Last year I finally made the switch from a burner phone (you know, one that just makes phone calls) to a smart phone. I got a Samsung Galaxy S which served well as an introduction to these incredible pocket computers. I have since upgraded to the Galaxy SII, so here is my not very technical review from a travellers perspective.
While considering my upgrade I was contemplating getting the SIII, but I prefer the size of the SII. The SII is just the right size in my hand and the 4.3″ screen makes it a usable web browsing experience.
[Galaxy SII sitting comfortably in my hand]
One of the main reasons why I upgraded was for the camera. The Galaxy S comes with a 5 megapixel camera which was ok if I was in a pinch to get a picture, but the images were a bit grainy for my liking. The SII comes with an 8 megapixel camera which produces decent pictures that make it a worthy point and shoot replacement.
While I do have a “proper camera”, there will always a situation where I need to take a quick photo and I can’t be bothered taking my camera out of my bag. So far the SII has proven to be a reliable pocket camera. While the digital zoom is grainy, it is ideal for pictures that don’t require a zoom and photos for Evernote reminders.
I had this photo taken of me with friends in Bangkok on the first day I got this camera.
[Photo taken with Galaxy SII]
Having my Google account connected to the phone is also one of my favourite features. Seeing I am in a new country so often and changing sim cards, I keep all of my contact phone numbers in my Gmail account. Any time I collect a new phone number I save it there rather than on my phone, so when I change sim cards my contacts are still in one place. If I happened to lose my phone (touch wood) my contacts aren’t lost with the phone either.
Another feature I like is having my phone synced to my Picasa Web Albums account. Once I am connected to wifi any new photos are automatically uploaded to Picasa, which takes the hassle out of remembering to take out memory cards and save my photos.
Apps for Android phones can be found at Google Play. Apps can be uploaded via you phone or through your Google account. While there are still a bunch of apps that are still only available for iPhone, this gap is closing rapidly as Android phones have become the most popular operating system. I find the Google Play interface easier to use than the iTunes store as well.
A Smart Travel Phone
Now that I have been travelling with a smart phone for over a year I can’t remember how I ever got by without it. Having a smart phone has become an essential part of my travels now. I use it to store all my travel details (via Tripit) and I also cache maps to places I am going to. If I am on a long trip I will also cache my RSS subscriptions so I can read blogs while I am offline.
Recently I was in a new country and having a wifi phone got me out of a jam. I arrived in Ljubljana late at night and the hostel I booked at was unattended. There was an after hours number to call but no phone. Luckily there was wifi in the building so I called the number via Skype, and the hostel manager came over to let me in.
If you have a home base then it makes sense to get a plan which will pay your phone off over the contracted period. As I am of no fixed having a phone plan is a terrible idea as it becomes useless as soon as I leave the country. One of the most important considerations for me as an international traveller is having an unlocked phone, which the Galaxy II is. No need for jailbreaking this phone.
Now that the SIII is out the price of of the SII has dropped considerably, making it a worthwhile outright purchase as opposed to being locked in to a phone plan.
So far I couldn’t be happier with the performance of my phone, and it has become an essential planning tool for my travels and business.
More details on the Samsung Galaxy SII: features, technical details and prices