A few months back I gave you the rundown on what’s new in the smartphone world for travelers. So, supposing you went right out and picked up a shiny new Android phone. You got home, opened up the box, turned it on, and found that your new toy didn’t do all you thought it would be able to while on the road. This is not due to any hardware limitations of the little machine; it’s just lacking the proper set of applications to make it jump through the desired hoops. Hopefully this article will get you started in finding the right apps for the job. As you’ll see, with the proper apps, a good smartphone doesn’t just jump through hoops, it’ll do backflips and whistle the Star-Spangled Banner at the same time.
I’ve purposely stuck with free applications. If you want any of them, just search for their names in the Android Market. Without further ado, here are the programs:
Augmented Reality – Wikitude World Browser
Augmented reality is a big buzz word these days. What is it? To sum it up, its technology that uses the viewing device of your phone’s camera and overlays extra information about what’s around you. The field is still in its infancy, but Wikitude is one of the best out there. It allows you find any type of site you might want to find and allows you to select such sites either by key word search or by selecting what it calls a “world” or a selection of sites provided by a content provider. For example if you wanted to find the nearest Starbuck’s, you could add the Starbuck’s world from the menu. When you wave the phone around, stores will show on the screen when the camera is facing the direction of that store; distance and details are available with a tap on the location.
How does it work? The software determines where you are with its GPS, Wi-Fi, and Cell data. Which direction the camera is facing is determined using the internal compass and accelerometer. The technical details are pretty tricky and involve integrating a lot of different data. The end result is that this software can help you find pretty much whatever you’re looking for in your vicinity. Coffee, hiking trails, skate parks, department stores, social network gatherings, you name it, and it’s there.
Finding things – Where
The app from where.com, Where for Android is another option for finding local things to see, do, eat, etc. Like the website, the app will determine your location and find things to recommend that are local to you. Aside from that, it will also tell you the local weather, gas prices, traffic information, and even some basic links for news. Wikitude is great when you know where you’re going or what you’re looking for. Where is for the times when you want suggestions.
Getting around cities – Transport Maps
Have you ever been in a new city with no idea where the buses or trains can be found or what their routes are? Then this app is for you. It’s a no-frills downloader and viewer for mass transit maps from all over the world. Just select your city to add the map, and off you go.
Real-time GPS tracking – GPS Compass Map
While the included Google Maps is great, sometimes you don’t have solid network connectivity or you just want the raw latitude and longitude data that comes from your GPS. GPS Compass Map is dead simple. All it does is follow your location on the screen as you move. When you can’t download maps because you don’t have a data connection, it just shows the GPS info with a black screen. That’s all it does. Deceptively simple, yet terrifically useful when hiking in the hinterlands.