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Ask Slashdot: Best Smartphone Plan For a US Vacation? 200

Posted by timothy
from the might-help-the-natives-too dept.
SJrX writes "I am planning on visiting the Pacific Northwest for several weeks, and was looking for the best smartphone option available. Roaming data rates and SMS rates are ridiculously high (best plans are $0.80 / MB, and $0.75 / message). Beyond AT&T and Verizon Prepaid, are there any other options? (I'm on an iPhone 4 so GSM is a must.) I assume in the US, I have no credit history for which to qualify for a plan, and a contract is obviously out of the question. Data and SMS are the only important things, with a few hundred minutes being plenty. I'm only planning on being in the US for 2 or 3 weeks, but mainly in rural areas (US Route 101) so large (3G) coverage is important."
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Ask Slashdot: Best Smartphone Plan For a US Vacation?

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  • Hello,

    Normally, I would recommend Simple Mobile [mysimplemobile.com] which is contract-free using the T-Mobile network. $60 will get you unlimited everything. Since you have an iPhone though, and 3G is a must, you are probably stuck using AT&T's 3G network. That probably means getting a SIM card [att.com] and then paying $75/mo for a whopping 200MB on the Pay as you Go plan. But hey, at least you will get 4G.

    Welcome to America.

  • It's not a must (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 29, 2011 @02:30PM (#36280682)

    Leave your iPhone behind and buy a local prepaid.

    • Re:It's not a must (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 29, 2011 @02:36PM (#36280752)
      This. Border guards have a hardon for smartphones. Leave your laptop behind too. What I'm trying to figure out is why anyone in their right mind would cross our border willingly, for a vacation no less.
      • by syousef (465911)

        This. Border guards have a hardon for smartphones. Leave your laptop behind too. What I'm trying to figure out is why anyone in their right mind would cross our border willingly, for a vacation no less.

        There are some things in the U.S. and Canada I'd have like to have seen (and photographed!) before I died. Niagra falls, The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, The Canadian Rockies. But I am very much put off by the idea of being finger-printed and possibly having some TSA agent's bad day turn into my bad lifetime or having my things seized and not returned. And now that I have a family it's not just me that I have to think of. I can imagine entering into some twilight reality where my 3 year old talking back to a TSA

        • by Dzimas (547818)
          Uh, Canada is a separate country. We don't have the TSA. We don't require fingerprinting, photographs or genital groping to enter the country.
          • Depending where you're coming from it can be highly likely that your flight to Canada will involve a connection through the US - in which case, yep, you're getting fingerprinted and anything else they want to do with you.

            (Yes, with enough effort / expense one can certainly get flights that enter direct ... I just want to point out that the US system is perverse enough to capture even people who are just transiting through and treat them like criminals too.)

  • You did say vacation, right?

    • Plan to put down your smartphone. You did say vacation, right?

      Yes, all the more reason to bring a smart phone along. Try thinking about how phone+GPS+Internet would be useful while traveling. I bet you're creative enough to find at least one good reason why it could be worthwhile.

  • by chill (34294) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @02:32PM (#36280708) Journal

    If you insist on GSM, that means AT&T or T-Mobile. If you want rural coverage of 3G, that pretty much leaves out T-Mobile.

    So...AT&T it is. (I'd say "We have a winner!", but I'd be lying.)

    Buy a pre-paid SIM and be done with it. The smartphone plan is like $2 / day on days used for unlimited talk and text. 3 Gb of data for a month will run you $35. The SIM itself should be free.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you insist on GSM, that means AT&T or T-Mobile. If you want rural coverage of 3G, that pretty much leaves out T-Mobile.

      I live in the Pacific Northwest, and was a T-Mobile customer until recently. I liked their company, but their rural coverage - even phone coverage - is terrible. IIRC they still have some sort of cross-network roaming agreement with AT&T, but you have to have a phone that can handle those frequencies (I guess an iPhone qualifies).

      But what's really odd is - T-Mobile's data rates have been higher than AT&T's, despite the lousy network!

      Having said all that... I'm not sure how AT&T's 3G coverage is

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        Putting the phone down only works if his vacation isn't predicated on him being available to connect into the network for morning reports, or to handle an emergency. My personal experience last summer was that because of my smartphone, I was able to take a six week road trip around the country with my wife and child. If I could not have worked during the boring parts of the drive, and could not have been available for the periodic 'emergency', I simply could not have gone. Right now, I am planning a roa
    • by frisket (149522)
      You can actually get prepaid SIMs in the USA? I thought this was a European thing. You have to pay to receive calls and texts in the USA, don't you? What's the position with using it again on another trip the following year? I got a UK prepaid Three SIM last year, worked fine for two weeks. Came home, went back to the UK six months later and bought credit I couldn't use because I "hadn't used the phone at least once every month" in the meantime. Does this happen in the USA too?
      • by metageek (466836)

        > Does this happen in the USA too?

        yes, if you don't use it for 3 months (usually), they even cancel your credit (= eat the money you had already paid). This is waived if you have spent more than $100 (at least with T-Mobile, maybe the others are different)

      • by Macrat (638047)

        The T-Mobile "Pay as you Go" option is good for 12 months after each time you fill up your account with credit.

