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Cellhire review (USA)

Tom Morgan
17 Aug 2015
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
84
inc. VAT per month

A very pricey way to get connected when you’re outside the UK – depending on your destination, it’s cheaper to buy a second phone

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Specifications

Dongle: Samsung 4G, Data allowance: 5GB, Supported countries: USA

Foreign travel used to be a daunting prospect for anyone surgically attached to their smartphone – roaming charges could end up costing hundreds, if not thousands of pounds if you didn’t keep track of your usage and switched off data as soon as the plane left UK tarmac. Thankfully things are a lot better today, with most UK networks now including some kind of foreign travel discount that either lets you use your existing contract abroad for a small daily fee, or simply continues to tick over as if you were still in the UK, with no extra charges. For those unlucky enough not to have such a clause, companies like Cellhire will rent a SIM card to you for use abroad, at a lower price than you would be charged for using your UK handset.

Cellhire currently covers 31 countries, including the USA, Australia, China, the United Arab Emirates and most major European destinations. SIM cards and dongles are only available by the month, with no option for shorter rentals if you’re only going away for a week. This does at least mean you’ll be back in time to return it using the self-addressed envelope included in the box.

We took a SIM + 4G MiFi bundle with us to a recent trip to New York. This included a 4G SIM card pre-loaded with 5GB of data and a Samsung 4G Mi-Fi dongle to get connected with, rather than worry about swapping SIM cards once we’d landed. It arrived in just a few days and was already set up when we took it out of the box, with SIM card installed and battery fully charged, so we could simply fling it in a suitcase and head for the airport. A US charger and USB cable was also included, so we didn’t have to worry about adapters.

Once we’d landed at JFK and powered it up, it connected in under a minute and let us pair our smartphone via Wi-Fi. Signal strength was on par with another smartphone we connected directly to a US cell network, and we had no trouble sending WhatsApp messages, uploading photos to Instagram or keeping on top of our emails throughout the trip. Speeds were about standard for US 4G networks too, so we were never left waiting to connect or download files.

We had no complaints with the dongle itself, or the quality of the signal (although of course this will vary by country and your proximity to larger population centres) but a dongle isn’t the most convenient way to get connected when you’re travelling. It’s another thing to worry about misplacing, another thing to squeeze into your hand luggage, and yet another gadget to charge at night – typically most hotel rooms restrict you to a few plug sockets, so you may have to choose between charging your phone and charging the dongle.

Cost is the major concern, however. Our 4G SIM card cost £65 for 5GB of data, and the dongle added an extra £19 – bringing the total to £84 per month. It’s a good idea to insure your device against loss and theft, which adds on an extra 60p per day, and you’ll also have to factor in the cost of returning the dongle, which in our case was £15. Essentially this means you’ll be paying around £115, with all charges combined, for one month’s use in America. Prices vary in other countries, but even the cheapest deal (3GB of French 4G with dongle) would end up costing around £80 all in. 5GB also seems pretty stingy for the money – we easily blitzed through this limit in a week of uploading photos and videos, watching YouTube and streaming songs on Spotify.

This might have been good value at one time, but now that Three’s Feel at Home foreign travel deal now supports the USA, Australia and most major European destinations, a Cellhire package simply doesn’t make sense if you’re heading to one of these countries. A one month rolling contract with all-you-can-eat internet costs £20 (£25 if you don’t pay by direct debit), and you can simply drop it straight into an unlocked smartphone.

Even if your handset is locked to a different network, a 1st generation Moto E smartphone costs around £80 – all together, it still works out cheaper than Cellhire, and this way you own the handset outright. There’s no need to return it when you’re done, and no need to spend extra on your next trip as you’ll already have the device.

The only way Cellhire makes sense is if you’re travelling to a country that isn’t supported by Three’s Feel at Home deal. Right now, that list includes South Korea, Brazil, Russia and Japan – places where using your UK minutes is still incredibly expensive, and where getting a local SIM card can be incredibly tricky. It’s still expensive, of course, but in these cases it could be your only option.

Although you have to go through a little extra work, if you’re heading to one of Three’s Feel at Home countries there’s no way we could recommend Cellhire when a one-month rolling contract is so much cheaper – even if you have to factor in the added expense of a second phone. For everyone else, you’ll need to shell out a lot of money in order to stay connected when abroad. If you definitely won’t be near a free Wi-Fi connection, it makes sense – just.

Hardware
DongleSamsung 4G
Data allowance5GB
Supported countriesUSA
Length of loan30 days

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