This spring I took golf trips to Scotland and Ireland, and during both I left my smartphone at home. The main reason was that my service provider is Verizon, and most Verizon phones employ a wireless standard that prevents them from making or receiving calls in many countries outside North America. (Most AT&T and T-Mobile phones, by contrast, work abroad. Verizon offers several "global phones," among them the iPhone 4s, that work almost everywhere. It also lends phones that work internationally for up to three weeks.) I solved my problem by spending $30 for a tiny, no-frills phone called a Telestial kit V520 (telestial.com; recently on sale for $19). It performed flawlessly in the British Isles and on a subsequent nongolf trip to Norway. It came with a SIM card, a U.K. phone number, a U.S. phone number, voicemail and $5 of prepaid talk time, which I topped off, on the Telestial website, for a buck a minute. I couldn't use it to search the Web, but I was in no danger of racking up thousands in data roaming fees--still a peril for American travelers who leave the country with fancy U.S.-based mobile gadgets.
The most remarkable feature of my V520 is its battery life. I've learned to top off my Droid X smartphone almost every time I pass an electrical outlet, but when I was abroad I plugged in my V520 more out of habit than need--and when I pressed the on switch recently, four months after returning from Ireland, it started right up. The explanation isn't, as you might be thinking, that Motorola, Samsung and Apple don't understand batteries. The explanation is that smartphones have rapidly evolved so many power-devouring features that battery technology hasn't been able to keep up. And--as an MIT chemistry professor explained to me last year--it never will be able to keep up, because various immutable laws of the universe impose an absolute limit on how densely electrons can be crammed together.
This is an issue for golfers, because smartphones, for many players, have become indispensable on-course accessories. You can use your phone to check your yardage; make a photographic record of your round; record a buddy's appalling putting stroke (and upload it, with critical commentary, to YouTube); and--by using the cool new Golf Digest Live upgrade to the GolfLogix smartphone app--collect detailed, shot-by-shot data about your game and have it generate a personalized version of this magazine (called My Golf Digest). Those functions are great, but they add up to a heavy power load, and even if you play fast you can run out of juice before you reach the 18th green.
The solution is to carry an auxiliary power source. Recently, I bought an Anker Astro3 external battery ($60 at Amazon). It has two five-volt USB outlets and a third outlet that can run at either nine volts or 12 volts, and it comes with three cables and 18 adapters--which work with iPhones, iPads, iPods and almost any other gizmo you're likely to own, including e-readers and laptops. It's more than twice as heavy as a typical phone, so you wouldn't want to carry it in your pocket all day, assuming it would even fit. (Smaller, cheaper, less-capacious versions are available.) But you can easily slip it into your golf bag (or cart) and plug in your gadgets when they start to run low--or leave your phone or GPS yardage finder attached as you play. It's also a terrific travel accessory, especially on long flights--say from the United States to Shannon, Dublin, Glasgow or Edinburgh.
You can extend your independence from the grid with a device called a Tripp-Lite PowerVerter ($29 on Amazon for the 150-watt model). You plug the PowerVerter into your car's cigarette-lighter outlet, and then plug your laptop, cellphone charger, or Astro3 external battery into the three-prong receptacle on the PowerVerter. It turns the 12-volt direct current from your car's battery into 120-volt alternating current.