        So if you visit the US at least once per year and fill up your account, your number will continue to work.

        http://www.t-mobile.com/shop/plans/prepaid-plans.aspx

        • by number11 (129686)

          The T-Mobile "Pay as you Go" option is good for 12 months after each time you fill up your account with credit.

          If you buy $100 worth of time. And if AT&T hasn't swallowed up T-Mobile by the time you come again.

          • by Macrat (638047)

            And if AT&T hasn't swallowed up T-Mobile by the time you come again.

            Very true.

            It will be a dark time of control by monopolies.

            All praise the "free market" economy.

    • by guruevi (827432)

      I think these days you need a valid US mailing address and credit card to activate even the pre-paid devices. And the cost for pre-paid data is $5 for 10 MB, $15 for 100 MB, $25 for 500 MB.

      • I think these days you need a valid US mailing address and credit card to activate even the pre-paid devices. And the cost for pre-paid data is $5 for 10 MB, $15 for 100 MB, $25 for 500 MB.

        We had this experience when visiting the US as while back. For whatever reason we couldn't buy prepaid cards with European credit cards. Ironically we were told that we could buy a US prepaid credit card and use that to pay the prepaid SIM... Argh. Can't remember if we just gave up at that point.

    • I thought you'd suggest a prepay plan like Boost, Virgin Mobile, TracFone, Net10, or others.

      You can get a prepaid GSM phone from a third party carrier. I would recommend sticking with GSM and making sure you get a quad band phone. This way you can get rural local carriers like Prairie Wireless on the 800Mhzish band in states like New Mexico, and have the added bonus of being able to use the phone at home.

  • by godIsaDJ (644331) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @02:32PM (#36280710)
    Just came back from a coast-2-coast. Faced the same problem. Get a T-mobile pay as you go. You have unlimited internet for $1.5/day with a web day pass that you purchase using your PAYG balance.
    • I concur. Just back from a 2 week trip to San Francisco from Canada, and my Canadian Bell (unlocked; rooted) Galaxy S connected on EDGE speeds for pretty much the whole time (darn mountain ranges...).It was supposed to be only 2Gig of data, but I got an SMS mid way through the trip that informed me that my plan was updated to unlimited data. It was the "Prepaid Unlimited Talk, Text, 2GB data plan" for $70. We got 2 SIMS with this plan (a T-Mobile G1 on HSPA fast speed, and my Canadian Bell Galaxy S maxing o

      • by frisket (149522)
        Can you do this if you only have a credit card with a European address? Most American companies won't accept a credit card unless you have a US or Canadian billing address (unlike in stores where it seems they don't care).
        • by godIsaDJ (644331)
          Sure you can. You just walk in a store and pay cash. That's what I did... It's pay as you go after all... Make sure you get the APN details when you buy the card.
    • by SoftwareArtist (1472499) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @03:01PM (#36280928)
      Note that T-mobile has two different types of prepaid plans [t-mobile.com]. With "pay as you go" plans, you put in an amount of money that can be used for voice, SMS, or data. With "pay by the month" plans, you pay a fixed amount per month, but with no multi-month commitment. Either one might end up best for you, depending on how much you plan to use the phone.
      • I like the Pay by the Month plans because I decided to buy my phone and I get a discount.

        The only problem with the T-Mobile plan is that he wants roaming 3G on an iPhone and the iPhone will only be edge on T-Mobile.

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          If he gets a T-Mobile phone, he only need to be sure that it tethers, and his iPhone will work for data, and he can receive voice calls on the T-Mobile phone. This has the added benefit of being able to talk on the phone while looking at the iPhone at the cost of having to carry an second (small) device.
  • If GSM only... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dahamma (304068) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @02:36PM (#36280742)

    ...then you can throw out Verizon, they are CDMA.

    Of the majors, that leaves you with AT&T or T-Mobile. There are a lot of smaller GSM carriers, but many of them are regional and/or will end up roaming in areas they don't have coverage, so I'm not sure if it's worth looking to hard at them.

    • by Albanach (527650)

      Will the iPhone 4 do 3G on T-mobile? I don't think it does.

      So AT&T is then the only option. There, that makes things easy.

      Buy a go-phone SIM at an AT&T store, and you can pay $25 for 500GB of data. Calls (in the US) are10 cents per minute.

      • by Albanach (527650)

        That should, of course, say 500MB not GB!

