My Texting Holiday

TL:DR DeskSMS saved me a fortune by syncing my text messages with gTalk/Gmail and a web interface. It is awesome.

UPDATE: The author of DeskSMS is now writing a native tablet client for really easy SMS’ing from your tablet. Can’t wait to get using this.

As some of you may know, I was recently on a holiday to America. On my previous travels there, I have found myself crippled with the lack of free wifi and was (painfully) disconnected while I was there. This time, however, I was determined to get myself a USA data sim card and be far more online. Before I set off I did a bit of research, and found that T-Mobile USA did a $2/day sim card that offered me unlimited internet and calls and texts to US number. Great, for my 10 day trip, I would have to pay $20. I set up my Skype account and told all my friends about using Google Chat or email to get in touch with me. Then days before I was due to leave, I discovered DeskSMS.

Basically DeskSMS is an app for your Android phone that is able to sync your text messages up with you Google Account. It can then forward your text messages to your Gmail, gTalk or to the web interface. It was pretty handy texting from my laptop and tablet without having to take my phone out of my pocket. The gTalk interface is also really really nice to use.

I started thinking about how I could use this while I was away. I have an old Xperia x10 lying around and thought that I could somehow use that for texting in America. The night before I left I installed DeskSMS on the x10, poppet in my UK sim card and set the syncing to gTalk and the web interface. I then turned on my Galaxy s2, connected to my wifi and waited. Sure enough when I got  a text message through on my x10/UK number, my wifi connected S2 gave me a gTalk notification and the text message appeared (as if by magic). I replied to the text on my S2 through gTalk, which synced over the air (again by magic) onto my wifi network connected x10 which sent the text message. Perfect, it was working fine over a wifi connection, but I didnt have  a second UK data sim to test it with. I would have to wait until I was in the deep end and test it with a USA sim. So I set off with my sim-less S2 and my old x10 plugged in at my house, connected to the wifi and headed to the airport. Annoyingly I now didnt have any UK data connection at all, so any texts I was getting, I wouldnt see until I could connect to gTalk or sign into my account on a PC. Small annoyance, but I was at the airport for about 2 hours without a phone (not that I could have used it though, to busy running around and stripping for the metal detectors).

After a smooth 7 hours of flying I landed in Chicago and went straight to a T-Mobile store to get some data. I had to pay a $10 activation fee (yes American’s still get a bad deal on mobiles), and topped up $20. Popped the sim in and thanks to Cyanogenmod I already had all the settings for that network installed. Within a few minutes I had gTalk notifications going off to let me know I had a text message. Pretty awesome! For the next 10 days, between my S2, Touchpad Tablet and hotel PC I was able to text all my friends back at home for free thanks to the magic of DeskSMS and some USA data. With my S2 I was also able to Skype back home, essentially meaning for the 2 weeks for internet and calling I was only charged $30. By comparison, each text was going to cost me 20p and every £5 for every 25MB. While over there I used well over 500MB of data, saving me a fortune, mostly due to Google map/places searches.

While on an internal flight as well, the inflight wifi was a bit “broken” and let me into my Gmail for free. I had some old texts synced to my Gmail, so I was able to text back to the UK for free at 30,000 feet above the Great Lakes in the USA!

If you are ever travelling abroad, I would really recommend using something like this set up. Lots of people have an old Android phone lying around that is “useless” and would be more than capable of running this kind of set up.