Aug. 17, 2011 at 1:38 PM ET
Budget Travel's editors are huge believers in mobile technology. You'll seldom see the magazine's staff out on the road without a smartphone — usually Apple's iPhone or phones built on Google's Android operating system. We've given these devices a workout over the years, learning some pro-level tricks along the way. Now we let you in on our secrets learned the hard way.
Check out our ideas on how to max out your smart phone on your next trip.
First up, tips for Android users. Then advice for iPhone users:
ANDROID TIPS AND TRICKS
Problem: You want to allow friends back home to track your journey in real-time.
Solution: Any Android phone comes with an amazing, free, turn-by-turn GPS program. But how can you allow your family back home track your journey in real-time? Just follow this advice: On your Android phone, open up Google Maps. Tap on the menu icon, and choose "Join Latitude." You'll be prompted to add friends who may follow you as they wish, if they also have Google accounts (meaning Gmail users, essentially). These people you've selected will be able to follow your GPS location on the maps on their Android phone or, if they download the iGoogle Latitude widget, on their laptops through their Web browsers. Never lose track of your teenagers at Disney World again.
Problem: Need to extend your phone's battery life, especially while you're traveling.
Solution: The biggest drain on the battery is the power needed to light up the display. Most Android phones have an Auto-Brightness setting. Turn this setting on to save power by going to Settings, then Sound & Display. Scroll down to Brightness. Check the Auto-Brightness option. Now your device will only use the power necessary, based on how dark or bright your surroundings are, to light up your screen. In short, you'll save power and extend the life of your device's charge.
Problem: You don't want to be stuck with a large bill for a data connection while using a 3G signal away from your home, but you also don't want to go without Internet service completely.
Solution: Skip the 3G data connection and use an adequate 2G connection (meaning GPRS and EDGE networks; contact your wireless provider to find out what connection your phone uses). 2G networks provide enough of a connection for email, Twitter, and similar simple messaging communication. When traveling outside of the US, 2G is good enough for the most common Android phone uses. Go into your devices settings and turn 3G off. (You may want to make a note on your Calendar to remind you to switch the setting back when you return to the States.)
Problem: You want to find on your phone's map a particular type of local landmark, like a coffee shop or a museum. But you don't want to scroll through pages and pages of search results on the browser on your tiny phone's screen.
Solution: Option one is to use Places, instead of a traditional Google search. Go to Google Maps app, and then search for your location (unless a GPS signal automatically locates your position on the map for you). Next, tap the Places button in the top-right corner (it looks like a pin icon). You'll see seven search options in easy-to-understand icons: restaurants, coffee, bars, hotels, attractions, ATMs, and gas stations. Now click whichever button is relevant to what you're searching for, and you will now only see relevant answers on the first page of results.
Bonus Android tip: If you're a tech geek, take advantage of "augmented reality" and hold up your Android's camera to show a live image of the streets around you, and then use the Layar download to see results from Google and other sources for nearby attractions graphically overlaid on the screen. Layar is a free download.
IPHONE TIPS AND TRICKS
Problem: Need to extend your phone's battery life.
Solution: The biggest drain on the battery is the power needed to light up the display. So dim that screen. By default, your iPhone is set to be incredibly bright. Go to iPhone Settings (the grey icon with an image of mechanical wheels) and pick Brightness. Then slide that setting down about halfway and see if you're comfortable with the level of brightness. You should also turn on the Auto-Brightness setting. That way, the screen backlight brightness will only be as strong as necessary. (Back on the main Settings page menu, you may also want to consider turning off Notifications, a power-hogging service.)
Problem: You're going back-and-forth via e-mail scheduling an event. Is there a faster way?
Solution: If a message you receive by e-mail includes phrases like "Tuesday at 3," your iPhone will underline it. Tap the link, and a window will pop up inviting you to "Create Event." Tap that, and you'll see your iPhone's Calendar open up on the relevant date and time and the subject of the e-mail as the name for the event. Make any adjustments you need for clarity, and then tap "Done" to add it to the calendar.
Problem: Let's say you know how to find yourself on the map. (You tap the Arrow icon in the bottom left-hand corner of maps to see the blue, bouncing dot appear, of course.) But imagine you also want your map to match the direction you're facing, to make it easier to orient yourself.
Solution: Tap the Arrow icon a second time: The map will adjust to the direction you're facing, making it easier to read.
Bonus iPhone tip: If you're trying to recognize where you are on a particular street, it can help to see Street View, Google's photographic record of what streets look like worldwide. To do this for a particular location you see on the map (such as the blue dot that represents where you are), touch and hold that location on the map. This will add a red pin. Then tap this pin to reveal a bar of information giving street details. Hit the orange circular button that you see — it's a circle with the image of a person standing inside. The map will switch to Street View mode, revealing what the street should look like. (Obviously, this service is only available in urban areas that Google has taken photos of.)
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