The Best Mobile Phones Of 2014 For Travelers (Or Anyone, Really)

September 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Money, Tech

peace goodwill in universe

There isn’t a single mobile phone that isn’t, well, mobile. Whether you’re traveling around the world or mostly on the move to an office, you need the best intersection of portability and functionality. You might hate the constant upgrading cycle you feel trapped in with cell phones but the reality is they’ve reached a technological plateau making usability their most distinguishing features. (Much like PCs in early 2000s and laptops several years after that.)

All this means that any mobile you buy now has the potential to last you 3+ years without feeling like an abacus so if you want to save more for your travel budget with less on electronics purchases, here are the best phones for your pocket.

1. Moto X 2014

The Moto X is a piece of technology that has gotten me excited about phones again. The Touchless Controls (called Moto Voice) let you send text messages, listen to emails, open Skype and make calls (plus a lot more) without having to physically interact with your phone. Apple fans listen up, Moto Voice is a smarter Siri that doesn’t require you to hit the home button every time you want to speak to it. Another feature, Moto Assist, automatically detects when you’re driving, letting you answer calls, listen to texts, reply, and more – again, without touching the device.

There are a number of other really neat features that have me giddy like I was after the first iPhone announcement. Small things I wish iOS could do, like light up the screen when I take the phone out of my pocket or wake the camera up with a shake of the device. I’m sure Apple will incorporate some of these features (cough, cough touchless Siri) by the end of 2015 – though given what I’ve read in the Steve Jobs biography, the company that once led is now following without the strong influence of its stubborn innovator.

data android phoneThere’s one main thing I don’t like about the Moto X – I’m in the minority if these studies are to be believed – is the size of the device. It’s 140.8 millimeters (5.54 inches) tall and 72.4 mm (2.85 in) wide – about the size of an iPhone 6 but with more area devoted to screen.

2. iPhone 5s And (Reluctantly iPhone 6)

Alternatively, the best “small” phone you can get right now is the iPhone 5s. A year old but now discounted, it’s a worthy purchase if you want to rebel against large screens. (The iPhone 5 in case you’re wondering is cheaper but a lot older on the inside.) The iPhone 6 is a good phone but not the innovative leader that Apple is when it comes to the best travel laptops of 2014.

If you’re on the fence about iOS or Android, it’s a debate much like asking whether you should buy a Mac or Windows laptop for your travels, except that mobile platforms try to lock you in more. Apple’s iOS gives you iMessage and Facetime, which you’ll lose if you go Android. Most respectable apps (like recently reviewed TunnelBear) are on Google Play and iTunes though with the latter, purchased movies won’t be available on your Android.

iPhone 6 is great if you’re committed to iOS, have or will purchase a Macbook 2011 or later (as OS X Yosemite will bring these features), or want one of the best cameras on a mobile. Keep in mind, you’ll pay a premium for all of it. The iPhone 5s is good choice for small (hell, normal I would say) hands less likely to drop a device this size.

3. HTC One M8

If you want the genetically spliced combination of the two phones above, seriously consider the HTC One M8. It’s got the body of an iPhone 6 with the heart of an Android named Data. The HTC One M8 feels great in the hand and some of its coolest features can be found in its camera app, which takes advantage of its dual lenses that add depth to images.

Two More To Consider

  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact – Has a relatively smaller 4.6 inch screen compared to many other late-2014 model phones, excellent camera, and is waterproof; perfect for kite-surfing selfies in Hurghada.
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 – A solid overall phone with expandable storage, replaceable battery, plus water-resistant enough to be drowned for a few seconds and survive.

Why I’m (Mostly) Not Mentioning Specs

Primarily because phone guts these days aren’t going to set them apart in any discernible way for the average user. Screen resolutions are at qualities our eyes can’t see beyond so for the most part, unless you’re seriously gaming on your phone; besides, a faster chip isn’t going to make reddit load any quicker. No matter what phone you end up with make sure it’s unlocked for international travel (which is legal by the way) and turn your mobile phone into a better digital camera if you don’t own one of these best point and shoot cameras for travelers.

Misconceptions About Singapore’s Clean Utopia

September 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Culture, Health and Fitness, Money, Security

singapore bugis junction

Singapore is one of the world’s most centrally organized nations whose legal system imposes fines in the thousands of dollars, jail time, plus canings in an effort to keep streets clean of trash and crime. There are at least 5 laws travelers to Singapore should be aware of that might have you thinking the city-state has achieved sanitized harmony.

