Smartphones for World Traveling

Categories:Gear & Books, Travel
Vagabond Tim

Recently in a fit of rage my phone turned on me and ceased functioning, so I decided it needed replaced with something shiny and not old enough to purchase liquor (My phone was well traveled). In researching and asking around I realized three important things…

1. The variety of devices is quite extensive

2. Many of them are overpriced, overpowered, or both

3. No one has reviewed them in terms of traveling to locations where theft or water damage is a concern.

As a note, I am reviewing only devices that will actually work in a wide variety of countries for example India, Brazil, Russia, and New Zealand.

MOTO G – Minimal and functional with a price actually worth paying

Hardware – 6/10     Price – 8/10

motorola-xt1032-amazonAt some point in the past Google decided to buy the once great cell phone maker Motorola and convince them that mayhaps no one wants a flip open and snap the hinge phone with a 2 inch screen. Then they started referring to them as ‘Motorola – A Google Company’ which leads me to believe that the board room was full of drooling fellows in suits and helmets when Google arrived, but I digress. The Moto X was released only in the American market and did fairly well, but Google being Google was not happy with fairly well and saw an opening in the smartphone market that had not been explored before; People who do not like, or cannot afford, to spend $1000 for $100 worth of hardware. The result is effectively a Moto X with most of the shiny and flashy bits removed.

With a quad core 1.2ghz processor and 1gb of ram it is sufficient to its job with not a lot to spare for screwing around. The camera is a passable 5 Megapixels, and it supports both A-GPS and Glonass. Lacking an SD Card slot means it is limited to 8 or 16gb of memory depending on which one you choose.

With a price tag of between $150-200 USD without a contract I am currently awaiting mine in the post.

In a direct and fairly unmistakable extension of their ‘Don’t be Evil’ motto, the phone is not being released in China.

Samsung Galaxy Note3 -Not necessary unless you are traveling to a space station controlled entirely by your smartphone.

Hardware – 10/10     Price – 2/10


Having previously loaded the components of a low end laptop into a faux metal and leather frame best described as crummy, Samsung decided to instead make the Note III as shiny and pretty as possible while still loading in ten to twenty times the power anyone needs in a gps/google device that happens to make calls and text people occasionally.

Boasting a quad core 2ghz cpu (give or take 10% by version) and 3gb of ram this pointlessly overpowered and expensive device should under no circumstances be taken to anywhere fun for the same reasons the prime directive was written. The 15Megapixel camera will take absolutely enormous and crystal clear photos of smudges, poor lighting, your finger, and all the other things associated with cell phone photography.
Running around $600 to $1000 USD or so the NoteIII comes in three fairly identical flavours, I have posted a link for those tech savvy enough to actually care.

iPhone 5S/5C – I hate Apple, but it is a good phone although far to expensive.

Hardware – 7/10     Price – 1/10


Those who know me well have heard me bag on Apple a million times for what I view as their litany of crimes against technology, in fact I frequently compare them to Nintendo. I make this comparison, aptly I might add, as Nintendo makes a damn fine product that they under no circumstances want you to muck about with. While the iPhone certainly has its limitations in terms of flexibility and the availability of third party apps, apple has done a fairly good job of making the essential functions of a smartphone (Finding places and using Google)  work damn near seamlessly. Sure it doesn’t believe you own things you buy, sure it won’t let you even consider doing anything creative to it, and sure it kind of acts like skynet in that it displays nothing but contempt for humanity, but it is damn good at killing humans… or being a phone I guess.

With 1GB of ram and a 1.3ghz dual core processor the iPhone has enough horsepower for any reasonable task you may throw at it while at the same time not chewing through its battery and generating enough heat to double as a hand warmer. The 1000-1400$ price tag when compared to similar phones makes this a terribly expensive item however. Further, and fully in line with Apples general approach to technology (from behind in a style befitting a prison shower) the phone lacks many basic functions like removable SD card and carrier availability, but if you can afford to pay 1000$ more than something is worth then you can likely afford the roaming charges.

Huawei Ascend P6 -It’s absurdly thin and can tell you exactly where you are nearly anywhere on earth.

Hardware – 8/10     Price – 4/10


Recommending anyone purchase a product from Huawei feels like recommending ones former cellmate for a position as a nanny, I have nothing but the most aggrieved and pained memories of my time with Huawei…
This phone held the title for worlds thinnest phone and while that made it feel on the verge of snapping in half most of the time this never seemed to occur. Having the capability for Dual Sim cards is quite nice as you won’t find out upon returning home that your primary Sim is now in the belly of an iguana in the jungles of Borneo, but is rather safely stowed within your fancy new insanely thin phone.

For some reason or another that I don’t care enough to find out, this phone is primarily available on sites based in china and I have never encountered one ‘in the wild’ so to speak. With a Quad Core 1.5ghz cpu and 2gb of ram it will handle nearly any tasks you throw at it. One major impressive fact is its navigation abilities as it uses both the American developed A-gps system and the Russian alternative Glonass, while this is gibberish to most people the end result is that it quickly and accurately pinpoints your location, even if that happens to be the absolute middle of nowhere.

I would love to hate this phone in a sort of cathartic vengeance for the previous Huawei device I owned, but the only real downside is its launch cost of $750 which is very likely to be closer to $300 soon.

Sony Xperia Tapioca – Provides new and unusual meaning to the ‘Smart’ in smartphone

Hardware – 2/10     Price – 9/10

Sony-Xperia-Tipo-ST21iWhile I must admit my little backup phone does indeed handle texting after a fashion, I frequently just continue typing while it weeps in tapioca for brains shame and shows no response on screen for a few seconds until suddenly populating the field with its best guess at what I was trying to type. On startup it lags and is unresponsive for a moment or two, the alerts frequently fail to go off as it is busy doing whatever it is it does when it is not being a good phone.

The important thing to consider is that with a single core 800mhz cpu and only 512mb of ram it does manage to operate Google semi-effectively and with patience and understanding can eventually navigate its way out of a paper bag, well a small and fairly damp paper bag… but it tries.

Its only camera is a 3.2mpix camera on the rear so while using skype whoever you are calling can see the wall in front of you, or see you and you cannot see them, I recommend solving this problem by holding all phone calls in front of the bathroom mirror. I suppose it is sort of worth the $125USD that I paid for it.

Samsung Galaxy S Duos – It was a big deal and fairly expensive a year ago and is now worth considering

Hardware – 5/10     Price – 8/10

samsung-galaxy-s-duos-blackThe most interesting thing about the duos is that they chose to pluralize duo which is itself plural, as someone who writes things this annoys me in ways I cannot describe.

WHY they named it the duos however is that it can use two SIM cards simultaneously, which one the one hand could result in the ability to get roaming charges twice as quickly, but more realistically would allow you to bounce back and forth between two continents without having to keep track of a tiny all important piece of plastic no bigger than a bread clip. A lot of phones will hold two SIM cards and use one or the other, but this little beauty will receive calls on either and allow you to make calls on either as well, presumably to make infidelity easier as you no longer need to keep track of two separate phones.

The 1gb CPU essentially means it will be fast enough most of the time and irritatingly lag out only a few times a day, it comes with android 4.04 which isn’t exactly new but new enough that the vast majority of apps will function as expected. GPS functionality and a large screen should allow you to navigate around easily while taking 5mp photos of all sorts of things along the way.

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