Technomad Tools – #1 – Smart phone – Mine and yours?

Let’s talk about smartphones. I just got one and following is my review. What smartphone do you use? Is it better or worse? What features do you love? What features could you do without?
This term technomad is coming up more and more these days. To a certain extent, I fall within the category since I do a lot of my paid (and unpaid) work online and for that I don’t have a boss, an office, or a need to be in any one place.
As such, my office for the past year or so has been my netbook. An Acer Aspire One which has been by far the best $300 I’ve ever spent. I’ve used it for everything a full on laptop or desktop can be used for and it has never let me down. I recommend it 100% as the ultimate travel machine. Below is an affiliate link from Amazon for one.

Still, I’m always trying to make my possessions smaller, faster, and better and I’ve been looking at people with smartphones for a while now and wondering if I would be able to make the leap and perhaps the next time I travel I would be able to leave the netbook at home.
best phone for travel
Does your phone travel well?

I’m a cheap bastard. I don’t like to replace things while other things still work, so when my camera went kaput during our wedding in the Sahara, I thought that maybe if my phone would die too, I could replace the phone and the camera with a smart phone. So, I’ve been keeping my eyes open.
Unfortunately, in both Turkey and Morocco the cost of electronics is about 500% more than in the USA or Europe. Even in Europe the cost of an iPhone or Blackberry is at a premium. Another thing is that I don’t like contracts since I’m never 100% certain I’ll be staying in a country. And, I’m pretty poor in terms of money that I can spend.
An iPhone in Morocco runs about $1700 U.S. A Blackberry is a little less, but the truth is that I’ve used Blackberries and I don’t particularly like them. In Turkey and iPhone is about $1500. I thought about ordering one from Ebay or Amazon, but friends here confirmed that customs (as in Morocco) would rake me over the coals and I would end up paying more. I don’t want to make any bones about it, I’ve looked around and despite the problems, it looks to me like an iPhone 4 is the best thing going.
The other day when my old Motorola Razor V1 once again started dying with a full charge, I decided it was time to make the leap to something. One of my colleagues showed me his phone and told me that I could get one for right around 350 Turkish Lira which works out to about $225 US.
I did a little homework and decided that while it didn’t have all the options I wanted, it would be a pretty decent way to break into having a smart phone. Here is what I wanted:
– a decent camera
– wifi so that I could check email, use voice services on Skype, GTalk, and Yahoo messenger to make calls with no charge when wifi was available
– video capability – playing and recording
– blue tooth
– good sound quality/ call quality
– a good quality touchscreen
– fm radio
– good battery life
– and some games/ability for java apps
samsung star wifi
The reviews I read of the phone seemed to indicate that I was going to get what I was looking for with the Samsung Star Wifi which is marketed in India, Pakistan, Turkey, and other Arab countries under various names such as Samsung Avila.
The phone lives up to most of what I read about it. I’ve had no problems with the wifi though I haven’t yet figured out how to change the default for most java apps so that I don’t get charged for usage.
samsung star wifi - phone for vagabond
It’s small, light, and fits easily in my hand or my pocket.
For me, the camera takes acceptable pictures but the lack of a zoom and flash probably means I’m going to have to get a camera anyway. The video quality seems pretty decent.
Call sound is good and the music player works well but doesn’t seem to have much flexibility in the way playlists work. Definitely would prefer i-tunes.
One big issue at the beginning was that the proprietary browser kind of sucks. Only allows one window at a time. I solved this by downloading the Opera Mini 5 browser which allows for multiple windows but the cost is that with Opera when I turn my phone sideways, it doesn’t automatically change to landscape screen
Another issue is that since it is proprietary, Skype and other voice chat services (VOIP) have not bothered to (or not been able to) make software that allows free calls. So even with the wifi and a browser, I’m not able to make the free VOIP calls I wanted. I was able to download a java app called Nimbuzz, but can only access it through the browser and engage in text chat only. Big disappointment on this one.
Also, I think because of the firmware and proprietary Samsung crap, I can only run one app at a time, although there is a setting which allows music to run in the background while I do other things. So what this means is that if I am using the Opera browser and want to make a note, I have to close the browser and open up the note. Again, big disappointment and not ideal at all.
The initial data storage size is reasonable, but not huge. I’ll have to buy a data card. I want to have the space for videos and music on it, not to mention pictures, and hopefully an ebook or two.
The word processing (notepad) function is fairly primitive and when I have put pdf or .doc files on it, I have to scroll left and right in addition to down. Not really very good for reading something which I was hoping would be an option.
The battery life is good. About 10 hours with heavy usage or from what I’ve read, if it isn’t being used much, a week or more.
The touchscreen seems to work great. It’s fun and the stylus which comes inside is easy to use and stores in the corner safely.
As to videos, I’m afraid that this phone is set up to mostly play youtube videos and since I’m in Turkey, where youtube is banned, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to watch any video but the one I recorded to test out the video camera function. I’m hoping to find an alternative source so that I can watch tv shows and news.
The phone has a couple of kind of goofy features. One is that if you choose you can set up the phone to automatically email two contacts if the SIM is replaced. Ideally this will tell you the number of any thief who steals your phone.
Another one is a fake call function where you can press a button and the phone will call you and play a conversation you’ve pre-recorded so that you can get out of class, meetings, or other uncomfortable situations. It’s a phone with built in lies.
One last thing I do like about this phone is that it comes unlocked and is quad band so I can go anywhere and use it in any country on the planet.
Overall, I like the phone. It’s a definite upgrade from the razor v1, but it is definitely not a replacement for the netbook. That will have to come later. Although, I’m quite happy to lug the netbook with me since it is light and awesome.
Now, how about you- what smart phone do you use? Does it kick ass? Or does it blow?