      • by rrossman2 (844318)

        A iPhone from over seas may as they use different frequencies for 3G... it's the reason some people who flash a European modem on a Galaxy S loose 3G on AT&T here in the states.

      • by Macrat (638047)

        Will the iPhone 4 do 3G on T-mobile? I don't think it does.

        ATT has a monopoly on the 3G frequencies in the US.

        But the iPhone will connect via T-Mobile's EDGE frequencies just fine.

        May T-Mobile stores also have a SIM cutter for the iPhone 4 micro sim slot.

        • T-Mobile has 3G too; in fact, they use the same frequencies as overseas, IIRC. The US GSM iPhone won't get 3G, but a foreign one should get in, in theory.

          • by Macrat (638047)

            in theory.

            In reality, all GSM iPhones have the same frequency support.

            • by jmauro (32523)

              No. GSM just specifies the protocol and security stacks, it does not specify the frequencies. As such, GSM supports a number of different frequencies bands and it's up the phone manufacture on how many of those bands are actually implemented in the phone. Most phones nowadays are quad-band so they can roam, but you can implement a perfectly fine GSM phone that only connects to one band or two bands

              You will sometimes see phones implement just the domainant ones in your area (850MHz/1900MHz for North Ameri

              • by Macrat (638047)

                No. GSM just specifies the protocol and security stacks, it does not specify the frequencies.

                And Apple makes ONE GSM based iPhone sold globally.

                The only difference being the ones locked for non-free corporate controlled countries.

          • by Cimexus (1355033)

            You have it backwards. ATT uses 'standard' 3G frequencies (i.e. frequencies that are used by at least some other countries/providers). T-Mobile is the weird one, using the 1700 Mhz UMTS band that I don't think is used by any other provider on earth. Virtually no 3GSM/UMTS/HSDPA phones support this band, other than ones specifically manufactured for, and sold by, T-Mobile USA.

            The iPhone 4 will work fine on ATT (after all, ATT is ~the~ GSM iPhone carrier in the US). However, their prepaid options are ... expe

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      Verizon also doesn't have data service north of Seattle. I just got back from a trip to Vancouver and Alaska, and it is all "extended network" which means voice-only even though you're in-network with a US-and-Canadia plan.

  • by DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @02:55PM (#36280900) Homepage

    HWY 101 rocks, don't ruin it w/ a damn phone!

    • HWY 101 rocks, don't ruin it w/ a damn phone!

      Why not, everyone else does.

      • /cry

        It's true...

        O.K. so there may be some caveat's... Truth be told, I use data on my phone to pump Pandora through my car stereo, but out there, it's pretty choppy, so I usually switch to something else.

        Even Verizon doesn't cover the whole 101 stretch though, there are many parts in WA & OR that don't get 3G coverage, so data will be slower than snail mail. Between Forks and Ocean Shores for sure.

        Really, if you're responding a few quick texts... fine, but if an "emergency" happened, what could you RE

  • Try to find a local carrier in the area. You may be able to find US Cellular, Metro PCS, or something along those lines.

    The reason I recommend looking into them is with a lot of those companies you'll get better coverage if they are a local provider as they'll have their own towers in the area (much the same way Immix Wireless does in central and eastern PA). Plus, with a lot of them (just like with AT&T and Verizon) you can get either a pre-paid plan or sign up for a plan without contract since you'll

    • by Vegeta99 (219501)

      I have AT&T and I can roam on Immix's junk network. Thank god I don't live in the area anymore, and my hometown is now covered by native AT&T 3G.

      When I roam on Immix, data rarely functions faster than 56k or so, and I'm lucky to get calls. Texts usually come through with a 2-3 hour delay.

      They're junk and they've been junk since they were Conestoga Wireless.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @03:21PM (#36281048)
    I am really surprised nobody so far has mentioned Cricket [mycricket.com]. They have unlimited plans, cover all 50 states, and NO CONTRACT. You pay month-to-month.

    I used Cricket for several years and they were probably the least-hassle mobile phone company I ever dealt with. The only reason I switched away from them is that I needed data and at the time (this was about 5 years ago or so) they didn't have it.

    Check them out.
    • And if you need 3G, their "broadband" plans start at $40 / month. Again: no contracts.
    • They have roaming agreements to cover all the US, but you can't buy their service from everywhere. And if you look at their data map, the 101 is pretty barren.
    • by lothos (10657)

      Cricket's coverage map shows coverage, but I can't sign up with them in Minnesota (for example) because their coverage here is provided by a roaming partner.

    • by Cimexus (1355033)

      Er...

      They are CDMA/EVDO, not GSM. That rules them out for anyone bringing a phone from outside the US, where CDMA is unheard of.*

      (* Yes I know there are ~some~ CDMA networks outside of the US ... Korea and China spring to mind ... but the vast majority of the world is GSM/UMTS/HSDPA-only).

