Wednesday 18 September 2019

Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems

Question

Keeping up to date: within EU countries, you will not be charged extra for using most of your Irish data plan
Keeping up to date: within EU countries, you will not be charged extra for using most of your Irish data plan
Anker Soundcore Wakey
Tribit X1

My wife and I are about to set off on a six-week road trip around Europe. We'll be visiting lots of countries, but I'm worried about getting caught out on roaming. Any tips? I'm also not sure whether we can always rely on sockets in the campgrounds we'll be visiting, so I'm thinking of investing in a couple of portable battery devices - are there any you'd recommend? Lastly, we're currently watching a Netflix series. Will we be able to keep watching it in every European country we visit?

Answer

On the roaming question, you'll be generally fine within any EU countries you visit. Assuming that at least one of you has a decent data plan (at least 15GB per month), you won't get charged extra for using most of that within the EU. If you have one of Three's 'All You Can Eat' data packages, it's a little more complicated and basically depends on how much your monthly cost is. (On its website, Three cites its 'Classic Flex Max Sim Only' plan, priced at €22.76 excluding VAT. This would give you access to 7.6GB of EU roaming monthly data, the operator says.)

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Of course, you may well find that you might need more mobile data when travelling than when you're at home (where you probably have home Wi-Fi), especially if you need it to watch online movies. It's my experience that you cannot rely (at all) on there being Wi-Fi available when you're on the road. So if you think you're going to need a lot, you might be well served by upping your monthly plan.

There is one caveat to the EU roaming benefit we can now take advantage of. As the name implies, it doesn't apply in non-EU countries. So if your trip takes in Switzerland or Norway or a large chunk of the Balkans (such as Montenegro or Serbia), then watch your phone consumption carefully. Also, know that if you happen to venture into Monaco or San Marino, they are also excluded from the EU roaming rule.

On the Netflix issue, you have two possible solutions. The first is to download the remaining episodes of the series you're watching to one of your devices. For a great many TV series (and movies) on Netflix, this is possible. Obviously, this means you must have enough storage on your device to host these episodes. In general, a 45-minute episode will be close to 1GB in storage space, while a movie will be roughly twice that amount. If you choose to do it this way, know that most downloads have an expiry limit of a week or two. So they won't last the full six weeks you say you'll be on the road.

But even if you do this, you run into another potential problem: geo-restrictions. For copyright reasons, most movies and TV series have different rights in different countries. In practice, this means that a series available on Netflix in Ireland may not be available on Netflix in Germany (and vice versa). The way this might impact your download is when your device (laptop, iPad or phone) connects online to see where you are. If it detects that you're in a country where that series or movie isn't licensed to Netflix, it won't let you watch it. The two ways to get around this are either to keep your device offline for the duration of when you watch your Netflix series or to use what's called a 'virtual private network' (VPN).

The VPN basically makes your device appear that it's connecting to the internet from another place of your choosing (Ireland, for example). So your Netflix should perform as normal.

You sign up for one of these VPNs online or by downloading the relevant app from your phone or tablet's App Store. Some are free but are not hugely reliable. Paid ones cost around €10 per month.

These are more reliable but can also be a little quirky. On a recently trip to China, for example, I tried using ExpressVPN but it just didn't work for me. Customer service wasn't good and it was then difficult to cancel the subscription. So watch out for that one.

One other thing: you don't describe the series you're watching on Netflix. If it's a 'Netflix Original', you can watch it in any EU country so you only have to worry about how you'll get the Wi-Fi to watch it.

It's only if it's not a Netflix-made series that territorial copyright rules, infuriating as they are, kick in.

Your last query is about a portable battery pack. I have lots of these and, in my experience, they all perform fairly similarly. If you're getting just one, you should go for the highest 'mAh' count you can get - 40,000 or 50,000 if possible. A 40,000mAh portable power unit would be enough to recharge your phone seven or eight times (from zero) or an iPad at least three times (from zero).

The device itself would then take about six to 10 hours to recharge, depending on the strength of the socket connection you have in any hotel, hostel or camping site you're staying in.

Email your questions to ­ caomahony@independent.ie

Tech Two

Anker Soundcore Wakey

€100

2019-06-29_bus_51364891_I1.JPG
Anker Soundcore Wakey

How many of us now use our phones as our alarms? Anker has a clever new bedside clock speaker with FM radio (10 presets) and Bluetooth to connect to your phone. Its crowning feature is that it charges your phone wirelessly simply by plonking your handset on top of it (assuming you have a relatively new phone that can charge this way).

Tribit X1

€45 from Amazon

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Tribit X1

Apple's AirPods, the small wireless earphones have redefined personal audio, are now everywhere. But they're pricey. Tribit has a budget alternative that do much of the same thing but for around a third of the price. Alas, the quality isn't as good as Apple's AirPods, but that's the compromise.

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