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Product Review – Pokefi

Product Review – Pokefi

For all my readers out there, you will remember I reviewed a number of wifi/data products in my earlier few posts:

Review: Flexiroam – Affordable data roaming package usable anywhere anytime

Review: Pocket Wifi Router (Changi Recommends)

Cheap (Free) mobile data overseas

So far, I have always been a fervent supporter of Flexiroam especially if you are a frequent traveller. Flexiroam works great as it is really a plug (well, you can say paste) and forget kind of device because it is a thin microchip that is attached to your existing SIM card. This microchip allows you to  access Flexiroam’s low cost data roaming whilst overseas. The way it works is that it is a service where you can tap into a pool of data no matter where you are in the world. This means you can avoid i) “wasting” data that you bought but could not finish during your stay in a particular country (especially relevant in data expensive regions such as Europe) or ii) the hassle of purchasing sim cards in countries where it is difficult for a foreigner to do so. This advantage is counterbalanced by the relatively high cost of their data packages at US$29.99 per GB.

If you are not a frequent traveller, it may be most efficient if you were to consider renting a pocket wifi router. This is more so for Singapore travellers or travellers go through Singapore where such routers are on offer for as low as S$5 per day for unlimited use. While the cost appears low, this adds up over time especially if you are travelling for more than a week where the bill can be up to S$50 thereabout.

So, therefore, there appears to be no real product that seem to clinch the deal. Well, that is up until now.

In my recent travels, I came across a product on offer in Cathay Pacific’s in-flight catalogue that really caught my eye:

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They have wifi pocket routers called Pokefi on sale.

The price looked reasonable at US$120 / HKD990 with 5gb of data included. In the event you run out of usable data, more can be bought at a really reasonable price of US$15 for 5gb (averaging US$3/gb). This is way cheaper than what Flexiroam is offering and appears to me to be way more user friendly. One main flaw with Flexiroam is the fact that once you turn on the microchip, it disables your home sim such that you no longer are able to receive calls/smses until you switch back to your home sim. Pokefi, being a wifi pocket router, does not interfere with your home sim and you can continue receiving calls/smses as per normal.

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Using it appears to be simple.

Holding on to the button for 3 seconds turns it on.

It may take between 30 seconds to 60 seconds to make a connection with the surrounding network. During the interim, it will be flashing red. Once connected, it will then flash green.

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Holding on to the button for 5 seconds turns it off. There will still be one or two more green/red flashes but such flashes will not be as long and will end abruptly once the device turns itself off.

While there is no display showing the remaining amount of data or battery level, these information can be accessed via a link that you can key into your mobile browser (http://a.pokefi.). If you are connected to the device, this will bring up a dedicated page showing your usage and the existing battery level.

So far, while using it in Taiwan, I found the device to fair as good as the unit I rented from Changi during my Japan trip. My only suggestion is to keep a small battery bank with you when you carry this device around just in case you require some urgent juicing towards the end of the day or where multiple devices are connected.

Although the outlay is expensive initially, the cost savings add up quickly if you travel often. For example, my business trips are increasingly common and for longer periods. If I were to rent a unit from Changi, the costs would add up rather fast. A trip to Shanghai for just 6 days would cost me S$40 and another trip to Kaohsiung for 5 days would cost me another S$20. This would already be close to 1/3 the price of Pokefi! It may therefore make sense to actually buy one instead of renting especially if you are going to travel quite a fair bit or if you are visiting a data expensive region like Europe.

Definitely a recommended product!

Note: This, like all my other major reviews, is not sponsored products and are paid for using my hard earned cash. If you appreciate such posts, please remember to like and follow for more.

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Staying connected while in Japan

Staying connected while in Japan

SIM Card, Flexiroam, Pocket wifi router and what else?

While Japan prides itself as being one of the most connected nations in the world, it seems that this only applies to locals. As a tourist in Japan, data appears to be always lacking or in short supply. While you can always survive on Wifi without a data plan (and Wifi can be found in most hotels and guesthouses), you are at the mercy of the hotel’s network. Once you move out of range, you will be thrown back into the stone age. Fret not you don’t have to turn on your data roaming while in Japan as there are other solutions available to keep you connected to the web during your stay. While there are a number of alternatives, bear in mind the ideal situation is for both cheap data and also unlimited mobile data. 

Prepaid data-only SIM cards

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Data SIM cards are available in Japan.

You can either go for IIJmio Japan Travel SIM (1GB/30 day approx 2460 Yen) or B Mobile Visitor SIM (1GB/14 days approx. 3980 Yen).  

The prices are however not fantastic at close to 22 USD / 30 SGD per GB.

No youtube or music streaming unless you are willing to cough up more money to top up on your data plan. Why not consider the other options below?

Flexiroam

Flexiroam X 1

Other than buying a prepaid data-only sim, you can also consider Flexiroam. I covered Flexiroam in one of my earlier post. If you have not read it, be sure to check it out!

There are two alternatives available to a Flexiroam user. He can either tap into his normal data pool or use a “local data package”.

