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.
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