Our technology editor answers your trickiest tech questions
Question My extended family is joining us on holiday in an Airbnb in Greece. It’s a remote island and I’m told that the Wi-Fi might be shaky, though there is a TV. There will be lots of kids and, although there’s a pool, I think we may need Netflix or Disney+ at some point to keep a lid on things. Is there a gadget that would give us access on the TV there? — Mairead Donaghy
Assuming it’s a relatively modern set (any time from the last 10 or 15 years), yes — either a Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire Stick (€40 to €60) will do the trick. Both small devices slot in neatly to the HDMI port on the TV and work off the local Wi-Fi signal to give you access to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV Plus and others. It’s a handy way to access your streaming services. Obviously, this requires Wi-Fi.
It’s rare enough these days for an Airbnb not to have Wi-Fi good enough for Netflix. But if that’s the case, you might still be able to connect through the mobile network if it’s a decent 4G signal (you’ll need something over about 8Mbs for it to be usable).
If this is the option you’ll be relying on for more than a day or two, you’ll probably need a local all-data sim card (about €25) and a mobile router (around €50) or someone’s spare smartphone. While EU rules on roaming charges allow you a big chunk of the data you would get at home, it won’t be enough for more than a few 4K movies on a TV set, especially if you’re also relying on it for your regular phone service.
For example, in the case of a standard €20 Three sim-only, ‘all you can eat’ plan, you’ll get about 25GB of data a month in Europe, which should be enough to do most of what you need. A budget 48 sim card would give you just under half of that data in the EU (though not in Germany, the Netherlands or the Czech Republic, where it can’t access mobile data at present).
There is one other consideration here — will the Netflix or Disney+ series or movie your kids want to watch be available in the localised country catalogue? If it’s made by the platform (like Stranger Things on Netflix or Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+), it will be. But if it’s a third-party series, it may not be. We sometimes complain that other countries get certain movies or TV series on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video that aren’t available to Irish subscribers. But it works the other way too: geolocation rights sometimes mean that the TV series you’re bingeing on may not be available on your streaming service in the country you’re travelling to.
One way around this is to use a virtual private network (VPN) on your laptop or tablet, and set it to Ireland as a location. There are plenty of decent paid services, such as NordVPN or ExpressVPN. Free ones, such as FreeVPN, also work, although you may have to put up with ads or find the service is only available in chunks of 30 or 60 minutes before having to reconnect.
In terms of reflecting that on to your TV, you may have to ‘cast’ it from your tablet or phone onto the telly through (for example) the Google Chromecast gadget. But it may be that your, or your kids, are stuck watching it on a laptop or tablet through the VPN. If that’s the case, a final tech accoutrement could come in very handy: a portable wireless speaker. Other than being generally handy, these make an excellent speaker system for a laptop or tablet, which have notoriously awful built-in speakers.
Most portable speakers should be small enough to pack in a carry-on bag. And the ones I’m recommending are also generally waterproof and robust enough to withstand a fall or bump.
For sheer sound quality, JBL’s Charge 5 (€149) is better than most for the money. Huawei’s recently launched Sound Joy (€149) is also generally impressive as an all-rounder. A great luggage-friendly option is Sony’s XB13 (€49). You can even pair two of them together on a single wireless stream from your phone, laptop or tablet.
Recommendation: Google Chromecast (€40)
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