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Travelling Europe with Android-a review

Discussion in 'Android Lounge' started by uzetaab, Oct 4, 2010.

  1. uzetaab

    uzetaab Android Enthusiast
    Thread Starter
    May 11, 2010

    May 11, 2010
    Brisbane Australia
    I recently returned from a trip to Europe & the UK & thought I would post about my experiences. Maybe some people will find some useful information in it to use for their trips.

    Tech toys:
    The phone I took is a HTC Desire running OS 2.1 (Still waiting for the Australian carrier to release Froyo).
    Asus Eee PC 1005p running win 7 with a 10" screen.
    European & British power adaptor with a normal 4 way power board from my own country. This allowed me to plug in several devices at once.
    My wife also had a normal feature phone (Nokia) & her ipod touch.
    Also, a small plug in re-chargeable speaker
    Navman my50t that I was lucky enough to buy the European maps on special for.

    Heh, I just happened to be poking around on the Navman website & found that the maps had been 1/2 price for over a month & the sale was ending in 3 days. I hadn't even planned to bring my GPS, but when I saw the special, I thought it would be handy to have as a back up. I'm very glad I had it for Paris.

    The plug in speaker came in useful in Paris as well. I used it to drown out the street noise which was quite loud from my crappy hotel room. Those damn scooters everyone has are quite loud. It was also useful when we couldn't find a way to plug our audio devices into the rental car that we got from, you guessed it, Paris.

    Cities visited, in order:
    & the English countryside around Stone Henge.

    Considering the outrageous cost of data when roaming (using another network with your existing sim/network account) I decided to buy prepaid sim cards while there, but it's really not as simple as it sounds. Note that I used the plural, cards. That's because I had to use a new sim card in each country I visited to avoid roaming charges for the new prepaid sim.

    Here's my fist tip, contact your carrier & have them turn on data roaming before you go, even if you don't plan to use it, you may still need it until you can get a prepaid sim, or you may have a problem like I did in Paris (more later).

    Second tip, take a cheap standard netbook computer running Windows 7. Make sure it has The Wifis (sorry, iphone vs evo youtube joke) & an ethernet port just in case. Pretty much every hotel has internet access now & you will need it to get the phone working.

    Yes, I know it's ironic that I had to buy a $400 netbook to avoid paying expensive roaming charges. In my defence, the netbook was used for more than just getting phone settings. Also, if you get a netbook with a 10" or smaller screen, it should fit in the hotel room's safe.

    I didn't discover this until I was over there, but using data on a mobile network requires special settings called APNs or Access Point Names. These settings a different (but often similar) for each network. To make matters worse, the phones do not all use the same settings, and/or they are not entered into the phone in the same way, even different android models can be, well, different.

    The prepaid sim kits do not include these settings & don't expect phone shops, or tech support call centres to even know what your talking about if you try to ask for help. In the end, I had to find the settings myself on the network's website, which is a lot tougher than it sounds. For one thing, those settings are buried quite deeply in the website & for another, the website is usually in the local language. That means in Amsterdam, I had to find the settings on a dutch website. Google translate was very useful for this purpose.

    First sim I bought was a Lebara sim, but I quickly gave up on this because I could not get data working. Apparently it would have been ideal though, because it is an "international sim". So in theory, I would have been able to use it all over europe, but I dunno because I gave up on it.

    I suggest trying to find out which networks carry your particular phone before you go & then buy a sim for that network because it should be easier to get it working.

    I ended up using T-Mobile in Amsterdam, I had quite a bit of trouble getting it working, but it was also my first time & I reckon if I'd gone to Italy first, Dutch T-Mobile would have been a cakewalk. It actually had instructions for the HTC Desire which I didn't look closely enough at the first time because they were in a PDF, so I had to manually type the text into google translate.

    Maybe someone from Paris can help me out with this, but Paris is the only city where I gave up trying to get my phone working. According to the people in mobile network shops in Paris, you either can't get data on prepaid, or it's really expensive. 75 eurocents per megabyte one shop told me!

    In the end, I had to rely on my GPS in Paris & a Paper map. The GPS is not ideal because the battery life makes my smartphone battery look immortal.

    I was only in Zurich for 1 day, so I didn't bother trying to get data access.

    Florence & Rome
    I used Vodafone in Italy which worked pretty well for the most part. I had much less trouble getting it working because I knew what to look for. I think they had a network outage on my last day in Rome, but that couldn't be helped.

    The UK
    The UK was by far my best experience, but that's mostly due to everything being in English. What was cool though, was that Heathrow Airport had vending machines with prepaid sim packs for all the networks! If your going to Heathrow, they are in the baggage collection area, maybe only in the international terminals (I only saw one terminal).

    The data access in the countryside around Stone Henge was pretty unreliable, so we were back to using the Navman.

