Travel Applications for Android Reviewed

by budgettravelnotes on August 23, 2010

I bought a Google Nexus One phone a couple of months before I left to go long term travelling.  Like the iPhone there’s a whole host of applications available, and many of them cover the travel market.

I’ve used a few of these on the move as part of this trip so I thought I’d write a review of some of the ones I’ve tried so far.  This has ended up being quite a long post, so grab a coffee and relax…..

Before I start I have to state what will be obvious to many if you travel outside your own country : smartphones will only become a truly useful travel tool when phone companies don’t make data roaming prohibitively expensive.  I just don’t get it….surely by now much of the infrastructure is in place and I would have thought they’d get more revenue from travellers if they actually made it affordable.  Until that happens I’ll be switching off data roaming, and I’ll be buying local sim cards when it’s feasible and worthwhile.  We don’t get charged more if we access say a British website from New Zealand – we just get the data.  With a bit added on for the administration, surely it should be feasible to do similar for mobile phones now  (admittedly I’m sure that’s simplifying the commercial situation a lot!)

Anyway, with this in mind I only really class an application as a true travel app if it can deal with this and perhaps work offline and synch things later – either via data roaming, or ideally wifi so you can update things in a hostel. 

As a side note it was only when I switched off data that I realised how long the Nexus One’s battery can last without all the regular refreshes and updates from facebook and the like!

Coming up is a review of MapDroyd, TravelDroyd, Evernote and a couple of currency converter applications.

MapDroyd

mapdroyd_wellington_screen_grab_web Mapdroyd is an offline (and online too I think) mapping application for the Android platform.  I used it with Open Street Maps and there’s an excellent coverage.  I downloaded Oman, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and China with no problems at all.  Despite this, the map shown is for Wellington.  Usually you’ll see a red marker showing your location, but I never wanted to show that here….

When out and about with MapDroyd, all I had to do was switch on my GPS, let it get a lock, and ask it to pinpoint my location and centre the map around me.  Trust me this is very handy if you don’t have a clue where you are in a city, or if you think the taxi driver is taking you on a wild goose chase.  The downside is that the maps aren’t as detailed and don’t hold as much information as say Google Maps – e.g. some street names will be missing, or in the local language and there certainly aren’t many points of interest highlighted.

Pros :

  • Easy to set up and download maps.  Only needs GPS enabled if you PRE-download maps at home or over wifi.
  • Easier to install than some other offline mapping tools such as rMaps (I’d love to get this working but ran out of time)

Cons :

  • Maps aren’t as detailed as they could be, but that’s due to the OpenStreetMap open source project, so it’s only us all to ‘blame’ – not MapDroyd.  On a similar point foreign maps may have street names in local language making it hard to understand (e.g. if you don’t speak Russian!)
  • No way of marking a point of interest (e.g. your guesthouse)

Verdict : Try it now.  A great way to find out roughly where you are.  It saved me $6 when a long distance taxi driver dropped me at a bus station and tried to get his mates to take me on an expensive fare which I worked out was just around the corner. This scenario happened a number of times.  To let you know how good it can be, this was in Tashkent, Uzbekistan!

TravelDroyd

traveldroyd_hongkong_screen_grab_web

TravelDroyd is kind of like a sister app to MapDroyd, but it involves downloading the application, then pay for additional travel ‘books’ specific to your destination of choice.

I paid for and downloaded the books for Beijing and Hong Kong.  The books will give you features such as turn by turn travel directions, detailed street and city maps, search and more.  The screen grab on the left is Hong Kong as you may guess, the content is grabbed from Wikipedia, with each entry marked with a ‘W’ sign.  Touching these icons will display the location such as ‘Nathan Road’ highlighted in the image, home of the infamous Chunking Mansions.  The Wikipedia entries are already downloaded, so there’s no need for a data connection to display the information.

Pros :

  • Pure offline travel guide (but needs a data or wifi connection to download the application and books obviously!).
  • Can save you constantly carrying a guidebook.

Cons :

  • Some comments on the Android Marketplace have said how it’s unfair to charge for content from Wikipedia, but it is offline, and there are other features that may be worth a few dollars to you.

Verdict :

Very useful and quite cheap.

Evernote

Not strictly a travel application but it could be a killer one.  Evernote allows you to synch notes between your browser and phone – e.g. clip bits of websites, add your own notes, screenshots etc.  When you are online, they are clipped to your account once setup, and the notes can be displayed on your phone.
Note I said CAN BE DISPLAYED on your phone – not SYNCHED with your phone.
Therein lies the killer bad point of this application.  If you travel outside your home network, this application is pretty useless apart from taking the odd offline note.  If this did a true synch with your phone you could have maps to guesthouses, itineries, addresses and loads more available offline on your phone.  I would have paid for this on my current trip, but sadly Evernote, I’ve not used you since I realised this.

Pros : Not many as a travel application outside your home network.

Cons : Doesn’t do an offline synchronisation with your phone. See note below though.

Verdict : Could be superb if offline synching was added.  I would have loved to be able to clip guesthouse addresses, maps and phone numbers to my phone and use them when wandering around but it’s just not possible when I was trying it.

UPDATE SINCE REVIEW : I just checked back the Evernote site and new features have since been added to the Android application – it is quoted that “This is the first step towards (drumroll, please) offline note storage, which will be coming soon.”  This could be a killer travel app when this arrives!

XE Currency Convertor

From one of most people’s favourite currency conversion sites comes a mobile app for Android.  You can select which currencies to update, enter a value in any of them, and the corresponding value in other currencies are show.  Sadly I ditched this application pretty quickly as it didn’t work offline, although when I tried it again just before typing this it worked ok.

Pros : Simple to use, and displays a lot of currencies on the main screen.

Cons : Must ensure it keeps working when offline.  Minor gripe is that you need to enter a second screen to enter a currency value.

Verdict : Promising but I need to try it offline more.  For the first while it gave me too many ‘Forced Closes’ on a Nexus One without the data connection enabled.  This seems to have been improved now though and their website states that it can be used offline – maybe I just got unlucky.

Currency Converter (Halmi.sk)

currency_convertor_screen_grab_web Similar to the XE Currency Convertor, but better in my mind as it’s been written to work offline.  Values are entered on the main screen but due to that taking up more space you see less currencies on the main page than the XE application.  A big plus for this one is that you can enter your own currencies – this may not seem like a big deal, but if you travel in countries where there’s a black market that gets 30-40% than the official rate, this is a really neat feature as everything is 30% less than the real currency value!

 

Pros :

  • The best currency convertor application I’ve used so far.
  • Allows you to enter your own currencies and rates – if that seems weird, you’ve jumped to the summary too quickly – read the paragraph above.
  • Written to work offline – a must for travel applications to avoid those data charges.

Cons : None that I can think of!

Verdict : Install it now and update those rates before you travel.  Search for ‘currency converter’ with halmi.sk as the authoer as there are now many similar applications on the marketplace.

Other Applications

Have I missed some vital information on the applications above, or is there anything I’ve overlooked in the crowded marketplace that should be mentioned here?  Maybe you’ve switched over from the iPhone and missing your killer app on Android?  If so, let us know via the comments and I’ll whip up a second part to these reviews if it’s called for.

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