Android, Windows, and even BlackBerry are stepping up their game against Apple, benefiting travelers. T+L’s tech expert finds which platform is best for you.
For the Organization Wiz
Windows 8: Seamless integration with any Windows device is the greatest selling point for this platform. We also love its resizable “live” tiles, which let you put what’s important to you—flight alerts, for example—front and center; innovative tap-to-pay technology; and travel-friendly features, from built-in Skype to top-of-the-line photo capabilities.
The Phone to Get: The sexy and slim Nokia Lumia 920($99) has some of the best picture modes we’ve ever tried.
We’ve road tested the latest crop of digital tools to help you find exactly what you’re looking for, from the perfect cup of coffee to a last-minute restaurant deal.
For Restaurants You’ll Love: Ness While the popular Foodspotting app has mastered the art of predicting your next craving based on specific dishes you’ve said you enjoy, up-and-comer Ness uses its algorithm to deliver Pandora-like recommendations of restaurants themselves. The app factors in your preferred price point, cuisine, and more. As with the music service, the suggestions get better the more you use it. Free; iOS.
For Last-Minute Dining Deals: Savored A cut above the usual dining deal sites, Savored offers discounts at surprisingly excellent (sometimes even trendy) restaurants around the country. The app is best for off-peak days or hours: on Sunday or Monday nights, you might be able to snag 30 percent (or more) off dinner at Mercadito, in Miami, or Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne, in New York City. Free; Android and iOS.
For Your Caffeine Fix: Best Coffee If you turn your nose up at Starbucks, try these café-centric maps, which pinpoint independent coffee shops in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and London (more cities are coming later this year). Staff-written reviews note brewing methods, Wi-Fi availability, and even the types of grinders used. From 99 cents; Android and iOS.
For the Best Local Brews: Untappd Like a Yelp for beer-lovers, Untappd helps locate the best bars around you—and pinpoints their top microbrews. A notepad function keeps track of beers you like and ones you’d like to try next. You can also share your finds on Facebook. Free; Android, BlackBerry, and iOS.
For Tips From the Pros: Chefs Feed Who better to seek out for advice on where to eat than the professionals themselves? This app canvasses well-regarded chefs in 16 global cities for their local picks. Insider tips range from Chris Galvin’s favorite quintessentially English meal (calf’s liver and bacon at London’s Delaunay restaurant) to Graham Elliot’s beloved Chicago deep-dish haunt (Lou Malnati’s). Free; iOS.
One to Watch: Evernote Food Digital note-taking pioneer Evernote’s culinary spin-off might be the best new documenting and sharing tool for foodies. Built-in templates let you record your meal (with everything from maps to photographs) on the fly. When you’re done, your notes instantly upload to your account and become digital mementos of your gastronomic pilgrimages. Free; Android and iOS.
Tom Samiljan is Travel + Leisure’s Tech Correspondent.
Looking to get from A to B with nothing but your smartphone? GPS apps are steadily increasing in functionality and accuracy—giving even Google a run for its money.
Best for City Driving: Google Maps The all-around app to beat, Google is particularly good in urban environments. It allows you to toggle between maps, street views, and 3-D cityscapes, and provides an extraordinarily complete picture of your surroundings. It takes you from car to foot to public transportation seamlessly, and (for Android users) it even has indoor maps of stores, hotels, and other buildings. Points of interest and area businesses are well marked and up-to-date. Free; Android and iOS.
Much ink has already been spilled on the relative pros and cons of the new BlackBerry 10 operating system that powers the new BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10, announced Wednesday in New York, but what does this latest update in the super-competitive and ever-evolving smartphone space mean for travelers? Here’s a peek at our favorite features.
BlackBerry Balance: Taking advantage of BlackBerry’s work-friendly DNA, this feature lets you toggle between “Work” and “Personal” modes, so that you don’t have to worry about getting disturbing emails from the office while relaxing on a stunning Caribbean beach (both the Z10 and the Q10 are world-compatible for roaming, regardless of carrier).
BlackBerry Peek: Say a message comes in for you while you’re streaming a movie—just swipe from left to right and you’ll get split-screen preview of the message while your movie continues to play. In other words, you don’t need to turn off your in-terminal entertainment just to see if that email contains a Delta upgrade.
When by-the-hour car-sharing services such as Zipcar and Hertz on Demand arrived on the scene, they upended the traditional model for short-term rentals. Now it’s their turn to be upended. Taking a page from bike-sharing programs, the latest car-sharing services offer by-the-minute rentals. The most traveler-friendly of the half-dozen or so services that have recently emerged is Car2go($35 one-time membership fee), which rents smart cars in five U.S. cities (Austin; San Diego; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; and Miami), and 15 more across the globe (Toronto, Berlin, and Amsterdam, among others).
