An International Smartphone Plan For Cruise Travelers, Finally

smart phone
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Many cruise travelers have no problem at all controlling the expense of using their smartphone internationally; they simply turn it off for the duration of the trip. That done, they proceed to communicate with the rest of the world via email on Internet time bought from the cruise line. They don’t dare turn on their smartphone because if they do, the first message they see is one warning of potential overage charges they will incur if they use it – until now.

Recently, AT&T announced three different Cruise Ship Package plans with cruise travelers in mind:

  • AT&T Cruise Ship Calling: Includes 50 minutes for $30 per month
  • AT&T Cruise Ship Calling and Messaging: Offers 50 minutes of talk and 100 text/picture/video messages sent for $60 per month
  • AT&T Cruise Ship Calling, Messaging and Data: Includes 50 minutes, 100 messages sent and 100MB of data for $120 per month

A minimum one-month trial is required, which works well with the idea of “turn it on before you sail, turn it off after you’re done.” The new plan is currently limited to the ships of Royal Caribbean International, Azamara Club Cruises and select Celebrity Cruises ships. See att.com/cruiseships for list of ships and details.On-ship networks operate only while in international waters. Docked at a pier, anyone with a smart phone can turn it on and access any available signal. Right about then would be a good time to have Boingo installed to pick among available signals and log in on one that works with your device at no additional charge.

AT&T Cruise Ship package kicks in when users see “Cellular at Sea” displayed on your device.

Have no clue what usage you might have while traveling via cruise ship? AT&T also has an International Data Calculator that can help.

Smart Phone Becomes 'Smart Wallet'

Nearly Constant Connectivity Almost Here, Right Now

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Being connected when traveling is getting easier all the time. As new technology rolls out, travelers worldwide find connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots easier than ever. Pricing is becoming more reasonable too, enabling more to enjoy constant connectivity wherever they may travel. The need is there and technology companies are delivering, as I found out on a recent international trip.

On land, Comcast has a new program for hotels, offering reliable, high-performance bandwidth that can easily scale up to meet increased demand. Prices are starting to come down too, as hotel chains provide complimentary Internet access to members of their loyalty programs. Look for more of the same as travelers list having to pay for Internet access second only to noisy neighbors as the most annoying part of staying at a hotel in a recent survey.

Air travelers have been connecting over the continental United States for years. Now they do it less expensively with day and hourly passes and bundled services from companies like GoGo Internet. Soon, American Airlines and others will add access over the Atlantic Ocean for international travelers. Through May 21, 2013, American had provided free International Internet access as they worked out the bugs. Going forward, American will offer a “duration of the flight” pass over international waters for $19.By rail, Amtrak’s new AmtrakConnect cellular-based Wi-Fi using 4G technologies is already complete on many lines and will be rolled out to all remaining Wi-Fi equipped Amtrak trains by late summer.

Not all that long ago, Cruise travelers resigned to seeing “no service” once they set sail. Today they can connect ship-wide all the time. Now equipped with Wi-Fi options that are costing less and doing more, cruise lines are increasingly adding content of their own with internal networks for cruise travelers. Soon, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas will offer passengers high-speed, satellite-delivered, broadband service thanks to a multiyear, multimillion dollar agreement Royal made with O3b, a global satellite service provider.

Even those who travel by motor vehicle are finding more connectivity as giant networks like AT&T, local cable companies and municipalities make nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots readily available. This availability is combined with smartphones that easily switch between service providers either on their own or via a connection service like Boingo Internet.

In the not so distant past, I would reduce my smart phone to something just shy of brick-status in order to avoid hefty roaming, long distance and other surcharges when traveling internationally. It seems that with each trip abroad though, connecting gets easier, with stronger, more reliable signals. A trip to Italy last month required simply switching on an international data plan that enabled me to travel in Europe as though I had gone on a road trip within driving distance of my North American home.