Back to Morocco, Back to Turkey

Istanbul is incredible. After the performance of the Whirling Dervishes we wandered down to the Galata Bridge and decided to eat some fish while sitting on the water.
The touts were the most aggressive we met in Turkey though the location was romantic and beautiful. The food? Well, it was really crap and perhaps made us both sick. I recommend you go down there, have some tea or a cocktail and then go get your food somewhere else.
bad food but pretty location, Istanbul, Galata Bridge
The prices were also the highest we paid in Turkey. Again though, the ambiance and location were superb.
eating at Galata Bridge Istanbul, Istanbul restaurants
The next day we wandered around and bought souvenirs for Hanane’s family.
Istanbul Spice market, shopping in Istanbul
I don’t really do souvenirs except for the kind I find for free lying on the side of the road or those of necessity (like my souvenir shoes when my old souvenir shoes get worn out from all the walking) but for Hanane it was essential.
istanbul shopping
And then it was to the airport for our return flight to Morocco.
A funny thing happened on the return flight. I’d warned Hanane that airport security in Turkey wouldn’t be as lax as that in Morocco. She’d bought some bottles of shampoo, so I insisted that she check her bag so they wouldn’t get thrown out. High end shampoos, creams, and lotions are very high end in Morocco. So, we went through security at the gate and then the other Moroccans started to come through. There must have been $1000 worth of shampoos, lotions, and creams which were thrown in the garbage because they were in big bottles in carry on luggage. The signs were posted everywhere in Arabic as well as in English and Turkish. That’s not the funny part though, that’s slightly tragic watching as Moroccan women are forced to throw out all their beauty products and families have to throw out the yogurts, waters, and other foods they were bringing for the flight. The funny part was the reaction of the Moroccans. They were livid. The airport security had to deal with increasingly pissed off Moroccan women yelling at them, a father with a bunch of food he was being forced to throw away invited other passengers to help his family consume it, and women kept going to the garbage and making efforts to steal their products back when the security weren’t looking which forced them to move the garbage bin. It was one of the oddest real life dramas I’ve ever witnessed.
istanbul airport security
The flight was uneventful, the train back to Fes from Casa was uneventful, and the arrival back in our apartment was also uneventful.
We spent a couple of days just enjoying our space while we had it and then Hanane made a bee line for her folks place in Sefrou. Usually, when I move, I get rid of everything by selling it or putting it on the street, but this time, that wasn’t really an option. All of our stuff had to be trucked up to the in-laws place in Sefrou. I’ve furnished a good portion of their house at this point!
Ramadan began and we arranged a moving van, I packed everything up, and then we cleaned the apartment and paid our outstanding bills to the landlord.
Shepherds in Morocco
After that we spent a few days at the in-laws place where we fell into the fasting routine of wake up at 3 AM, eat, go to sleep, wake up and work, sleep, eat at 7 PM, go to sleep, wake up at 3 AM….but I’ve already written about that.
Now, it’s almost 5 AM and while this won’t be posted for more than a week, I will be leaving Sefrou, Fes, Morocco, and all I’ve found here behind in about an hour. Even my wife won’t be coming with me as I return to Turkey to start yet another new life in yet another new country.
She’ll be joining me in about a month after Ramadan is through and when I’ve made certain that things are going to work for us in Turkey. I’ve already bought her tickets, but I’m a little worried as it will be the first time she is doing any bigger travel than a train or bus trip on her own. She’ll do okay though, she’s already been through Vago 101.
I leave Morocco with the two bags I arrived with. Of course, there are a few things that we are leaving at the in-laws house that we would like to have in a home someday if we ever have one. Also I am leaving my guitar and violin #2 here for the moment. The harmonica comes with me though.
I’m filled with a mixture of excitement, elation, sadness, relief, and weariness. I’ll write more about Morocco in the near future though. For now, suffice to say Veni Vidi Vici.
eating under the bridge in Istanbul

