Using iPod touch in Europe while travelling
March 3, 2008 1:23 AM   Subscribe

Using an iPod Touch wireless features when travelling in Europe - what is the general availability of free wireless connections/hotspots? Would one be able to get substantial use out of it for checking train schedules, finding telephone numbers, etc?

My daughter (18) is planning a six-month backpack around Europe. I am thinking of getting her an iPod Touch because (a) her old mp3 player broke and (b) I thought the wireless feature could be very useful for getting train schedules, bus schedules, google maps, hostel phone numbers, etc., and, (c) selfishly, it would make it easier for her to drop me an email so I don't worry too much. She likes the idea of the touch. She'll be travelling with her boyfriend, 20, who I like and who is sensible so I am not too worried.

My question is general -- what is the density of free wireless connections/hotspots in Europe? Do most major train stations have it? On an average downtown street would there be an open connection? I know this varies country to country, but, overall, is this an idea that seems good in principle but might not be very practical? I've googled but it is hard to put together a qualitative answer to the question "is this worth it?" Thoughts, Euro-hivemind? She's planning on spending most time in UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Czech R., Greece, Turkey, but thoughts about Scandinavia, Germany, Poland and eastern Europe/Baltic States also welcome.

Any other comments on related aspects of this would be welcome - does the touch have decent connectivity / antenna? Could one save a googlemap as a jpeg and view it offline later? Are there widely available pay-to-connect wireless networks that are worth considering?

The iPhone is not usable here in Canada so doesn't seem to be a viable option, assuming it does the same things the touch does.
posted by Rumple to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have any quantitative data about the proliferation of free hotspots in Europe, but in London I've used a provider called The Cloud. They are all over Central London, and claim to have the largest WiFi network in Europe.

Not free but not outrageously expensive (in Pound Sterling terms) either.
posted by Mutant at 1:39 AM on March 3, 2008


The iPhone is usuable there in Canada, but it would need to be SIM unlocked and activated first.
posted by dance at 1:42 AM on March 3, 2008


In big towns, on the main places, you are likely to find some kind of wifi. Atleast in Germany. You should think about signing up with FON (www.fon.com) which opens up alot of free hotspots. This gives you a nice coverage but this isn't reliable conection.
As far as paid hotspots go, for germany (and UK i think), t-mobile is the way to go. They have a Hotspot in every larger train station (in germany) and in every mcdonals (which is always a good spot for wifi, even free in the UK). If you did all of the above coverage should be pretty good, but still not everywhere.

Also, why would the Iphone not work in Canada? In Europe, it definitly would (unlocked ofcourse). You should get sim-cards of the countrys your in or a europewide sim (sunsim, sunsim.de, the webpage is in german, let google help you or mefimail me). Cheap prepaid simcards are easy to get, here in europe.
posted by kall at 1:46 AM on March 3, 2008


Although The Netherlands isn't mentioned, The Wife & I keep a second flat in Amsterdam spending about one week a month there, and unlocked private access are very common, at least compared to London.
posted by Mutant at 1:56 AM on March 3, 2008


Not to derail but I think the Asus Eee PC is perfect for backpacking and costs about the same amount. Of course, it won't serve as a portable MP3 player, but it would be great for general web browsing and e-mails, and there are a lot of Internet cafes that don't have wireless but have wired connections.
posted by bertrandom at 2:48 AM on March 3, 2008


Nothing wrong with an ipod touch, I have one myself. Free wifi is not so common in London, although some cafes offer it. But don't count on it in general. If you don't mind a slight de-rail: for your daughter's general needs I would actually recommend something like a Nokia N95, which I also have. This will give you wireless where there is wireless, internet via the phone company where there is no wireless (expensive maybe but if you're just checking a train time...), plus a phone with all the bells & whistles such as 5 mp camera; I'm pretty sure it does mp3s too, I've just never used that feature. No futuristic touch-screen interface, true, but the downloadable opera mini browser is pretty functional. And also easier to recharge: ipods are generally reliant on a computer (although I've no doubt there is a standalone recharger); and if you lose the Nokia charger, a new one can be found easily for a few pounds/euros, or even borrowed; not so with an ipod charger. Of course, the N95 is a masculine bit of kit and not half as sexy as an ipod touch.
posted by londongeezer at 7:49 AM on March 3, 2008


