What I Use: Germany 2017

Posted on March 26, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, Hardware, iOS, Mobile, Paul, Windows 10 with 70 Comments

What I Use: Germany 2017

Berlin TV tower

It’s been a great week in Germany, and I’ll be flying home today. Here’s a quick look at the tech products and services I relied on during this trip.

But first, a few links to similar “What I Use” and related posts. As you may know, I occasionally detail my experiences on various trips.

Notes from the Road: CeBIT 2017

Project Fi in The Netherlands: Seamless, Inexpensive Connectivity

What I Use: Home Swap 2016

What I Use: International Travel Apps and Services

What I Use: Home Swap 2015

What I Use: Ireland 2015

What I Use: Road Trip 2015

What, where, why

This is my third trip to Germany following [a similar work/personal trip in May 2003](What I Use: Germany 2017) and then a three-week home swap in August 2010. As noted in Notes from the Road: CeBIT 2017, I was invited here by Huawei as a sort of introduction to the company, and I spent the first three days or so in Hannover attending CeBIT. On Wednesday, I took an intercity train to Berlin, and my wife flew in that night for a long weekend. Which we spent sightseeing for the most part, as we’ve never been to this part of Germany before.

There are trams and trains of all kinds in Berlin. Sadly, it’s also the most confusing Metro system I’ve ever used. Ever.

Travel philosophy and bags

I like to travel light. That means I always carry-on my bags, and that’s true now for both domestic and international flights. You can run into some issues doing this on some of the new low-cost airlines like WOW, but I’ve not experienced that (yet). And for this trip in particular, I was pretty well taken care of with Lufthansa.

Sobering Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

But the needs of this trip made traveling light a bit challenging by my standards: I needed to bring four dress shirts, two pairs of dress pants, and so on, and so I ended up stuffing the biggest carry-on bag I own that will work in (non-budget airline) European overhead bins, the Rick Steves Rolling Backpack. It was a tight fit, though I had a chance to readjust this for the train trip between cities here and got it a bit flatter. So I think the return trip will go better.


One thing I did avail myself of because of the purpose and duration of the trip was the laundry service at the hotel (see below) in Berlin: I had them wash a few dress shirts and other items, turnaround was less than a day, and it cost less than $30. That’s money well spent when you consider the need to bring more clothes, have a bigger bag, and/or check luggage.

As always, I used my trusty Rick Steves Velocé Shoulder Bag as a laptop bag. But this, too, was over-stuffed a bit thanks to my decision to bring the [HP Spectre x360 15 (2017)](HP Spectre x360 15 (2017)) along. This is the next laptop up for review, though, so it was due, but it just barely fits in the bag. More on the HP in a moment.

You need a reservation to go to the top of the Reichstag.

Also not great: While we’re transitioning between seasons, it was still very much winter when I left Boston, weather-wise, and the nights here in Germany have been cold. But the days were quite warm, and often in the mid-50’s. I have a winter jacket I’ve worn for years and really like, and it comes with a removable inner layer that adds warmth. Ideally, I’d leave the inner part home, but it was too cold to do so. So off I went, lugging all this stuff around with me. Jacket on, jacket off.


Microsoft just opened a coffee shop in Berlin. When I went, the coffee machine was broken.

That said, one of the nice things about traveling in Europe in the winter is that the jacket provides ideal cover for your wallet and phone. When I’m here in the summer, it’s a bit of a juggling act because of potential pickpocketing, and it’s harder to hide or protect valuables when you’re wearing shorts and a t-shirt.


As noted, I brought the [HP Spectre x360 15 (2017)](HP Spectre x360 15 (2017)) with me. This is an excellent laptop overall, and my review will be available this coming week. I know from tests before the trip that it achieves about 8 hours battery life on average, amazing for a laptop with a 15-inch 4K/UHD display. And that the typing experience would be excellent.

Berlin Wall.

And it was mostly a great experience, two issues did come up: The overly-wide touchpad is far to easy to hit while typing, and I couldn’t figure out a palm detection setting that would fix that. And I had some very weird —and alarming—display glitch issues in Hannover that may or may not have been tied to power at that hotel. It hasn’t happened since.

Berlin Victory Column, Tiergarten.

Phone and connectivity

Thanks to the amazing Project Fi, which served me so well on earlier international trips, I knew I’d be connected normally in Germany and wouldn’t need to worry about that. For the most part, this has worked out.

However, I’ve had two problems.

