01 PM on September 1, 2006

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