Ask LH: Which Phone Should I Buy For Travel?

Dear Lifehacker, I'll be travelling to South Africa in the next few months and rather than my usual efforts of packing roughly $2000 worth of tech, I'm wanting to reduce the pain of possibly having my stuff nicked by replacing it with cheap items and taking only the bare minimum. To that end, I'm looking at taking only a cheap Android handset and my Nikon P310 camera. Could you suggest some cheap (sub-$200) yet relatively well-specced phone models? It would have to be unlocked, have a microSD slot so I can upload photos from the camera's card, and GPS would also be good, obviously. Thanks, Paranoid In The Third World


Only travelling with tech you're willing (if not keen) to lose is eminently sensible strategy, and as long as you're willing to put up with a bit of slightly slow performance, there's a number of options open to you, although there is a slight sting in the tail.

First option with your $200 would be to buy two cheap entry level Android handsets, so you've got a spare if one does die or suddenly depart from your person. Multiple points of backup are always wise. The issue there is that while even the most entry level Android handset will cover the basics pretty well, they'll be slower models. You'll also have to do some careful memory management if you plan on uploading photos; most cheap handsets have very minimal onboard memory. Check, check and double check with the store you buy from about unlocking status; if you can get a cheaper older (but better) handset that's locked, it may be worth chasing up the telco with regards to the unlocking fees. A quick check suggests that South African telcos use 900/1800Mhz for GSM, so tend towards Optus models if you're looking at the unlock path.

Likewise, if you're willing to put up with the odd knock or scratch, it may be worth looking into getting a refurbished phone. It won't be the latest and greatest, but could well outclass a "new" budget phone.

The other option I'd suggest would be to buy a decent ruggedised phone; Sony's recently announced Xperia Go would be one option, as would Motorola's Defy range. Again, you're not buying cutting edge, but you are buying something that you can treat a little rough and still expect it to survive. That makes it easier for you to just drop in a pocket or bag — and not leave behind for the thieves to take, although either would slightly stretch your $200 budget.
 In terms of specific models, there's a couple of units I'd suggest; EB have the older HTC Cha Cha unlocked right now for $65; while it's not a superb phone by any stretch, the smaller screen could make it a better travel prospect, simply because there's less glass to break. Just about anything Huawei does is targeted towards the budget sector; Dick Smith has the G7300 Dual-Sim model at $115 right now; that'd have the advantage of allowing multiple SIMs for best possible coverage and call rates while travelling.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Make sure you backup everything, calls, texts etc. this can be done with a few different apps.
    (especially) photos taken on the phone or camera should be stored in a place like google plus using the auto upload feature.
    Get one of those apps that can track/shutdown/kill your lost/stolen phone.

    Why is Aldi advertising all over LifeHacker?? No wonder Lifehacker is actively promoting Aldi products!!

      Actively promoting as in "linking to EB Games and DSE within this story", you mean?

      (Disclaimer: I've got nothing to do with the ad sales department, and even when I *was* full-time over at Giz, the lines were firmly drawn. End of discussion.)

        No , I mean the Aldi ads alongside the article. But upon further inspection these are from

    Those are called "advertisements". There's a difference between running an advertisement in a recognised area on the site and "actively promoting" a product -- but we're getting off track here.

    I'd suggest the ViewSonic View Phone 3 at $149 - it's dual SIM. and it supports 3G on one of the sims. It has an 800mhtz Qualcomm processor so the performance should be OK.

    For a bit more money there is the HTC Desire V - this one is also Dual Sim, has a 4" screen but a 1Ghtz Cortex A5 processor - the same one used in iphones. It has a 5MP camera too but will cost more at $349.

    If going with the idea of two lower-end devices, I wouldn't discount Nokia as a viable option, particularly if the area you will be going to is 2G only. A lot of Africa is, so check if 3G coverage is even a factor before you go. The Nokia's are quite good these days, with facebook and gmail integration, 2 x Nokia X2-02's could be a good way to go. (that model has several other nifty features like a built in FM transmitter for music)

    There are many low end models under $100 to consider, it just depends on what you want in them. You could easily shortlist 50+ models under $100. Check ebay too, there are a few 1Ghtz models on there built by chinese brands and no-name/fakes of brand names that are quite good.

    mobileciti. has motorola defy minis for $184. it doesn't have a big screen or the fastest hardware but it might survive rough and tumble outdoor use
    i bought a phone from them six months ago. the delivery was slower than promised

    I have the Cha Cha as a spare phone that I use for travelling. Despite the rather naff name, it has good battery life, a decent QWERTY for emails and (important for me as I also take a cheap tablet) is easy to set up as a wifi hotspot on the lock screen. One problem is very little memory for apps though.

    If you need an ultra cheap, disposable phone there's a pre-paid, Telstra-locked Android 2.1 available at Coles for $44 this week. I have no idea what Telstra unlocking costs, or even the manufacturer, but it may be an option for you?

    K-Mart are selling the Sony Xperia Play for $200 (standard price)- so you can play games if you are stuck waiting for a long time somewhere.

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