Whether you are traveling in a group or solo, communication is a key factor when traveling – especially in the event of a disaster. Despite news media’s attempts to exaggerate the dangers that await us abroad, the odds of actually falling victim to an act of terrorism or natural disaster are slim. Nonetheless, cell phones have created such a blanket of security in our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine traveling without one…until one considers roaming costs. Then, traveling sans phone seems all too appealing.
What if we could have the best of both worlds?
Cue the SpareOne, an “emergency phone” that claims to nix roaming charges, provide the security of contact regardless of phone plan, and be travel-tough all at the same time. Sound too good to be true? Surprisingly, it’s not. But reader beware: your home phone plan and travel destination could be obstacles to the phone’s ability to deliver such lofty expectations.
The SpareOne is a phone with a body so small and simplistic that the single AA battery actually juts out from its core. The idea behind the SpareOne is that you need only transfer your SIM card to the phone to talk anywhere, roam-free, for up to 10 hours. Moreover, it includes a big red “emergency call” button which allows emergency dialing via the country code, (e.g. “911”) without the insertion of a SIM.
There are, as always, a few caveats. Apparently, several networks in Latin America do not allow for emergency calls from phones without a SIM (ironic, considering the continent has some of the highest crime rates). And here are the real sinkers: major U.S. carriers Verizon and Sprint don’t give users the advantage of SIM-supported phones (meaning that you’d have to buy a SIM card separately from another provider, which can cause headaches if that provider’s plans are contract-only), and your SpareOne won’t work in Japan or Korea (or Antarctica or Tuvalu, if anyone cared) at all, regardless of whether or not you insert a SIM. You will also need to buy two separate SpareOne phones if you plan to travel to both Africa and Canada – the continents operate on two different GSM frequencies, which requires two different phones (at a price tag of $190 for both).
Therefore, the overall value of the phone is highly dependent upon the user’s home network (I personally had no trouble installing my SIM, for I have a blessed Tracfone plan with a SIM-capable phone) and the destinations to where one travels the most.
On the upside, the phone can accept MicroSIMS for all of you Appleheads. The product also has one of the best user manuals and support services I have ever experienced, from the GSM Networks for Dummies map to the extraordinary videos in the online FAQ. As a tech reviewer, I’m fine with being on my own for figuring out how to use a device, but it’s refreshing to know that you could gift this to your grandma without fear of repercussion.
Grandma would probably also appreciate that the purchase of her SpareOne yielded the donation of a SpareOne to a victim of a disaster (the most recent one, which at the time of publication was the Oklahoma tornado tragedy), which buyers can opt for simply by using a certain coupon code at check-out (which not only donates a phone to disaster relief, but also knocks $20 off each phone!).
The phone also passed the durability test, comes in a waterproof talk-through bag, can purportedly survive extreme temperatures (it survived in the freezer overnight, though I did let it thaw and dry out several hours afterwards before attempting to turn it back on), and while I can’t justify the 15-year dormant battery life, this phone is a fighter.
Most importantly, the value outweighs the cost. Renting a separate phone when traveling overseas can get pricey, especially in some parts of Europe. Buying a local SIM and simply replacing an AA battery every now and then (heck, there’s even an isolator tab that will reserve battery life when the phone is not in use) can shave several figures off your travel costs, depending of course on any overage charges you MAY incur. I have an amazing unlimited foreign and domestic travel plan that does not charge extra for roaming, but be sure to investigate the limitations of any plan behind a SIM purchase. Regardless of day-to-day calling, anyone who has been through a disaster without access to any sort of communication device would agree that the phone pays for itself instantly in the event of a disaster, even if it means you’re just stranded on the side of the road with a broken or dead smartphone.
While smartphones are inherently useful for travel, the simplicity of a phone like the SpareOne can be a refreshing conversion to simplicity while “unplugging” on a trip. Breaking the habits of constantly checking your phone and enduring severe information overload are a welcome change, and for all the hippies out there, the phone also boasts a low radiation emission rate.
For all these reasons, I found the SpareOne to be a highly relevant piece of travel gear for Vagabond readers who seek to venture into the most exotic corners of the world, expose themselves to the elements, and are probably prone to more risks than the “hotel” vacationer.