App of the Week: AroundMe Points You in the Right Direction

App: AroundMe Platform: iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile Website: AroundMeApp.com Cost: Free (with ads), $2.99 (without)

One of the most usable features of any smartphone is its mapping technology. In essence, the smartphone is a simplified GPS tracker and because of Google's open mapping technology, a whole host of different apps are able to take advantage and deliver some pretty powerful features.

There are also a number of apps built specifically for finding things. Siri has certainly helped in that regard, but if you don't have a 4Gs or if you need a less comprehensive search, the simplest option is AroundMe.

The Very Basics AroundMe is a very simple app designed to find any sort of commercial establishment near you. The home screen lists 15 or so commonly searched items like theaters, restaurants, hospitals, banks, gas stations and coffee shops. Click one of the selections and a list appears based on proximity.

Some of the choices go a little deeper -- gas stations, for example, allow you to sort by price; hotels let you search by availability and even filter your search based on price range. These may seem like small details on the surface, but they really do expand the app's usefulness.

Once you make a choice, there are address, website, phone number and map options. There's even an option to search Google directly through the app, which can be handy if you want to find another location of a particular establishment -- maybe a full-service bank from an ATM listing, for example. The Google map can handle directions as well and interfaces easily with your phone's existing map software.

Obviously, if you are looking something that doesn't fit one of its categories, there's always the search function.

Going Deeper After searching around for a while, I began to notice things like some restaurant listings have full menus. Other kinds of listings include similar drilldown searches. There is also a funky "Nearby" button that lists things that have Wikipedia entries, which is rather interesting, particularly in another city.

There are some gaps, to be sure. Supermarkets lists every convenience store in the vicinity and sometimes miss out on actual grocery stores. Same thing goes occasionally for other listings. The free version has adware in it, but the truth is that it is not very obtrusive and I can't really see a distinct advantage in paying for the $3 version.

The Verdict I've been using AroundMe for almost two years and found it extremely helpful, particularly when I'm not in a city I'm familiar with. It's simplicity feels like a drawback at first, but it just improves the performance and makes it an ideal app for when you're on the go and need help.

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