On the road with your favourite smartphone
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver July 26-August 1, 2011 issue #1135 High Tech
Apple garners lots of publicity releasing a new version of its iPhone
more or less once a year. Smartphones running Google’s Android, on the
other hand, seem to just pop up, with new models, from Motorola,
Samsung, HTC and others.
Despite the lower profile, Android is now the choice of half of U.S.
“recent smartphone acquirers” compared with 25% purchasing an iPhone
and 15% getting a BlackBerry, according to Nielsen data released in
late April. I can’t find comparable Canadian data.
In May, Virgin Mobile Canada loaned me one of its current Android
models, an HTC Incredible S ($49 on a three-year contract; $499 with no
plan – also available from Bell). The Incredible S has a fast 1.1
Gigahertz processor a high-resolution (eight megapixel) camera and a
bright four-inch (480x800 pixels) touchscreen display.
Virgin’s includes four gigabytes of internal storage along with an
eight-gigabyte memory card – the phone supports memory cards up to 32
gigabytes. And it can be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, letting users share
its data connection with a notebook or tablet.
HTC produced Canada’s first Android phone; the Incredible S is an
attractively designed, state-of-the-art model. I had to send it back to
Virgin before I went travelling, but if it had been mine, I wouldn’t
have taken it with me.
Too many travellers have been stung with roaming charges. Even if they
know enough to try to limit phone calls, it’s too easy to have your
smartphone rack up data charges downloading email (or Facebook or what
have you) in the background. Apple makes it easy to turn off roaming on
its devices, but if a similar option is included on Android phones,
it’s buried more deeply.
It gets worse. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development in May reported that Canadians paid, on average, $24.61 for
a megabyte of roaming data, the highest of any country surveyed.
It would be nice if you could simply pop out your phone’s Canadian SIM
card, replacing it with one you bought at your destination – but in
most cases that won’t work, even though all the Canadian providers now
use the same network technologies as most other countries. The problem:
most phones are locked to one carrier.
Some manufacturers or independent vendors sell unlocked phones usable
with a wide range of Canadian and international mobile providers – but
be prepared to pay full price for the device, much higher than you’d
pay by locking yourself into a multi-year contract with a carrier.
Apple sells an unlocked, unsubsidized iPhone 4 for $659; Virgin offers
it (locked) for $159 with a three-year contract (or the same $659 price
with no contract).
Not only do you pay full price for an unlocked phone, you’ll end up
paying the same rates to a mobile carrier as another customer whose
contract includes the cost of a subsidized phone.
Note that paying full price for a phone from a carrier may get you a
locked phone. For instance, both Virgin’s no-contract $499 HTC
Incredible and $659 iPhone 4 are locked to its network.
Telus has recently offered its customers a $50 option of unlocking its
phones; Rogers’ customers can do the same thing, but only at the end of
a contract. (Google “unlock phone Vancouver” for a variety of other
HTC, however, loaned me an unlocked Incredible S. Travelling in Italy,
I bought a EU20 SIM card from Vodafone, good for a month’s voice
calling and SMS messaging. No roaming charges, no fuss.
No data service, however, so I could only use the Incredible S’ very
good web browser, email or social networking when connected to a Wi-Fi
network. Google Maps needed a data connection to download maps, which
made it unusable on the phone when I wanted to use it, though other
alternatives exist and a recent Google Maps update allows downloading