taking and sending photos or looking up directions on the go, smartphones have
become an essential accessory for many globetrotters. In fact, in 2011 one out of three handsets sold worldwide were
smartphones, reports the US market research firm IDC.
Yet despite the recent hype
around the iPhone 5 (which goes on sale around the globe on Friday), only
approximately one in five smartphones sold worldwide this year will likely be an
iPhone. In the global race of smartphone sales, Samsung (maker of the Galaxy)
is in a two-horse race with Apple (maker of the iPhone), followed by the third
most popular manufacturer, Nokia (maker of the Lumia), according
to data from US market research firm Strategy Analytics.
So given that other mobile
phone developers are successfully challenging Apple, the previous industry
leader, which device is the best all-in-one tool for travellers?
To give a taste of your
options, we’ve compared the flagship smartphones from the world’s best-selling
manufacturers: the Apple iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S III and the Nokia Lumia
All three have typical
smartphone amenities that travellers adore, such as primary cameras that take eight
megapixel images (which compares favourably with the two-megapixel-image
standard of regular mobile phones) and they all shoot high-definition video.
Arriving to 350 Apple stores worldwide 21
Cleverest travel tool: The newest iPhone uses Apple’s new iOS 6 operating system, which
has a travel-friendly built-in app called Passbook. (Users of 3GS, 4 and
4S and the second- and third-generation iPads can upgrade to iOS 6 for free.)
Passbook lets you store and collect many tickets
electronically, including boarding passes for participating airlines such as United,
American, Delta and Lufthansa, plus train reservations on Amtrak, and hotel
reservations for participating chains, such as W Hotels. Rather than searching
for an e-mail message with a bar code on it (whether printed on paper or saved
electronically) or a particular screen on an airline or travel management app,
all of your relevant reservation information is stored in one place, accessible
with one click from the iPhone’s home screen.
Biggest drawback: Non-Apple devices (including those listed
below) have, as a general rule, removable SIM cards -- memory chips that store
data including contacts. The new iPhone 5 has a nano-SIM, whose non-customary
format makes it difficult to convert the iPhone for international use by buying
a local, regular-sized SIM card, which in turn grants access to cheaper data and
calls on foreign networks. Eventually, international vendors will likely start
selling new nano-SIMs, but in the meantime, travellers are out of luck.
Worth noting: Any latest-generation
Apple device, such as iPhones from 3GS onward, allows free video chats between
Apple devices using the free FaceTime app. Depending on your carrier and your
location, the iPhone 5 can support FaceTime chats over a cellular connection,
but there is never a charge for data transmitted by wi-fi. (Skype mobile apps
offer a comparable free service for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone devices
via wi-fi, too, and over some cellular networks.)
Samsung Galaxy S III
Released worldwide May 2012
Cleverest travel tool: Samsung has made the most
of the Android operating system’s slight edge over other smartphones in
delivering accurate, prompt spoken GPS navigation. The Samsung Galaxy S III lets
users summon driving or walking directions via its voice-recognition software,
S-Voice, which then works with Google Maps. Apple has similar voice-activated
driving or walking directions on the iPhone 5, pairing its voice-activation
technology Siri with its new maps app, created using data from navigation
specialist TomTom, but Samsung has been offering voice-driven turn-by-turn
directions for a much longer time and has a head start in fine-tuning its
service. More crucially, Samsung and other Android devices are powered by
Google Maps, the Internet’s most used mapping database and heavily supplemented
by user-generated feedback, making it more comprehensive than TomTom’s maps.
Biggest drawback: If you’re someone who assumes that bigger is
better, then you’ll like that the Samsung Galaxy S III has the largest screen of
nearly all smartphones on the market, at 4.8in tall, compared with 4.5in for
the Lumia 920 and 4in for the iPhone 5. (Samsung’s niche Galaxy Note currently
has the biggest display of any smartphone at 5.3in tall, though the holder of
the title for largest smartphone screen switches perpetually among the
manufacturers LG, HTC and Samsung.) Yet some users find that the Galaxy S III,
whose overall dimensions are 5.3in by 2.7in, is too large to easily use with
Worth noting: In a rare bonus, Galaxy S III supports micro
SD cards -- memory chips that are compatible with many cameras and laptops –
which makes it easy to transfer files and photos back and forth between the phone
and other devices that also support micro SD cards.
Nokia Lumia 920
Arriving worldwide 21 October
Cleverest travel tool: Nokia’s Lumia
920 is the first major smartphone to make augmented reality a
standard feature. Just click on the phone’s City Lens tool, look at the street
you’re standing on by viewing it through the camera’s viewfinder, and you will
see overlaid information such as arrows pointing you in the direction you need
to go based on your search, or information about nearby cafes, restaurants and
other attractions worth visiting.
Biggest drawback: The Lumia runs on the Windows Phone 8
operating system, which isn’t yet served by many app developers, meaning some
of the more popular travel apps found on Apple and Android operating systems
won’t run on the device.
Worth noting: The Lumia 920 is the first major smartphone to
use wireless charging, meaning that instead of juicing up the battery via a
plug in the wall, you can instead lay the Lumia 920 on top of a pad, such as
the Fatboy Pillow,
which uses magnetic induction to charge the device. The advantage is that the Lumia
920 works with more than one brand of wireless pad, and you’re not beholden to
buying the company’s proprietary charging cord – even if future Nokia models have
differently shaped ports. This flexibility contrasts with the iPhone 5, where
Apple has shrunk the charge port from the size used for previous iPhones, which
means even current iPhone users need to purchase new accesories if they upgrade
to the latest generation device.
Remember, the device you
have isn’t everything. The main worry global travellers face is avoiding
extortionate roaming charges for using a foreign telecom network.
The best advice is to
contact your carrier to find out if your device can be used abroad at an
affordable rate, and what its rules for international travel might be. Our guide
on using your
cell phone abroad has other cost-savings tips.
Sean O’Neill is the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel.