How to travel with an Android

One of the selling points that Samsung pushed when advertising the Galaxy Tab was its use as navigation instrument. The video on the Galaxy Tab microsite shows a guy walking around, tablet in hand, following a green line on a satellite map on the screen.

I did not imagine how true that video can get in real life until a recent holiday in Thailand. In a city that sprawled an area as far as the eye can see, where places of interests are spread far and wide, and where people look at you with bewildered/embarrassed faces when you ask for directions in English,  I became the guy on the ad video, the tablet in my hand being my only aide in navigating a strange land, and trusty interpreter in communicating with locals who did not understand a word of English.

When I bought my Galaxy Tab, I had that guilty feeling that came with yet another impulse-driven, totally unnecessary and expensive purchase. After Thailand I can say that I am glad I bought one.

These are some of the situations where the Tab was most helpful during my travel:

Navigation. Google Maps is definitely a traveler’s best friend. Especially if, like me, you are the type who hates packaged tours and prefer making your own itinerary. It certainly beats walking around with a paper map. You can rotate, zoom, find landmarks and, if you are online via 3G, get more information about places.

The walking direction feature in Google Map was especially helpful. I used it to find my way from Khao San to Grand Palace and surrounding areas, to the night market and Wat Lokayasutharam (reclining Buddha) in Ayutthaya, and around Chiang Mai.

Google Maps provided the shortest route going to the destination. Good in  theory, but in reality I imagine this can get you in scary situations. The direction to the Ayutthaya night market passed through dimly lit narrow streets. The one to the reclining Buddha cut through a gravelly muddy path, across a poor residential area. And then sometimes the direction fails. The end-point of the walking direction to the Chiang Mai night market was almost a kilometer off mark, which can get you very pissed if you’ve been walking all day and badly need food.

Translation and visual communication. Communicating the name and address of your destination to a taxi driver who does not speak English or read anything except Thai script can be a challenge. It does not help that Thai words are often mis-transliterated in English–like for example “Suvarnabhumi” is supposed to be spoken as sù.wān.nā.pʰūːm (suwanaphum)–so most likely you end up saying the names of places wrong. It’s best to know how to say the names of places before you travel, or else have your hotel concierge write down on paper in the local scripts the names of places you plan to visit.

If you don’t have the places written down and your driver cannot understand a word you are saying, Google Maps may most likely have the street names in the local Thai script. The information page reached by clicking on places often have the names written in the local scripts as well (bless all the people who keep adding info into the Google database). And when none of those helps, try Googling a photo of your destination and showing this to your driver.

Calling home. The 69THB sim card bought in Khao San gave me 300 minutes of internet time. I only turned the 3G on when necessary and connected to wi-fi while in hotels or wherever it’s available. 300 minutes lasted me 10 days. I was able to chat with my father while on the move. Skype calls worked too. My sister called me up from East Timor–she works as a pediatrician in Dili’s government hospital–although the audio was choppy.

Killing time. A 12-hour train ride is a cheap way to travel across Thailand, but it can get boring. Same with waiting for the flight home at the airport. Luckily, there’s always Facebook or Angry Birds (the goal is to have three stars in all levels) on the Tab to while away the time.

The Galaxy Tab helped me in various situations while on holiday. BUT, I do realize there is one big requirement that made this possible in Thailand: a strong and reliable 3G signal even outside the skirts of the capital city. It’s something that telecoms in other developing countries, including the Philippines, may not always provide specially in remote areas. I also found the screen lacking in brightness when viewed outdoors and reading the map can be difficult under bright sunlight. Otherwise, the Tab turned out to be useful purchase after all. My only wish is for an upgrade that will allow me to use the Tab to transfer photos from my camera’s SD card to a portable drive via USB, so that I can ditch the netbook (I only brought it to store photos) and lighten my backpack further.

3 thoughts on “How to travel with an Android

  1. Can’t remember the name, but I don’t think it’s TrueMove. Kaya hindi ko rin namention sa post, kasi dito sa Ilocos ko na sya nasulat eh nasa Manila ang SIM. Check ko pag-uwi sa Manila. Yes nanay, sis at niece ko nasa Timor. Iniwan kami mag-ama dito huhuhu. Baka papasyalan namin sila sa January. Will let you know kung matuloy. Mahal nga daw dun, pero sabi rin nga sa mga travel sites may mga ok daw na beach na less traveled. Meet nga tayo one of these days at makwento mo sa akin kung anong secret mo na nakakalagalag ka all the time. Nanalo ka ba sa 6/55??? Balato naman dyan!

  2. Anong SIM yan? I always buy the TrueMove. True move has free unlimited 64kbps mobile internet. May sister ka sa East Timor? Bisitahin natin. Hahaha. Mahal daw dun, pero curious lang ako sa lugar dahil mukhang less traveled

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