Verizon has recently made it possible to use your Android phone overseas, enabling the GSM/UTMS antennas on the Motorola Droid RAZR, RAZR MAXX, DROID 4 (coming very soon), with the Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) update. Global support for the HTC Rezound and Samsung Galaxy S III will also be enabled with a future software update.
I decided to test this new global capability while on my last vacation with a Droid RAZR in various locations in France, Turkey and Italy.
Enabling your phone for global use
First, f you haven't already, make sure you are running the latest version of Android. The GSM/UTMS antenna is not enabled on versions prior to Android 4.
Next, your Verizon account has to be enabled to use international roaming. Before you do this, you should decide what plan you want. You should take into consideration where you are going, how long you are going, and how many calls/texts and data you will be using.
To enable your account, you must call Verizon at 1-800-922-0204, or log into My Verizon, under plan, choose "Change Features", select your phone, and go to "Global Features".
You have some options -
- Pay for each minute of voice, each text, and each MB of data used
- Get the Global Value plan for $4.99 which has reduced rates for voice and text
- Add 100MB of data for $25 (additional data in 100mb increments @ $25)
View the Verizon international coverage map & rates
Details on international data rates
Information for cruise ships
View the Verizon trip planner
Keep in mind that if you aren't traveling to Canada and Mexico, data is very expensive at $20.48 per MB. If you anticipate not always having wi-fi when you need it, consider spending the extra $25. It is definitely worth the cost, especially if you get lost, and need an impromptu map via Google Maps (explained more below).
Using your phone abroad
After landing in your destination, and taking your phone off of flight mode, the phone will connect to the nearest tower it can find. You do not need to do a *228. It may take a couple minutes to connect though. You will get a confirmation via text when the connection is made, along with some helpful information on rates.
To see what network you are connected to, pull down the notification screen. It will be listed at the bottom. More than likely it will be Vodafone. You will see a little R on top of the signal icon to indicate you are roaming.
At first I was a bit confused how to make a call. Luckily the Droid Razr and most other Android phones make the process a little less confusing. To enter the proper exit code you simply hold down 0 on the dial pad to insert the plus (+) sign.
Here is a useful table for figuring out what country code you need to dial
For example, the first call I had to make was to my hotel in France so a cab could pick me up from the train station. I did so on a moving train without a problem. I had to dial +33 then the number. In this case the number I had included a 0 in the front of it, which had to be dropped. It appeared as +33 0 x xx xx xx xx, but the actual number I dialed was +33 x xx xx xx xx.
I had no problem sending and receiving texts from contacts in my list. If you want to send a text to an international number, you would have to follow the procedure above for making calls.
Since data can be very expensive I recommend you always keep data roaming off when possible. On Android 4 (ICS) the setting is under Menu > Settings > under Wireless & Networks, More > Mobile Networks > Data Enabled - uncheck. You can also disable Global data roaming access. They both will have the same effect.
Alternatively you can download a widget called Data Enabler, that will allow you to more easily toggle data.
Be sure to use wi-fi whenever you can. If you can't, download an application, such as My Data Manager to manage how much data you are using.
There were only a fewinstances where I saw the 3g icon pop up, in Paris and Naples. Most of the time you will see the H (and sometimes the H+) icon, which stands for HSPA data, which is the same speed as 3g, while H+ is like 3.5g. In Turkey I would see the H and E (for Edge) icon for data. You definitely will not see a 4g icon anywhere in Europe even if there was some kind of LTE connection available. The LTE band Verizon uses is only available in the US.
Be sure to also disable wi-fi when not using it. Otherwise the phone will constantly pick up wi-fi signals as you move about, draining the battery. Also, close apps that use GPS when not in use as they will also drain battery.
