When most folks think about traveling with the iPad, they’re thinking about it in the context of lightening the load: take an iPad instead of a laptop, and it’s possible to stay productive and get work done even when on the road.
But what if there’s more to it than email and Microsoft Office documents? Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, the Apple iPad has the potential to make your trip more organized, more efficient, and therefore more stress-free than ever before: it’s all about the apps.
Over the last three weeks, we’ve published a series of round-up reviews highlighting some of the best iPad travel apps. Now it’s time to pick the best of the best for each category.
The runaway winner here is definitely UrbanSpoon for iPad, with detailed restaurant information and integrated maps. It offers the best of UrbanSpoon.com in a portable format, allowing you to choose by cuisine, neighborhood, and price range at the tap of a button. You can limit your search to only the most popular local eateries if you like. If you have a 3G iPad or can find a wireless hotspot, you can also access more detailed information about each restaurant, including photos, menus, and critic and reader reviews.
OpenTable for iPad gets an honorable mention for bringing a higher level of sophistication to dining and helping you to make your reservations. The selection is more limited than UrbanSpoon, but generally top-notch. Even if you’re not on the road, OpenTable can help you find the perfect high-end restaurant for any special occasion, be it a romantic date or a professional business dinner.
Beat the Traffic for iPad takes top honors in this category, with detailed information that helps you plan your route while avoiding major traffic accidents, construction sites, and special events than can clog traffic for hours. It doesn’t offer turn-by-turn directions, but if you already know where you’re going, Beat the Traffic can ensure that you get to your destination as quickly as possible without blowing your top over frustrating traffic problems that could have been avoided.
The runner up in this category is NYC Way for iPad, a comprehensive database that includes just about everything you need to know about NYC, from museums and restaurants to parking and pharmacies. It’s easy to use and amazingly detailed. The only downside is that it is available for a very limited number of cities at this time, but if you happen to live in (or are planning to visit) Boston, Chicago, DC, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, or London, do yourself a favor and download this app right away.
This is one of the more difficult categories to judge, because there are so many excellent entries. In the end the winner is AccuWeather for iPad, because this app is the easiest to use and offers clear, graphically pleasing forecasts. If you want more detailed information, radar maps and high quality video forecasts are available at the tap of a finger, along with innovative features such as hourly and lifestyle forecasts.
Second place goes to Seasonality Go for iPad. At $9.99 it is significantly more expensive than other weather apps available for the iPad, but its sheer customizability and depth of information should be enough to satisfy any true weather buff.
The overall winner in this category is TravelTracker Pro for iPad. It may not be the most attractive, graphically appealing app available, but the somewhat plain exterior hides a true powerhouse. It handles everything from flight, hotel, and rental car information to packing lists and expense management. It also integrates with TripIt so that you don’t even have to enter all the details yourself.
The top currency conversion app is Converter Plus for iPad, which can handle everything from currency conversion (with automatic rate updates every time you open the app) to almost any other type of conversion you can possibly think of, from distance and mass, volume to velocity. Loan, tip, and mortgage calculators are an added bonus. Whatever you need to convert, Converter Plus can handle it for you.
This is the toughest category to judge, both because there are so many worthy contenders but also because needs vary widely from simple phrasebooks to true language instruction. Due to these variables I will highlight the best overall language apps, and you can pick and choose based on your needs.
The best dictionary app is the one offered by Ultralingua. In addition to highly detailed, fully hyperlinked definitions, it has extra features such as verb conjugation and a handy number translator that put it ahead of the other dictionary apps covered in this series.
If you need a basic talking phrasebook, you can’t go wrong with the World Nomads iPad app series, mainly due to the comprehensive introductory audio lesson. It’s very well done, and covers the basics such as greetings, time, and transport in the context of a story that also covers some Spanish culture as well. The For Dummies iPad app series deserves an honorable mention because it works nicely and has several good features, but is available for far fewer languages.
For vocabulary-building, the Byki iPad app series has you covered. This app uses a three-step learning process to help build your vocabulary in a foreign language, and it goes beyond the basics with extensive downloadable lists to customize and enhance the experience. SlowSound ensures that you can truly hear and understand the correct pronunciation of each word, and the series covers 20 languages, including several that are more exotic than the typical French and German apps.
Finally, if you want to go beyond the basics and actually learn a foreign language before you go, you should start with SurvivalPhrases for iPad. Available in 18 different languages, each one includes audio lessons, flash cards, and handy phrases organized into logical categories. It won’t make you completely fluent in a foreign language, but should offer enough instruction to get by in almost any context.