Around two months ago I flew out of Gatwick for my holiday in Cyprus. I brought my phone with me, of course. I wasn’t hoping that my phone would provide an abundance of entertainment while I was away, but neither was I intending to leave it in the bottom of my bag. Read on to see how useful your phone can be abroad.
GPS and Navigation
When I got there, I expected the GPS on my phone to work immediately without issue – after all why shouldn’t it? After one or two outings in the hire car showing that satellites were sparse, I thought that perhaps some additional content was needed to make GPS work in a foreign area.
I connected to the Internet at my resort, then went into all my GPS applications and ran ‘Update AGPS’. I am not quite sure what this is, but I know that it definitely did the trick. Suddenly I had gone from one or two satellites appearing in my applications, to 6-10 appearing. This allowed me to pinpoint my location within an app I had downloaded before I got on the plane: Cyprus Offline. The developers, Applantation.com, worked with the OpenMaps community to make a map I could use on holiday without a network connection. This is useful because downloading data abroad can be pretty slow and cost an absolute bomb. Due to this, and equally horrific roaming tariffs, I didn’t take my phone off Airplane Mode all holiday. Applantation make dozens of offline maps, which are worth looking into if you are heading out of your network carrier’s service area.
I knew that Google Maps keeps caches of map data. I hoped I would be able to connect to WiFi, hover and pan over the island, then be able to use Maps offline around the island. This assumption lead to disappointment when I was reminded that Google Maps works with layers of detail; I could zoom in on the cached maps, but only to be shown a fuzzy, crude road which lacked details of smaller roads. If you want to get a good resolution of your planned route with Maps you have to pan along it first. Pretty useless and impractical.
When the GPS was working, it came in very useful for exploring the island. Finding and driving down tiny hidden roads that you would otherwise be oblivious to is great fun. Planning a day out is also a lot easier.
Every now and then back at the apartment I used C:geo to find a few Geocaches, and after saving all the details into offline mode, I would use GPS Status and Cyprus Offline to reach the co-ordinates. I had to buy a car charger for my phone though; having the GPS and screen on constantly is a tremendous drain on the battery. My phone would probably last just over an hour or so working that hard. But charging your phone off a car lighter takes forever – I expect that while I was actually using the phone, the rate of charge and battery drain were nearly breaking even.
Something else I will mention is that phone screens are appalling in the sun. In most countries you can adjust the brightness to help see the screen both indoors and outdoors, but when holidaying in the Mediterranean, ‘sunny’ gets a new meaning – you cannot see a thing! In the apartment everything was fine, but outside my screen was useless even on the highest brightness setting. If I tried to use my phone, I had to cup my hand over the top, or move somewhere shady.
Phones make ideal holiday cameras. They save you dragging around a whole extra gadget, are quick off the mark, and produce great results.
I took most of my photos using the ‘point-and-shoot’ method since I could rarely see the screen in sunlight, but they look great. Two examples are below. These were originally around 3000x2000px from an 8MP camera, but have been compressed down for this article. Since most smartphones have a microSD card slot supporting up to 8GB, you can take an unbelievable amount of photos: around 6660 pictures at ~3000x2000px
The sun made it impossible to see the screen, so I had to guess. The horizon level is slightly off, but otherwise fine!
Lovely place, Pissouri Bay, I recommend it.
Before I left England, I went online and downloaded a stack of games to keep me amused. Among them was Airport Mania 2 (I felt compelled), Racing Moto, X Plane, Cut The Rope, Apparatus, and a few others. It seems that games with a final goal or objective are better at killing boredom because they keep you motivated. Games with no final objective get very boring, very quickly. They stop being fun and become repetitive.
Once I had pretty much exhausted the amusement that games offered, I poked about my phone and noticed (the built-in) Reader. Since I got my Desire HD a week before I flew away, some of HTC’s newer inclusions were unfamiliar to me. Turns out it is an eBook reader, and I started with Dracula. It was completed on-and-off by the pool a few days later. The parasol was up of course, otherwise it would have been impossible to see anything.
It is surprised me how quickly I got used to flicking over a screen to turn pages. I suppose applications like Reader and Kindle for Android are useful for flights and long drives too. Perhaps we will be using Android-based Kindles soon?
So, if you take your phone away with you, don’t let it get dusty at the bottom of your hold-all. Take it out, and make good use of it!