Travelers who long for constant connectivity? Your ship is about to come in. Oddly, it may arrive at nations other than the United States first, as we see in this interesting video:

Romania Beats U.S. in High-Speed Internet Connectivity

Gadling Gear Review: Nyne NB-230 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Nyne N-230 Bluetooth Speaker
Nyne N-230

Over the past couple of years, the number of choices for consumers looking to buy a portable Bluetooth speaker has exploded. It wasn’t all that long ago that our options were limited to just a few underpowered speakers that provided low-quality wireless audio, but now there are literally dozens of these speakers on the market making it much more of a challenge to decide which one to buy. It has also made it more of a challenge for the companies who manufacturer these devices to stand out in the crowd, forcing them to try something a little different. That seems to be the approach that Nyne took with their NB-230 speaker system, delivering a product that will remind you more of an old-school boombox rather than the smaller speakers that typically come from their competitors.

The first thing you’re likely to notice about the NB-230 is its size. Most other portable Bluetooth speakers are designed to be small enough that you can toss them in a backpack and take them along with you just about everywhere, but as mentioned above, this speaker is more like a streamlined boombox for the 21st century. While it is small and light enough to take with you on a day trip, this isn’t likely to be the kind of speaker that you’ll want to carry with you on a trip to the far side of the globe. It is simply too large and oddly shaped to want to put into your luggage, although it is great for a day at the beach or family picnic in the park.

Unlike most other portable Bluetooth speakers that I’ve used, the NB-230 doesn’t include a rechargeable battery. Smaller speakers can be powered for hours on their own built-in batteries, but this device is too large for that to be an efficient option. Instead, you’ll need to use six C batteries to keep the speaker operating while away from a power outlet. (When is the last time you actually had to use C cells for anything? Probably the last boombox that you owned more than a decade ago.) Nyne says that those batteries will keep the NB-230 charged for up to four hours, and that is about what I achieved while testing the unit. That means that using this speaker away from home could get costly and that battery life is about half that found on smaller models from the competition.What the NB-230 lacks in portability it more than makes up for in sound quality, however. Because of its size, this speaker can out class most of its competitors in terms of volume without even breaking a sweat. But the two high-quality, 3-inch speakers that Nyne integrated into this device also do an excellent job of replicating a full range of sound. The mid- and high-range elements of your music will shine through distinctly on the NB-230, coming through with surprising clarity. Bass lovers will be more than satisfied with this device as well, as this speaker can deliver a thump that will remind you of your old boombox. I put the NB-230 through its paces using a variety of classic rock, pop, classical music and even podcasts and in all cases it performed admirably.

Nyne NB-230 Bluetooth SpeakerConnecting an iPad, iPhone or other Bluetooth enabled device to the NB-230 couldn’t be simpler. Holding down a dedicated Bluetooth button on the speaker places it in pairing mode and then you simply select it as an alternate audio source from whatever gadget you want to play music from. After a few seconds, the two devices will connect and all audio will begin playing directly from the NB-230’s speakers. Having wireless audio available at all times has gotten to be kind of second nature these days, but it really is nice to have the ability to send your favorite music to a powerful, high-quality audio system from across the room without ever having to get out of your easy chair. For those devices that don’t have Bluetooth functionality built in, the NB-230 also has an audio jack that allows you to plug a device in directly. While it is nice to have this option for use in a pinch, it does diminish the fun of having a wireless speaker system to a degree.

I was also impressed with how well the NB-230 performed as a speakerphone. This is a common feature on other Bluetooth speakers as well, but the size of Nyne’s offering aids it once again in this category as the large speakers enhanced the experience nicely. When paired with a smartphone, incoming calls can actually be picked up directly from the NB-230 itself and a built-in mic makes two-way communication a seamless affair. It performed so well, in fact, that most people I talked to using this speaker couldn’t tell I wasn’t on my phone directly. It even works great in conference calls situations, as the NB-230 can be placed at the center of a table, facilitating a conversation with numerous people in one room.

