Mobile to Cell Transmogrification
January 17, 2007 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I need a mobile phone that I can use on a UK network for the time being and then take with me when I move back to the US later this year. Help me choose a phone with a camera, bluetooth™, and

The Rub
I will be moving back to the US in the Fall/Autumn. I could wait, be all trendy, and order my iPhone* later this year but it wouldn't solve my immediate need for a new mobile on a UK service provider. So I'm looking for suggestions on hardware that I can purchase, use on a UK PAYG plan, then use on a US network on either a PAYG or contract term.

The Questions
  1. what full-featured phone would you recommend that will allow me global ability to give service providers my hard-earned cash?
  2. which service providers are going to allow me to use said hardware while living in the UK and once I repatriate to the US?
  3. am i better off/required to use the same service provider for both countries?
The Extras
  • bluetooth
  • >2MP camera
  • mac friendly (if possible)
  • digital pen compatible
  • can be used as a hand-grenade
*I hereby repudiate any copyright infringement in using the "iPhone" name as marketed by Apple, Inc.
posted by medium format to Technology (14 answers total)
One additional requirement: if you buy one from a network as part of a deal, you'll have to make sure you get one that's unlocked, or at least a model that you can take along to Bob's Mobiles and get unlocked. Otherwise you'll be restricted to the UK network that you got it from.

And what's a digital pen?
posted by chrismear at 8:36 AM on January 17, 2007

Response by poster: a digital pen is a hokey device that "captures" your writing using a small embedded camera and (in most cases) special paper which can then be sent via sms and your mobile to a database server.
not something i would invest in personally, but used at work.
posted by medium format at 8:46 AM on January 17, 2007

Digital pen? A stylus?

Anyway. If it were me, I'd fork out £80 or so quid for a second hand W800i on eBay in the UK, get an Orange PAYG sim card from Bob's Mobiles (as the W800i is probably locked to Orange, so you might as well), then get an iPhone when you get back to the States.

As it's you, and you're clearly not as excited by the iPhone as I (and I imagine chrismear) am... uh... are, you should probably get a W810i or K800i (bit big for my tastes, but you might get on with it) on PAYG, if you can. Most dodgy mobile phone shops will unlock em in time for your return stateside, or you could be sensible and get it from a provider with the same sim lock code across the pond, eg. T-Mobile. Worked when I took my Blackberry Pearl over the water at New Years - just bought a T-Mobile PAYG sim card while I was there.
posted by armoured-ant at 8:46 AM on January 17, 2007

Best answer: My understanding is that it's far easier to buy an unlocked GSM phone in the U.K. than in the U.S., so you're probably in good shape.

What you do not want to do, is get a subsidized ("free") phone on a service contract. You want to go to a store and buy a phone, cash on the barrel-head, and then go to a mobile provider and get a SIM card for that phone separately. That pretty much guarantees you that you're not getting a locked phone.

To ensure that the phone will work in the U.S., you want to make sure that it's a "GSM Quad-Band" phone. In particular, you need to make sure that it works on the 1900 and 850 MHz bands, because those are the ones used in the U.S. for GSM service.

When you get back to the 'States, there are only going to be two real choices for service: T-Mobile or Cingular (or AT&T, or whatever they're calling it this week). Of those two companies, the only one active in Europe is T-Mobile, aka Deutche Telekom (I think). However, using the same company in both places really won't help you much. They don't really have inexpensive "global" plans -- you'll get shafted for roaming if you're in the U.K. on a U.S. plan, and I can't imagine the reverse would be any different. So I'd get a PAYGO plan and SIM card in the U.K. through whatever service you want (Virgin Mobile, etc.) and then when you get here, pull that SIM out and exchange it for one from TMobile or Cingular.

As for phones, I use a Motorola Razr, and I like it, but I'm not sure if it's "full featured" to you. It's not a smartphone, although it does do WAP web browsing, has Bluetooth, and I think the newer models have a decent camera, although I don't know if it's 2MP. It works very well via Bluetooth with my Mac, to sync contact information and transfer photos. I've heard that the Nokias work well also.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:51 AM on January 17, 2007

Best answer: Oh yeah, if you want one that is as near guaranteed to work with iSync as possible, then make sure it's on this list.

For guideline prices of unlocked phones, you could do worse than looking at the Carphone Warehouse's list of "Handset only/SIM Free" phones.
posted by chrismear at 9:01 AM on January 17, 2007

You need a tribande mobile phone. Make sure it uses the 900 Mhz, 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz frequencies.

