April 12, 2011

Traveler Apps: Hungry? Shake A Phone

—UrbanSpoon (free; iPhone, Android, BlackBerry)

—UrbanSpoon (free; iPhone, Android, BlackBerry)

What it is: Still a great, dependable way to find restaurants in North America.

Why it's great: Feeling lucky? Shake your iPhone, and UrbanSpoon will dial up a choice and offer reviews and pricing information of restaurants nearby. See photos of dishes from restaurants to whet your appetite.

Why you might hesitate: You shouldn't. This tried-and-true app should be on your phone, whether you're a foodie or not.

Whom it's for: Anybody looking for a good restaurant.

—Zipcar (free; iPhone)

What it is: A way for Zipcar members to find available cars nearby (and honk the horn of the reserved car if it's lost in a parking lot) and a way for nonmembers to learn whether the car-sharing agency would work for them — i.e., whether a Zipcar lot is close enough to be useful.

Why it's great: A recent update fixed a few problems, so it's easier to get maps with car locations and to make reservations. Zipcar membership can be had for an annual fee of $50 to $60, and hourly rates run about $7 to $10. Daily rates are $68 to $76, and all rentals include gas (you have to leave the car full), insurance and 180 miles of travel before a surcharge kicks in. Zipcars are in a dozen large cities and college towns across the U.S.

Why you might hesitate: The app can be balky, but it's a free download and worth a try. If you're a member, just make sure you bookmark in your phone, in case the app frustrates you.

Whom it's for: Anyone who needs wheels occasionally, including travelers in cities served by Zipcar.

—WordLens (free; iPhone)

What it is: An instant translator, using your camera.

Why it's great: After you've launched WordLens, hold your camera up to foreign words to get a near-instant translation. It's a lifesaver for travelers abroad or in ethnic parts of town where authentic cuisine usually abounds. It translates menus and signs and text in books quickly and in most cases accurately.

Why you might hesitate: WordLens has trouble with handwritten words and sometimes can discern words where none exist, like the time I trained my camera on a crocheted throw and WordLens spat out alphabetic gibberish. Entertaining, however.

Whom it's for: Adventurous travelers who want to leave their bilingual dictionaries behind.

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