    OK, some tips for setting up APNs. You need to look in the support section of the mobile network's website. A google search is usually pretty useless. I found websites that had databases of APN codes for different networks, but they were never the right ones. Usually, the networks have instructions on how to set up specific phones & if yours is not on the list, you have to do it by trial & error using the instructions for other phones. Try to pick phones with similar specs, especially phones using the same Android version as your phone & if the phone has a custom UI, like HTC Sense, try to find a phone with that.

    This is pretty weird, but you seem to have to set the Google internet browser on your phone to the correct home/start page to get everything working properly. In Amsterdam, I didn't do this at first & the only data that worked until I did was email. The browser wouldn't work & neither would Google Maps.

    One thing I forgot to do before, or while I was away was calibrate my battery. I just did it a couple of days ago & wish I had done it while I was away. I had to be very careful not to run out of battery life while out doing touristy things & I just callibrated the other day. My battery life is now better.

    To callibrate, you simply run the battery down until the phone turns off & then recharge it fully. & if you want to argue about the effectiveness of this, then you should read the thread I link to in my signature in full first.

    Honestly, I really only used google maps, & a couple of others a tiny bit. I can't put into words how useful Maps was. always knowing where I am with the inbuilt GPS, being able to search for anything from the Louvre to tobacconists etc. I do suggest that before you go, set up a "My Maps" on google maps using your computer, not your phone, because it's easier & faster.

    Put into it, all your hotels, departure points, like airports & railway stations & any attractions you will definitely visit. Maps also has a star feature, it's like a favorite button in the top right corner of a locations detail screen. It's very handy for quickly saving a search or remembering the location that had that fantastic coffee.

    In major cities, like Paris or London, download an app for their train network. I used one in London called London Underground. Very useful. It was free, but if I had the choice between a free crappy app & a paid good app, it's definitely worth the few dollars to get the good one.

    I also used a website (which has an android app) called tripit.com. This was handy for saving things like phone numbers, booking numbers, flight times etc.

    Here's a little story, I had planned on my last night before flying home to use up the last of my mobile data downloading podcasts for listening to on the long haul flights back home. When I got to the hotel room, I found that I couldn't get a reliable connection & the hotel wifi didn't want to work properly with my phone. So I ended up downloading them at the airport seriously draining my battery with the intention of using the netbook to recharge the phone in flight. Thankfully I discovered before boarding that my wife had neglected to recharge it the last time she used it (very typical of her). I ended up buying one of those battery packs that plug into the charging port of my phone. In retrospect, I wish I'd had it for the whole trip.

    As for the trip itself, we booked it through a travel agent which I regret. The hotel she booked us into in Paris was pretty crappy & was in fact ranked about 1600 out of 1800 on tripadvisor.com (also has an app). Next time I will book it all myself using trip advisor.

    Also, if you rent any cars, apparently, nobody in Europe or the UK drives automatic cars. Therefore, if you book auto cars, your chances of a free upgrade are pretty high, because most "luxury" cars are auto. I drove an Audi A4 & a Jaguar XJ despite only booking crappy little hatchbacks :D We also rented a Mercedes C180, but that was intentional, to rent a car like that at home costs a lot.

    Out of the 3, I liked the Audi best, so much so, that I'm going to try to buy one next year (if I can get enough on trade in for my Commodore).

    The Jag was brilliant on the highways, but not very good on smaller streets, especially those one and a half lane roads they have all over the countryside in the UK.

    The Mercedes drove ok, but the seat gave me a back ache because I'm a big guy. I don't mean fat (although I am a bit overweight) but I'm a bit tall & have broad shoulders. The seat just wasn't big enough, especially width. It was compressing my ribcage & I also had a bit of trouble breathing.

    Highlight of the trip:
    Amsterdam, I'm determined to go back. I loved the place, the people, being able to walk (or ride a bike) everywhere, the food, the atmosphere, it all just suited me perfectly. Definitely rent bikes.

    Followed by the English countryside around Stone Henge. If you are into fantasy fiction, King Arthur legends, fantasy artwork like Alchemy Gothic & Jeff Easley, then Rent a car & spend a few days in the area. Glastonbury is like the Mecca Equivalent of pagan/hippie/Arthurian legend. Plenty of ancient sites to visit, Glastonbury Tor is thought to be the location of Avalon. I reckon 70% of the shops in the main drag sell pagan/fantasy/hippie stuff.

    Driving 3 "luxury" cars was pretty cool too.

    As if you can't guess, Paris. Aside from all the trouble I had with the hotel & phone, etc. I was very disappointed to discover that the people were about as nice as rumor said. Despite using the advice that I have heard & read many times of being polite & asking them (in French) if they speak English. I actually had one woman say no, & then proceed to talk to me in English :thinking: The only nice person we encountered was the Concierge in our hotel.

    Having said that, I discovered while over there, that us Australians can be quite mean to British tourists, so I'm going to do what I can to change that, not much, I know, but still...

    On a related note, I got a few smiles out of Italians by saying arrivederci to them. Apparently most English speaking people don't bother to learn the proper goodbye.


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