Top iPad Travel Apps and Accessories
The iPad's natural domain as a mobile device may be more local than long distance -- around the office or corporate campus, at the customer's premises, on the morning commute -- but it can also, with the addition of a few apps and accessories, be a valuable travel companion.
True, it's not as easy to transport as a smartphone. It doesn't fit in your pocket, it's not as convenient to pull out in a cab on the way to the airport or in the departure lounge with a few minutes to go before boarding.
But it's more convenient than a full-size laptop. And you're not squinting at too-small maps and constantly scrolling through screens to find the information you need.
There are also products, such as the $100 travel vest from Scottevest with its clever iPad-size pocket that can make it almost as convenient as a smartphone to carry and pull out.
And for users with light computing needs, it's a perfectly feasible travel laptop replacement, especially if you add a Bluetooth keyboard like the one built into the slick ZAGGmate, a $100 aluminum case.
We looked at some of the dozens of travel apps available too. They fall into a few categories: tools to help you plan, tools to help you get there, tools to help you when you arrive in a strange destination and tools to manage travel expense reporting.
iPad Travel Planning
You're probably not going to use the iPad as your main tool for travel planning while you're still at home -- a PC and Web browser are more flexible and convenient. But when you're in transit and need to quickly find or check flights, cars or hotels, some of these apps make it really easy.
Hotels.com, the Web-based hotel discounter, for example, offers the free Hotels HD, a dedicated app that emulates its Web site but does it more efficiently with less clutter. At the home page, you key in your destination city or landmark, dates, number of rooms and people, and hit Search. Hotels HD finds all the available hotels and plots them on a Google map.
You can then zoom in or out on the map, tap a flag to see the name of the hotel and capsule information about it, including the price per night, and tap the pop-up to go to a page with full information. At that page, tap the big Book Now button to go ahead and book online through Hotels.com. The app also lets you review and manage your reservations.
TripAdvisor LLC, another Web travel mainstay, also offers a slick iPad-optimized app (it has apps for other mobile platforms as well and this one works on the iPhone too.) It's free. We used it recently in Valencia, Spain to find a restaurant in the area we were staying and it worked brilliantly.
If you let it, TripAdvisor will automatically use nearby Wi-Fi routers to triangulate your approximate location (with the 3G + Wi-Fi models, it can get much closer), and then plot on a Google map nearby hotels, restaurants or things to do, which you can refine by type.
There was little or no information about some of the things to do that we turned up, and no reviews for many of the restaurants, but this is no different from the website which depends on users or business owners to provide information.
The TripAdvisor app also has a flight booking component, which we tested for flights from Valencia to Barcelona. Somewhat surprisingly, it found dozens available from at least four different carriers. They were culled from multiple travel aggregators, including Travelocity, and popped up fairly quickly.
Kayak, another well-established Web travel search engine, has the free Kayak Mobile, which has also been optimized for iPad and offers functionality similar to TripAdvisor. The app wasn't as slick or fast as TripAdvisor in our testing. However, it does add a car rental search, which, impressively, found cars from six agencies in our Valencia search, with prices starting as low as $27 a day.
One final planning app that could be useful while you're traveling is FlightTrack Pro ($9.99) from Mobiata. It provides real time live tracking of flights. You key in your flight information and it gives you continual updates on its progress. So if you're sitting in a hotel room wondering if you should be heading to the airport, this little app will tell you.Page 2: Getting There With Your iPad: Navigation