There’s always a new deal in Italy, and prepaid phone plans change all the time. So, it’s time to update the details on my step-by-step guide to buying a smartphone SIM and pay-as-you-go plan in Italy.
The how-to instructions remain the same (see that previous post for easy-to-follow instructions): it’s simple to get connected in Italy, and much cheaper to use your smartphone (or even a regular phone) on a local network. Roaming rates for voice and text messages have come down within the EU, but that doesn’t help much if you are arriving in Italy from outside Europe. And anyway, if you want to use data, you need a local SIM and plan—wherever you are coming from, and whether you are bringing your own unlocked phone or carrying a MiFi.
Aside from the prices, the other big change since 2012 is the arrival of 4G (or LTE) data speeds. I was all over Italy last month and had a chance to test out one of the networks “in the wild”.
The best data deals on each of the main Italian networks are below the fold.
May 16, 2013 2 Comments
Super-fast Internet, 4G or LTE, arrived in Italy late in 2012. When I was there last month, I had my first chance to test it out “in the wild”.
I made a few coverage observations and occasional speed tests, using my iPhone 5 and 4G data with Vodafone—who have been rolling out 4G steadily across Italy’s major cities. These tests are not scientific and make no claims to be. But, to give you an idea of what to expect, here’s what I found on my travels:
- In theory, Vodafone’s 4G network can return download speeds of 43 or 70 Mbps. I didn’t get near either of those theoretical maximums, anywhere.
- Coverage in Rome was fast and comprehensive, especially outdoors. Pages were loading instantly. There was a definite “wow” factor.
- Coverage in Naples was also fast (tests averaged around 29 Mbps download speeds), but the narrow streets in the centre made for a patchy 4G signal.
- Coverage in Turin was fast and reliable: I tested at 25 Mbps download, 8 Mbps upload.
- There is no 4G coverage in Florence.
- A test in Milano Centrale station returned a download speed of 14 Mbps. In mitigation, I was under cover and it was rush hour.
- A test in Bologna Centrale station (also inside) returned a download speed of 22 Mbps.
To give you an idea for comparison: 3G data speeds outside my home in London average around 8 Mbps down, 1.5 Mbps up. And I’m pretty happy with that.
It’s currently free to use Vodafone’s 4G network in Italy—or, rather, 4G speeds are included with their current crop of data and all-in plans. After May 31, 2013, 4G will no longer be bundled with those. For 10€ you will be able to make your ricaricabile (prepaid/PAYG plan) 4G-ready by activating the Internet 4G per smartphone option.
Is it worth paying 10€ if you are only touring the country for a week or two? I’m not sure. Voda’s 3G is already reasonably fast; they run a good national network with affordable voice, text and data plans. And 4G geographical coverage is still fairly limited—Vodafone’s 4G/LTE detailed coverage map is kept up to date here. Ultimately, it depends on how much you value an instant (versus a mere “quick”) connection, and how much time you are planning to spend in 4G-enabled cities.
TIM also offers LTE/4G speeds in some Italian cities (notably also excluding Florence). Their coverage map is here, and is a little broader than Voda. TIM already has a 4G add-on for travellers up and running (and it isn’t free…): for 6€ per week, you can prepay for 500 Mb of 4G traffic with the TIM per smartphone 4G option.
[Also cross-posted at SmartphoneTravel.com]
May 14, 2013 1 Comment
That, basically, was the question I tackled for my latest Telegraph column. And I reckon the answer, for anyone who takes photos for fun rather than for a living, is “probably.” Fun, affordable lenses like the Mujjo Fisheye Pro Lens can help you add a bit of creativity to your shooting. Then there are apps like Camera+, which can correct common faults and add some frivolous filters. Read it all…
And there are a few more post-processing apps that had to be cut from the final piece due to space restrictions. I like Photoshop Express (iOS/Android; free). It enables one-tap autocorrection of basics such as red eye and colour balance, or you can play individually with attributes like hue/saturation, tint/temperature and sharpening. Snapseed (iOS/Android; free) has a range of creative functions including tilt-shift effects and focus recentring. It is a Google property, so also integrates seamlessly with Google+, if you share pics there. Free app tadaa (iPhone) has a social element alongside editing tools and filters. Camera360 is nifty on Windows Phone 8 devices—and free. Photoshop Touch (iOS/Android; £2.99) incorporates professional tools from Photoshop’s desktop and tablet software, such as layers. If you take your photography seriously, it is worth the small outlay.