In terms of design, the NB-230 has nice clean lines that make it a natural fit for just about any environment. It looks just as good in an office as it does your living room or bedroom. It has a sleek, classic look about it that is modern without seeming too trendy. If you purchase one of these speakers, you can rest assured that it’ll still look as contemporary in five years as it does today. That isn’t always an easy thing to pull off on any electronic device.

If you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker to take with you when you travel, the Nyne NB-230 probably isn’t the best option for that situation. Its larger size makes it tough to lug along on any trip that involves getting on an airplane. On the other hand, if you want an excellent wireless audio system for around home, and occasional use elsewhere, this is a fantastic option. It has excellent sound quality across the entire audio spectrum and it can pump out the tunes with plenty of volume. On top of that, it serves as an excellent speakerphone, which comes in surprisingly handy in a number of situations.

The Nyne NB-230 carries a price tag of $129.95, which makes it very competitive with similar devices from other manufacturers, most of which don’t deliver the level of sound quality that you’ll find here.

Gadling Gear Review: hipKey Proximity And Motion Sensor

hipKey helps you keep track of your important items. One of the best things about the rise of the smartphone over the past few years is the incredible number of creative ways that companies have come up with to utilize them. We’ve seen thousands of innovative and interesting apps, and more recently some cool secondary gadgets that extend their functionality by interfacing directly with the phone. Take for example the hipKey from a company called Hippih. The device is a motion and proximity sensor that can alert us when our valuable items have been moved, something that can come in very handy when traveling.

The hipKey is a small, half-moon-shaped device that is designed to be attached to a set of keys, your luggage or even a person. When powered on and paired with an iPhone via Bluetooth, it can provide a host of useful functions. At its core, hipKey is meant to alert us to changes to the location of the item it is attached to or help us find that item when it becomes lost. If you attach the device to a set of car keys for example, hipKey will let you know when you’ve left them behind via an alert on your iPhone. Or, if you’re one of those people who can never remember where you left your keys, the hipKey companion app (available for free in the App Store) can activate the device, forcing it to make a loud noise.

The sensor features four distinct modes, each of which is designed to address some specific need. For instance, Alarm Mode is meant to alert the user when the hipKey has moved beyond a certain distance from their smartphone. The distance at which the alarm sounds can be set to short (2-5 meters), medium (15-20 meters) and long (30-50 meters) ranges. In Safe Zone mode, the user can designate a specific place on a map as the “safe” spot, then create a geofence around it at the same preset distances as Alarm mode. If the hipKey moves outside of the zone, it will again automatically trigger alerts. As the name implies, Child Mode attaches the hipKey to a child and sets off alerts if the kid wanders out of range as well, while Motion Mode immediately sets off an alarm if the item that the device is connected to begins to move.The hipKey dongle is roughly 2 inches in diameter, which is at times too large and at others just the right size. I say that because when you attach the device to a carry-on bag, for instance, you barely even notice that it is there. But add it to your keychain and suddenly it feels enormous. But the device packs quite a bit of technology into a relatively small space and for the most part you’ll barely even notice that you have it with you.

When designing the hipKey, Hippih integrated BlueTooth 4.0 technology, which provides better range than previous versions of the protocol while sipping less battery life. The device has a built-in rechargeable battery that I’m told will power the proximity sensor for anywhere from two to four weeks. I tested the device for a period of just over three weeks and I wasn’t able to ever run it out of juice, which bodes well for travelers who want to attach this to their baggage while on the go. I also didn’t notice much of an impact to the battery life of my iPhone while connected to the hipKey either.

As mentioned above, Hippih has developed a companion app for the hipKey that allows the user to program it to their specifications. It is through that app that you can set which mode the device is operating in, adjust the volume of alerts, select the alarm distance and so on. It’ll also tell you the current battery level of the device and allow you to designate your “safe zone.” The app is functional and easy to use – and works nicely on an iPad – but for the most part there isn’t much that is impressive about it.

the hipKey proximity sensorIt should be noted that communication between the iPhone (or iPad) and the hipKey is not just one-way. If you can’t find your iPhone, you can tell the device to send an alert to the phone, causing it to make a chiming noise while also vibrating. The alerts can be heard even if the iPhone is set to silent mode, which can come in very handy when you just can’t seem to remember where you left your iPhone.

