Travelling with an Android device
THE TECHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, AND OTHER PHONES.
SMARTPHONES HAVE BECOME an essential travel item – providing information, navigation, bookings, boarding passes, camera, translation, and more. Within Australia there’s not much you need to organise, but when you head overseas things get more complicated.
International roaming is a big subject, so we are only summarising some key points here.
How your phone works overseas mainly depends on your mobile service provider, whether your phone is locked to that provider, the frequencies your phone supports, and which countries you visit.
Most countries use the same GSM system as Australia, but the USA and Japan, for example, also use CDMA. The USA’s Verizon and Sprint use CDMA so Australian phones can’t be used on these networks for calls or text.
What about data? As long as your phone supports 4G it can potentially connect to 4G LTE data networks worldwide, but coverage can be patchy. Basically, you have three main options: * Use international roaming on your existing phone and SIM to receive calls and texts on your own number while overseas – this can be expensive, although if you are with Vodafone you can add roaming for $5 per day. Be sure to check that your mobile service provider has international roaming to the countries you need. Buy an international SIM to use in your phone – buying a SIM in the country you are visiting is cheapest, although buying locally can be more convenient. We had a good experience with a Europe SIM bought from https://simsdirect.com.au. This means you will have a different phone number, with a different country code, while travelling. You might be able to redirect your calls to this number, but not SMS texts. * Rely on Wi-Fi rather than the mobile networks for some or all of your communication – you can make calls and send messages through apps like Viber, WhatsApp and Messenger.
Phones from suppliers such as Telstra tend to have international data roaming set on by default. This can lead to a big bill shock if you haven’t purchased a roaming data pack
(which is also expensive), because the phone may be using data in the background. So make sure to go into the settings of your phone and switch data roaming off – search for “roaming”. Sometimes it needs to be switched off under multiple settings - check carefully.
DON’T LOSE YOUR DATA
There is more chance of your phone being lost, stolen or damaged while you are travelling, so make sure it is fully backed up. Our recent TechLife article on the Easy Way to Back up Android makes it really simple. In summary: Google Backup and Restore lets you clone your phone settings, contacts etc. to a new phone if required. It’s in your Android smartphone, so just make sure it’s enabled.
Go to Settings/Google/Backup (or search for Backup to find it) and make sure “Back up to Google Drive” is switched on.
Of course you will be snapping away capturing memorable moments on your travels. Your phone probably already has the Google Photos app installed. Activate it and link to your Google account to access unlimited photo and video storage for free.
Unless you have a big international data allowance, set Google Photos to upload on Wi-Fi only. Then relax, your latest photos are being uploaded whenever you are connected to Wi-Fi.
Remember that if you want to delete photos on your phone but keep them in the cloud, use “Delete Device Copy” or “Free up Device Storage” on the Google Photos app menu.
There is more detail in our Easy Way to Back up Android article, including how to back up your SMS messages.
DON’T GET LOST
Navigation apps such as Google Maps or Waze can transform an unknown city into one where you can find your way around, locate every museum or gallery, find and get feedback on bars and restaurants, and much more.
These apps are designed to work online, and can use a significant amount of mobile data, but you can use Wi-FI to download Google maps of the areas you are going to, and use them offline. The process is: Open Maps and search for the city or location you are interested in. Tap next to the place name in the bar at the bottom of the map. Tap “DOWNLOAD” and a popup screen will appear. Adjust the map size to the area you need and tap the DOWNLOAD button. An offline copy of the map will be available on your phone for 30 days. To access these maps, open Google Maps and tap on the menu bars at the top left, then select “Offline maps” from the menu that opens.
Note that you can also set “Wi-Fi only” on this menu to avoid using mobile data.
Another feature of Google Maps is sharing your location. Tap on the blue dot that shows where you are on the map and the options will come up. Your location will be visible to the contacts you select. Very useful for meeting up in a crowded city – just home in on the other dot!
SPEAK THE LOCAL LINGO
There are a number of translation apps available, but it’s hard to do better than Google Translate, which is also downloadable to work offline. Just get the app from the Play Store, set it up, and download the languages you want available.
Apart from text translations, Google Translate does a good job of voice recognition and lets you have (somewhat stilted) conversations in different languages.
There is also the clever camera translation option, that displays approximately translated versions of signs, menus, parking meter instructions, any text in fact. This can be incredibly useful, as well as very amusing!
FIND YOUR LOST ANDROID
As long as Location is enabled in your Android device (in Settings/Google/ Location) and the device is switched on, you should be able to locate it through Google’s Find My Device: https://www.google.com/
Samsung provides a similar Find My Phone function, plus there are many apps available to help secure your phone or tablet.
One of our favourites is Lockwatch - Thief Catcher.
Lockwatch stays in the background until someone tries to unlock your phone with the wrong PIN or pattern. Lockwatch then secretly takes a photo with the front camera and emails it to you along with GPS coordinates and a location map.
All of the above services also give you options to lock or erase your phone remotely.
OTHER TRAVEL APPS
Other apps to consider include Tripadvisor for information on everything, Moveit for public transport info, Spotify for music, xe.com for exchange rates – there are endless options once you have our essentials in place.
Open Google Maps and search for where you are going.
Backing up to Google is built into your Android device.
Tap the top left menu bars to get this view, then tap Download.
Make sure you turn data roaming off if you don’t plan to use it.
You can translate text or voice, even have spoken conversations.
the actual sign at top, and how you see it in Google Translate camera mode.