London bus and phone box

Travel Tech News, May 2019: The Foldable Fail Edition

By Dave Dean NewsNo Comments

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Uber’s trying to become an all-purpose transport app, Viber’s letting you buy SMS-capable virtual phone numbers from multiple countries, Samsung’s foldable phone is a PR disaster before it even launches, and why Anker’s new charger may be the only one you need to take on your next trip.

It’s time for more Travel Tech News!

Uber’s Trying to Become a One-Stop Transport Hub

London underground platform

Just in case you weren’t happy using Google Maps, Citymapper, or one of the many other navigation apps that already provide public transport directions in London, Uber’s decided to enter the fray.

The company had been including bus and train information for customers in Denver as part of a small trial, and has now rolled it out to a much bigger city. Fire up the app, and you’ll get real-time information for the bus and Tube network, as well as trams, ferries, overground trains, and more.

Ticket prices are included — a feature that Citymapper offers, but Google Maps doesn’t — but otherwise, it’s really no different to any other navigation app, and not something you’d bother using if you weren’t already an Uber customer.

The most interesting part, for me at least, is the suggestion from Uber that at some point you’ll be able to buy tickets directly from within the app. While you can already use contactless cards or mobile payments to tap on and off the bus and Tube network, international transaction fees can make that a non-starter for overseas visitors.

That approach is also only good for point to point tickets, not the kind of daily or weekly passes that are popular with travelers. If you could buy a ticket directly in the app and avoid the often lengthy lines at central London stations, it’d be a compelling reason to use it.

Let’s see what happens.

Viber Now Lets You Buy Local Numbers In Different Countries

Phone dialpad

One of the more annoying niggles for long-term travelers is dealing with the need to receive texts and calls from back home. Banks often insist on texting authorisation codes, for example, or calling you on a known number if they suspect card fraud.

Unless you’ve got a dual-SIM phone, calls won’t get through if you’re using a local SIM to get cheaper service in whatever country you’re in. That’s assuming you want to keep paying for mobile service for your home number while you’re away, which many people don’t.

Virtual numbers that work via a phone or desktop app are a potential solution. Skype (and others) have let you buy them for many countries for years, but they’re only good for receiving calls, not texts. Google Voice handles both calls and texts, but only offers a US number.

There’s now some hope on the horizon for the rest of us, however, from a somewhat-unlikely competitor. Chat app Viber now lets you pay $4.99/month to use a local number from the US, Canada, or the UK, with other countries planned for the future.

Viber Local Number accepts incoming calls and texts, and you can have up to two active numbers. At this stage it’s only an inbound service, so you can’t call or reply to a text from your Viber number. For receiving calls and texts anywhere you’ve got an Internet connection, however? It’s ideal. 

Samsung’s Fragile Foldable Fail

Samsung Galaxy Fold press shot

Just a couple of months ago, I made the comment that when it comes to foldable phones, “the future is now-ish.” Apparently it’s more of the “ish” and less of the “now,” with Samsung forced into an embarrassing backpedal on its Galaxy Fold last week.

The company had shipped several review units out to tech journalists ahead of the phone’s planned release on April 26. Within a day, many of those reviewers had managed to break their $2000 phone in fun and exciting ways.

Some peeled off what looked like a screen protector, only to discover it was actually part of the screen itself. Others found the screen started bulging and splitting, presumably after tiny pieces of debris made their way inside the folding mechanism. 

Even those who hadn’t yet managed to destroy the phone entirely were already spotting small nicks and marks in the screen. Forced to use a soft plastic display for flexibility, this kind of damage seems inevitable until Corning ships its “bendable” Gorilla Glass, at least two years from now.

Sensing a PR disaster in the making, Samsung moved quickly to first recall all the affected review units for examination, and a few days later, to indefinitely delay the Fold’s release date.

There’s still no word on what changes, if any, are planned to make the phone more robust, or when the new shipping date might be. Let’s just say that even after it’s officially released, I don’t plan to rush out and buy one.

Anker’s New Charger Looks Ideal for Travelers

Anker Atom PD 2

Discussions about the physical properties of gallium nitrate (GaN) are unlikely to light up your hostel common room any time soon. Even so, devices made with GaN are starting to show up in the electronics world, and travelers have good reason to pay attention.

GaN-based chargers are more efficient than those using traditional silicon, which allows them to deliver the same power output in a smaller physical size. Anker was one of the first companies out of the gate with a real product, its tiny Atom PD 1 capable of charging phones, tablets, and low-power laptops. 

As ground-breaking as it was, the single USB-C port and relatively low power output meant the charger’s value was limited for most people. The new Atom PD 2, however, is a different story. It’s basically what you’d get if you mashed two of the original chargers together: double the power, double the USB ports, around double the size.

Measuring 2.7 x 2.7 x 1.1″ (6.9 x 6.9 x 2.8 cm), it’s around 15% smaller than the equivalent Macbook charger, while being able to power two devices at once. As a result, it may be the only charger many people need to pack for a trip.

You can charge most USB-C devices at full speed, including the majority of travel-sized laptops. A pair of mobile devices should also both charge at their maximum rate, but things will slow down if you plug in a 60W laptop and a phone at the same time. 

The Atom PD 2 was released in the US this week, and we’d expect different plug layouts to be available elsewhere in the world at some point. We’ll soon be checking the Atom PD 2 out in person, so stay tuned for a full review!

Images via paulohabreuf  (London bus and phone box), Free-Photos (London underground platform), Stocksnap (phone dialpad), Samsung (Galaxy Fold range), Anker (charger and laptop)

About the Author
Dave Dean

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

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