Also outside the US the mobile phone use GSM type network. I don't know what kind of network the mobile phone use in the US but I'm pretty sure it's not GSM.
posted by Baud at 9:11 AM on January 17, 2007

To clarify the above posts:

If you buy a hanset only (sim free) phone, you can then trot off and buy a PAYG sim card anywhere you like.

As an alternative, I'd suggest having a look at Carphone Warehouse's Pay As You Go Shop, where handsets that aren't tied to a contract (but they are locked to a network [unlock it at Bob's Mobiles for £10 before you fly back]) are selling for less than half the cost of a sim free handset.
posted by armoured-ant at 9:14 AM on January 17, 2007

No, you really want a quad band. Even if you choose T-Mobile here in the US, who uses 1900 almost exclusively, there are many places where the only GSM coverage available is at 850. If you choose Cingular, a phone that supports 800/850 (they're the same) is essential in many markets.

If you know where you're moving and you know you want T-Mobile service and you know you'll never travel outside that area except on an airplane to another T-Mobile market, a 900/1800/1900 triband will be fine, otherwise get the quadband.
posted by wierdo at 9:17 AM on January 17, 2007

The RAZR v3C camera phone is 1.3MP, Kadin2048.

I just got one, and it's a nice little phone, but I wasn't really looking at any features besides price and size, so I can't speak as to the other requirements.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:23 AM on January 17, 2007

Your best bet is probably a Treo. I've used a 650 abroad and at home here in the US. It's quad band GSM. It's got a camera. It's got bluetooth. And it's Mac-friendly (iSync worked fine - in fact I sync'd it to both my PC and Mac). I'm sure you could probably use a digital pen with it, since it uses a stylus. And, it's large enough to be a hand grenade if necessary.

Someone said this before, but it bears repeating: make sure you get one that is unlocked. You can grab a relatively cheap one from eBay for under USD$300.
posted by ca_little at 10:13 AM on January 17, 2007

No question, unlocked Sony Ericsson W810i. Has everything you want except digital pen (whatever that is!), and can be used globally.

Bluetooth, 2MP camera, quad-band, syncs with Mac Address Book, iCal out of the box, and with iTunes if you download a plug-in.

you can use it on any service provider in the UK (buy a PAYG sim and slip it in), and on T-Mobile or Cingular in the US.

I've had mine for almost a year, and it's damn near perfect for me. just make sure it is *unlocked*. Can't stress that enough.
posted by modernnomad at 10:55 AM on January 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. It seems my options are more varied that I thought they would be. I like the K800i (seems to not be on the list chrismear linked to) for it's higher res camera, although I haven't actually heard anything about the lens/image quality. I'll have a closer look at the lists and see if I can find one that ticks all the boxes.
If it matters, I'll be settling back into my hometown of Austin and, yes, I imagine I would be doing a bit of roaming time across the country.

@armoured-ant: don't get me wrong. I've done my fair share of drooling for the iPhone and haven't completely ruled it out. Picking up a second hand for the time being is certainly an option. Also... the K800i seems to be comparable in size, if not smaller, than the iPhone.

I'm on a Virgin PAYG POS phone at the moment. What is their service like in the states? I'm assuming no GSM since it wasn't mentioned.

For the curious, here's some more info on Digital Pens:
Maxell's Pen-it
They are, basically, (IMO) a tool for technophobes to get information into a digital format.
posted by medium format at 1:34 PM on January 17, 2007

Virgin in the US is piggybacked off the Sprint network, which is CDMA, not GSM. All their phones are pretty low-end.
posted by smackfu at 3:38 PM on January 18, 2007

Don't get so hung up on the phone being unlocked when you buy it. You're paying a premium for that, as the service provide knows that they won't be getting the call revenue.

While some phones can be unlocked at home by entering a code generated by software (most Nokias), I'd recommend springing the 5 pounds and get someone to unlock it for you. If you're in London, Chinatown was the cheapest with the best service. Avoid TCR and Oxford Street.

I'd also recommend the SE W810i which should drop in price now that the W850i has been released.

If you're willing to play the cashback game (probably not recommended if you're going to be out of the country ), Reestit Mutton everything you need to know. This would probably be your cheapest option as your calls would be paid for while in the UK, but there is pain involved to get the cash back. For example, a 12 month contract with a free W810i and 300 minutes + 100 texts per month would cost GBP163 for the year.
posted by quiet at 5:55 AM on January 20, 2007

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