If you read my earlier post, you will remember that Flexiroam offers a universal pool of data that can be tapped into from anywhere in the world. Flexiroam also offers packages specific to countries and has recently released a package for Japan. The prices range from USD1.60/Day (100MB) to USD6/7Days (400MB):

Flexiroam Japan

This appears to be a steal as you average USD15 per GB.

There is also an ongoing promotion. 50% discount if bought 2 months in advance and 25% if bought a month in advance. This will help bring down the price further if you are purchasing such a package.

As these Flexiroam packages are valid for X number of day, you may want to do multiple bookings to ensure proper data coverage across your entire trip and also benefit from the early bird promotion for these other bookings.

If you do not want to trouble yourself with these local data packages, another option is to just tap into your data pool with Flexiroam. This option is, however, more expensive at 30 USD per GB and makes it more expensive than buying a local sim card.  

Pocket wifi router

For heavy duty users, the above two options may not be feasible or practical. You will burn through your data allowance and also your wallet rather quickly.

You can, however, consider turning to a pocket wifi router. These routers are small little gadgets that emit a wifi signal that your phone / laptop can tap into such that you have a mobile unlimited data wifi hotspot with you all the time. The data allowance for such routers are generally unlimited (subject maybe to a speed throttle in cases where the fair usage amount is consumed).

A quick search online reveals that it is also quite expensive. Expect to pay approximately up to USD100 for around 8-9 days of use. Service providers include (japan-wireless appears to be the cheapest but the website appears not as impressive/professional as the other two):

https://www.globaladvancedcomm.com/order/index.html

https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/services/pocket-wifi

http://japan-wireless.com/products.html

While more expensive than a SIM card and/or Flexiroam, the routers are more value for money as the data available is unlimited and can be tapped on by multiple users.

There is, however, a fantastic exception to this.

Changirecommends offers a very reasonably priced router (unlimited data) at just SGD5 per day with the first day rental being free. This is a bargain at SGD40/USD30 for 9 days of unlimited data coverage! This would normally benefit Singaporeans. However, I can foresee Australians visiting Japan via Singapore or even any nationality using Singapore as a travel hub benefiting from this.

Data roaming passports

I briefly touched on this in one of my earlier posts titled Cheap (Free) mobile data overseas.

Some service providers over a hybrid data roaming service. Instead of charging you separately for data roaming, such service providers over a service where in return for a monthly fee you can use your home data package overseas. . As to whether it is worth it, it depends on the options available to you.

For example, if you have access to Changirecommends’ pocket wifi, it might not make sense for you to enable such data roaming passports on your phone. The cost of enabling a passport may cost as much as just getting a pocket wifi. For example, M1’s Japan passport costs SGD25 per month. Assuming you activate this service for a month, your total cost would be SGD25 and you will be subject to the amount data you have on your home network. Why not just top it up for a pocket wifi and have unlimited data wifi?

If you, however, don’t have access to a cheap pocket wifi but have plenty of data on your home network, such passports may be a possible alternative.

So always consider your options!

My verdict?

I personally went for Changirecommends’ wifi router and booked one for my upcoming trip to Japan. This is definitely worth it at least in terms of pricing. If it were just for a short trip, I might consider Flexiroam’s data packages just for the sake of convenience and also to avoid the hassle of picking up and returning the router.

Let me know in the comments whether you have tried any other the above while travelling in Japan? Or if you are headed to Japan soon, whether you intend to use any of the above options to remain connected to the web.

Please like and support by following this blog. Your “likes” and  “follows” go a long way.

 

Cheap (Free) mobile data overseas

Cheap (Free) mobile data overseas

Have you ever felt the frustration of not having access to data while overseas? Or have you ever lamented the prices your service provider is charging you for data roaming? Well, this is the article for you as it covers ways to stay connected without busting the bank.

In my previous job, I had the luxury of being sponsored data every time I go on a vacation. So long as I produce a valid receipt of some reasonable amount, the firm’s finance department will normally reimburse me the cost. I no longer have access to “free” data for my new job and so the desperate struggle to stay connected began for me. I list below a few ways you can get free or cheap data for your next holiday.

Free wifi hotspots

This goes without saying. Be on a lookout for free wifi hotspots when you travel. Telltale signs would be stickers on an establishment’s door front or on the walls. Normally such hotspots require some purchase in order to be told the wifi password. So why not keep the password saved on your phone so that if you ever walk back that same way, you can always try to grab some free data as you stand outside the shop.

CAUTION: While such free wifis are helpful in filling up this gap, be sure to keep an eye out for potential security risks with hackers posing as the establishment and beaming their own wifi signal in hopes of you entering some confidential information when you try to login to use their wifi.

Cheap data cards

While phone service providers tend to market heavily their data roaming packages, such packages are mostly rip-offs with a large premium being charged to the consumer for a small amount of data used.

Instead, consider buying a local phone card to benefit from cheap local rates. My recent holiday in Malaysia saw me buying a 5GB data card for RM40 (USD 9) that lasted me a month. Not only did I save on the actual cost of the data, the real magic behind this is that I can make use of Uber and other similar services to get around places and also have real time access to Google maps. If you ever visited Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam or Bangkok, one common problem is drivers refusing to use their taxi meter or using a rigged meter. Uber and other similar apps allow you to avoid such ripoffs saving quite a bit of money at the same time.

