Gear We Like
Review: Droam roaming internet (USA)
After a month of fast, reliable internet across several countries in Europe back in May, I had high hopes for Droam’s equivalent service in the USA. With a few weeks in the country mixed fairly evenly between large cities and wide open spaces, it would be a good test of the device – and more importantly, the mobile data provider it was using.
First impressions were good – a small black device was waiting for me at my friend’s house when I arrived in Las Vegas. Branded with T-Mobile on the front, back and inside the battery compartment, there was no doubting which company was providing the cell service. This would prove important in the weeks to come.
Even easier to use than the equivalent device in Europe, the only button I ever pressed was to turn it on and off. It seemed to boot up faster than the other device, and lock onto a signal more quickly as well – although I suspect that may have been because it wasn’t roaming with a different provider.
I was a bit disappointed not to receive a car charger this time around – for once, I would have had the opportunity to use it! A standard wall/USB charger was the only other accessory.
In major cities, the Droam service excelled. Mobile 4G data speeds were plenty fast enough to have two, three, even four devices connected at once, and I often did. At one point I took a trip with three friends to a national park outside Denver, and while the signal lasted we were all sharing photos and sending emails on our phones without a hitch.
"While the signal lasted", though, is an important distinction.
T-Mobile claims to have the largest 4G network in the country (then again, so does AT&T), but like a lot of such claims, the devil is in the detail. Most mobile providers base this on population coverage, not physical coverage. In large countries like the US, Canada and Australia, this can mean that huge areas of land have no service at all.
This was certainly the case throughout almost all of Wyoming and Montana – for 10 days, I only picked up a data signal once, and it was a slow EDGE connection. While the coverage map suggests data connectivity with a service partner in parts of those states, the device steadfastly refused to work from Cheyene pretty much until we hit Washington state. So much for relying on it during our road trip!
The other consideration is pricing. While the service is priced a little lower than the equivalent in Europe (90 euros vs 100 euros for up to 1Gb per month), the value proposition isn’t quite the same. As I mentioned in the previous review, the convenience of not having to find, purchase and swap SIM cards in every country in Europe may well be worth paying for.
In the US, that concern disappears – it’s all one country, after all. While it can certainly be challenging to find a mobile provider who actually (a) wants your business and (b) can sell you something that will work in your phone, T-Mobile at least do seem to offer a prepaid SIM with data at reasonable prices. If you have an unlocked phone (or other data device that you can put a SIM card into), this would probably be a better option – especially since it’s not too hard to share that connection with others if you need to.
Of course, if you don’t have an unlocked device none of that will help you. If that’s the case, 90 euros a month may be worth it for data on the move – although the prevalence of free wi-fi in coffee shops and restaurants does reduce the need compared to some other parts of the world.
So, what’s the overall verdict? If you’re going to be in major towns and cities with a locked phone or tablet, the Droam service is worth considering if you’ll be in the USA for any length of time. For more remote areas, or if you have the option of buying an prepaid SIM card to use instead, it probably isn’t.