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This truly is a 'Handy' phone (and every country should have it)

Commentary: How a low-powered, souped-up, mostly 3G phone that gives travelers free local data became my lifeline in Hong Kong.


A hairline crack, a cheap orange case, slow data speeds. While tooling around Hong Kong, nothing could be dearer to me than a particular phone that in most other circumstances would earn my disdain.

It's called the Handy phone, and docked in 25,000 hotel rooms across Hong Kong (and 12,000 in Singapore), it greets weary travelers with the promise of freedom and independence.


Click for more of Jessica's travel stories around Asia.

Mark Hobbs/CNET

Why? Because not only does it work as a phone to make local calls (like to find a restaurant in a maze of a multi-level mall), the Handy phone's custom Android software gives you unlimited data, Google's maps app to navigate around (this is clutch), and a mini guide to must-see sights.

In addition, Handy's software can book tickets -- say to Disneyland Hong Kong -- giving you something to do while waiting for your delectable dim sum to arrive, or while you amble the city's crowded streets.

Best of all, it's free. You get to pocket a Handy phone just by staying at a hotel that pays a subscription fee to furnish their rooms with these devices. Just knowing a hotel offers this free traveler phone was enough for me to want to pick it over another.

I used my Handy phone all the time: to hunt down a local dessert shop in a six-story mall and to navigate to a restaurant while I walked -- and I didn't have to pay my carrier a dime for expensive roaming data or worry about homing in on a Wi-Fi signal while out and about.

While Handy's phones (which first entered hotel rooms in 2012) may be older Alcatel phones that run on 3G, some area hotels already use models that support faster data, and others will slowly upgrade to 4G.

The Handy phone itself may not be as powerful as those I usually tote around at home, but as long as it connects me to sweet, sweet data, it doesn't have to be.