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Tech Thursday: Top New Smartphones

Top New Smartphones: Samsung Galaxy SIII

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.

Photo courtesy of Samsung

Money-Saving Hotel Booking Sites

Money-Saving Hotel Booking Sites

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.

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Best New Food Apps

food apps

Restaurant guidebooks have been around since Grimod de la Reynière’s Almanach des Gourmands was published in Paris in 1803. The 21st-century version: pioneering mobile-phone apps that intuitively lead travelers to restaurants via user-generated feedback. Foodspotting launched two years ago as a way to share epicurean snapshots and search for geo-tagged dining options, but it has since evolved into a Pandora-for-food that uses previous likes and dislikes to suggest what you might want to try next. In addition, Foodspotting has beefed up its editorial content, including redesigned “picture menus” for every restaurant and a new series of Travel + Leisure guides that highlight can’t-miss items in destinations from Las Vegas to Paris.

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Gusta: New Food Site for Finding Secret Restaurants

Gusta's Chris Collins

Innovator Chris Collins

Backstory: Frustrated by the difficult time he was having finding unique dining experiences such as underground dinner clubs, the 26-year-old former Airbnb developer began to look for a way to make them easier to hunt down. The result? A website that does just that.

His Big Idea: Collins collaborated with now partner Carly Chamberlain, 24, and together they applied a more technological word-of-mouth model to help people navigate secret tables worldwide. They came up with gusta.com, a site that lets travelers find, reserve, and even prepay for pop-up culinary happenings thrown by local chefs around the globe—everything from a beer tasting in Brooklyn to a brunch club in Buenos Aires. “We offer people a chance to discover cities and meet locals, through the lens of food,” Collins says.

Photo courtesy of Gusta.com

ZocDoc: Cyrus Massoumi's Doctor-Locating App

Cyrus Massoumi

ZocDoc lets you enter a zip code to instantly find local medical professionals who take your insurance—plus you can view their immediate availability in the event of an emergency. You can also read user reviews and book appointments online, 24/7. So far, 15 U.S. cities are on board, with plans to roll out across the nation over the next 12–18 months.

Photo courtesy of ZocDoc

Top European Vacation Rental Sites

Europe vacation rentals

Heading to London for the Olympic Games this summer but can’t find a hotel room? No problem. Renting a room, apartment, or entire house has never been easier, thanks to the abundance of vacation-rental sites.

One of the biggest players on the Continent is HomeAway; more than 50 percent of its 300,000-property inventory is in Europe—with a sizable selection both in the countryside and in urban areas. It’s getting competition these days from Airbnb, which started in 2008 as something of a domestic couch-surfing site, but now lists increasingly polished residences across the globe. Today a full 75 percent of its bookings are international, with Paris, London, Milan, Barcelona, and Amsterdam being the most popular cities. What’s more, you can now link up Airbnb with your Facebook profile to view properties listed by friends and friends of friends—taking some of the mystery (and anxiety) out of peer-to-peer rentals.

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Find Local Guides with the Gidsy App

Gidsy founder Floris Dekker

Innovator Floris Dekker, CPO and Cofounder, Gidsy.com

Backstory: On the hunt “for something new” in 2009, the Amsterdam native moved to Berlin with his brother, Edial, where the two started a design studio. One day they decided they wanted to go mushroom foraging, but couldn’t find anybody to guide them. “By the time we found someone, the season was over,” the 25-year-old entrepreneur recalls.

His Big Idea: The brainchild of Floris, his brother, and friend Philipp Wassibauer, gidsy.com applies Airbnb’s peer-to-peer commerce model to buying experiences. A boon for travelers looking for affordable and personalized activities, it allows local experts in cities across Europe (plus New York and San Francisco) to sell various packages, from nightlife tours of Amsterdam to afternoon rentals of a restored Trabant (the iconic East German car).

Photo by Dorota Halewska

Top Video-Sharing Apps

share videos online

Chances are, during your last getaway with the family, you shot a lot of video. Most likely it was taken using a smart phone, but it was probably never edited before it was shared. The recent explosion in video-sharing apps—which promise to do for short clips what picture-sharing apps like Instagram and Path did for still images—means there’s no longer any excuse. These apps let you shoot videos and customize them with a variety of filters to change the clips’ look and feel. Most important, they also allow for one-touch sharing to social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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Finding Top Restaurant Deals with Bitehunter

Bitehunter inventor Gil Harel

Innovator Gil Harel

Who He Is: Though he got his start working in the marketing department of Israel’s Isrotel hotel chain and at Expedia, the 39-year-old Cornell MBA now focuses on the restaurant and bar industry with his new website, Bitehunter.

His Big Idea: The Bitehunter site and its iPhone app scour more than 500 online sources including Gilt City, OpenTable, restaurant.com, and even Twitter to locate the best deals in any given area. It’s a Kayak-style approach for dining deals, which Harel acknowledges as inspiration for his food-focused search engine: “Historically, airlines adopt cutting-edge technology first, followed by hotels, then restaurants.” And as foodie deal services such as Groupon and BlackboardEats continue to proliferate, his simple aggregator is a welcome resource.

Photo courtesy of Hila Harel

Best Apps for Managing Frequent Flyer Miles

air travel mileage tracker

Staying on top of your many mileage, hotel, and rental-car programs is one of the biggest headaches for frequent travelers. Ditto figuring out whether or not you’ve accumulated enough points to book a first-class ticket for your next big getaway. But luckily, online mileage trackers have stepped in to help, letting travelers input their various member ID’s and passwords to conveniently consolidate all of their programs in one place. Besides displaying your latest balances, these services also notify you of all upcoming expiration dates, which is essential for keeping (and amassing more!) points.

Each site has its own edge: MileBlaster is particularly good at tracking your miles and alerting you whenever your points are about to expire, while AwardWallet smartly provides users with a convenient wallet-size card listing all of their loyalty numbers. We like TripIt’s iPhone- and iPad-optimized apps, which let you quickly access your details on the fly.

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