The best phone for international travel?

I’ve written about the scam that is international roaming charges in the past, and I mentioned briefly how you can bypass paying an arm and a leg to talk to the folks you left behind. But in this article I’m going to tell you what I consider to be the best phone on the market for international travelers; The T-Mobile Blackberry Curve.

Why the curve, and not the sexy iPhone? Well, the Blackberry Curve has 2 very interesting features you won’t find with any other carrier, or any other phone. One is unique to the phone itself, and one is unique to T-mobile.

The Blackberry Curve (as well as several other T-Mobile Blackberry smartphones) comes equipped with Wi-Fi. And while that may not be very special, the Wi-Fi in these phones supports a mobile calling system called “UMA”. UMA is essentially a method of connecting to the mobile network using Wi-Fi and the Internet, instead of cellular towers.

What this means, is that as long as you can get the phone connected to the Internet over Wi-Fi, you’ll be able to use it just like you do when you are back home.
For example; lets say you are in Denmark. The cost of a call from your mobile phone in Denmark back home, is $1 per minute. But if you have free Wi-Fi at your hotel, you simply let the Blackberry connect to that, and you can make calls as long as you want, using the minutes in your plan. Better yet; you can even send and receive text messages, and get online, without any insane roaming charges. If you subscribe to the T-Mobile hotspot@home service, you’ll be able to make unlimited domestic calls for just $10 a month.

The second reason why I recommend the Blackberry for international use, is the T-Mobile Blackberry international plan. For just $19.95 per month, you can send and receive as many emails as you want, on any mobile network in the world. To put that in perspective; AT&T will charge you $16 for just one Megabyte of data (about 20 or 30 emails). The T-mobile Blackberry International plan can even be added for a portion of the month, and you’ll only be charged the pro-rated price.

I have used my Blackberry abroad many times, and never received a bill with more than $10 in roaming fees (you won’t always be in range of Wi-Fi). Of course, there are alternatives to making Internet calls back home, but the Blackberry does it so effortlessly that it’s almost a no-brainer.

My only tip is to disable the “mobile network” option on the Blackberry before making a call, as the Blackberry can switch between Wi-Fi and cellular seamlessly, and if the Wi-Fi connection drops, you might be back to $1/min calls without noticing it.

Finally; one other reason why I prefer T-Mobile over any other carrier, is that they have a very liberal phone unlocking policy. Anyone who has an account “in good standing” can get the unlock code for their phone after just 90 days. Once your phone is unlocked, you’ll be able to swap out your own sim card for a prepaid card at your destination.