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jun 09 2008

iPhone tips and tricks for budget travelers

Apple announced today that it will start selling souped-up iPhones for $199 a pop on July 11. GPS will be built-in, letting you find where you are on an electronic map. (Free add-on applications, such as Loopt, use location feeds to help you find friends on the go, along with other neat tricks.) And the new iPhones will run on AT&T;'s speedy "3G" (third generation) network, which ought to let you access info much faster than current iPhones.

Now that the iPhone is entering "budget travel" territory, here are some iPhone travel tips. You may be hit with enormous charges if you travel with your iPhone overseas—even if you don't intentionally use any services and never place a call. Here are tips on how to avoid these charges. I've used these tips myself on my overseas trips. [Note: I have interspersed language from Apple's and AT&T;'s websites with my own tips below to be as precise as possible, particularly on the instructions about how to use the device.]

Tip 1: When overseas, turn Data Roaming "off". When you travel overseas, international data usage is not covered under your AT&T; plan. And because the iPhone is constantly seeking large amounts of data, you can be unpleasantly surprised by data charges while you're traveling overseas—even if you rarely use the device. To turn data roaming "on/off" tap on: Settings>General>Network>Data Roaming. Toggle Data Roaming to "off" and you will block data roaming (but not voicemail service) outside the U.S., the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Note, I'm assuming that the new iPhones will not ship with this function already in the default "off" position. It's good to check to make sure, whether you have a new or "old" iPhone.

Tip 2: When overseas, use WiFi instead of the 3G network on post-July 11 iPhones: WiFi is available in many airports, hotels, and parks to browse the Web or check email. The chips required to receive info over the 3G network pull a huge amount of battery power, and your iPhone will likely run down faster when using it.

Tip 3: Turn off your iPhone's "Auto-Check" function for email. Check email manually using WiFi instead of having emails downloaded to your iPhone automatically. That way, your iPhone won't be constantly seeking new messages—and adding charges to your phone bill—while it's in your pocket. (To turn off the "auto-check" feature, tap on: Settings>Mail>Auto-Check and select Manual.)

Tip 4: Avoid the International Voice packages from AT&T.; The phone company offers to upsell you on packages that reduce your per-minute rate for making calls in exchange for paying a monthly fee. Unless you're a business person planning to make dozens of calls on the road, this will not pay off for you, on average in most foreign countries, by my calculations.

Tip 5: But do consider the "Data Global Plans", which AT&T; offers for more than 35 countries. Because you'll probably be roaming, any time you receive a voicemail message or download a map or an email, you may be "roaming internationally" and paying a fortune in "data pay-per-use" charges. If you order the plan, you'll be spared wild charges on the receipt of voicemails. Plans can be added by a phone call to AT&T; customer service, and start at about $6 a month. You can add it just for the month that you're traveling to a particular country and then call back on your return to de-list from the plan.

Tip 6: Beware of the iPhone's camera. When traveling overseas, some places, from mosques to government buildings to museums to train stations, don't allow you to take photos. If you are already toting a separate digital camera, you may want to stow your iPhone away.

Tip 7: Get real-time estimates of travel times on your driving route. Open Maps, and you'll see a mini version of the U.S. Type a location into the search box by street address and state or zip code, an intersection, or a major attraction (Niagara Falls). Need driving directions? Tap the button that has two arrows, one pointing up and the other pointing down. Enter your start and stop destinations. (You can click on a name in your Contacts list if you've already entered an address for him or her.) Then tap Route. You'll get an overview. Tap the button that looks like a car, in the lower-right corner of your screen. Strips of road on your screen will now change color, with red-lined roads indicating high-traffic volume. On the first screen of driving directions, you'll see a total-driving estimate that is updated by what is known for current traffic speeds on your route. This works on both "old" iPhones and post-July 11 iPhones.

Tip 8: Use Google on your browser wisely. Find the forecast for your area by typing weather chicago or weather 60609...meaning, "weather [city name]" or "weather [Zip code]." For currency conversions, use this as a model: 85 usd in euros.

Feel free to share your own tips below.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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