HolidayPhone Prepaid SIM Card Review

I have a great guest post from Debbie Lee for you today. Debbie is the community manager at Trippy.com, a really fun travel site that I frequent. She was headed to Germany just after HolidayPhone asked me to review their product. Since I didn’t have any upcoming travel plans, I asked Debbie to write this HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card review. She has some great observations and also took all the photos in this post. Enjoy! -Justin

For someone who’s traveled extensively and is pretty tech-savvy, one thing has remained a mystery to me since the advent of smartphones: how to access data affordably on my iPhone while traveling internationally.  I already have enough trouble doing that at home, much less overseas in a foreign land.

When I’m staying in one country for longer than a week, I just buy a local SIM card for my unlocked iPhone.  There’s a slight bit of hassle in doing this because you have to research which wireless provider works best, which plan makes the most economical sense, and then you actually have to find a store that carries that SIM card and possibly attempt to buy it without knowing the local language (usually not a problem at the airport for English speakers, but possibly an issue at stores outside of the airport).  Once you get the SIM card, though, it’s typically smooth sailing from there.
HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card review
Driving around Germany with the HolidayPhone SIM card.

Last summer when I visited Europe, though, I was staying in Italy for 4 days, then Switzerland for another 6. Since I was country-hopping, it didn’t seem worth it to buy local SIM cards for such short periods of time, so I just called up my wireless provider to put me on an international plan. When I got home and looked at my phone bill, it was the most horrible thing ever. And the worst part was that the data speed was never fast, so I vowed to never do that again if I could help it.

This past month, I found myself in the same boat, where I’d be country-hopping in Europe, and I was determined not to end up with a huge phone bill and to get my phone situation squared before I left home. So I posted a question asking what the best SIM card to use across Europe would be on Trippy.com (I’m the community manager there!), to which Wandering Justin reached out to me about the opportunity to write a HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card review. Despite the mixed reviews that I had read online about them, I decided to give it a shot.
Prior to leaving for Europe, and even when I first got there, I wasn’t exactly sure what countries I would be visiting (I like being able to be spontaneous!). I just knew that I would be flying in and out of Münster in Westphalia, Germany. Other countries I thought I might be visiting were the Netherlands, France, Great Britain and Poland, so I had wanted to find a SIM card that worked for all, or most of those countries.

First Look at the HolidayPhone Package

After informing HolidayPhone about my possible travel plans, I was sent a tracking code; a few days later, I received my HolidayPhone package, which included SIM cards for Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands, and even a mobile hotspot device so that friends could tether off of it. They mailed it to me in San Francisco all the way from Sweden. I was super excited to test them out!
When I landed at the Frankfurt Airport for a layover, I took the opportunity to test out my Germany SIM card from Blau Mobilfunk, a presumably smaller wireless provider that I wasn’t familiar with. No matter how many times I entered in the PIN number and subsequently PUK code provided on the card, though, it just would not work. Through the airport wifi, I emailed Melina, the HolidayPhone rep whose business card was included in my package, about my issue. She and another colleague, Daniel, attempted to help me troubleshoot, but to no avail.  Then randomly when I was on the tarmac to head to my next destination, my entering of the PIN number finally worked. Perhaps it just didn’t work in the airport? We’ll never know. But the SIM card did start to work outside of the airport.
HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card review
Here’s Debbie trading her city girl status for some time in rural Germany.

By the way, I do have to give Melina and Daniel extra kudos here — this was Christmas day when I emailed them and they got back to me within hours. Seeing that it was Christmas, I would’ve understood if they had gotten back to me the next day, so that’s great customer service right there.

I wish that the actual Blau Mobilfunk SIM card was as good as their customer service, though.  I ended up not going to any other countries, but decided to do a cross country road trip through Germany instead, so I only used the Blau Mobilfunk SIM card.
My home base was in the little farming town of Greven, which is pretty rural. I occasionally connected to a 3G network out there, which felt like I was using dial up internet. That was something I could tolerate as I understood the limitations of living on a farm.  Unfortunately, most of the time, the connected network was E or GPRS and sometimes there was No Service, rendering data transmission impossible on my phone, so Blau Mobilfunk was pretty much unusable where I was staying. I thought it was due to me living on a farm, but when local friends came to visit, the data on their T-Mobile and Vodafone networks worked just fine.  Those are two wireless providers I’ve actually heard of, which makes me wonder why HolidayPhone chose Blau Mobilfunk over them.
When I went on my cross country road trip, I got 3G data in the heart of the major cities, like Munster, Hamburg and Berlin, which was about as fast as dial-up Internet. Unfortunately, when I was actually on the road on the major highways and freeways, it was back on E, GPRS, and occasionally No Service, meaning that we couldn’t research anything on the road, stream music or get addresses and directions (we had in-dash navigation, but there were a few instances where it was incorrect and we needed Google Maps). I wasn’t sure if this was a Germany thing, or if it was a Blau Mobilfunk thing, though after comparing with my local friends’ phone connectivity, I’m pretty sure it was the latter.
Then there was the mobile hotspot device — the ZTE MF65 Mobile WiFi Router.  When I was in places where I had 3G connection, I would pop my unlocked SIM card into the device; but despite me following all the directions that were provided to me, it continually said that there was no SIM card or that it was unrecognizable. I was just testing it out for the sake of testing it out because they sent it to me, but fortunately, I was able to tether my other wireless devices directly off of my iPhone with the Blau Mobilfunk SIM card in it … when I had 3G connection, of course.

