Technology is a wonderful thing. Even though I’ve never been to China before, I feel comfortable doing a good chunk of my trip without a tour guide. The reason isn’t because my Mandarin is good (it really isn’t, even though I’m working on it – maybe next time!), but because I’ve got an ace in the hole – my new tablet. It is an absolute must-have resource! I’ve been able to download quite a few wonderful apps that will help me get through my trip, as well as acting as a camera that I can use instead of having to lug around an extra device. Of course, I can also use apps like Skype and Gmail chat that will allow me to keep in touch with folks while I’m away. All in all, my tablet is going to be my best friend on my trip, for so many different reasons!
Obviously, there are some standard apps like Google Maps that you just need to have – I have 3 days in Beijing and I absolutely plan on just wandering through the streets, and the only way I feel comfortable doing it will be to have Google Maps as my resource. Another must-have is some sort of online photo album so you can upload pictures as soon as you take them – that way, if your camera (or in my case, tablet) gets lost, you won’t have lost all your memories along with it. I’ve got Picasa on my tablet – it runs on Android so it only makes sense I would use the Google online photo editor. I’m sure that once I’m in China I’ll be mentioning my photo album often, so make sure to check it out (I’ll have a link to it on the blog somewhere once I get everything set up).
I’ve also been downloading quite a few China-specific apps – I’m hoping to find more (I’ll probably have a second post closer to my departure date with new ones), but I’ve got a decent little collection so far that I’d like to review quickly.
Tourist Language (cost: free)
A pretty decent app that is good for world traveling, although their China section is lacking. This app starts off with a list of countries you can choose from, each one having a whole list of useful phrases to get by in each one. For the China/Hong Kong section, this includes things like dates, telling time, and ‘small talk’, which are all fairly useful – one of the best things about this app is each sentence has an audio function, so you can hear how to pronounce each phrase properly. However, there are a few drawbacks to this app – first of all, it’s fairly limited in its phrasebook. There is a place to add ‘my phrases’ where you can translate from English to Chinese, but it doesn’t seem to be functional (it may work for other languages, but I haven’t looked into it yet). Secondly, the China section seems to be very underdeveloped compared to other countries – for example, Spanish-speaking countries have useful phrases for locales like airports, restaurants, police stations, or how to get by on a bus/train/taxi – these would all be incredibly useful in China, and I wish they were available! However, the audio function of this app alone is worth keeping it handy.
Trip Advisor (cost: free)
Trip advisor is a pretty incredible series of apps that I’m betting will be incredibly useful once I’m there, although I really have no way of vetting it until I can actually test out the locations it recommends. That being said, I’m incredibly impressed so far! This app has lists for restaurants, self-guided free tours, attractions, hotels, and an interactive map which outlines how to find each of the things on all these lists – which are all rated by users, which I very much appreciate. This app also acts as a tour guide, giving you a historical overview about cities (and each of its neighbourhoods, in the case of some larger cities). One of my favourite things about these apps is that you can download individual ones for individual cities – I’ve downloaded Hong Kong and Beijing so far. Breaking down by individual cities means that you can keep up-to-date with the newest reviews and user photos, which should be able to give you a pretty recent view of each city. Once my itinerary is firmed up I will definitely be downloading more of these individual city apps!
Tourist Eye (cost: free)
Another incredible app, Tourist Eye looks to be the ultimate in itinerary assistant. The ‘my trips’ function allows you to plug in your entire itinerary by city, and gives you valuable information on each of the places you highlight. This app breaks down between attractions, restaurants, and entertainment, and each site provides you with contact information for each site as well as current admission prices and daily schedules. They do have user-generated content, although I don’t see a place for them to leave reviews – they can leave photos, though! This app also has an interactive map for you to see where to find each location it highlights, which is useful. One of the things I like best about this app is its ‘tours’ function, where there are useful tours available for you to take a look at. For example, in Hong Kong, tours include Eat Cheap in Hong Kong, Free things to do in Hong Kong, Hong Kong in one day, Shopping in Hong Kong. These are broken up by individual locations, so you can visit some or all of these. I’m not sure whether these tours are generated by the app creators or are user-created, but they look to be incredibly helpful. I’m looking forward to finishing plugging in my itinerary and seeing what sights I can enjoy on my trip!
Triposo (cost: free)
The World Travel Guide by Triposo is basically a Lonely Planet with less info (although more than enough to warrant downloading it). You have to download individual countries on this app, but the China one seems to have a fair bit of useful information. Their ‘China at a glance’ section is seriously lacking in information, and their Chinese phrasebook is just one big document that doesn’t have any subcategory features or easy way to scroll through it, which renders it almost useless. However, is destination feature a good one, breaking down each individual city with the most comprehensive list of travel options I’ve seen on any app yet (anything from ‘relax in a park’ to ‘shows, theatres and music’, ‘cycling’, ‘nightlife’, ‘coffee and cake’ and more). My favourite part of this app, however, is you can bookmark each individual destination you want to visit to create your own shortlist of places to visit, available to see easily in the ‘My (city name)’ or even ‘My China’, which shows your entire trip on one easy-to-read page. This should be a very useful app, especially when paired with the content from the other apps already on my list.
Dim Sum Assistant (cost: 0.99$)
One of the things I’ve heard is a problem in China is trying to order food in cities where English isn’t prevalent, so one of the things I’ve been trying to download have been ways to order using Chinese characters, so Dim Sum Assistant seemed to be a logical choice. And at first glance, this app helps to fill that demand. Each item listed has the pinyin pronunciation as well as the Chinese character, as well as a quick description and ingredients. However, the huge flaw with this app is that the selection of menu items is tiny – I count only 25 items in the app, which isn’t nearly enough. It also is limited to dim sum (obviously), which won’t help me in most restaurants. I’m hoping that this selection can be updated over the next few weeks, or alternatively a better app comes along.
Name my Dish (cost: free)
Another restaurant app, Name my Dish deals with both Chinese and Japanese food. This app is divided between appetizers/sides, meat, rice, and soup. Each section has between 3 and 10 items (once again, a limited selection), but this goes beyond dim sum into other traditional dishes. Each dish has a brief description, and the Chinese character function is much better than any other app I’ve found. That being said, less than 40 dishes does not make for a great app (better than the woeful 6 apps available in the Japanese section, though). Hopefully some more Chinese food apps will present themselves soon!
On a final note, one thing I’m surprised by is the lack of Lonely Planet apps available. There are individual city ‘compasses’ for 0.99$ each, but I’ve seen nothing but negative reviews for them and their city list doesn’t seem to be very large. On top of that, it seems like the actual Lonely Planet book seems to contain more information than the apps! So, it looks like I’ll be just taking my Lonely Planet book with me – which is probably a good thing, because my copy is slowly getting filled with earmarks and scribbled notes.