Cracks In Perfection

Singapore has certainly attained what many countries around the world can only dream about – the third lowest homicide rate in the world. To put serious crimes rates in perspective, Sweden, Scandinavia’s safest country, has 56 times the number of assaults per capita. Many locals attribute the absence of killings to Singapore’s liberal use of the death penalty. There may be something to that (Saudi Arabia has a low number of murders per capita as well) but the correlation doesn’t extend much beyond serious crime.

singapore food cart

Charts for low population density combined with economic development tend to line up closely with those for violent crime. In other words, rich countries like Singapore who have low relative populations (around 5.1 million) usually don’t have high rates of serious crime – irrespective of how liberal their governments are.

It’s Only Fined If You Get Caught

People in Singapore, where the average annual household income is about $100,000, are willing to take bigger chances with their wallets. The country has had some struggle with curbing litter, despite imposing fines starting at $300. Particularly around outdoor markets like Newton Food Centre you’ll notice litter around trash cans. Closer to Newton metro stop the green lawns (you shouldn’t be walking on either) occasionally have wrappers and napkins gentle floating along warm breezes, lazily noticed by people snacking in the park, another no-no.

singapore metro mrt subway

Locals seem to know when they can get away with rule-breaking, such as tossing cigarette butts out highrise windows and why you’ll never see anyone eating on a subway train – there are cameras everywhere. Given the effectiveness of video surveillance, Singapore is looking to extend closed-circuit television (CCTV) coverage to all public spaces.

Death Or Drugs

Using a number of recreational drugs has severe penalties in Singapore and being caught with amounts above certain limits automatically subjects you to the death penalty as a trafficker. Not surprisingly, Singapore officially has some of the lowest levels of drug use in the world. (Although it’s legal, they don’t booze much either. That award goes to Moldova.)

Before one is walked to the gallows (literally) the country has made several attempts of prevention, beginning with public awareness campaign in Singapore’s school system, the third best in the world. Two chances for rehabilitation are also given, although it’s recorded by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) – a permanent mark on one’s background.

Despite all of this, there are alleys near industrial centers where one can find discarded needles used for heroin. Considering the penalties and island geography of Singapore, one is shocked at the amount of drugs there, let alone that they’re being used. If you’re not in jail though, according to government statistics, you’re not a drug user. Rates are low for sure, but it’s a regional phenomena – on the whole southeast Asians don’t roll joints, pop pills, or shoot up.

The Invisible Trade

Comparatively, Japan has similarly low crime rates but with much less severe punishments for serious offenses. Drug rates are higher across Europe than Singapore, but there aren’t many people getting high on drugs not called weed overall. Singapore does pensively rank high in another category – it’s one of the least happy countries in the world.

singapore arab street

Singapore is a clean country, but Luxembourg and Australia rank higher with lower fines for littering. You can chew gum in Switzerland yet the trains still run on time. The laws in all of these countries outline similar rules – with vastly differing punishments. Stability, safety, and sanitation doesn’t have to come at the expense of liberty and when it doesn’t, the citizens of those nations top out global lists for happiness.

A number of studies from the University of Connecticut and Oxford on criminal behavior show that the threat of getting caught is a bigger deterrent than the severity of punishment. Once the decision has been made to break a rule – you’re not worried about the consequences while in the act – but not having to face them at all. So, the next time you see someone jaywalk in Singapore or discard a plastic fork it’s not because they don’t fear being fined, it’s because they don’t think they will.

TunnelBear Brings All The Travel Benefits Of A VPN To Your Mobile Devices

September 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Security, Tech

tunnelbear android mobile app

A virtual private network (VPN) is a technology you should never travel without but until recently most applications focused on desk-laptop use and mobile versions were clunky at best. A VPN’s security benefits are invaluable to all of us who’ve connected to public wireless networks in airports and recent updates to a personal favorite, TunnelBear, bring all the advantages seamlessly to your phone or tablet.

