Travel publishers finally are starting to produce electronic editions of their guidebooks for devices like the Kindle, iPad and Nook. About time! says Spot Cool Stuff. E-book readers are ideal for travel content—they are lighter and thinner than paper guidebooks and can be updated much more quickly (and cheaply).
While the mainstream travel guidebook companies play catch-up, a host of new publishers are out in front producing high-quality travel content for smartphones. One that’s of special note is Guidepal, whose city guides are available for the iPhone, Android and Blackberry.
What Guidepal city apps are not is the equivalent of having a guidebook on your smartphone. Guidepal gives no actionable advice on hotels or transportation. There’s nothing on history, culture or language. Their coverage of attractions is, to put it kindly, uneven. (Guidepal’s San Francisco guide mentioned the Chinatown in Oakland but was oddly silent on the larger and more interesting Chinatown in San Francisco itself).
So what’s cool about Guidepal’s apps?
The restaurant & bar selections. Guidepal only reviews around a dozen restaurants and drinking spots in each city, yet they have a knack for making marvelous recommendations across a variety of cuisines and price ranges. In Bangkok they found the relatively unknown bar at the Arun Residence, in Cape Town they suggest Moyo and in London, Rochelle Canteen made their list; each establishment is a Spot Cool Stuff favorite.
Augmented reality. Click the “Nearby” icon in a Guidepal app, point your camera down the street, and Guidepal will display on the liveview what attractions are in the direction your screen is pointed and how far away each is. (See pic to the right). Very cool.
Walking Map. Guidepal guides include rather good maps of central city areas. Each map—along with all Guidepal content—is completely stored on the smartphone, so you don’t need to be online or incur data roaming charges to use it.
Tours and “Guidepal Perks.” Guidepal suggests experiential tours for each of their cities. Some suggestions are run-of-the-mill touristy, but a surprising number are creative. Fly in a sea plane around Dubai. See Stockholm by climbing around its rooftops. Join a “Scandalous Cocktail Hour Tour” in New Orleans. Most tours are bookable through the app and some—those listed under “Guidepal Perks”—are available at a discount.
The price. Every Guidepal city app is available at Spot Cool Stuff’s favorite price: free.