This post might surprise you coming from a guy who purposefully traveled the world sans cell phone, however I'm starting to experience a change of heart.
My curiosity was irrevocably piqued when I met Jim on the Nile River cruise last year. Whether it was tracking us on Google Maps as we motored toward the next temple complex, or adding us to Facebook without missing a beat in the conversation, he was using modern technology to enhance his travel experience. I realize some may say such constant connectivity is what we try to escape by taking on a vagabonding journey, however I think it is safe to say the pro's are beginning to outweigh the con's in the equation.
I had every intention of buying a $10 phone upon my return home, but when it arrived in the mail and I went to activate it, I learned despite the intent to use my parent's minutes on their plan, I would still be signing up for a 2-year commitment. So I went to the nearest AT&T phone and paid extra to buy the BlackBerry Curve 8900. Jim's enthusiastic reference for how well it worked on his trip around the world sealed the deal for me.
Here are a few key features which might seal it for you too:
1. World Phone Coverage – The technical details are beyond my comprehension, but the quad-band GSM coverage for voice and GPRS/EDGE connectivity for receiving data mean you can operate your phone in the vast majority of countries in the world. Whether you're headed for Turkmenistan or the Turks & Caicos Islands, this phone with AT&T service will cover you. In Jim's year-long RTW trip, he said there were only two countries where he couldn't use his data access, South Korea and another Asian country. Otherwise, he said connectivity was dependable everywhere else! See the full list of countries on the BlackBerry site.
2. Wi-Fi Access – Currently, some countries are better than others when it comes to wi-fi hotspots, however just as internet cafes have sprung up everywhere a traveler might go, it is only a matter of time before wi-fi access is adopted to the same extent. If all you want to do is check your e-mail at the ice cream shop on a Thai beach beaming out free wi-fi to draw in new customers, there's no need to carry a laptop down from your bungalow. With the Curve, searching for and setting up wireless networks is extremely simple. You'll be checking your email, tracking your location by GPS, and twittering faster than you can say “2 scoops of chocolate ice cream, please.”
3. GPS and BlackBerry Maps – Built in GPS allows you to follow maps – either helping you reach a destination more easily or allowing you to feel a little more comfortable getting lost in the back alleys of Cairo. Of all the smartphone's capabilities, this is the one that sold me (as a world traveler) on making the investment. BlackBerry Maps currently cover North America, much of Europe, and quite a few countries in Asia, Africa, and The Middle East.
4. Camera and Video Recording – A 3.2-megapixel camera with auto flash, auto focus, and image stabilization offers the opportunity to take print-quality photos and geotag them too. I tested out the camera in a variety of settings during my recent visit to New York City, and I was seriously impressed. Specifically, the flash is powerful enough to ensure you get good close-up photos in low-light places such as bars. In order to store more than 20 or so photos plus video, the Curve requires a microSD card (up to 16 GB).
5. Media Player – A built-in media player allows you to listen to music in stereo and watch videos on the 2.4-inch, high resolution 480 x 360-pixel LCD screen.
I've only scratched the surface of all the features jam-packed into this slender, lightweight device. It fits comfortably in the front pocket of my jeans, and is quickly on the road to displacing my HP laptop as my favorite gadget.
The BlackBerry Curve 8900 is available on Amazon for $0.01 with an AT&T service plan.