What Electronics Should You Bring To Ecuador (Part 7 )

It’s now a year since I wrote Part 6 and my wife and I have lived in Ecuador for 4.5 years.  This post is largely subjective based on my usage and mistakes in Cuenca. The commentary is also geared to people moving to Ecuador for the first time.

This advice is meant for those on a limited budget and not bringing a container to Ecuador. I am going to start with the most important device and work by way down to the small items that you can’t find or that are expensive in Ecuador.

Computer: When we first moved here I rented space in another person’s container and brought down a desktop computer with a 24″ monitor and and oversized keyboard. I sold that computer in less than a year and that is why I am recommending a laptop or notebook computer.

  • I have a Macbook Air – Moderately price and extremely simple to use
  • Chrome book -Inexpensive and uses mostly cloud storage
  • Microsoft Surface Pro – combines a tablet and computer and an affordable price

Tablet: When we first moved I owned an iPad 2. I have since sold that I my tablet of choice is an iPad Mini 2 with a portable bluetooth keyboard. Other viable choices are:

  • Kindle Fire Tablet 7 – Extremely affordable at $50
  • Nexus 9 Table – A contender to the iPad that uses the Android OS
  • Samsung and Asus also have affordable and powerful Tablets

Smartphone: Personally, this is my most used piece of electronics. I now own the Google Nexus 6. I have a $32 a month data plan that gives me the convenience of being connected all day but also the ability to connect via magic jack to my business contacts and family back in The States. I also use my Smartphone for:

  • Maps and Navigation
  • Free Worldwide texting via What’s Ap
  • Photos- I sold my DSLR and now use my Smartphone as my only camera
  • 4K Video
  • Podcasts – PBS, NPR and tech shows
  • HBO, Netflix
  • Social Media
  • Audio Recording
  • Skyping and Magic Jack
  • Remote Controls For TV

I highly recommend the Google Nexus but would also highly recommend the iPhone

Streaming Boxes: These hockey puck  devices will be your night time companions if you enjoy watching movies and TV series. You can’t go wrong with the ones below:

  • Apple TV Version 3 – $150
  • Roku 4 – $130
  • Amazon Fire TV $100;

Basically you can watch TV series and movies with these devices connected to your TV. They also have the added advantage of wirelessly connecting some of your devices ( computer, iphone tablet ) wirellessly to your TV. Important note ***. To fully utilize these services you need to purchase a VPN (virtual private network) Router. I use the Sabai Cisco router because of the excellent technical support. I go to great lengths to describe the challenges of watching TV/Movies in Ecuador. I recommend using the search facility on this blog and typing in “VPN” and you will see several posts with recommendations.

All three device have voice search and the Roku and Amazon devices have lower priced stick versions that have less power but basically give you the same services.

Printer: This is the first year I am not recommending a printer. Unless you are using the printer for business then it’s easier and cheaper to put your document on a thumb drive and bring it to and easily available copy shop.

Camera: This is the first year I am recommending using a Smartphone instead of a point and shoot camera.

Miscellaneous recommendations:

  • Netflix subscription- $9 per month – Invaluable
  • Amazon Prime subscription $8.35 per month – (Music, Movies, Books, Unlimited Photo Storage)
  • Bluetooth keyboard for your tablet or smarthone
  • Thumb drives (32 gb) for transferring information or bringing data to be printed
  • VPN subscription  – I use Strong VPN and it’s about $8 a month
  • Skype subscription – Free Video Calls to other Skype users.
  • MagicJack – Practically free phone calls to any cell or landline in the U.S.
  • Router: I use a Sabai VPN Cisco router $130. A much needed device in Ecuador if you’re going to watch movies and tv programs outside of Ecuador.

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Making & Receiving Phone Calls In Ecuador Part 1

For the past 3+ years my family has been using the following combination of services to make phone/video calls from Ecuador back to the U.S.

  • MagicJack
  • Skype
  • Facetime
  • Skype
  • Google Voice

The one common thread is that they all rely on Internet connectivity (VOIP) to receive and initiate the calls. I am eager to hear what others are using and I hope we can have a robust discussion on the pros and cons of each service. I would also like to include the Total Cost Of Ownership which includes hardware, taxes and subscription fees.

