App Smart | London Calling
App Smart | London Calling
Kit Eaton reviews several apps to make planning your trip to London easy and help you navigate around this popular tourist destination.By Kit Eaton and Dallas Jensen on Publish Date April 15, 2015.
LONDON'S history, theaters, pubs and shops are great reasons to visit. And now, navigating the streets and attractions is much easier because of the bevy of apps devoted to the city.
Getting around in London usually means diving into the murk of the London Underground train system. The Underground is usually faster than walking or the bus, but is also vast and confusing. MxData's Tube Map, which is free on iOS and Android, can help tourists make the most of this transport option.
Tube Map is the neatest guide to the Underground that I have found. It shows a map of the Underground's network, and you can search for a particular station and route your trip. You can also view an overlay of nearby railway stations if you plan on traveling outside London, and Tube Map will show which stations you can easily walk between. When it's connected to a data network, the app alert you to delays and can even show planned service shutdowns. Tube Map is slick and easy to use.
For seeing some of London's sights, a good place to turn is Time Out, also free for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. It is a digital magazine, with sections about the week's events and great places to eat, and promotions on special offers for shows, events, workshops and more. You can search Time Out's database to find events, pubs, museums and galleries. Each attraction's entry contains a brief text description, comments from other users and useful data like a map, phone number and event times.
Time Out is easy to use, with clear navigation and straightforward menus, and it has some nice extras like the option to call an Uber car from inside the app. Perhaps its only downside is that it's so full of information you may fear missing out on something. Also, sometimes the flood of data makes it hard to remember which events or places you liked best.
A great alternative to Time Out is Hype, which is free on iOS. It has a more playful design than Time Out, and focuses on fresh things to see and do, rather than on London's traditional tourist locations. It has entries in sections corresponding to regions of London, from Central to the North or South. Each section contains a long curated list of events like art shows, and of newer bars and restaurants. Tapping on an entry shows its location, when it's open, and extras like contact information or pricing.
Hype works smoothly and its image-centric design and easy navigation make it fun to use. The only tiny complaint I have is that I keep pressing the prominent "?" button thinking it will take me to a search page instead of a feedback form for improving the app. Still, if you're interested in exploring London off the beaten track and perhaps trying new things that Londoners would, then Hype is definitely for you.
London's a walkable city, and the JiTT London guide does a great job of directing you through the streets while pointing out landmarks and explaining history as you walk. It's like a personal audio guidebook, and it is GPS-enabled so its words and on-screen map help you get from Point A to Point B in real time. You can choose to hear about specific locations, like Westminster Abbey, or take one of the app's walks through London. Tapping on a pin on a map tells you more about that place both on-screen and in audio. The app has clear menus and helpful hints. I love the way you can customize the tours to fit your schedule and avoid places you don't want to see. Though the app is free on iOS and Android, the complete version including all the audio guides costs $5.
History is everywhere in London, and one of the more interesting ways to experience it is to use Museum of London: Streetmuseum. This app places lots of well-known or historical photos, drawings and paintings in context on a map — a tap on each will reveal a little about what you're looking at. The best trick is its 3-D view; you hold your phone's camera up to a street scene, and the app displays a historic image to match the view of 21st-century London you're actually seeing. Very neat, and the app's free for iOS and Android.
Just remember to check the weather app on your smartphone before you head out to explore — London's fickle-weather reputation is well earned.
Flynx is an interesting new Android app that promises to speed access to websites from inside other apps. When you tap a web link inside any app, instead of opening a browser, Flynx auto-loads the web content in the background where you can quickly get to it by tapping on an icon. Flynx is free.