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The 411: Free messaging from across the pond

Every two weeks, Senior Associate Editor Nicole Lee answers your questions about cell phones, smartphones, and all things mobile.

Welcome to the 411, my column answering all your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories. I receive plenty of questions about these subjects via e-mail, so I figured many of you might have similar queries, too. At times, I might solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.

iOS5's new iMessage system provides an affordable way to send messages to other iOS5 devices.
iOS5's new iMessage system provides an affordable way to send messages to other iOS5 devices. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Question: My daughter is due for a new phone. She will be spending most of next year in London and would like to be able to text for free or cheap to the US (BBM?). Most of her key people are on BBM but many are switching to iPhones. What do you suggest is the best option for her? A new Blackberry? Unlocked GSM phone purchased in US with pay-as-you-go SIM cards? Verizon or AT&T iPhone with international plan? Purchase in UK? -- Teresa, via e-mail

It's a little bit of a difficult question because, as you say, her friends are in transition between BlackBerrys and iPhones. But if you're absolutely confident that most of her associates will be on iPhones, I would go ahead and get an iPhone for her too. Hopefully by the time she leaves for London iOS 5 will have landed, and she can start using iMessage with her friends--iMessage is essentially the iOS version of BBM. Of course, there are also third-party iPhone apps for free messaging, like Ping and TextPlus, so you could try looking into those too.

However, if she's only going to be spending a year abroad, I might just suggest getting a cheap U.K. phone and going for an affordable texting plan; unfortunately, I don't know a lot about U.K. providers, so hopefully our readers can provide some answers. The alternative is to get the unlocked iPhone (a big chunk of change!), and get a SIM card in the U.K. I probably wouldn't get a Verizon or AT&T iPhone due to the exorbitant international rates.

If any of our readers have other answers, let us know in the comments!

I'm a fan of Android, but I want a phone with a touch screen plus a keyboard. There doesn't seem to be many of those, especially for T-Mobile. Any suggestions? -- Elan, via e-mail

T-Mobile does have a few options if you want a touch-screen Android phone with a keyboard. They include the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G Slide, the Motorola Cliq 2, and the T-Mobile Sidekick 4G. The MyTouch 3G Slide is a popular option, and we've given it a high rating, so check that out to see if you want it. Other carriers have their own options too, like the Motorola Droid Pro from Verizon Wireless and the Samsung Replenish from Sprint, but since you seem to like T-Mobile, the MyTouch 3G is a good choice.

I have a follow-up question to the one about the unlocked phones with prepaid plans. Could I buy an unlocked Sidekick 4G, then slide in a prepaid T-Mobile unlimited 4G prepaid SIM card and use it? I'm 15 so I want a full keyboard, but I want to stick with Android. I'm afraid that the Sidekick will become obsolete in two years. Thank you for your time. -- Luke, via e-mail

The short answer is yes, you'll be able to use an unlocked phone with the prepaid T-Mobile SIM. As I said in answer to the question above, though, you don't need to go with the Sidekick if you want a T-Mobile phone with a keyboard; there are at least a couple of other options. I don't necessarily share your view that the Sidekick will be obsolete--with Android as its operating system, I think the Sidekick has a decent future ahead for smartphone newcomers.