The Best Smartphones For Travelers

Posted by Andres Marmolejo on

For everyday texting, emails and calls, pretty much any decent smartphone will do. But frequent travelers have additional specific needs, so to figure out what the best smartphone is for this audience - myself included - I began by making a list of the things that are most important for travel. Then I compared these most important performance aspects across the top tier of current phones, and dove deep into the best informed and most current tech reviews.

Finally, just as I have done for luggage, cameras, clothing and other travel gear, I put my pick to the test in the real world for several weeks. After all, a smartphone has become an indispensable part of travel, and just as I wouldn’t leave home without my carry-on and drivers license, I wouldn’t hit the road without a phone.

Frankly, as a longtime iPhone user, I was a bit surprised by the results. After all this research, my pick is the Samsung Galaxy S10, the S10+ if you like a bigger phone or enjoy gaming, or possibly the S10e if you are trying to save some money (at least until the coming Note 10 launches, expected to occur in 3-4 months). Later this month Samsung is also releasing an even bigger 5G version of the S10 with built in 5G modem, more cameras (including 3D) and a bunch of extra bells and whistles, but the model might be too big for many travelers (not very pocket friendly), has the highest price tag, and perhaps most importantly, 5G networks aren’t yet widely available to take advantage of the key selling point.

 

Basically, the S10 (which I tested) and its brethren excel across every key travel feature, usually coming in first (e.g., screen) or second (e.g., camera) in the most important attributes, making it extremely well rounded. I am not a tech specialist, but I am travel specialist, very frequent traveler, and I have watched a lot of programming on a lot of devices, listened to a lot of music in just about every manner possible, and taken a lot of pictures with everything from film to DSLRs to ultra-zooms to point and shoots to many different phones. I know when a screen looks better, when pictures come out better, when audio sounds better, and when the battery lasts longer, even when I don’t know the science behind it, but in the following I’ll do my best to touch on the technological wizardry behind some of these, with links to more technology-driven detail.

After all, I’m hardly alone in my analysis: Wired called it “The Best New Android Phone.” Android Central called it “The Best Phone of 2019.” Tech Radar ranked it number one of the 15 Best Smartphones of 2019 and noted that, “The best smartphone right now is the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus.” UK gear site T3 also put it at the top of the Class of 2019 and said, “Simply put, the best Android phone in the world.” CNET concluded: “It's tough to argue against the Galaxy S10. Fantastic hardware and a best-in-class display wrap around top-notch specs and a pile of features to make anyone envious.” I found it a fantastic phone for travelers, regardless of operating system, and after I concluded testing a loaner for several weeks, from home to Vegas to Japan, on planes, trains, buses and in numerous hotels, I had a hard time going back to my iPhone.

These are the most important travel-related phone features:

Screen: Many travelers want to be able to watch video, movies and TV while traveling, especially on planes. Some also want to play games or video chat with the family back home. The S10 series screen is as close to true edge to edge image as you’ll find, with over 6 inches in the S10 and even bigger in the S10+, both wrapping all the way around the curved edges. This makes the screens bigger with more efficient use of the footprint (a bigger screen than the new iPhone in a cheaper phone), but the picture quality is awesome too, even in the default HD+ (it can also operate in higher resolution but more battery intensive QHD+). I also found it appreciably easier to use in bright sunlight.

As excellent electronics website Tech Radar noted, Samsung actually makes screens for many other major phone manufacturers, but “the Galaxy S10's 6.1-inch 19:9 Super AMOLED display panel looks better than anything Samsung sells its rivals, and it’s been crowned the most color accurate smartphone display ever.” They also noted that it has “amped-up brightness for better outdoor visibility, and HDR10+ support for superior contrast and color.” The S10 series were the first phones on the market with the latter. Tech Radar’s conclusion? “The best smartphone screen around.” Android Central agreed: “Best-ever smartphone display.”