And there are plenty more, for Android and iOS devices anyway.
May 7, 2013 No Comments
For anyone interested, a few of the recent articles that have appeared in print and online with my name at the top:
1. For the March issue of National Geographic Traveller magazine, I wrote a long piece on Lonely Planet, Foursquare, and the death (or rebirth?) of the travel guide. I’ll be in Rome during April testing some of these ideas IRL.
3. For my regular Sunday Telegraph column, I wrote about how to tap into genuine local expertise for your next holiday; the best apps and gadgets for skiers and snowboarders; how to keep your gadgets powered up in the wilderness (or to stay in touch without any access to power at all); and how to arrange a home swap holiday online.
4. For b-There magazine, I wrote a guide to visiting Turin in January.
6. For Startle.com, I chose the five most useful smartphone apps for London travel.
7. I launched, in conjunction with writers Stephen Keeling (New York) and John Band (Sydney), a new venture: The Smart Phone Traveler’s Guides to… So far we have published £2 eBooks on how to travel affordably with your smartphone in Australia, Canada and the USA. More titles are coming soon, including the UK and Italy.
8. For April’s Sunday Times Travel Magazine, I contributed some of my favourite “Cheap Thrills,” including where to download a library of respected UK hotel and restaurant guides for nothing, and sightseeing in Florence on the cheap. The magazine is out now.
9. For Visit Wales, I chose some of my favourite North Wales watering holes.
10. I saw my fat paper copy of Frommer’s Europe. If industry reporting proves accurate, this could be among the last Frommer’s guides to see the inside of a printworks, however.
And this week, I’m joining the Guardian‘s live online Q&A on Italy holidays. I’ll post the link as soon as I have it. (EDIT: Here.)
More is in the works….
March 25, 2013 No Comments
I get asked to write a fair bit. It’s nice. I’d like to get asked even more often, but the inbox is ticking over, thankfully. I still get a buzz from receiving an email that reads something like: “We’ve seen your stuff, and we like it, and it would be great if you could do something kinda similar for us.” I feel lucky to get those emails every now and then.
Often, though, when you read to the end of one, they boil down to either of the questions in the post title. Will I write for free? Will I write in exchange for a link from your site? Every writer whose name is out there gets these, a lot, even relative small-fry like me.
I’ve been intending, for ages, to write a standard reply. Or, at least, standard-ish; two requests are rarely identical. Now I have and, just to make things nice and transparent, I thought I’d stick my five guidelines up here:
1. If you are a profit-making business, as a general rule I won’t write for free and I won’t write in exchange for a link. If the sum-total of your request boils down to this, and we have zero relationship to date, then my answer is “no way.” I can’t eat a link or live in it, and I don’t really need the exposure. I’m not a celebrity or a brand ambassador, and I don’t want to be either. I’m a professional writer and writers, as they say, can die of exposure. Anyway, people who need to find me can easily do so. I’m on Twitter. I’m on Google+. My name makes it pretty easy to find me on Google. Anyway, your request is reminding me so strongly of this:
Actually, you were asking me to design a logotype which would have taken me a few hours and fifteen years experience. For free. With pie charts. Usually when people don’t ask me to design them a logo, pie charts or website, I, in return, do not ask them to paint my apartment, drive me to the airport, represent me in court or whatever it is they do for a living.
In fact, if this sounds like your request, please don’t email me in the first place. If your business model is such that you need content but can’t afford to pay anyone to create it for you, then your business model sucks. Your email to me is wasting bits, bytes, pixels, your time, and mine.