Sabiha Gökçen International Airport in Istanbul

Our flight from Casablanca landed about 50 km from Istanbul in the Sabiha Gökçen International Airport. It’s not nearly as convenient as Ataturk Airport but it services a lot of discount airlines such as Air Arabia. While not a huge airport, it does have a lot of domestic and international flights coming in and going out.
Since we hadn’t checked any bags, I was hoping we could get through customs quickly and be among the first one’s there. Of course, it didn’t work out like that because I forgot to stop and buy the $20 tourist visa required of Americans. Hanane got through and when it was my turn the immigration agent sent me back down the hall to the visa agent. Where I got one of Turkey’s new visa stamps. It turns out they don’t like foreigners to work there for 90 days, take a ferry to Greece, and then come back so they’ve started a new policy that allows a multiple entry 90 day visa which says clearly that the visitor is not allowed to work. After it runs out you can renew for 45 days, but then you can’t renew for 180 days. It’s an attractive stamp in my passport.
vias afor Americans in Turkey, visa for Moroccans in Turkey
Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, cheap airlines, Istanbul, Turkey, cheapo airlines
how to get from Sabiha Gokcen to Sultanahmet in Turkey
Shuttles at that time of the night average at 30 Euros per person. A taxi is 85 Euros. The one I’d arranged was supposed to be 10 Euros each. I hired the freelancer for 20 Euros each
transport from Sabiha Gokcen to Sultanahmet
If you arrive at Sabiha Gökçen International Airport during normal hours you can take the HAVAS airport bus for 10 lira to Taksim and then take a taxi for less than 10 lira or tyhe funicular or tram for 1.5 Turkish Lira to Sultan Ahmet.

Budget Airlines in Turkey and Morocco – Air Arabia

We are back from Turkey now and in Morocco again. It is just a few days until Ramadan begins and we are going to celebrate most of it up in Sefrou with my wife’s family. It’s a mixture of feelings to be back- part sadness and part joy, for her anyway. For me, I always suffer a bit of a hangover when I get back from travels. This time, a part of it is because I’ve realized over the time I’ve been in Morocco, that I really don’t like being here, the good news is that we won’t be here for long but I’ll talk about that more in future posts, but for now, I want to start giving you the details of our trip to Turkey.
To find great flights to Turkey look at Flights.Vagobond.com
For Hotels be sure to check Hotels.Vagobond.com
 