My strongest piece of advice is that you don’t rely on one service since Skype and Google Voice are for the most part free. I would also invite other services to be discussed like Vonnage, Ooma and Viber.

Presently, the service of choice for us is MagicJack.

Pros:

  • MagicJack Plus hardware is less than $40 which includes the first 6 months of unlimited phone calls to the U.S/Canada
  • Plans after the first 6 months are about $25 a year
  • Free and powerful apps on the iPhone, iPad,  and Android Devices
  • Can make calls using your cell data plan
  • Voicemail also goes to your email

Cons:

  • Technical Help is awful
  • Often difficult to renew your yearly subscription

Looking forward to hearing about what works for you and the total cost of ownership.

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What Electronics Should You Bring To Ecuador (Part 3)

Now that I’ve lived in Cuenca, Ecuador for 19 months and have experienced some of the opportunities and limitation of  High Tech I thought I would revise my list. These are just my recommendations based on my needs and prejudices.  Your mileage may vary. Keep in mind that I worked for Apple.  There are great windows machines out there but the windows operating system is too vulnerable to bloatware, malware and viruses.

Computers:  Initially I came down with a desktop and a notebook computer. I’ve since sold the desktop. I highly recommend coming down with a notebook computer. The latest engines on the notebooks make them as or more powerful than desktops and you have the added advantage of mobility.  My wife has a MacBook Air and I have the MacBook Pro with Retina screen.

Tablets: No surprise that I would recommend the iPad or iPad Mini.  Again the recommendation comes from the >700,000 apps that are available in the App store. We also have an active iPad Users Group that meets twice a month on Thursdays. Samsung, Asus, Acer and Amazon manufacture excellent tablets but the key is the number of free and paid available apps. Plus the Kindle Fire has a some difficulty receiving Amazon Prime media without a VPN. If you’re purchasing an iPad make sure you pick up a bluetooth keyboard.  Except for photo editing and video editing I think the iPad replaces a computer.

Printers: What worked for me was bring down my Brother Wireless Laser Printer from Oregon.  The cost was $90 and the printer works all over the house and prints from the two notebook computers and the iPad.  I know that several expats have purchased ink jet printers but I have heard several complaints about the quality of ink in Cuenca.

Phones: Duh, again no surprise that I have an iPhone 4s.  I purchased the phone from Claro for $480 and my plan runs about $55 per month. Samsung’s Galaxy is a great rival to the iPhone and I have several Cuencano friends who really like that phone. If you’re not in the market for a smartphone I would still bring an unlocked phone from the U.S. In addition to the iPhone I have purchased a used Motorola Razr for $30 in Oregon and brought that with me.  The cheap phones ($30 – 60) in Cuenca have terrible reception.

Camera: Digital cameras are super cheap in the United States.  I have two cameras in Cuenca.  I have a Samsung ultra compact that I purchased in Costco for $130 two years ago . I take 80% of my photos with that camera. Why?  Good to Very good results and it doesn’t draw attention in the middle of a busy street.  The other camera is a Canon T4i (looks expensive) DSLR.  I only use this camera when I am with another person or I am on a trip with a lot of other people.  I just think it’s good street smarts not to draw attention to yourself and your vunerable when changing lenses.  Another advantage to the iPhone 4s is that if you’re not an experienced photographer then the iPhone takes exceptional photos and video.

Hard Drives: They are smaller and super cheap.  If you’re shooting HD video then it’s a must to have one.  I just purchased a 1 TB Seagate Drive for $79.  Higher densities are available at similar prices.

Wi Fi Extender: An absolute must purchase if your apartment/ house is on two levels or you need to obtain a Wifi signal that is more than 30 ft from your router. I purchased the Diamon Wifi extender for $70 on my last trip to Oregon.

TV & Blu-Ray Players: I purchased both of these in Cuenca.  I purchased a 40 inch Samsung 1080p HDTV and paid a 30% premium. The LG Blu-Ray player only cost my $15 more than a similar one in the U.S.  If you have the opportunity to share a container and bring a big screen TV –  Do It!