Wrapping up the HolidayPhone Prepaid SIM Card Review

The SIM card that I received was data-only, and I got 1 GB of data at 3G speeds that would be valid for 30 days. I felt like I had barely used the data (most of it was spent waiting for pages to load, or loading to “Please connect to the Internet” and “Server could not be reach” pages) before I received a text that said my 1 GB at 3G speeds was up just four days into my trip. This package is supposed to be $43.90, which I definitely would not have paid for such unreliable service. To add on the mobile hotspot device was another $79.99, which, as I mentioned earlier, didn’t even work.
This is all unfortunate because I really wanted to love HolidayPhone and was hoping that they were the answer to my prayers. I think that they’re really onto something here with their service and that the concept is great. I’m willing to pay a little extra money to have a local SIM card already on me when I arrive at a destination. It definitely takes the hassle out of things and is one less thing to worry about when there are so many other things going on during international travel. Unfortunately, their choice in wireless providers was not up to par with my fairly reasonable expectations; I had simply expected them to send me something that, for the most part, worked and was reliable.
The next time I travel overseas, I may just sign up for a T-Mobile month-to-month account at home as they seem to have decent international plans. People keep telling me that it gets slow after a certain point (as explained on the T-Mobile site), but after this experience, I can deal with slow data, so long as it’s reliable.
If anyone has any suggestions for what I or anyone who’s country-hopping should check out, please do comment!

Test a HolidayPhone Prepaid SIM Card

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HolidayPhone can have a prepaid SIM card loaded into your phone before you leave for an international trip. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m willing to answer nearly any travel question – unless it’s about SIM cards and smartphones. I’m reasonably tech-savvy, but I’ve yet to unravel the mystery of having a fully functional smartphone no matter where in the world I go. My typical method is to use Wifi calling, which leaves me at the mercy of wireless networks. And no data service means no handy GPS to bail me out when I get lost.

But I have good news: HolidayPhone just might be my answer. The company offers prepaid SIM cards that will allow you to make calls and use the Web in 30 countries (see the list below). And you can buy one and have it mailed to your home before you leave. That is way better than getting to your destination and negotiating for a data plan in a language you don’t understand -- but I probably speak Portuguese better than I speak Smartphone!

I’d love to put a HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card to the test. The problem is, I have no international travel plans at the moment.

That’s why I need someone like you to test a HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card.

All I ask is that you use the HolidayPhone SIM card and write a guest post for WanderingJustin.com about your experience with it within a few weeks of your return. If it’s an extended trip, it would be great to get your review while you’re on the road.

If you have an upcoming trip to one of the destinations below, contact me – email, a comment on this post, a tweet (be sure to include HolidayPhone’s handle, which is @holidayphone). Tell me where you’re going, when you leave and what you’ll do to have your chance at testing out a HolidayPhone prepaid SIM card.

I know some of you out there – many! – work better under a deadline. Let’s say I need your response by Dec. 15. And it takes about two days to get your HolidayPhone SIM card via UPS, so the timing of your trip is essential. Good luck!

And now, the countries:

Australia
Austria
Canada
China
Croatia
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Great Britain
Greece
Hong Kong
India
Ireland
Italy
Japan
Kenya
Malaysia
Mexico
Netherlands
Philippines
South Africa
South Korea
Spain
Sweden
Thailand
Turkey
United Arab Emirates
USA
Vietnam

PressReader by NewspaperDirect: A Quick Overview

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Can a smartphone and the right app keep you connected to your favorite news sources – all in one place? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m still burned out on newspapers – even though it’s been about 10 years since I last worked full-time at a daily. My time working for a public relations firm didn’t help.

This is why I viewed PressReader by NewspaperDirect with a certain “here we go again.” I love the notion of newspapers – but online curating and aggregation has left print sprawled and unconscious in the ring. Newspapers have nobody to blame but themselves … or more accurately, gray-haired, jowled shareholders/publishers/executive editors who harrumphed about the passing fad of the Internet (much as people like them did about rock ‘n’ roll, electric lights, the telephone and so on ad nauseum).

PressReader contacted me to offer a few thoughts on its app. I admit my use has been a bit limited, but I can still offer you my impressions.