But there are exceptions. Big ones. We’re only on rule 1, of my 5… so read on.
2. If you want to propose a quid pro quo that has real value, then let’s talk. Say, if you’re looking for a content swap involving my new Smart Phone Traveller’s Guide to… books, then I’m all ears. There’s some amazing money-saving stuff in those, on buying voice SIMs and data deals for travelling to Australia, Canada, and the USA (and more destinations soon). You want some killer content… I want to get these £2 Kindle books promoted… bingo. Or maybe you want to co-promote one of my Tuscany guidebooks? And so on. You get the idea.
These are good reasons to contact me, and if the deal works for both of us, then I’m interested. Payment doesn’t always need to be in cash. This is one of those proper, grown-up, “new economy” deals you hear about.
3. If we have a pre-existing relationship, let’s talk a bit more. Maybe there’s something we can work out. I’ve probably enjoyed writing for you in the past, and always look at a two-sided relationship with the long view. I’m an optimist; there might just be jam tomorrow.
4. If you’re a not-for-profit (a charity, say), let’s talk a bit more. I’m a sucker for a good cause. I give, what I can (including regularly to these two), but it’s also good to do. If I can help, I will.
5. And if you’re already a friend and you are starting a new venture, and think my words can somehow help, then the answer is “yes.” But don’t email me: I’m more of a DM-slash-SMS-slash-GChat person. Also: buy me a drink. This works.
I think that covers most of it. Have I forgotten anything? Do my rules need a tweak? I’m not sure.
January 19, 2013 No Comments
Here we go again: an autumn selection of just some of the words that have appeared in the wild with my name attached. Go:
1. A major project has seen the light of day: an eBook aimed at anyone who travels to the USA and wants to take their phone with them. Have you checked the cost of roaming on your home tariff? Ouch. Check out The Smart Phone Traveller’s Guide to the USA if you want to know how to save yourself a fortune. And the book only costs £2/$3. More in this new series are in the pipeline… and I’m also looking for expert local authors to research and co-write with. Drop me a line if you’re interested in discussing.
2. I was thrilled to write my first piece for National Geographic Traveller magazine. My tech feature covered how the social graph is changing the way we travel. More for my favourite travel glossy coming soon.
3. My technology advice column for the Telegraph continues. Recent editions have covered whether the iPhone 5 is the best smartphone for travellers and how to keep your digital information safe when you are travelling. A couple more are due to run before Xmas.
4. I’ve written stacks more answers to readers’ questions on London, for the Telegraph‘s In The Know microsite. What are London’s oddest street names? Which are London’s best literary museums? Looking for the best places to buy graphic novels, a kilt, or Lomo gear? Maybe you want to know where to eat offal in a restaurant or whether Parliament is haunted by creatures more ghoulish even than a modern-day politician or how to see (and re-create) the Thames views that Monet painted. And so on.
6. I offered up 5 Things You Don’t Know About London, with pretty pictures, for Frommers.com.
7. Three guidebooks I co-authored were published. You can buy Frommer’s London 2013, Frommer’s Italy 2013 and Frommer’s England & the Best of Wales in the usual places. For Italy, I covered Tuscany and Umbria, as well as the planning, background and itinerary chapters. For England and Wales, I looked after London, Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, southern Somerset and North Wales. Frommer’s, of course, is now owned by Google. So, what happens next? We shall see…
There is more, and more to come… but that’s it for now. Thanks for stopping by.
November 30, 2012 No Comments
I haven’t been on a plane since 2004. But, I hear, lots of you do, and millions visit the USA every year. Have you checked the price of using your phone there recently? One major UK network charges 90p per minute roaming for local calls within the USA, and £6 per MB for data, or allows travellers to prepay a data bundle of 200 MB for a whopping £120. Another charges £5 per day for up to 25 MB. You could use a few meg just navigating around the corner using Google Maps.
A leading Australian network will charge over $2 per minute for you to make a local call within the USA. Phoning home will cost over $3 per minute from the same operator. Those are per minute.
