(From left to right) My dad, Wally, and Maxi installing a rain gauge in Valdivia, Chile.
A little over a month ago, 36 hours after catching a flight from Los Angeles International Airport, I found myself walking off a plane into a small, rural airport in southern Chile. Beginning in Seattle, Washington, I flew to San Diego, drove to Los Angeles, flew to Houston, caught a flight from Houston to Santiago, Chile, and finally finished the journey with a short hop to Valdivia.
The final destination was a ubiquitous Toyota Hilux waiting in the parking lot for my father Marty and I. A research colleague of his, Maxi, who was himself accompanied by an Argentinian colleague, Wally, greeted us in the terminal and directed us to their truck to begin what was effectively a road trip through the wilderness of Chile and Argentina. Maxi and Wally had already been on the road for several weeks, driving in great latitudinal lines across the two countries in order to gather data from an array of rain and temperature gauges they’d spent several years developing and installing. But that is another story entirely.
In short, I found myself with my father and two kind and welcoming South American natives; a passenger along for the ride on a road trip throughout central and southern Chile and Argentina. I was accompanied by my trusty OnePlus 3T, a 25,000 mAh battery much worse for wear, and my aging Sony-built mirrorless camera.
An incredible view of the Andes while flying into Santiago.
I will begin by making it clear that I do not prescribe to an exceedingly common viewpoint – call it disconnectivism– that the experience of traveling or even just life in general will necessarily be improved by removing electronics from one’s immediate existence, at least for certain periods. Rather, as with literally any technology introduced throughout the entire history of humanity, devices like cameras, computers, and smartphones all have certain specific utilities that they are invaluable or useful for. Constant use or application of a technology with only limited use-cases will always inherently be disruptive or less than optimal for the user, if not foolish, but this is undoubtedly confounded by the addictive nature of social media and constant connectivity in the case of smartphones. Combined with the free international roaming offered by many mobile networks worldwide, it is easy to understand how many may feel like the connectivity of the Internet is inescapable.
TL;DR: RSS feeds are my drug of choice, I have far too many tabs open in Chrome at any given moment, and I continued to use my (Internet-connected) smartphone in a self-controlled manner while exploring South America.
In the context of smartphones, there are maybe two or three aspects of a device that really matter while traveling internationally, especially in places without reliable access to electricity. These three factors are battery life/charging, cellular connectivity, and camera performance. For me, the battery life and camera performance were all I truly cared about and needed to rely upon. While I sincerely enjoy photography, a high quality smartphone camera can provide a way to both take excellent photos and also prevent the often very involved experience of using DSLRs from marring one’s ability to transparently experience a new country. As I demonstrated earlier in the year, I’d already found the OnePlus 3T’s camera experience to be highly rewarding.
Reading in a Ranger’s cabin in Valdivia, Chile. The cat was an extremely random and very friendly stray that decided to sit on my lap!
I currently use my OnePlus 3T with one of T-Mobile’s recent and fitting One plans, meaning that I get free and unlimited international roaming in an array of countries, Chile and Argentina included. Due to the fact that I had barely any idea of where I would be while traveling within those two countries, I really didn’t expect to have any cell coverage at all. I was pleasantly surprised to have nearly perfect LTE coverage in Santiago, Chile, but data roaming was quite unreliable and intermittent outside Santiago and throughout the road trip. My 3T would regularly detect local networks eligible for my free roaming and display the type of coverage and signal strength, but it would for the most part simply refuse to actually connect to the network. No amount of restarting, APN modifications, or setting tweaking changed this and I gave up a day into the trip.
Regardless, it was probably a happy accident, in the sense that the lack of reliable roaming led me to focus more on the beautiful views and more transparently experience Chile and Argentina.
Battery Life and Dash Charge
My OP3T and a dying but functional external battery.