For the most part, the hipKey works exactly as advertised. It is a snap to set up and it provides alerts when it moves too far away from the iPhone with which it is paired. I tested the device extensively and it performed flawlessly each time. It is nice to know that it has a solid record of dependability when you’re counting on it to ensure that your bags, keys or child stay safe.

Unfortunately, at the moment the hipKey doesn’t work with any other devices except the iPhone. Android and Windows Phone users will just have to wait to see if Hippih brings the device to those platforms. It seems likely that support will be there eventually – particularly in the case of Android – but for now the proximity sensor only works with Apple devices.

The hipKey carries a price tag of $89.95, which seems a little steep at first glance. But if you consider the level of mobile security, not to mention convenience, that it brings to the table, it comes across as a small price to pay. The perpetually forgetful will appreciate the gentle reminders the device will send them when they walk away without their keys, while worried parents will wonder how they kept track of their little ones without it. Make no mistake, this device is indeed a luxury item, but it is also one that could possibly save you a lot of grief when you need it. Particularly when keeping tabs on your important gear while traveling.

The hipKey is an excellent compliment to any iPhone and surely a gadget travelers will love to have on their side in times of trouble.

Use Your Smartphone Abroad As You Do At Home And Have No Surprises Later

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While traveling to several destinations in Europe in the last few weeks, I bumped up my calling plan for a period of time. Adding global messaging and an international data plan helped with reducing possible overage charges but it didn’t solve all of my problems. Often, I would find connectivity issues using my smartphone abroad as I do at home. I began my quest for a solution.

The first stop before international travel was to add services or modify my existing smartphone plan, mainly because of bad results in the past. On a trip to Mazatlan, Mexico, a couple years ago, I found out the hard way just how badly things can get, almost racking up over $1000 in overage charges for data usage alone.

Ignorant of how it all worked, the resort’s “free internet” was blazingly slow. On domestic travel, the next logical move was to tether a signal off my AT&T charged smartphone, bringing good speed and creating my own Wi-Fi hotspot, which I gladly shared with others having a similar connection problem. Dumb move. After a few days a text message came from AT&T’s international department, advising me that I had incurred $956 in overage charges. The result after they graciously removed those budget-busting charges was an international plan offering comparatively reasonable rates. Still, the cost was high so off I went looking for an alternative.

A friend had gone the “get a sim card that works in the destination country” route with good results. But traveling to different countries produced different results. On this recent trip, with an itinerary of Amsterdam and Italy, that looked to be the case. Looking for the ultimate situation: being able to use my phone abroad as I do at home, I kept looking.

What looks to be the best answer I have found came via Boingo, the worldwide connectivity company that recently added some Japanese airports to its list of 600,000 Wi-Fi hot spots. I like Boingo for one primary reason: it works for me.

Constantly scanning for Wi-Fi hot spots with its finder app, Boingo also provides a level of additional security with its free security VPN to protect data like credit card information when on the road.

What I like is that via agreements with hundreds of Internet service providers, Boingo-enabled smartphones and other devices connect quickly through one secure Boingo account. Loading their apps on a device makes connecting easy and they offer a variety of plans. I am testing the unlimited plan for $9.95 a month, well worth the price to know I can find a hotspot that will connect and be compatible with my smartphone virtually anywhere around the world – or so they say. I have not been everywhere on the planet, far from it, but so far the Boingo service has worked well for me and I will no doubt continue to pay a fee that makes sense.

One of the best parts is that the Boingo program tracks my data usage, avoiding potential overage charges. Boingo is not an ISP though, so picking the right plan for usage is a huge part of controlling expenses.

Still, with my Boingo-enabled devices, there should be no bad surprises when traveling internationally.

[Photo Credit – Flickr user @boetter]