Apple TV:  OK, The last Apple Product I will recommend on this list. However, this is a must have device if you want to watch Netflix, Free Podcasts from Network TV or subscribe to the NBA, NHL or MLB subscriptions and display them on your big screen TV.  The hockey puck sized hardware is $99 and requires an HDMI cable. There are alternatives such as Google TV and RoKu but I am not familiar enough with these devices to recommend them.

Slingbox: If you have a source for good American/Canadian TV programming in North America then you should consider bringing a SlingBox.  This device attaches to your your TV and you can view the same programming on your TV in Ecuador.  The source is usually a friend or relative in North America that has a Slingbox attached to their TV.

Magic Jack/Plus: This is a device that is sold in North America.  It is similar to Skype in that it uses the Internet to make and receive calls. Magic Jack is only voice but the advantage is that you can make and receive unlimited calls to cell/land lines for about $39 per year.  Less if you purchase a multi -year contract.

Miscellaneous: Cables, SD Cards, Surge Protectors etc. Bring them . A 4 ft HDMI cable (connection from your device to a HDTV) cost $18 compared to about $6 in the U.S.  The same is true of of memory cards and surge protectors.

I welcome discussion and suggestions on this topic.  Yes, I said in the beginning that I have a prejudice for Apple products and yes these products are more expensive. For me the Apple products work.

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Alternatives To Skype

On the Facebook Ecuador Expat Group there is a lively discussion about Skype and Magic Jack. I thought I would begin a series of posts on this blog and talk about some Skype alternatives.  Don’t get me wrong Skype is a powerful program and runs on many platforms. Microsoft shelled out 8.5 billion dollars for a reason.

I hop we will get both Cuencanos, North Americans and others to post about their experiences.  The Screenflow video below is just to get the ball rolling.

Skype And Magic Jack In Cuenca?

In my earlier posts I mentioned some hardware items (i.e. computers, printers, tablets, etc.)to bring to Ecuador . I also suggested digital cameras and camcorders as well as suggestions on TV’s and DVD players.

In this post I’ll briefly chat about voice and video communication between Cuenca and the rest of the world. The two most popular and cost effective ways are Skype and Magic Jack.

Skype: (Software Only)Owned by Microsoft uses the VOIP method of calling. VOIP is techy talk for “voice over Internet Protocol”. In plain English it means that you’re initiating the phone calls from the Internet rather than using a local or International phone company.  The biggest advantage is the cost. Calling between 2 Skype users is free. Skype is very easy to install software and installs on P.C’s, Mac’s, IPad’s, IPhones, Android phones etc. You can make video calls between Skype users who have webcams on their camera.  My IPad has both a front and rear facing camera which means I can talk to my family while simultaneously showing them my enviornment.  The IPad is just 14 oz so I can easily move around both inside and outside.

How does Skype make money.  Skype offers pre payment plans so that for as little as 2.3 cents a minute you can call back to the U.S.  You can also subscribe to their premium plans and have unlimited calling.  My Skype experience has been 90% successful. Occasionaly the bandwidth is slow on my end or the receipient’s end and there is some jitter where the picture and or the audio is unacceptable.

Magic Jack: ( Hardware and Software) Comes in two versions. Magic Jack and Magic Jack Plus. Magic Jack is approximately $40. You purchase a USB drive which uploads software to your computer. Magic Jack Plus is $60 and you can plug the USB device into your computer or into an electrical outlet.  Both devices supply a US. phone number and give you unlimited calls for a year which in my case comes out to $3.33 per month.  Besides the 503 area code phone # magic jack has voice mail and when my phone is not connected to the computer my incoming phone calls go to voice mail and I get notified via email that I have a new phone message.

MagicJack also has an IPad App so I don’t have to have my USB drive connected to my computer. That’s is a nice convienience and I can also be mobile when I talk on magicjack.

Comparison: Let me say that if communication to another continent is vital then I suggest you use both services.  I think Skype is more powerful offers more choices and is easier to use.  Magicjack offers the convience of a local phone number and is overall a cheaper plan.  I found that 20% of my calls had some sort of jitter problem on Magicjack so Skype had better bandwidth and of course you can make video calls, group calls and use SMS messaging with Skype which Magicjack is incapable of doing. I also found that I had some more technical problems with Magicjack and Skype was trouble free.

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