The Pixel’s excellent camera is particularly good at night shots.

First, Project Fi only works with a select range of mostly Google-branded handsets, so I had to use the Google Pixel XL. This is a mostly terrible phone, because all Android phones are mostly terrible. I’m honestly not sure how any human being can use such a thing day-to-day, it’s just incredibly frustrating: Performance, durability, reliability, whatever, is just terrible across the board, compared to iPhone.

That said, the camera is fantastic, so my photos, at least, have been great. But I missed using the iPhone every day. Repeatedly.

Berlin Cathedral.

Secondly, Project Fi’s seamless connectivity resulted in a mistake on my part: On the second to last day of the trip, in Berlin, I received a notification that I had somehow managed to use over 4 GB of bandwidth in the previous 24 hours. That pretty much isn’t possible, normally, but I think I know the culprit: I downloaded Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on my PC so I could watch it on the way home, and the laptop must have connected to my phone’s hotspot when the hotel Wi-Fi ran out. That’s a nice way to turn a $20 movie purchase into a $60 movie purchase (since Project Fi charges $10 per GB.) Rogue One is a good movie, but it’s not that good.

A perhaps overly-enthusiast bird eyes my wife’s croissant.

Still, compared to how such overages would work on AT&T Wireless or a similar big US carrier, this mistake was still relatively non-painful. For example, my AT&T plan provides for 6 GB of data in a month, and I could have paid them $10 a day to access that in Europe. That overage alone would have cost me $600 on AT&T (if I understand the math; 800 MB of data is $120.) So $40 is embarrassing but survivable.

Ampelmännchen (Ampelman) pedestrian crossing symbol. Cute!

Put another way, on AT&T, I’d have to watch my data usage and the total cost of 7 days in Europe, assuming no overages, would be $70. For that much money, Project Fi will give me 7 GB of data, which is more than my AT&T allotment, and then just continue charging me at the normal $10 per GB rate if I use more data. Point being, Project Fi is a much better deal, period. You just have to use a Google phone.

In-flight tech

On a typical domestic flight, I’ll have my phone (music, audiobooks, podcasts), of course, a laptop for work—usually doable given JetBlue’s “Even More Space” seating—and an iPad mini for watching movies. This trip was no different—same bag, same basic tech—though I used my iPhone in Airplane Mode for entertainment instead of the Pixel, which I brought up when I landed in Europe. At that point, the iPhone stayed in the bag with data roaming off and didn’t really make another appearance until I was ready to go home.

German food is lots of whites and browns. But there is lots of ethnic variety in Berlin as well.

I usually fly with a JetBlue blanket, which makes hard and small seat dividers more comfortable, but I didn’t need it on this trip. I did bring an eye mask (with bulbous eye spaces so the mask doesn’t touch your eyes when sleeping) and an inflatable neck pillow, neither of which I used either. I brought two European-style power adapters in my laptop bag and a few more in my luggage, neither of which I needed en-route.

Because the main flight here was overnight, I basically only watched a single movie and then fell asleep listening to podcasts. I’ll have a lot more time to write and watch movies on the way home, which will take place mostly in the daytime. (That’s why I put the movie on the laptop; the bigger screen might make for a better experience for this kind of movie.) I always use, and strongly recommend, in-ear Bose noise-canceling headphones. They’re wonderful and necessary for any travel.

Amazing show at solidarity with London because of the recent terror attack, at the Brandenburg Gate.

I always keep three mini-USB cables (micro-USB, USB-C, and Lightning) in my laptop cab for charging or PC connectivity purposes, plus a portable charger, pens, and assorted other little bits. I always fly with a mouse, too, but I managed to forget that this time and really regretted it. (See the note above about the HP touchpad.)


Huawei covered my hotel in Hannover, and it was a delightful, old-fashioned spa-type place with quirky rooms, and in a very remote, agricultural area outside of the city. I never would have found that place myself, but it was really neat, and quite different from the typical downtown hotel tower experience I have on business trips.

Saint George slaying a dragon.

For Berlin, we booked four nights at Novotel Mitte: I’m a big fan of Novotel and other budget business hotels in Europe, and this was one of the best hotel experiences we’ve ever had. It was in a great location with very quiet and clean rooms, incredible staff, and a very positive vibe. Plus it cost just $80 a night.

Well, that’s about all the navel gazing I can handle at the moment. 🙂 See on the other side (of the Atlantic.)


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