Ease Out Of Settings

One of the biggest problems with many VPN apps is that they don’t let you connect to the actual VPN within the appropriate app itself but rather through Android or iOS setting menus. TunnelBear’s latest mobile versions are free up to 500MB for Android, iOS (they’ll throw in an extra gigabyte if you tweet about them) or $5 a month/$50 a year for unlimited use; a very good investment I recommend for most travelers.

tunnelbear mobile app

TunnelBear’s mobile apps have very useful “Always On” mode which keeps VPN connections after your device wakes up from sleep or you lock the screen. Those extra saved clicks can help you from forgetting to protect your online privacy in countries that might not respect it.

Choose Your Digital Location

For many of you though more importantly is that TunnelBear will let you keep up with Orange Is The New Black on Netflix or any other site that’s restricted by location. Tell TunnelBear where you want to be digitally (e.g. United States) so you can watch your favorite TV shows from anywhere.

Aside from entertainment though, a VPN can get you around local Internet censorship when traveling, keeping you connected to the Internet in places that like to shut off free speech when they don’t agree with the message. Canada-based TunnelBear also doesn’t log any of your browsing or identifiable information which means they don’t have anything to share with governments if asked.

Win A Free Annual Subscription To TunnelBear With Your Best Bear Comment

Foxy nomads who would like a free annual “Grizzly” subscription to TunnelBear can win one by posting your best bear pun, photo link (GIFs welcome), or video in the comments below. I’ll choose the beary top rated one by noon this Friday, Septembear 26th, 2014. A one year subscription to TunnelBear is equivalent to 5 teddy bears or 2 and a half women’s teddys and gives you unlimited data across all of your devices, including PCs and Macs.

5 Laws In Singapore Decent Travelers Should Know Prior To Arrival

September 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Advice, Culture, Food, Green, Money, Security

Singapore recycle bins

Singapore is a city-state that’s known for its low crime rates as well as strong penalties for what are usually considered minor offenses in other developed nations. Sure, vandalism carries the possibility of caning as a punishment but if you have any sense, you won’t be spray painting cars in foreign countries anyway.

Putting aside things you know not to do no matter the penalties, the following offenses in Singapore have punishments you might not be expecting. It’s best to brush up first, as fines are hefty at best and jail is, well, jail.

1. Don’t Bring More Than Two Packets Of Gum

Until 2004, gum was completely outlawed in Singapore – a law that came into effect after an incident where some was stuck on a door sensor, disrupting commuter train service. After some intense lobbying by Wrigley, the ban was eased allowing the sale of gum for ‘medical purposes'; essentially whitening or nicotine-gums. To save yourself the hassle of getting a prescription to buy a packet, simply bring two with you. Two packets of gum is the legal limit, although it’s up to customs officials if they want to confiscate any amount.

katy perry chewing gum

And please, don’t chew where you’re not supposed to. On public transportation fines begin at $500 USD.

2. Use The Waste Bin

The only place you should spit out your gum is directly into the garbage. (Speaking of spitting, don’t do that either unless your saliva is worth $200.) Littering of any kind (smokers: cigarette butts are trash) carries a $1,000 USD fine, in additional to potential community service. So, if you don’t want to be picking up trash publicly during your visit, discard your junk properly.

arab street singapore

3. Get Low After You Get High

Having any amount of a controlled substance (pretty much any recreational drug not alcohol) on you is serious business in Singapore. At the lowest amounts, you can be caned plus fined for drug possession while being in the presence of larger amounts has mandatory death sentences. Not traveling with drugs is pretty generic common sense, even if you have dreads, but be aware that showing up high at the airport is considered possession in Singapore. Yo, like dude, how would they find out you’re wondering? Random drug screenings at Changi Airport. Like, for real man.

4. Flush Your Crap

Literally. Although it’s probably one of Singapore’s least enforceable laws, public toilets must be flushed. The $500 fine might also help relieve you of your bathroom OCD, or you can simply learn to kick flush.

toilet flushing

5. Cross Where You’re Supposed To

Jaywalking laws are however well enforced in Singapore. Police often (covertly) monitor random crossings and hand out $15 fines for first time offenders. Once you see a ‘no jaywalking sign’ and repeat penalties listed in the thousands staring back at you from across the street, you’ll be convinced to walk a few extra steps to cross in designated places.

singapore haji lane

There are a number of other laws (or to be fair, their punishments) many tourists have found unusual or absurd in Singapore. Remember, you’re subject to a country’s laws when you’re there, whether or not you know or agree with them. Besides, you shouldn’t be littering anyway, most of us have little sympathy for people who can’t clean up their own mess.

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