Useful apps when traveling
There are some apps that I found very useful when traveling. Here is a compiled list, including ones already mentioned above:
- My Data Manager - For managing how much data you are using
- Data Enabler Widget - for enabling and disabling data easily
- Tripit - for easily managing your trip itinerary; the pro version also sends flight updates via text message which can be very useful - does not require data to function, just make sure you download everything before you leave
- Google Translate - useful if you're in a bind with translating another language; requires data for full functionality
- Google Maps - comes pre loaded; do not use this exclusively as your map as it will use a lot of data
- Google Maps Street View - useful if you want to know what things look like around a restaurant or attraction - may use a large amount of data, be careful
- XE Currency Converter - you'll need this when running into pounds, lira, or euros. It'll work offline and then update when you have a data connection
- Temperature Converter - useful for the C to F conversion
- The Weather Channel - get the weather before you leave for the day; may not be as accurate as in the US
- White Noise - You'll find that walls are often thin, and in the case of Turkey, a call to prayer early in the morning may wake you up. I downloaded this after my actual noise machine died and it worked as a great replacement. Make sure to plug your phone in before using.
Observations when traveling with a smartphone
I found having a fully functional phone (with data on standby) to be extremely useful. There was one instance where I jumped on a train in France going the wrong way. I didn't realize it until I checked Google Maps and saw that the dot representing me was moving away from my destination!
I got off at the next stop hoping to get back on the next train in the right direction. After about 30 min I realized that the trains weren't stopping. Not being able to read the French train schedule very well, I brought up the English website on the phone to check the schedule. Unfortunately, only 3 trains stopped a day in the town! I then brought up the walking directions to the next, more frequented town, but alas, it was an hour walk uphill, and the next train stopping in the small town where I was stranded was in an hour. So I waited. Needless to say the phone saved me a lot of time and aggravation.
In another case I got turned around on the small, windey streets of Naples, Italy trying to find a restaurant. I searched for the name of the place in Google Maps, and navigated via walking directions guided by GPS. Vuala! I was there.
Dial +33, then the number. I probably had the best signal while in Paris, with occasional 3g data. There was one small issue with texts duplicating and/or not going through that I experienced. Resetting the phone solved the problem. I attributed this to the phone switching between towers (and perhaps between GSM/UTMS) and getting 'confused' as we moved around. The phone was also tested in Fontainebleau and Versailles and was able to make calls and receive data.
Dial +90, then the number. There was only one time over 3 weeks that I used the phone where I didn't have a voice signal, and that was in the middle of Turkey in Cappadocia. This is completely forgivable as it's moderately remote. However, as soon as I walked a little farther I got a signal. Note the E data signal, which is Edge - a slower, older data connection. At other times in Turkey, I was getting the H icon (HSPA). The phone worked great in Istanbul. I was able to make calls and receive data without interruption.
The phone did not work inside the cave hotel we stayed in. Also forgivable!
At one point we traveled to Izmir, Turkey along the coast and the phone sent me a message that said "Welcome to Greece". Okay, good to know that the phone would have worked on a small Greek island too!
Dial +39, then the number. I had no problems with the phone in Naples, Sorrento, and the Amalfi coast. The phone even worked great in Ischia (island off of the coast of Italy). At one point I did see the phone switch to a weaker signal UTMS tower over what appeared to be a stronger GSM signal, but it didn't seem to matter. All was good!
On a beach in Amalfi, Italy:
Is it worth taking Verizon phone overseas? Absolutely, as long as you don't need to make hundreds of calls and use gigs of data. I was easily able to keep my data usage low using the methods above. For $30 you can get discounted calls & texts plus 100mb of data. Go to Verizon Wireless to get started.
If you will be making a lot of calls and using a lot of data you should consider using a foreign carrier SIM in the phone (4g LTE Verizon phones do not require unlocking). This option will more than likely be cheaper and you should not have to enter a contract. You should contact the foreign carrier ahead of time to make sure they have compatible SIM cards.
You can get a Motorola Droid Razr for $0.01 at Amazon right now.
Disclosure: the phone used in this test was provided by Verizon Wireless