The prices for a data card in Southeast Asia are rather affordable and all tourists should consider getting one when they reach the airport on arrival.

The same rule applies in Europe.

However, the prices you pay are generally way more expensive. When I was in Amsterdam last year, I paid 10 euros for 1 GB of data. While expensive, it would still be cheaper than data roaming.

While there are operators that allow you to continue using the sim card in another neighbouring European country, you should be aware of false selling by the retailer. When I was in London, I bought a 3GB card (if I remember correctly) and I asked if that data could be used in both England as well as continental Europe (so I could avoid buying multiple sim cards as I travelled from country to country). The store’s salesperson confirmed that this was the case and off I went with my card. To my horror, while the sim could be used outside of England, the data was limited to just 500mb. Caveat Emptor!

Post Script: I understand Europe is going through some market reforms where countries agree to drop roaming charges. So check with the service providers if you can benefit from this arrangement. The European Council released a press statement:

“EU all set for free roaming from June

As from 15 June, mobile users travelling to other countries in the EU will be able to call, text or surf the net without paying any extra charges. The last requirement for abolishing mobile roaming fees was met today with the adoption by the Council of the legal act that limits how much operators may charge each other to allow roaming across Europe.

Roaming without paying surcharges, or “roam like at home”, is for those living in Europe and who travel to other EU countries for work or leisure. It will also be introduced in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway shortly after 15 June.

“Roam like at home” is meant to make communicating while travelling easier. It is not intended to allow permanent roaming where a customer would take out a subscription in the cheapest possible country and use it to roam in his home country.

Special rules apply to phone plans with unlimited data and pre-paid cards. For information on these and other practical questions, see the Commission’s FAQ (link below).

…”

Commission’s FAQ

Q25. I have a pre-paid card. Do I get roam like at home?

Yes. If you pay per unit, and your domestic unit price of data is less than €7.7 per GB, your operator may apply a roam like at home volume limit on data. That limit should be at least the volume obtained by dividing the remaining credit on your pre-paid card when you start using data roaming services (excluding VAT) by €7.7. For instance if you have €13 (€10.8 excluding a 20% VAT) left on your SIM card when starting roaming data, you will have at least 10.8/7.7=1.4 GB of roaming data. For your information, €7.7 is in 2017 the maximum price that your operator has to pay the foreign operator for 1 GB of data when you are abroad in the EU. This means that you get in Roam Like at Home exactly the volume of roaming data you have paid for in advance. For voice and SMS, you will pay exactly the same unit price as at home.

Data roaming passports

Some service providers over a hybrid data roaming service. Instead of charging you separately for data roaming, such service providers over a service where in return for a monthly fee (if you are from Singapore, think M1), you can use your home data package overseas. While this is sounds great, it will likely be more expensive than if you had actually gone and bought a cheap data card overseas. This may work for a multi-city holiday involving a particular region such as Europe where you will avoid having to find a foreign sim card for each different country. So check in with your service provider and see what they have available.

For my foreign readers, fret not for I have not forgotten you (if you appreciate my small gesture, please follow this blog and also my FB page – your views matter to me).

AT&T offers something similar with their International Day Pass (home data package at USD 10/Day).

O2 offers what they call O2 Travel which appears to offer its users an all you can use service for “£3.99 a day in Turkey and £4.99 in selected destinations outside Europe”.

Optus and Telstra offer a variant with their Optus Travel Data Pack (200mb at AUD 10/Day) International Day Pass (100mb at AUD 10/Day) respectively.

Flexiroam

Another option (though not the cheapest for the occasional traveller) is the service being offered by Flexiroam

Flexiroam describes itself as:

Flexiroam X is a thin microchip that is attached to your existing SIM card and enables you to access Flexiroam’s low cost data roaming whilst overseas, connecting you to the local networks. It is an easy one-time application to overcome the hassle of switching SIMs every time you travel.

How it works is that you paste a microchip over your sim and purchase a data bundle. Your data usage will be subtracted from that data bundle.

I will provide a review on Flexiroam in another upcoming post but until then a quick comment is that while it is not the cheapest option for data, it provides a useful service for a traveller that i) does not need much data while on the go (e.g. having wifi access at hotels/offices) and only needs it for the occasional email/ Uber/ Google maps. The reason why it is useful is because the data is a universal pool that you can tap on no matter where you are. For example, during my last business trip, I was using my data in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan without having to swap out any sim card. This means you can avoid i) “wasting” data that you bought but could not finish during your stay in a particular country (especially relevant in data expensive regions such as Europe) or ii) the hassle of purchasing sim cards in countries where it is difficult for a foreigner to do so (e.g. China – Where I have personally been rejected for not having a local Chinese passport/ID or have heard of friends being rejected for a similar reason).

If you enjoyed reading this post, please remember to share this with your friends and also follow this blog for more articles.

Did I miss out any other free/cheap data a traveller should be aware of? Let me know in the comments below and I will include them.

Be sure to check out my other posts for other tricks you can use during your travels.

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