TOOLBOX

Maximize Your Phone

By Michele Schwartz, Tuesday, Jan 17, 2006, 11:20 AM

Travelers have more reason than ever to bring along a cell phone, thanks to new text-messaging tricks--all of which are free (excluding your provider's fees). Google, Yahoo, and a company called 4INFO are making accessible all sorts of information that travelers will love having at their fingertips. Basically, you send a text message to the company's five-digit "short code" to request info. Yahoo's code is 92466 ("Yahoo" spelled on a keypad), 4INFO's is 44636 ("4INFO" on a keypad), and Google's is 46645 ("Google" without the "e"). 

Portable phone book

Type whatever you're looking for, along with a city or zip code--such as "museums Chicago" or "seafood 20815." Google, Yahoo, or 4INFO will do a search, and then send the results and the contact info to your phone.

Weather

All three companies use "w" as shorthand for "weather": Type in a "w," along with a zip code or city and state, and Yahoo, Google, and 4INFO will give you a three-, four-, or five-day forecast, respectively.

Translation

Google has a cool language feature, with "t" standing for "translate." If you text-message "t ticket to spanish," you'll get back "boleto." Or try it the opposite way: "t il pleut from french" yields "it rains." It works with words and simple phrases, and between English and five languages: French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Flight updates

Send 4INFO a message with an airline and flight number for updates on the day's arrivals and departures. If you don't know the flight number, use the airline name, plus the airport codes or the departure and arrival cities.

Directions

For driving directions with mileage, text-message Google "san diego ca to la ca," "wash dc to bwi," or whatever your basic itinerary is. Turn-by-turn directions will appear within a minute.

Currency conversion

Send a message to Google using currency codes ("65 eur in USD") or plain language ("5 british pounds in american money") for the day's exchange rate.

Trip planning

Here's one that doesn't involve dialing short codes. Yahoo has a feature called Search Local that lets you transmit info from a computer to your cell phone. Say you locate driving directions, or a restaurant that sounds good, on Yahoo: Click on Send to Phone and the directions or the restaurant's contact info pops up in a text message a few seconds later, free of charge.