That’s the bad news. But guess what? You don’t have to swallow that. You can pick up a local SIM for almost (or even literally) nothing. You can instantly prepay for a plan that gives you unlimited calls and texts for a week for $14, and even throws in 50 minutes of calls home for free. From another network, you can buy a gig of data for $25. You get to use your own phone, logged into all your usual services as normal.
It’s all easy… if you know how, and where to look for the best deals. So I teamed up with New Yorker and longtime business journalist, and author of over 20 guides, Stephen Keeling, to show you how. We wrote an eBook, the Smart Phone Traveller’s Guide to the USA. It costs £2 (or $3) for the Kindle.
That’s roughly the cost of a two-minute roaming call home, or of checking Facebook a handful of times. In other words, the book will pay for itself, many, many times over, on an average trip to the USA.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask them below. If you enjoyed the book, let me know too.
And you can connect with Donald Strachan on Google+.
November 9, 2012 No Comments
Tourism to Croatia is growing. Fast. You probably know this already.
What you might not know is that EU regulations to limit the roaming charges your home network can levy while you are overseas don’t apply there. (And they never will if you’re visiting from the USA, Canada, Australia, or anywhere else outside the European Union.) Per minute local call charges of around €1 and data at several euros (or pounds, or dollars) per MB aren’t unusual.
So, if you want to travel with a phone or tablet, you need a local SIM card. Calls and browsing will be much cheaper, and it will be free to receive calls on your local Croatian number. Fortunately, SIMs and top-ups are easily available in Croatia—from post offices, gas stations, and supermarkets as well as specialist retailers—and calls and data are cheap if you shop smart. Way cheaper than roaming, for minimal hassle.
The best Croatian prepaid phone SIMs [Read more →]
October 1, 2012 4 Comments
It is said by wise SEO alchemists that a punchy title and a top 10 list are the keys to eternal love (from search engines, anyway). Well, 1 out of 2 isn’t bad, I suppose.
In truth, I didn’t have time to write a proper piece. So, like many a travel journalist, editor, and blogger before me, I’m reaching for the crutch of a quick and dirty toplist. Here are a few of the small noises I’ve created recently:
- I’ve finally got my mugshot on the Telegraph Travel columnists page, and have written for the column recently on fantastic apps for navigating UK public transport, cutting mobile phone costs abroad, and tested to find out which car rental websites find the cheapest deals.
- I wrote an in-depth guide to seeing Tuscany on a tight budget for the Guardian.
- I’ve joined the team of “London experts” for the Telegraph‘s In the Know, answering questions asked by visitors to London including “where can my kids learn about London’s history in a enjoyable way?” and “where is the most reasonably priced glass of bubbly in London?”
- I’ve held the brand new edition of my Florence & Tuscany Day by Day guidebook, published last month, and played with the stunning new iPad app of my latest Great Britain guidebook.
- I’ve gathered the very latest information on data plans for smartphones and iPads for anyone visiting Italy this summer.
- I toured Tuscany to write a short beer-lover’s guide to the region (well, someone had to etc. etc.).
- I selected five things you don’t know about London for Frommers.com.
- I’ve written a short guide to visiting Florence in July for bThere magazine.
- I wrote about Weymouth’s mini-renaissance in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics.
- I delivered lots of words for new editions of guidebooks on Europe, London, England & Wales, and Italy.
On which, more soon…
July 17, 2012 No Comments
The world, and especially the Web, is overflowing with advice about the best places to stay. “Where to stay” is pretty much the raison d’être of the guidebook and the weekend travel supplement.
But “where should I stay” isn’t always my question. Sometimes my actual question is:
“Where shouldn’t I stay?”
Why? Sometimes it’s because I booked too late and all the places I should be staying are gone. Sometimes it’s because there’s so many good places available that I need a quick way of whittling them down. Sometimes it’s because Hotels.com, or Booking.com, or whoever I’m using this week doesn’t carry the places I should be staying. And sometimes (often) it’s because I can’t afford to stay in the places I should be staying. Which leaves the rest.
July 16, 2012 No Comments