How I traveled through Europe and saved $4381
by Anh Han
This is a fairly long review so for the impatient ones here are the headlines:
- iphonetrip provides sim cards and phones that give you unlimited worldwide data for a fixed up front fee
- It’s not a scam
- The service uses an American network so Non US customers need an unlocked smart phone (it works just fine on existing iPhones locked to AT&T)
- It’s great if you are a heavy user or if you are traveling across many countries
Myself and three of my close friends recently spent 4 days driving over 2600 miles around the windy roads of Europe all in the name of Charity. We were willing participants in the 2010 Screwball Rally where over 50 teams took a car worth no more then £750, decorated it and then took it on a road trip of Epic proportions – from England, through France, over the Italian Alps and homeward bound via the Swiss border and the amazing German Autobahn.
This was our trusty chariot: A 16 year old BMW complete with go faster stripes and the emblem of everyones favorite robots in disguise.
Being quite partial to documenting epic adventures, I was interested in finding a way that could enable us to tell and record our story through the use of live blogging. Having been burnt by international data roaming charges in the past, I knew we had to find an alternative to the standard O2 roaming charges for data.
I looked for a data bundle from my service provider with no luck. It seemed that the only way to document our progress was to take the hideous £3/MB charges that were on offer. After much more searching I miraculously stumbled on iphonetrip.
What is iphonetrip?
iphonetrip exist to provide solutions to help travelers get their smart-phone enabled data fix. They provide sim cards that provide unlimited data for a fixed upfront fee and also offer a range of iPhones for hire.
They solve a very real problem and provide a real alternative to paying the extortionate roaming fees from your local service provider.
I’m not going to lie to you: their website made me feel a little uneasy and despite having all the correct security seals under the hood. There is something that doesn’t quite look right from the website that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the lack of a strong brand, the oversell in the text or the relativity of the site with the design of Apple in general. Nonetheless, this is something for a real designer to look at.
I googled “KeepGo review” and found a few forum posts. Some of the replies were cross posted across multiple forums by new users, further fueling my concerns that I was about to take a ride to Scam Town.
Despite all this I thought I’d try to email them with a proposition: They give me a couple of cards for a week and I provide the internet some real world evidence that this whole thing is a genuine business that is solving a very real and expensive problem.
To my amazement someone replied to my outlandish request and about a week later I was provided with two complimentary sim cards and a weeks subscription to the World Unlimited Package.
The sim cards were FedEx’d from the US within a week and with plenty of time before my trip (my only job now was to not lose the things!). As I recall it, the sim cards arrived in an envelope (which has to be signed for) and had some note confirming my activation.
So far so good.
If you are a non US customer, you need a phone that is unlocked to use the KeepGo sims – they roam on US network and you get yourself a nice little American phone number when you install the sim card. Details on their website state that the service“Works with any AT&T Locked iPhone (3G, 3GS or 4G models only). No hacking, jailbreaking or unlocking required!”
A word of warning… if needed, try and test that your phone is compatible BEFORE you go on your trip. One of our phones hadn’t completed the unlock process and the sim failed to jump onto a network. Luckily we found someone with iTunes who could help us activate the phone after it became unlocked (in the UK, O2 provides a free unlocking service for their contract customers).
The whole thing is very impressive. The KeepGo sim continuously jumped onto the local network with the best 3G coverage automatically which is a real saver in terms of hassle and cost if you were going to multiple countries. Speeds were no worse then normal and we had some problems on the long stretches of motorway, but this was to be expected.
The phone worked just as normal and it’s nice to know that you can browse the internet and use data as much as you want (there is a 7GB a week limit, which is quite massive in reality) without fear of receiving a massive phone bill when you come home.
Our usage was on the high side as we were live blogging our process by emailing photos and messages to our the Posterous site we had set up. The internet as also a faithful friend when driving such long distances fueling us with interesting facts and news on the lonely road.
Having a data enabled smart phone helped us in more than one occasion, especially in finding the camp sites which were supposed to be our homes for the night.
If we were to pay for our sims it would have cost us $265 (£170) for a week of data roaming. This is broken down into 2 Unlimited Europe Packages at $15 per day plus a $55 delivery fee. Any calls are charged at $1.68 per minute and $0.85 per SMS
Our trip lasted 5 days (the KeepGo service has a minimum 7 day agreement) so our daily cost was $53 or $26.50 (about £16 a day) each. If we would have used the sims for the entire 7 days then our daily cost would be around $19 or £12 each
Comparing this with the £3/MB roaming charge that O2 place on their service plans meant that for the KeepGo plan to be more cost effective we had to use more than 5 MB of data per person.
5 MB of data is not a lot of data at all.
As soon as we changed sims, we reset our usage stats to see how much data we would actually use. Note that this usage profile is quite high (emailing a photo every half hour, browsing and map usage).
In four days we used 981MB of data (incoming and outgoing). 981MB!!! 981MB is a staggering amount and I would have cried a lot if I was charged for all that data by O2. At £3/MB, 981MB would have cost a tear inducing £2943 ($4646)!!!! The $265 KeepGo costs don’t seem so big in comparison.
For those visually inclined, here is what the comparison looks like in graph form.
Shortly after your sim card expires you are sent a full invoice with your final balance. This is a nice touch and our final bill was around $11 mainly from some SMS back to the UK.
The guys at KeepGo have a very good product that helps to lessen the cost of international roaming fees. You get clear transparency, pay up front and enjoy your smart phone the way it was meant to be used.
It’s worth looking at if you are visiting multiple countries and want to use data on your phone (you’d quickly burn through the 5MB a day needed to make it a more cost effective solution).
Even though it’s so much better then paying international data charges, the product itself is still quite expensive at around £12 per day (although this will vary depending on how long you have the service for and how many sim cards you order). The $55 delivery to europe also seems a little excessive (the sims arrive in a letter sized envelope).
£12 a day adds up and it almost feels like a kick in the teeth since many of us already have a data bundle allowance that we pay for each month but with no other alternative KeepGo is a worthwhile purchase, especially if you are going on memorable trip. The upfront cost allows you to budget accordingly and really enjoy your holiday.