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Software reviews: apps for travellers

With the summer holidays on the horizon, we look this month at how your smartphone or tablet could help your vacation go more smoothly.

Enabled Apps: TripList

Free with ads on iPhone

Your phone has probably already replaced your pocket camera and MP3 player, and few travellers now bother carrying a pocket alarm clock, but there are plenty of other ways it can help too. You may well already have a currency conversion app for instance, plus a Wi-Fi phone app such as Skype for cheap calls home.

A packing list is another essential for many people, even for the regular traveller who always keeps a bag packed and ready with all the basics. It is no surprise then that there are lots of packing list apps available, ranging from simple local tick-lists to sophisticated apps that can pull in related data from the web, save your lists in the cloud, and so on.

One of the better is TripList, a handy iPhone app that sits somewhere in the middle of the complexity range. You do need to set up your own list to start with by choosing the items you want from the standard lists it provides, but you can also edit the pre-defined items and add more items and lists of your own – you can even use it to set up other tick-lists, such as a shopping list. In addition, you can add quantities, notes and sub-items to each item, and even set up per-item reminders.

The basic version has adverts, but you can remove these for 79p or pay £2.29 to upgrade to the Pro version. The latter not only gets rid of the ads, it also lets you sync your lists across multiple devices via iCloud or Dropbox, link to your TripIt account (if you have one) to import new trips for packing, and create multiple packing lists for different people, such as other family members. Pro users can also import and export lists, and set up automatic

For Android users, one of the best laid-out packing apps is PackPoint (this is also available for iPhone). The downside here is that it is only available in American English, and at the time of writing you could not edit its list items. Still, if you are happy wearing your pants on the outside and carrying a cell-?phone, it is well worth a look. Its sub-lists are usefully and effectively pre-populated, including adjustments for gender and for the weather at your destination, and you can buy add-ons that allow it to connect to your TripIt account or save lists to Evernote.

For Android users seeking a list that can be customised to your preferences, instead try PackMeApp. It too has pre-populated category lists, for example Wardrobe, Camping, Electronics and Children. Options such as selecting the traveller’s gender are missing, but deleting unwanted items and adding new ones is simple. You can also assign items an importance rating.

Vanilla Pixel: Am I Going Down?

79p on iPhone

Most people are remarkably bad at assessing risk, which may go some way to explaining why some 20 per cent of us fear flying, even though statistically it is safer than driving. The reasons are not hard to see – the crash of an airliner can be headline news around the world for several days, for instance, whereas the steady drip-drip-drip of fatal car crashes merits just a few column-inches each time.

Fortunately, for many fearful flyers at least a portion of that fear is amenable to rational persuasion and reassurance. This is the portion targeted by a new iPhone app helpfully titled Am I Going Down? which aims to give you an accurate idea of just how (un)likely it is that your flight will crash.

To use the app you enter your departure and destination airports, plus the airline and the aircraft type, and it calculates the chance of the flight crashing.

For example, flying on a British Airways Airbus A340 from London Heathrow to New York JFK, the chance of crashing is one in 10 million. It helpfully adds that this is equivalent to flying this route daily for 27,701 years.

It draws on data from a range of sources, such as the Aircraft Crashes Record Office (ACRO) based in Geneva, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and Wikipedia. Feeds include crash statistics, airport data and aircraft details.

In analysing the likelihood of a crash, the app includes only crashes where there was at least one passenger fatality, on the grounds that this is the big worry for fearful flyers. This data is then combined with the volume of flights, weighted to the most recent 10 years, to provide the final statistic.

The app also ranks airlines and aircraft on their safety records, which could help users choose which flight to take. The non-nervous might be amused to know that it does not check whether the chosen combination actually exists, so for instance you can look up the risk of an Aeroflot-operated Concorde crashing between Djibouti and the Comoros – just one in 95,000, since you ask.

Google: Word Lens

Free on Android, iPhone

The functionality of Word Lens is near-magical: it combines your phone’s camera with optical character recognition and machine translation to recognise and translate printed text.

In essence, you simply point your camera to a sign, menu or whatever, and the app almost instantaneously translates the text that’s written on it for you, even without an data connection. The translated version appears on your phone’s screen, floating over and replacing the original.

The odd thing is that if you have an Android phone or iPhone, it is quite likely that you already have Word Lens installed without realising it. That’s because while it was originally a standalone app, its creator Quest Visual was acquired by Google and the software became a standard part of the Google Translate app as of January 2015.

Not every language is covered, but the app can currently translate between English and either French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish.

To access Word Lens, first make sure you have the latest version of Google Translate on your phone, then open the app and look for the camera icon in the area where normally you would type your text. Touch this and it opens the camera viewfinder and starts looking for text.

It does need a bit of care to align the image, so an alternative way of making a translation is to take a photo and then use Word Lens’s image import option – this also lets you select the image text for word by word translation if that approach is more convenient for you.

It is also well worth noting that Google Translate now supports downloadable dictionaries for many languages, so it can be used offline – and this goes for Word Lens, too.

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