In my experience free wifi spots aren't so common in Europe, most seem to be operated by T-mobile, etc. It might be more fun not to rely on the internet when travelling and just go about the old-school way of guide books and asking people.
posted by MrC at 8:12 AM on March 3, 2008


There are (ok, were, haven't been to Europe in 2 years, so... salt grains) lots of cyber cafes in major (and minor) European cities. All over. Tons of 'em. They're not free, but they're cheap enough to spend a few minutes in every few days at the very least. They're quite convenient for uploading photos, checking mail, getting maps and logistics and train tickets. The only problem is that most of them have wired connections. It might be possible to plug in your laptop (instead of using their computers -- which in many countries have a keyboard that is 99% of an american one, but with some crucial character, like "," or "." misplaced...). But it wasn't possible for me to just use the wifi, since in all the cafes I was in, they didn't have wifi.

I think she'll find *some* hotspots that will be free and some that will be pay-to-play. Here's a list of purported free wifi in Italy. Here's a list for paris (careful: annoying sound). But who knows how up to date these are.

Having wifi would be good. Maybe having a machine with an ethernet port would be even better. But probably a lot less fun on multi-hour train rides...
posted by zpousman at 8:35 AM on March 3, 2008


I haven't stayed in a youth hostel in quite a while—not since the internet was commonly available to the masses, in fact—but it certainly seems like hostels would be the kinds of places to have open WiFi nodes for travelers. Please, anyone feel free to correct this assumption. But, it strikes me that assuming that's the case, the iPod Touch would still be useful. Relying on it as a last minute data source, like checking train schedules from the platform, may be unwise, but for planning ahead (and sending those all-important emails to Rumple) in the quiet of the evening, or at a convenient café, it would shine. I'd throw a lil' keychain wifi finder in too, so she can clip it to her pack or a belt loop or whathaveyou to conveniently check for signal without hauling out the shiny tech kit.
posted by mumkin at 9:08 AM on March 3, 2008


Nthing using internet cafes - they are everywhere, affordable and if you use a chain (easyInternet, etc), you can buy time and use it at another location. When we were in Spain last year, we found wifi uncommon in Barcelona. Madrid had more than Barcelona but most of it was paid or restricted to guests.
I have an iPod Touch and find that even here in the States there's just not enough free or unlocked wifi to make it something you can rely on in an emergency. And forget using the internet on public transportation. No wifi, no internet. Also, there are a number of websites that are nearly unusable because of their reliance on non-iPhone friendly applets.
An unlocked iPhone could be handy - it's easy to get SIM cards with local numbers in any European country. And having access to a local phone number can make a huge difference. We missed a flight and had to rely on our newly acquired Spanish cellphone to make other arrangements.
posted by fiercekitten at 11:10 AM on March 3, 2008


Thanks everyone for their responses so far -- keep them coming! Very helpful to have some on-the-ground experiences.
posted by Rumple at 11:27 AM on March 3, 2008


In places like train stations and airports, forget about the free Wifi. These are prime business locations and locked up by the telecom operators running pay services, contractually preventing anyone from offering complimentary service in the area. I don't think there's an affordable way to get mobile Internet that will work on the entire continent. Be wary of mobile phone internet, the roaming charges can be outrageous (a friend of mine paid 674 euros for 20MB - granted, that was a long time ago, but there's still lots of nastiness around).

nthing the Internet café thing, most civilized places have plenty and it's not that difficult to plan your next hop a few hours in advance.
posted by themel at 11:54 AM on March 3, 2008


WiFi in Italy will be hit or miss, due to the anti-terrorism law being extended until 2009. Said law requires anyone offering Internet access to have (amongst other things) full ID information of the user, which is why Internet cafes now ask for your passport or EU ID card.

Things were getting a bit slack towards the end of 2007, when the law was originally supposed to expire, but I haven't been in a cafe lately to see if things are being strictly adhered to again. In any case, she shouldn't be surprised if she's required to provide ID info, either physically or via a registration page served up by the hotspot.

She might find free wifi randomly thanks to home users who don't know how to properly configure their routers, and/or have a squizz at Fon.
posted by romakimmy at 5:02 AM on March 5, 2008


Late to the game, but I think an ipod touch plus a usb drive with portable apps would be a good combination, and would cover a few more scenarios.
posted by malaprohibita at 6:41 AM on March 11, 2008


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