    • Cricket is CDMA 1X and 1xEV-DO, not GSM. Which rules out using an iPhone.
  • Just show up and see what the locals are doing. Do that. They'll have already figured out which carrier works best where you are.

  • The N8's prime advantages on holiday are:

    Preloaded maps so you don't need to eat up bandwidth to look up how to get places.
    A 12MP camera that justifies the megapixel numbr by being fantastic and better if you get the panorama app.
    Longer battery life than most of them and certainly longer than a lot of cameras.
    Pentaband Radio - if it's GSM you can connect.
    Built like a brick shithouse. Sorry, that saying might be local to where I'm from but basically it's tough.
    The HDMI output is very nice for looking at ph

  • walmart (Score:4, Funny)

    by ThurstonMoore (605470) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @03:55PM (#36281282)
    Go to walmart and buy one of their pre-paid smartphones. It will also add to the American experience.
    • by TrevorB (57780)

      I'm actually planning on this. I'm also taking a "vacation" to the states, where the only way I could get away for 3 weeks was to be tied to a cellphone.

      Apparently Tracfones are ludicrously cheap ($10) and call call anywhere in the US at 20 cents/min. I'm planning on tying this to a VoIP line, so I can use the cell to call outside the US for only another couple cents per minute.

      • by salesgeek (263995)

        Virgin Mobile's got phones for $15-$20 and ludicrously cheap plans: $30 gets 1500 minutes, $60 gets unlimited everything.

  • You'll do well if you repost your question to this forum - Lots of good info there:

    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/travel-technology-169/ [flyertalk.com]

    Start with the "stickies."
  • They have unlimited data, unlimited SMS and a fairly reasonable number of minutes. And the price isn't so bad either.

    The coverage could use a little work, but it's pretty good in cities and on the freeways between them.

    I will be quite unhappy if they are swallowed by AT&T. They are the least bad of all the cell phone operators.

  • Usually a link to www.prepaidgsm.net settles this question for all your vacation destinations.

    It's really a great site.

    My personal choice is always to put a prepaid GSM card with some cheap data plan into my primary smart phone and then use an older phone with my home country SIM to receive calls or make calls where my caller id is important. Others work around that by forwarding calls and using special services like skype's caller id function.

  • Since you mentioned US Route 101...

    I've been up and down the entire length 101 from Silicon Valley to the Washington/Oregon border about a half dozen times in the last three years. If you like driving and scenery, this is a good place to go (get some ice cream from the Tillamook Creamery Assn if you pass through). And bring a real camera (don't be that guy standing by the road taking pictures of the sunset with your iPhone). I can't advise on pricing, but i can tell you about coverage. My AT&T iPhone
  • by Tobenisstinky (853306) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @07:10PM (#36282528)

    http://ekit.com/ekit/home/ [ekit.com]

    I used them for a trip to europe, prices were half of what my local carrier wanted for European roaming. It included data. I have an iPhone 3GS but I had to unlock it to use the sim card.

  • I visited the USA for 4 weeks in November. I got my iphone unlocked by my carrier (telstra), flew to the USA, walked into an AT&T store, handed over $50-70 or so, and walked out with a prepaid SIM with a ton of credit and either 250 or 500mb of data (I don't remember).

    The only trick is that you need to manually set the APN on the iphone for data to work, but you can do this without jailbreaking if you can get a wifi connection for ~5 minutes.

    Coverage wasn't bad, and I didn't use most of my credit apart

  • I faced a similar problem a couple of years back. I needed the ability to go online with my laptop while travelling south through Washington to California. I found what I needed at an AT&T store, but activating the required data plan involved some significant obstacles:
    1. 1. I couldn't open an account without an address with a US zip code. PO boxes are not acceptable. Fortunately I did have a US mailing address.
    2. 2. I had to leave a cash deposit of approx. $500.
    3. 3. I had to keep the plan active for a mini
  • I had this same issue (different only in minor details) a few months ago. The best I found was Red Pocket (http://www.redpocketmobile.com). They operate on AT&T's network, so coverage is good. They sell prepaid service at a reasonable price. Cons: you have to get the SIM card ahead of time, and overseas shipping is slow, so if you're leaving soon that's a problem. When I got to the US, only voice worked, and it was impossible to activate data using Firefox & NoScript. IIRC, I eventually had to
  • Same question for three weeks in Iceland....

  • Get one that has good roaming rates in Cuba.

  • Telestial [telestial.com] is the international prepaid phone/plan we used for our recent trip to Oz and NZ, and it was incredible value...but we only used it for voice calls, not data. For teh internets, a netbook served us well, along with a little pre-planning between hotspots.

    The nice thing about the Telestial phone is that if you (or your family) plan to travel to many countries, you can generally get an incredible per-minute rate both in the country you're traveling through and for long distance calls back home, all

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