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Software reviews: apps for the traveller

‘Sumer is icumen in’, and as our thoughts turn to travel, we round up some apps to help you enjoy more and stress less.


Golden Hour

Free for Android

A smartphone can take some pretty good photos, and with the right apps you can turn an OK photo into something decent, but the difference between a pretty good photo and a really great one is still down to the person holding the camera – or in this case the phone.

This is where Exsate Golden Hour can help. Most of us do not have an innate sense of when is the best time to take a particular type of photo – when the light is best, and so on – but an app such as this can help us do a much better job. Its main job is calculating the ‘golden hours’ for your current location – these are the best times in the morning and evening to shoot landscape photos, when the sun is at the right angle and its light is redder and softer than average, with longer shadows.

It calculates quite a bit more, however. There are the blue hours, which are the best time to take twilight dawn or dusk photos (incidentally, all these ‘hours’ vary by date and location, and are rarely 60 minutes long), the lunar phases in case you want the moon in shot, and also the best times for photographing the night sky – when dusk is over, the moon is down and the stars are out. You can add your own temporal-photographic conditions too, for example a low crescent moon during blue hour.

Exsate Golden Hour detects your location and provides its information either as a table or a graphic – the latter also includes the weather forecast, if available, and can warn you of cloud cover or tell you if it looks like a good day to take photos with your drone. The app is free for Android for a limited time, according to the Exsate website, but there are also several other golden hour apps for this and other platforms.


Currency Converter

Free on most mobiles

There aren’t many places you can travel to without needing to work in foreign currency – unless you live in the Eurozone. Even if you use plastic whenever possible, few of us can afford to buy without calculating the price in our currency.

XE Currency Converter is probably the best solution to this. A dedicated calculator, you can set it up to display just the currencies you want. Tap the current one and enter an amount, and it converts into all the others. Swipe right on a currency and you can view historic rates, see information about it (the denominations in use, for example) or check a rate you have received, perhaps by withdrawing foreign cash from an ATM. These features need an Internet connection, as do rate updates, but the basic conversion works just fine offline.

The app is available for pretty much any smartphone or tablet, even FirefoxOS and Windows 8, and there’s also a web version. Sign up for free and you get access to a few extra services, such as alerts when a currency pair reach a rate you specified, and the currency transfer service that is XE’s main business.


FlightTrack 5

£3.99 on Android, iPhone

Whether you’re flying off or anticipating the arrival of others, FlightTrack 5 is a great way to check flight status. It’s also a useful way to find out which airlines fly between a particular pair of airports and look up their schedules.

Type in the airports and choose the date, and it gives a list of flights plus their status. Choose the correct one and it adds it to your schedule. Alternatively you can sign up for an Expedia Tripdeck account and add flights by forwarding your booking emails.

Once a flight is in the air, FlightTrack 5 uses the available data from the aircraft’s transponders to show its height, speed and how far it is along its flight path, complete with satellite imagery (not real-time!) from Google Maps. If the information is available, you’ll get gate and baggage reclaim numbers too. Drill down a bit further, and there’s airport information, such as terminal plans showing where the gates are and local weather reports.

The price may seem steep if you’re not a regular traveller, but it gets discounted from time to time, so keep an eye out for this.



Free on Android, iPhone

Whether it’s due to a delay or cancellation, or simply to a connecting flight and a change of plane, at some point you’re likely to find yourself kicking around an airport for a few hours. Sometimes this is a chance to have a meal, or to find a bar, sample local beers and chat with fellow travellers, but at other times it’s a nightmare of hunting for a spare power socket to charge up your electronics – if you are really lucky, you may even find one with an empty seat nearby too.

Of course, if you’re flying first or business class, or have a high-end frequent flyer card or a credit card with bonuses of this sort, you’ll probably have access to a private lounge. What you may not realise until you install the Loungebuddy app and enter your details is that there are lounges accessible to other travellers too – and that even if you have free lounge access, at a big airport you may have a choice of lounges to use.

The app is free but offers you the ability to purchase lounge access. This isn’t cheap, at perhaps £35 for a few hours, but it’s not so bad when you consider the alternative and the high prices in most airport bars and restaurants. After all, lounge access usually includes food and drink, as well as decent seating in a quieter environment with free Wi-Fi and so on.

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