We decided to make our first foreign trip together (and Hanane’s first foreign trip of her life) to Turkey for a couple of reasons. The first was that while it is difficult and expensive to get visas to most foreign countries for Moroccans, Turkey is just the opposite. Moroccan’s don’t need a visa for Turkey. For me it was a $20 visa fee on arrival and for her it was just a walk through the immigration line. Another factor was that I didn’t want her to suffer culture shock too terribly and I thought that since Turkey is an Islamic country with a secular government, it would be familiar enough to not be overwhelming and yet different enough to be mind expanding. Of course, I’ve always wanted to go to Turkey, so that also played a part.
Finally, and perhaps most decisively was the fact that we were able to book tickets from Casablanca to Istanbul for both of us for $767 U.S. which comes out to less than $200 per person one way. We found our flights through Air Arabia, a no frills discount airline which provided us with an affordable foreign vacation from Morocco, which isn’t necessarily the case for many other destinations. Since I’m certainly not a rich man, this made it possible. During our trip we managed to do just about everything we wanted to. We spent 17 days in Turkey, traveled thousands of miles both to get there and within Turkey, ate most of our meals in restaurants, did plenty of tourist activities, and bought souvenirs for Hanane and her family. Grand total including airfare was 1866 Euro including the trains between Fes and Casablanca and everything in between. When you subtract the airfare and put things in dollars, that means we were spending about $40 each per day when we averaged it out.
cheap airlines in North Africa, cheap airlines in Turkey
We had actually arranged to couchsurf for 14 of our nights but our hosts didn’t work out on a staggering 11 nights due to family illness, pregnancy, work, or other changes that life provides. This was disappointing to us since we both take committing to hosting as a serious responsibility, but we went with it. In total since we were spending an average of $30 per night for hotels and pensions, that would have saved us an additional $330 + which would have lowered our daily average to right around $30 each per day and probably lowered our food budget since we would have been more likely to self cater from grocery stores instead of eating lunch and dinner out all the time. I think if everyone who had agreed to host us had, we would have actually spent right around $20 per person per day. The good news though, is that since I worked my ass off and insisted that we scrimp and save in the months before we went, we had enough to cover ourselves and the freedom of hotel rooms was pretty nice for us and led us to some wonderful experiences we might have otherwise missed.
 
 
 
cheap airline tickets to Turkey, cheap airline tickets to Morocco
During Ramadan, if you fly from Casablanca to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport, you can get a fare that is even less at just $109 each way with Air Arabia. Okay, so much for the airfare, airline tickets, and travel budget numbers…tomorrow, I’ll start detailing the trip itself.

From the Gare de Fes to Mohammad V International Airport by Train

train station in Fes, Morocco
The new train station in Fes is beautiful. It’s so different from the dark and dingy little place I arrived at the first night I was in Morocco what seems like twenty years ago. Hard to believe it hasn’t even been two years yet. time goes slowly in the 12th century. Inside the station, we had some time so we went upstairs to a fancy coffee place and talked about what we hoped our trip to Turkey would be like.
House in Fez, view from Fez Apartment
Boarding the train we found ourselves in a very nice shared cabin with plush seats, cold air conditioning, and a very nice Moroccan family sharing the space with us. Since I had my internet connection with me, I wrote a couple of articles and actually managed to pay for the train trip while we were on the train. It took us just over six hours. Paying for first class in Morocco is always worth the extra money since the 2nd class cars often have AC that doesn’t work and you most often find yourself crammed into a compartment with 8-10 other people as opposed to the 1st Class which comfortably holds a maximum of six. The difference in price between first and second class for this trip was only about $15 U.S. for both of us.
train from Fes to Casablanca, train to Mohammad V International Airport
Our tickets were 165 dirhams each for first class to Casablanca Voyageurs Train Station. From there we had to book two more tickets to Mohammad V Airport for 40 dirhams each. Maybe someday they’ll sell direct trains to the airport from Fes, but the transfer is unavoidable at the present time. For the short trip to Mohammad V from Casa Voyageurs, second class is just fine.

%d bloggers like this: