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Tech Thursday: Hipmunk Gets a Last-Minute Upgrade

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We’ve long loved Hipmunk for its brilliant intelligent search capabilities, which help you find the least agonizing flights or the hotels that are best suited to your individual needs. Today, the app launches an update that once again changes the game: this time, it takes on the last-minute hotel booking sphere that has become quite the competitive space as of late.

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Vancouver Hotel Solves Roaming Fees

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What’s one of the biggest headaches when traveling internationally? Cell coverage, of course; phone-bill panic can drive us to embark on desperate expeditions in search of Wi-Fi.

Hotels know this is a problem, and the OPUS hotel in Vancouver has come up with a unique solution: each room comes stocked with an Internet-connected iPad that you can carry around the city with you. Social media, reviews, guides (don’t forget to bookmark T+L’s Vancouver guide)—all accessible from anywhere. Even better, the connection is free. (It’s a good thing, too—don’t get us started on paying extra for Internet.)

Some rooms at the OPUS even come with an extra bonus: a Samsung Galaxy phone (that you can also carry around with you) that acts as an in-room land line. That means you can get free incoming calls, or just dial “0” and reach the concierge—from anywhere.

And if you don’t want the hotel to see just how much time you spent on TravelandLeisure.com during your stay, not to worry; your browsing history is deleted the minute you check out.

Photo credit: Courtesy of OPUS Hotel

Tech Thursday: Google Maps Launches New Explore Feature

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In what has become routine news, Google has announced this week that they are, once again, pushing the envelope with Google Maps. So what are they up to this time? The cornerstone of the update is Explore, a new feature that acts as your personal assistant on the road. At the heart of it, Explore helps find whatever it is that you’re looking for, from gas stations and pharmacies to restaurants and local attractions. The listings (there are dozens in each category) include useful details, like hours, directions, and Zagat ratings, all within the app itself—that means no navigating back and forth between your browser and map. And if you prefer to note one of the suggestions for later in the day, a useful “starring” feature lets you bookmark places to your map. It’s available today for Android, and coming soon for iOS. If Google's predictions ring true, those of us on Apple devices will be able to jump on the bandwagon in just a few days.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Google

Tech Thursday: Travel Safe With React Mobile App

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Safety is a constant concern when traveling, whether you’re hopping in the car for a weekend getaway or backpacking across Europe. Besides being unfamiliar with a location, language barriers can also make communication difficult. Cue new mobile security app, React Mobile.

Free to download for iOS and select Android systems, the app allows you to create a list of emergency contacts (friends, parents, doctors, etc.) that will be instantly notified if danger strikes. Just tap once to “activate your shield” and GPS coordinates of your location will be sent to members on your list, with an option to link your Twitter and Facebook accounts. Have a serious problem? Send a message to police directly from the app. React Mobile has world-travelers covered, with availability in 39 countries and four continents including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, European Union, Australia, China, Japan, Israel, Jamaica, Philippines, Thailand, Brazil, and Argentina.

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Trip Doctor: How to Get Last-Minute Hotel Deals

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Procrastinators, rejoice! There’s a slew of new apps aimed at snagging a last-minute hotel deal. Here, our tech expert’s road-tested favorites.

HotelTonight (Android, iOS): The pioneer of same-day booking apps, HotelTonight features staff-vetted properties in more than a hundred cities around the world, with tags like Hip, Luxe, or Charming to guide your search. Expect trendy boutique hotels and even some splashy new openings—but don’t get too attached to any one spot. Deals change daily and can be reserved only from noon onward.

Our Best Score: Mexico City’s sleek Las Suites for $163 a night (37 percent off).

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Trip Doctor: Top Translation Apps

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Looking for the nearest ATM in Paris and rusty on your French? These tools—all road-tested by T+L ensures you’ll never be misunderstood again.

Most Comprehensive: Google Translate (free; Android, iOS)
In addition to having 64 languages for typed and spoken translations, Google Translate is particularly savvy when it comes to brand names, knowing not to suggest the literal “équipe du ciel” when you’re asking about the nearest SkyTeam lounge in French, for example. The data-dependent app offers the best results, but Android users can get exclusive language packs that cover the basics and can be used offline.

Best for International Travel: Jibbigo Translator (offline language packs from $4.99; Android, iOS)
Data connections aren’t required for Jibbigo’s thorough, vetted language packs (with more than 40,000 words each), which have set the standard for the past five years. Currently, it offers easy-to-use typed translations for 20-plus languages and spoken translations for 13; more are being rolled out soon. Especially useful are its customizable glossaries, which let you add terms you know you’ll need ahead of time.

Best for Signs and Menus: S Translator (free; only on Samsung’s Galaxy S4) and Word Lens ($4.99 per language; Android, iOS)
Point your smartphone’s camera at any word or phrase, and these apps give you its meaning. We love S Translator’s handy pronunciation tips and its ability to read simplified Chinese characters. Other Android and iPhone users can try the similar but more limited Word Lens. It offers help in French, Spanish, Italian, and German—no data connection needed.

Best For Longer Conversations: Verbalizeit ($10 for five minutes of translator talk time; Android, iOS)
Wish you had a native speaker in your pocket? With Verbalizeit, you can locate and call a live translator with the push of a button—ideal for technical conversations, such as seeing a doctor abroad. The app may require a little patience: depending on demand, it can take a few (unbilled) minutes for a translator to become available, but each one is tested for proficiency and ability to meet travelers’ needs.

Coming Soon
If you need to make restaurant reservations by phone in Mandarin, a pocket app may not cut it. But new technologies are addressing these 2.0 needs. The innovative, though still-being-refined Lexifone app (free; Android) lets you call through its interface and will translate as you speak. Microsoft, meanwhile, is working on perhaps the coolest translator yet: it promises to convert your speech into a translated audio file that sounds just like your voice.

Illustration by Jasper Rietman

Tech Thursday: Instagram Launches Video

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The rumors turned out to be true: today, Facebook announced that Instagram would gain video sharing capabilities after two years devoted strictly to photos, meaning your travel videos can now be broadcast at the push of a button. We can’t say we’re surprised: Vine and Cinemagr.am, the leading apps for short, looping videos, have been the talk of the town—and Facebook’s not one to fall behind on social sharing trends. The new app is now available on Android and iOS, with 13 cool filters that borrow from the app’s photo-driven aesthetic. Record right in the app, and take up to 15 seconds of video at a time—more than double the average clip on rival services, while maintaining low upload times. Then, choose a cover frame to set the tone for your super-short-film, use the same hashtags you would for normal pics, and you’re all set. The key distinguishing points? Videos won’t loop—and with a little bit more time to share, they’ll have a different look and feel from other services (which we’ll continue to use enthusiastically). And thanks to a nifty feature called Cinema, videos will be automatically stabilized. Says CEO Kevin Systrom, “It’s the Instagram you know and love—but it moves.”

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Zolman

 

Tech Thursday: Duolingo Launches Free Language-Learning for Android

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It may be a far climb to reach the ranks of Rosetta Stone, but pioneering language learning app Duolingo is taking the world—literally—by storm. In just under one year since its conception, three million users around the globe have signed up to learn any of six languages without paying a penny, either on the iPhone, iPad, or online. As of yesterday, Android users can join in the fun as well—and the jump to Google’s smartphone platform is expected to double the app’s user base.

An iPhone user myself, I’ve been using Duolingo to brush up on my basic Italian for months (admittedly inspired by the gaping holes in my vocabulary on a recent trip) and can’t recommend it highly enough. For one, it’s truly free, and not just for a trial period. The company intends to turn a profit by incorporating optional translation services into your learning; as a result, their success hinges on their teaching ability.

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HotelTonight Introduces New “Snap Your Stay” Feature

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With a new update that was released last week, HotelTonight is seemingly taking a page out of the TripAdvisor playbook by adding user-generated content. But unlike the user-generated review giant, HotelTonight’s “Snap Your Stay” feature cuts out the issue of subjectivity: What they’re calling “reviews” are really no more than user snapshots documenting their hotels room’s view, bed, bathroom, and so on. Semantics aside, it’s a natural fit and welcome addition for the mobile booking platform, where users aren’t particularly inclined to read paragraphs of unreliable content. And it offers a genuine, objective look at whether a hotel will fit your particular needs.

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Gwyneth Paltrow on New York City Pizza (Good) and Paris Concierges (Bad)

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Sure, she’s in the summer’s biggest blockbuster, is on the cover of this week’s EW, and was just named the world’s most beautiful woman by People. But what Gwyneth Paltrow wants to talk about right now is travel guides—specifically, the ones she’s created for her lifestyle brand, GOOP. Yesterday she was promoting the GOOP app at New York’s Apple store in SoHo with Jessica Seinfeld; before they took the stage, I had a chat with her, travel editor-to-travel editor.

Turns out Gwyneth started these city guides for herself. “I’m a Libra,” she said, “I can’t make up my mind about anything.” Now she can just open the GOOP app for her own highly curated list of restaurants, shops, bars, hotels, and more in New York, L.A., and London. “I find them very helpful,” she said, “even though I made them.”

And what does it take to get the Gwyneth stamp of approval? “Quality,” she says, “which could be a $2 taco. It has to be worth going out of your way for.” In New York, only 13 hotels make the cut: well-known places like the Trump SoHo, but also lesser-known spots like the Inn at Irving Place, which doesn’t even have a sign. And the NYC guide has a separate section for pizza, which Gwyneth loves. (A couple of her picks, like Di Fara and Co., get the T+L approval stamp, too.) She’s personally been to “almost” every place in each guide, and if she hasn’t, at least three of her most trusted friends have to have given their thumbs up.

GOOP’s Paris guide is coming out next, and Gwyneth is excited to direct people away from hotel concierge recommendations, which she sees as a shady business. “Paris is the worst kickback city,” she said. “I feel so bad when people say they’ve saved up but gone somewhere terrible. It’s such a nice thing to say ‘this is where you should go.’”

So will we see the GOOP app in any upcoming movies—maybe Tony Stark using it in Iron Man 4? “I don’t know,” she said, laughing. “I don’t think so. Wouldn’t it be weird if I was in a movie referencing my own product?”

Photo by Rich Beattie

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