When it comes to reliable, easy-to-use tech amenities, hotels have lagged confoundingly behind what most travelers have at home or on their smart phones or tablets. Even at many so-called state-of-the-art properties guests wrestle with inscrutable room controls, ornery A/V setups, and awkward communications systems. Thankfully, some hotels are now stepping up their tech game—for real.
What’s Here Now
These days, any property worth its room rate offers free Wi-Fi. But too often it’s exceedingly sloooow. Solution: many hotels (including the Radisson in San Diego and the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo) are rolling out 100 Mbps Internet service, which is fast enough to download an album in three seconds.
If you’ve ever reached into your carry-on only to find an empty space where your phone, computer, or camera used to be, you know how thoroughly a lost or stolen gadget can ruin your trip. Fortunately, there are services to help track down your missing gear and protect you against identity theft. GadgetTrak Mobile Security($19.95 per year) brings the features built in to Windows Phone and iOS to Android and BlackBerry users: it will locate your phone using GPS and Wi-Fi and can also lock the device or wipe your data—even if someone inserts another SIM card. CameraTrace($10 per camera) tracks a registered camera using metadata embedded in digital photos, so it can find any pictures taken with your camera that have been uploaded to one of many popular image-sharing sites.
Knowing the location of your device is useful if you’ve simply misplaced it, but in the case of theft, it won’t do you much good without the help of the law. Unfortunately, limited resources mean few police departments will bother pursuing stolen tech gear. But when a laptop enabled with LoJack for Laptops(from $19.99 per year) is reported stolen, the program’s forensic tools automatically contact LoJack for Laptops’s central command every 15 minutes, making it easy to collect evidence that police can use for, say, a search warrant. “We have about 60 ex-police officers working for us,” says Mark Grace of Absolute Software, the company behind this product, “and they know how to work with law enforcement authorities across the globe to get these cases solved.”
Even sending a short e-mail while traveling internationally can cost $10 or more. Below are three ways to keep data costs low while staying connected.
1. Purchase a roaming plan. If you want to use your U.S. phone abroad, get an international plan with discounted by-the-minute rates on phone calls and the ability to use data without extra charges. AT&T and Verizon Wireless offer monthly roaming packages, which are prorated and start at $4.99 for calls and $25 for 100MB of data (most phones will let you monitor the amount you’ve used). Be sure to shut off auto-sync when you are roaming.
2. Maximize your Wi-Fi. Unless you have a roaming plan, put your phone on airplane mode and turn on your Wi-Fi. If free hot spots are scarce, try Boingo Wireless (from $7.95 per month) or a router from FON ($49) to access thousands of free and paid Wi-Fi zones worldwide. JiWire’s WiFi Finder points you to hot spots. You can also buy or rent a portable hot-spot device such as Verizon Jetpack (from $49) and XCom Global (from $14.95 per day).
3. Get a local phone or SIM card. Need a local number so friends don’t have to dial the United States? Buy a SIM card at your destination for about $20 and insert it into an unlocked GSM phone (you can rent one for $40 on cellhut.com). Or buy a simple local phone with prepaid credit (around $30; $3 per day for data plans). You can also rent a phone with a data plan before you go at fonerent.com (starting at $9 per week; $5 per 100MB).
Time to upgrade your mobile device? Here, four state-of-the-art models that will keep you connected, wherever you may roam.
Apple iPhone 4S: The iPhone 4S (and the upcoming iPhone 5) is unbeatable when it comes to apps—more than 675,000 at press time—but international perks vary by carrier. AT&T and Verizon Wireless offer roaming plans, and Sprint and Verizon let you use a local SIM card. $199; AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless.
Samsung Galaxy SIII (pictured): This sleek phone operates on networks at home and abroad (though Sprint and Verizon only work in 48 countries). Its technologies are impressive: one tracks your eye so the screen stays on when you look at it; another switches from text message to call mode when you put the phone to your ear. $199; all major carriers.
HTC One S: Slim, light, and with long-lasting battery power (up to a day and a half), this Android avoids roaming charges by automatically switching to an Internet phone setting when you call from a wireless hot spot. Camera functions include a “burst mode” that can take 99 continuous shots. $149; T-Mobile.
Nokia Lumia 800: Travel apps are a breeze on this tiny phone, which uses the new Windows Phone system. The Lumia 800 also lets you use a locally purchased SIM card abroad. When you include data in your prepaid SIM plan, you’ll have access to your apps on the road. $900; amazon.com.
Priceline’s Name Your Own Price bidding system was once the most novel way to find a discounted hotel room online, but a slew of innovative new booking websites and apps make it easier than ever to prevent buyer’s remorse. The seven-month-old website BackBid turns the Name Your Own Price approach on its head: instead of guests bidding on hotel rooms, hotels bid on guests. After you submit your existing hotel reservation and travel preferences to BackBid, the site invites hotels in the same area to make you offers for less expensive rooms or upgraded ones at the same price. (A five-star hotel was recently offered in place of a three-star property in Washington, D.C.) As long as you have a refundable reservation, you can cancel and book the new room.