The iPhone seems like the obvious choice. It’s one of the most popular handsets in the country, and surely one of the most lusted after pieces of gear in the world, so why not an iPhone?
- Cost – An unlocked iPhone can easily run in excess of $600. That’s more money than I want to lay down for a phone, ever, and it stings all the more if it is damaged or stolen.
- Call Quality – iPhones aren’t exactly legendary for their call quality or signal strength. I know it’s improved with the last few generations, but that isn’t saying much.
- Access – Swapping the sim card isn’t the worst process in the world, as long as you have a paper clip and some patience.
- Durability – It’s made of glass. Seriously.
- Data – Nearly anything you want to do on an iPhone requires data. That can get expensive depending on where you are.
- Sync via iTunes – iTunes is kind of the worst. Think about it, you know it’s true.
The right phone
I ended up purchasing the N8, by Nokia. Considering Nokia’s (at the time) limited presence in the U.S., it may surprise some of you to learn that they are the biggest handset manufacturer in the world, and have a reputation for making extraordinarily good hardware. The biggest reason for my purchase was that the N8 is extremely well suited for travel. Here’s why:
- Unlocked – The N8 is factory unlocked. The sim card slot sits under a flap on the side of the phone, and is easily changed, no more removing the battery to get at the fidgety little card. Open the door, pop the old card out, pop the new one in, and done.
- Durable – The body of the phone is milled aluminum and the front glass is Gorilla Glass, which is essentially unbreakable.
- Call Quality – Calls come in loud and clear, all the time.
- Reception – The radio is penta (yes, five) band capable, meaning it will work on any network, anywhere. Also, the receiver in this phone is astonishing. I have three bars in our concrete bunker of a parking garage two stories underground. No other phone even tries to get on a network there.
- GPS – The N8 has a built-in GPS receiver that lets you navigate without a data connection and uses downloadable maps that can be updated free for life. You see, Nokia owns Navteq, the biggest mapmaker in the world, so I now have a complete map of nearly every country we are visiting sitting on my phone. No data connection required.
- Camera – A 12-megapixel camera with a real flash (no LEDs) and a Zeiss lens. I have never seen a file so good from a phone, it is better than my not so old Nikon point and shoot camera ever was. Also, it has a physical, two-stage camera button. Those of you who know what that means will know how nice that is.
- More – An OLED screen that is clear even in bright sunlight, Skype, WiFi, Swype, MS Office apps (free!), Exchange server support, fantastic battery life, a built-in FM transmitter and receiver (so you can play your music over your car radio) and the undeniably excellent hardware Nokia is renowned for. It even has Angry Birds, if you care for that sort of thing. And it comes in really cool colors.
We got Steph a Nokia C6-01. This is essentially an N8 “lite.” It’s still very robust, works great and is unlocked. It’s a little smaller, about half the price and the camera isn’t as good, but otherwise it’s very nearly the same phone. For those of you who are even more budget-minded, this is a very strong option, and we will be bringing it along as a back-up phone, just in case.
Is it the fastest, bestest phone evaaarr? Not likely. I am certain that if you benchmarked it, it wouldn’t do terribly well. Is it running Android or iOS or Windows phone? No, it runs Symbian Belle, a quirky OS that is actually quite good, but obscure. But, let’s get real for a moment, shall we? This phone may be a little over two years old, but it does everything I need it to do, rather well in fact. In the age of new handsets every three months with more cores and more RAM and more resolution, it’s easy to lose perspective of what we need our phones to do, and just how fast we really need them to be. My little phone will hang for a millisecond or two sometimes when I switch home screens. Sometimes it takes a moment to pull up my contacts, or open an app. How much time have I lost to these annoyances? Maybe a minute in the year I have owned the phone. Is it important? Not at all. This phone works like a champ and does everything I need it to do. For the money, it’s a steal.
I’m really excited to put the N8 through its paces once we are overseas, and will most definitely keep you all up-to-date on any and all impressions as time goes by. I expect this phone to do swimmingly, but (as always) time will tell.