Sound: It’s also worth noting that for watching videos or listening to music, the S10 is one of the last ultra-thin high-end phones with an actual headphone jack, despite the fact that Samsung offers wireless Galaxy earbuds like Apple does. This means you can use your over the ear noise cancelling headphones with theater sound features for more privacy and intensity, and these beats earbuds any day. Or you can just use the included corded buds, which Wired loved: “Samsung packs a pair of wired AKG earbuds with every S10 model, and they’re a treat. I cannot recall a better set of earbuds coming packed with a phone…The entire audio experience is a pleasure. The Galaxy S10 supports hi-res audio and has Dolby Atmos and a useful equalizer built-in.”

Camera: Travelers have increasingly swapped their actual cameras for smartphones, and Samsung just upped the ante with a triple rear lens setup (normal, telephoto and ultra-wide). It simply gives you more ways to take pictures of more things, but they are also great pictures, especially with ultra-wide (123°), something few competitors offer and when they do, they usually don’t work this well. The autofocus was also very impressive. It has various special modes, such as Pro, and better panoramic function, but as Wired noted, “The thing is, you won’t need the truckload of extra modes to take a great photo. The S10 captures better shots than almost any phone out there.” They also found it did as well or better at night than any phone except the Google Pixel 3, generally regarded as the top camera phone. The S10 also has a front selfie camera for four in total, while the S10+ has two for a whopping five.

Battery Life: This is another vital thing that matters much more when you are on the road a lot, and Samsung delivers, claiming 24 hours. For me it always made it through a very full day with ample charge remaining, was consistently solid to a day and half, and easily beat any phone I’ve owned in battery life. Android Central tested the 10+ and found that it had “absolutely amazing battery life. It even takes a step up from the already-great Note 9. This phone just doesn't want to die, no matter what you throw at it. Lots of tethering, camera use, Google Maps navigation, screen on time and more - it doesn't matter, it just lasts all day.” That’s a big plus to travelers, especially those who are driving and use their phone for navigation, which kills my current phone noticeably faster.

Samsung also sped up the 10-series wireless charging, and added Power Share, with wireless charging between devices, which let you top off your earbuds with your phone or share extra power from a companion in a pinch.

Memory: Like other phones, it comes with different amounts of memory at different prices, but starts with a healthy 128GB. However, unlike some other main competitors, it also has a microSD slot, which lets you manage memory to your needs.

Connectivity/Speed/Extras: Conveniences abound, like being the first phone to market with faster Wi-Fi 6 (9.6 Gbps versus 3.5 Gbps on Wi-Fi 5, read more here). The ultrasonic fingerprint sensor worked great, quickly and is perfectly hidden in the front glass. It looks and feels great and comes in lots of color and finish options. Both he updated User Interface and new processor (Snapdragon 855) are garnering rave reviews. Virtual Reality, or VR, isn’t something that gets talked about a lot, but it is about to become increasingly important to travelers, and it’s a feature you want in any new phone. S10 has it, and the QHD+ resolution is perfect for this application. I just watched a demo of a new state-of-the-art tourism app that lets you view ancient buildings, crumbled palaces in their original opulence or tour detailed 3D interior views of closed to the public structures in VR while at their locations, and this technology is going to be quickly rolled out for “self-guided tours” worldwide. Imagine visiting cities like London or Rome and being able to see very detailed 3D models of previous structures that stood over the millennia in spots replaced by modern buildings. That’s just one example of the massive perception changes VR is going to bring to travelers in the next few years.

Bottom Line: The S10s are all around winners, especially for travel, where it excels at the three biggies, screen, battery and camera, and CNET (tested S10+) summed it up as “Three cameras, a killer screen, terrific battery life.” As Techradar concluded, “The Galaxy S10 is an amalgam of other handsets’ single hallmark features packed into one phone, while Samsung pioneers as many technical features as it can cram in - faster Wi-Fi 6 and HDR10+ are both firsts for smartphones.” Android Central concurred: “The Galaxy S10 is a great phone... Samsung once again took its dominant position in hardware, display, specs and features and simply turned it all up another level for 2019. The result is a phone that's an easy buy for just about anyone.”

Source:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/larryolmsted/2019/05/09/the-best-smartphones-for-travelers/#65a465a86ee6

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