The cheapest way to use your smartphone abroad and save on international roaming charges
It clearly isn't going to stop raining anytime soon, so grabbing any sun whatsoever this summer is going to require some sort of holiday. Traditionally any trip abroad means a time to ditch your smartphone and tablet, to save your bank account being obliterated by a 50 quid roaming charge for checking the football scores.
There was a period when stepping abroad meant turning your top-spec smartphone into a data-free feature phone. But thanks to changes in legislation on roaming charges and an improved effort by networks to make things cheaper abroad, this is now changing. With this in mind, Pocket-lint has put together a set of tips and tricks on getting the most from your smartphone while on holiday, without breaking the bank.
Buy a data deal
This is one of the most logical things you can do before setting out on your holidays or just as you arrive. Nearly every network now offers some sort of one-stop deal which will reduce the damage of roaming charges while using a lot of data abroad. Naturally, keep your eye out for free Wi-Fi, as many resorts or hotels now offer this for their customers.
Three Mobile will let you purchase unlimited data for a whole day for a fiver. This means you can surf the web, send photos, download pictures or stream video and music wherever you are for £5. The Euro Internet Pass will turn up via a link in a text message that Three will send you when you land abroad. Don't forget though, it's going to be £5 whether you send one picture or look at 100, so make sure you get the most out of it.
The ever generous network has really gone all out with its data offering. For £10 extra a month the network will grant you 50MB to play with while in Europe. This should ensure you can do things like download or post the odd photo and check on web pages, just don't go anywhere near streaming video or that 50MB limit will be gone in no time.
We particularly like Vodafone's approach to data. The network will charge you £3 a day to use the same minutes, text and data costs as when in the UK. The Euro traveller deal also makes receiving a phone call or text entirely free.
The big blue network has taken a very different approach to browsing while abroad. O2 Travel will automatically activate when you start using data abroad. It will charge you £1.99 a day to use 25MB of data. A 50p connection charge will apply to calls received and made, but after that your using your normal minutes allowance.
Once you have that data deal setup the next step is to dodge roaming call charges entirely by using Skype. You will have to add a bit of Skype credit should you want to call landlines and mobiles but even then it is going to be a lot cheaper than using your phone conventionally.
One of the problems is that this will use up quite a lot of roaming data, so its only advisable for those using Three or Vodafone's abroad offerings. An example though, Three will charge you £1.40 per min to call the UK from the United States, compared to Skype, which costs 1.4p a minute. Bit of a no-brainer really.
Of course, if you're lodged in a cosy hotel, you might find that there is free Wi-Fi to make that Skype call even cheaper.
Another useful app on top of Skype, which can save you even more racking up international roaming charges while abroad, is Onavo. The app works by cleverly crushing down data and messages to decrease costs. It also lets you set a data cap so that you don't run up horrendous costs accidentally. In fact Onavo is something we use nearly every time we go abroad, which is often. Since its launch it has saved us quite a bit of cash. If you fancy reading more about it head over here.
Grab a prepaid SIM
One way of dodging heavy roaming costs is not to roam at all. This is great if you are going to be abroad for long periods, or if you plan on making a lot of smartphone use during your holidays. Some companies such as Gosim will offer an international prepaid SIM with data and calls. In practice these tend to cost more than picking up something locally.
A prime example is say O2 Germany, which will send you a free prepaid SIM which after a €15 top up, grants you unlimited free texts. It also isn't going to cost you anything to receive calls internationally on a local SIM. Money saving all round then and it's free.
Stick to the basics
It might seem obvious, but try to replicate data-intensive actions in different ways on your phone. Take Twitter, for example, tweet to SMS will use no data at all yet still let you interact with the website. Facebook can also be dealt with using SMS and will send you notifications via text message, but check any SMS costs.
The other tip we have, which we use all the time, is to text people and ask them to call you. It will save lots of cash if you plan on speaking for long periods, because roaming charges to accept calls are cheaper than roaming charges to make them. One final pointer, seek out free Wi-Fi. Cafes like Pret a Manger and Starbucks will all let you get on the web without any data costs at all.
If you do find free Wi-Fi, then you can save on messaging costs by using something like WhatsApp or Skype to message.
Of course, it's also worth checking your phone setup to see what is going to be sucking data. Turning off background syncing can save you from paying for roaming data for things that aren't necessarily essential.
Any other data saving plans? Let us know in the comments below ...