Is the iPhone 3G essential Travel Gear for My Bag?
Now, I’m returning to provide perspective on how my iPhone 3G helped me as a travel device on my trip to China and how I think it could become essential travel gear in my travel bag. In fact, I found it interesting to recently read how Deb and Dave over at theplanetd.com are planning to use an iPhone to update their blog on the road. They are more adventurous than me! I like the touch screen of the iPhone but I don’t know if I could write blog posts from the phone.
For the two weeks that I spent in China, my iPhone served as my alarm clock, email client, flashlight, MP3 player, news paper, and international phone. I could have also had a translator, guidebooks, and a way to update my site on the iPhone if had been more organized. If I had been in a different country, it would have also been my twitter and facebook client, but China limits access to facebook and twitter. Additionally, with a number of games on the iPhone, it became a way for me to pass time in the rare occurrence I became bored during the trip.
As you can see, the iPhone has many uses. The power of the iPhone is not only in how small the device is, but also the multitude of applications that are available to make it essential travel gear. I think the application that has the most value for travelers is Skype. Before I left the U.S., I put $10.00 on my skype account to make calls from China over the Internet. I talked for a total of about 20 minutes from China and Tokyo, Japan and still have over $9+ in my skype account. I can definitely see using Skype on a longer trip with additional features in enabled.
The benefits of the iPhone and its multiple uses do not come without downsides though.
First, there is a trade off between having applications, movies, and music on the device. My iPhone is only 16GB. I realize that the current generation is offered in up to 32GB, but not all iPhone 3G owners can afford to upgrade to latest model with 32GB of storage. I have worked around this by limiting the apps I use and not putting my entire MP3 collection on the device even though the collection is way less than 10GB.
Second, the iPhone’s battery life in wireless mode only is not ideal. I found that enabling the wifi on the iPhone drained the battery extremely fast especially if I was checking email, browsing the web, or using skype. I found myself charging the phone alot to make sure the battery was at 100%. One thing that I tried was to get a battery extender that plugged in the bottom of the device. Unfortunately, this proved to be worthless. I could never tell if the extended battery actually worked. It’s possible that I got a bad battery or that it was just a waste of money.
Finally, my iPhone was locked to the AT&T network. For some people, buying an unlocked iPhone is not a problem and can easily be done in their country. For those in the United States, we have to buy off e-bay or unlock the device after getting it from AT&T. If I was more organized, I would have tried to unlock the phone with one of the software means published on the Internet. Fortunately for me, I was able to borrow an unlocked Nokia E-61 from a friend which came in handy. On my last day in Shanghai, I needed to get ahold of my Chinese friend. Because I had an unlocked phone with a China Mobile SIM card, I was able to call my friend’s Shanghai cell phone number with no problem. If I didn’t have this, I guess I could have used Skype, but it was much easier using the unlocked phone to make a local call. The value of having an unlocked phone can not be understated as it allows you connect to locals much more easily. I think when my contract is up with AT&T that I will pursue unlocking my device.
Overall, I think the pro’s having access to multiple apps that can help make the iPhone a multi-use device outweighs the three con’s that I have discussed. Even with a locked iPhone, you can still use Skype with WiFi to make phone calls – it’s just not as easy. The battery life issue is a challenge with any device and WiFi enabled – I have not read about a mobile device like the iPhone that gets great battery life with WiFi enabled. The storage issue only becomes a problem if your music collection is obscenely large or you want to have alot of apps/movies on the device. I think it is a matter of finding the right balance between useful apps and storing music,games, or movies.
Personally, I would recommend the iPhone as a travel device although there are similar mobile devices that can probably fit travelers’ needs as well.