App of the Week: Apps That Helped on My Vacation...and a Few That Didn't

A few weeks back, I took a two-week vacation that saw me visit three states and travel by plane, car, shuttle and even by boat for a few minutes. It was all within the U.S., but I found my need for technology surprising. Because I work for myself, I did bring a computer for occasionally catching up with work, but it was mostly my iPhone that did the heavy lifting.

I discovered quite a few apps that came in very handy on the trip -- some that I knew would and others that surprised me a bit. I also found a few that I thought would be helpful that instead turned out to be practically useless.

It is also worth mentioning that during this trip through Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, I had access to a 3G network via AT&T for only a small percentage of the time. I stayed in a small town in Wyoming, so no real shocker there, but on interstates throughout these states, I had very little signal and certainly no 3G. So much for that extra money I paid to tether my computer when I didn't have a Wi-Fi signal available.

Anyway, here are the apps that helped and a few that didn't.

The Good Ones

Urbanspoon Honestly, I'm not sure what I would have done without this app. When I was in Denver, it steered me to a pair of restaurants just blocks from my hotel that were absolutely fantastic and exactly as described. In Salt Lake City and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and even Estes Park, it provided excellent recommendations, great directions and became an invaluable tool for finding good food in unfamiliar places.

My Altitude The morning I left Denver, I got some pastries in my room, and the room service person said, "Looks like you're prepared," pointing to the lip balm and two full bottles of water on the desk. I knew altitude could wreak havoc on the human body and I prepared, but going from sea level to as high as 11,600 feet was a shock to the system. I discovered this little app that worked flawlessly and helped me nerdily track my continually changing altitude.

Yelp I'm not a huge fan of the user review network, but, honestly, it was second only to Urbanspoon when it came to finding places to eat. More importantly, it pointed me to all sorts of other places like coffee shops with Wi-Fi, bars and sporting goods stores. It was supremely helpful.

FlightTrack I don't really like to fly, but I know it is necessary at times and any geek toy to help me make the process easier is good for me. I've reviewed this app before and given it high marks, but that was for helping me pick up or drop off others. In my case, it perfectly tracked all my flights, gave me weather information that was in sync with what pilots said before takeoff and helped me navigate complicated airports easily.

Mail It may seem obvious, but the Mail app on the iPhone is strong and manages to retrieve e-mail under even the poorest reception conditions.

The Problematic

Google Maps The accuracy of the Google Maps app and the ability to simply type in the name of a store or restaurant as opposed to an address makes it a must-have for any road trip. But it has some issues. For one, tapping the screen zooms in, which is easy, but getting back to a wider view is a pain, particularly when trying to quickly see where you are. Additionally, the routes it chooses are odd at best. It did navigate very accurately a route, but what it chose was a bizarre and terrifying series of tiny roads teetering on the edges of 500-foot drops without warning.

WeatherBug I have raved about this app and it is still my favorite source of weather on the phone, but its inability to quickly adjust to a new location is frustrating. Once it hones in on where you are, all is well, but getting it to do so is a more complicated process than should be necessary.

RoadAhead I had high hopes for this app and, in some instances, it was very helpful. The problem is in its limited range. Off the interstate, it is nearly worthless. On the interstate, it's invaluable. I hope the app grows to include more roads over time. It would be substantially more versatile if it did.

Instagram I love the funky picture-taking app, but its connectivity requirements are frustrating. Without 3G, it is nearly impossible to get a photo to load. Even with it, there are times when Instagram fails. That wouldn't be an issue if it would go ahead and save the photo as is in the iPhone's memory, but that isn't the case. So, be REALLY careful not to delete the image from Instagram and think you can start over later. You can't. You just have to leave it and wait for a better signal.

The Basically Worthless

Facebook Even with a decent signal, Facebook failed to load my timeline, had all sorts of errors and glitches and gagged over and over. Someone at Facebook or a third party really needs to do something about improving access to the biggest social network on the planet via a cellular network.

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