Google apps in Tuscany, Travel tech road test

Guest post by Alison Bailey

As a complete technophobe with a smartphone (trust me, I can dumb it down) it was with a little trepidation but an open mind that I found myself heading off for harvest time in the glorious hills of Tuscany. Why the trepidation? We’d be testing what a Google smartphone can offer the traveller. Turns out, quite a lot!

The first recommendation has to be Google Now.

This just needs a Gmail account, book a flight using Gmail as the email address. Google will send a reminder, which it calls a card for the day to the home screen of your phone or tablet. It provides the status, and updates about the flight, the departure terminal, and the travelling time required from your current location to the airport.

Do the same for hotel bookings, and viola, details and directions to the hotel. When travelling it updates with time to home, a currency converter and useful phrases. All the essential information at your fingertips, automatically, as if by magic!

Google now for use on smartphones, and tablets for travellers on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography

Google now updates

The second recommendation simply must be Google Voice Search

Pop this on your smartphone, or tablet and never have to type in a search box again. The simple phrase, “OK Google” opens the app, and then ask it any question which comes to mind. Unsure of an ingredient is for that recipe? “OK Google, what does pak choi look like?” up pop images of pak choi. “OK Google, who are the best golfers in the world?” A list of the world’s top ten golfers magically appears, settling that debate immediately. Travellers aren’t forgotten either, one I especially love “OK Google, will I need an umbrella in Florence on Tuesday?” bingo……weather forecast for Florence for that day!

Thinking up, and asking it the silliest questions imaginable is great fun, it kept me amused for ages!

The next top tip is for the flight, Google Play.

Rent or buy TV shows, or films and save them to watch on the flight along with books, magazines and music. This one requires a little forethought in purchasing interesting content before your trip. Simply go to the Google Play store and choose movies, TV or books or magazines. It even gives recommendations of ones you may like. When I tested it, my recommendations were Android photography, and The digital Photo manual both reviewed by Iain! It’s slightly spooky at times….

Next we have Google Maps

Google maps, navigation on smartphone or tablet on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography

Using Google Maps

The voice function maybe used to access maps too “OK Google, take me to Venice” will bring up a screen to choose the mode of transport., will you drive, use public transport, cycle or walk? It will provide details of distance, and time it will take to get there while bringing up the map, then hit “navigate”. If using public transport it will inform where the bus stop/,train station is and when the next one is due. Street view will even show what it should look like where you are going, and the terrain is visible by satellite. Another really neat trick is saving the map for offline use, simply scroll to the bottom of the screen and pressing “make this map available offline”. No signal, no problem, the map is still available. It’s also handy to download the maps when using WiFi so there won’t be any unexpected data usage charges.

Google maps manual mapping   on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography

How Google maps those difficult to get to places. Yes, really. 15 cameras & 18kg

It’s really handy when trying to find local attractions, shops, or restaurants. Need a handy coffee shop? “OK Google, find me a coffee shop” brings up a search for coffee shops within three miles, pick one and hit directions and it switches to maps and navigates straight to the door, that’s useful! Of course it’s just as useful for finding a hospital or pharmacy, but finding coffee is always good too.

Personally, I use Google maps to generate a gpx file when I am planning a bike ride. making my own route and downloading it to the Garmin device on my bike. This provides a map, and even prompts turning when required. This is done on my desktop PC, and would not recommend attempting it on a mobile, it’s a different way of using maps.

The final caveat I should add is not to rely on a smartphone when walking off the beaten track. Ships captains still have to be able to navigate with a sextant because technology  is useless if it’s not working, or batteries expire. A map and compass as a backup please.

Google Maps My favourite park for walking

Stuck reading a menu or directions in an unfamiliar language? Try Google Translate

70 languages can be accessed by speaking, typing, writing or taking a picture and selecting the text which needs translating. Simply pass the phone between to people speaking different languages to hold a conversation. Downloading selected languages before travelling is recommended to minimise the data held on the phone.

There is a desktop version that is best used for translating publications, while the mobile app is fantastic for the holding a conversation. It even managed to understand my Scottish accent which is more than some humans. It’s the only dialect in the world where a term of endearment sounds like a threat, but Google manages to translate without causing a fight…… win/win.

Google translate, the travellers survival tool when in a foreign speaking country on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography

Survival tool in a foreign speaking country

It’s slightly embarrassing having to apologise for my lack of language skills, but Google Translate manages this very well, and without fuss “Mi dispaice io non parlo molto Italiano”.

It is, however, considered a bad idea to use Google Translate for artistic pursuits, it has been known to murder poetry. It’s not very good with Scots wha hae, either, Burns would be turning in his grave.

Field Trip; A personal tour guide.

Field trip is the personal guide to the cool, hidden and unique things in the world around you. It is an app that runs in the background on your phone and when you come close to something interesting it pops up to tell you about it. Wear headphones, and it turns into a personal tour guide, informing about local history, places to shop, eat……the real beauty of this app is that the feed can be set to the subjects that interest the user. A personalised tour guide, that has to be worth a look.

Google Field Trip, travel suggestions app  on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography

Field Trip

Finally, the QR code boarding pass.

For the first time on a trip I didn’t have a printed boarding pass, but had a QR code text to my phone instead. It worked a treat, and with the new boarding gates replacing people standing tearing up bits of paper it is now possible to more, or less go straight on to your flight. That is, after you’ve spent several hours being patted down by airport security…….

My experience with all this technology is actually very positive and there are most definitely apps that I will now be using every day, and some that now seem invaluable while travelling. Just remember to charge up the smartphone, without power they’re quite useless!

Alison Bailey on the coast to coast bike ride in the United Kingdom

170 Miles Coast to Coast

About Alison Bailey

I started as a photographer at the tender age of three when my Dad gave me my first camera, a Kodak Brownie. I crawled around ‘taking pictures’ of everything, even though there wasn’t any film, and I’ve been taking pictures ever since.

I’ve worked as a Lab Technician specialising in Pathology to the promised land of Olympus cameras, and even a spell in law enforcement. I’ve returned to my first love now however, specialising in wedding photography. I predominantly use digital today, but the traditionalist in me still loves film, and the skills required to develop it.


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