In the 6 months that I’ve owned my 3T, my battery life has effectively mirrored Mario’s experience while reviewing the device. Under normal conditions in the U.S., I tend to get an average of 4-6 hours of screen on time under heavy usage conditions, and anywhere from 6-9 hours of SOT with moderate usage. If I wanted to, I could easily make a full battery last 48+ hours under moderate usage, but I will admit that moderate usage is rare for me, and I am typically a heavy daily user of my 3T.
A crucial aspect of the OnePlus 3 and 3T, however, are their Dash Charging capabilities. Combined with the kind of endurance described above, it almost wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that battery life fades into a background of irrelevance for the devices’ users. Insofar as 15 minutes with a power outlet can provide literally hours of moderate usage, I would suspect that all but the absolute heaviest users of the OnePlus 3T give much more than a passing thought to their battery level throughout a normal day. In other words, battery anxiety is quite literally nonexistent in my normal usage of the 3T, even with less-reliable access to charging opportunities.
During my time in South America, all the above observations generally held true, even though access to wall outlets was very limited for the most part (not because of South America, of course, but what I was doing there). Given my issues with roaming cell connectivity on the trip and my subsequent use of airplane mode most of the time, my only real worries regarding battery life involved attempting to use my extraordinarily slow-charging external battery as little as possible, while still sharing it between the four of us and our devices. For comparison I noted (with only a hint of smug satisfaction) that my Dad’s iPhone 5S seemed to have the approximate battery life of two potatoes in series and had to use a good deal of my external battery’s capacity.
I spent the majority of the 1,200+ miles we drove reading on my Nook Simple Touch, browsing offline articles saved in Pocket on my 3T, and both admiring the views and taking photos whenever we stopped for food or a break. When I could connect to a cell network, I would also browse my Feedly, but I only did this maybe once or twice a day. The only really battery-heavy aspect of my 3T usage during the road trip was taking pictures and playing music (through the battery-sipping headphone jack, I doth proclaim!) while we drove. Nearly zero battery anxiety whatsoever during rural international travel was truly an exceptional experience, and I suspect my OnePlus 3T has set an extremely high bar for any future smartphones I may consider adopting in its place.
The camera of my OnePlus 3T was arguably the most important aspect of the device in the context of this trip, at least for me. Being as it was the first time I would be traveling outside of North America, I wanted to take advantage of the potentially unique photo opportunities that were sure to arise, especially once I realized that the majority of the trip would essentially be a road trip through some of the wilder parts of Chile and Argentina. I also took advantage of the extra benefits provided by my Sony mirrorless camera, but I took at least as many photos with my 3T due to how pocketable, convenient, and quick it is to use. The big and relatively bright screen is also a boon for getting composition right in-camera, rather than having to crop photos during post-processing. Overall, the 3T continues to be an extremely useful device for both reliably taking and editing photos, while also being far easier to charge than any given DSLR or mirrorless camera. Pictures shown below, click to enlarge.
A Perfect Travel Companion?
Ultimately, the OnePlus 3T was an absolute dream to travel with. The exceptional battery life, Dash Charge capabilities, and reliably easy and convenient camera performance with quality image output left me with buggy data roaming as quite literally my only valid complaint from an otherwise near-flawless experience. Given OnePlus’ highly competitive pricing, the minimalist stock Android software experience, and the company’s dedication to relatively timely updates, I would be hard-pressed to do anything less than wholeheartedly recommend the OnePlus 3T for frequent travelers looking for a reliable and capable device to accompany them. Mind you, it’s not perfect at any one thing, but it offers a strong balance in key aspects that do benefit travelers. I would, however, caution anybody currently in the market for such a device to wait for the launch and reviews of the upcoming OnePlus 5 before buying a 3T, given the likelihood that the 5 will offer numerous improvements.
Bonus: Here is a gallery of the photos I took with my dedicated camera while in Chile and Argentina. Click to enlarge.
Have any memorable personal experiences (negative or positive) of traveling with technology? Share in the comments below!