The Process
I started by entering my credentials via laptop on the Newsreader site. Then I downloaded the app on my Samsung Galaxy S Blaze S. From there, I could select my newspapers. You can search by country, language, favorite status or recently viewed. Scroll through the list, click a paper, select your date, wait and – BOOM! – there’s the edition you wanted.

The Wall Street Journal – a paper I’d like to see in PressReader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading
Not bad at all. No, make that “pretty darned good”. Scroll through using your touch screen. It’s all the same pinch-and-swipe action touch-screen users have come to know. Click a headline, and it opens to just that story. It’s intuitive, even for a reluctant smart phone guy like me. One of these days I’ll be an early adopter for some bit of technology. But this wasn’t one of them!

The Clunky Bits
There are quirks, of course. After I select a source and try returning to the full list, I seem to get a truncated list. I have to hit the “Sources” tab. And be careful about using your phone’s “back” function from any menu: Odds are good that you’ll kick yourself right out of the app.

And the by-country selection needs a better organization system than just alphabetical, which is just too long. I’d suggest a “by circulation” sub-menu before the alphabetical list (Sorry, Boyerton Area Times, but I don’t want to sift through the lightweights to find the The Denver Post.)

There are some notable absences from the list, too. Among the most prominent are The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. I hope they hop aboard.

Keeping Informed Abroad?
I didn’t get to test PressReader while traveling. The PressReader team positioned it to me as a benefit to travelers.

But here’s the thing: No app can really help travelers stay informed abroad. It’s not their fault – it’s just that there is so much rigamarole that comes with staying connected when you travel. You need to unlock your phone, get a code from your service provider and get a new SIM card that serves the region you’ll visit. And yes, this applies to so-called “World Phones.” Until the service providers get their act together, an app – no matter how high performing – will never keep travelers connected through a smart phone. If I’m wrong about this and there’s a cost-effective solution, please-oh-please clue me in!

What PressReader does well is collect a bunch of newspapers that you can read on the go via smartphone or tablet. You’ll get a solid sense of the design asthetic, layout and other X factors that are part of the hard-copy newspaper-reading experience.

Prices range from a per-download price to a monthly subscription of $29.95. I think PressReader should look beyond news junkies and travelers – I predict a very receptive audience in media professionals … people who make a living knowing about newspapers, how they cover the news and what they’re printing.

And I hope the decision makers at print newspapers take a look at how PressReader melds technology with the old-school reading experience. They’ll kick themselves and wish they’d come up with the idea first.

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T-Mobile “World” Smartphone Disappoints

smartphone
A smart phone could be handy for checking out foreign cities like Helsinki. Too bad T-Mobile dropped the ball on my latest trip.

People act like a smartphone can change their world. I had a less-lofty hope – I just wanted a smartphone that would be handy for traveling.

All I had in mind – a smartphone that could connect to 4G for GPS and a little bit of social network fun (mostly to give a real-time glimpse at some of my destinations).

That’s how I wound up with a Samsung Galaxy S Blaze. The T-Mobile sales person hooked me up with an upgrade to this phone, which is part of a class of smartphone known as “world phones.” Well, neither T-Mobile nor the S Blaze did much to help me travel abroad – so “world phone” is a misnomer.

Keep in mind, I bought this phone and took the subsequent trip to Scandinavia before I knew about TravelSIM.com.au, a clever company based in Australia. It offers pre-paid SIM cards online and in stores.
The T-Mobile store staff told me what I needed to do: Call T-Mobile, get my phone unlocked, buy a SIM card once I reached my destination (in this case, Scandinavia).

You can imagine how easy this would’ve been with TravelSIM – I could’ve carefully reviewed my options at home rather than making an ill-advised decision on the fly in an airport cell phone store.
T-Mobile’s customer service failed me at Step 2: I called three times to get my unlock code, which they were supposed to text and e-mail to me. I still haven’t gotten my unlock code.

My wife had better luck with her unlock code. So onto Step 3: Get a SIM card. We did this at the airport in Oslo, Norway. A few things worked against us: The sales person at the mobile phone store didn’t have much inclination to explain our SIM card options (he was not Scandinavian, and thus lacked the inherent friendliness of most of the people in the region). Talking to him was frustrating enough that we didn’t ask many questions. But we at least had a phone for any emergency that might arise.

I was able to connect to WiFi networks, but that wasn’t much help in the more remote areas.

So a word to my T-Mobile friends: Either have a “world phone” or not, none of this half-assed in-between nonsense. I really couldn’t used some GPS help in more than a few places. It’s ridiculous that you can call something a “world phone” if you fail to get me an unlock code, and then give me no concrete idea of what to look for in a SIM card. Better yet, sell a SIM card for different regions for travelers.

My final word: This is something I’ll remember as my contract expiration grows nearer. And I’ll see what other companies do better than T-Mobile for getting 4G service to its customers, no matter where they travel.