QR codes: What travelers need to know

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Talk about cryptic codes. Strange black-and-white boxes—with monster, checkerboard patterns—are popping up on billboards and tourist signs across the U.S.

The codes are even more common in England, appearing in subway ads and magazine articles. The most playful example I've seen has been at Rosa's, an excellent Thai restaurant in London's Soho neighborhood, where every server wears a T-shirt with a QR code printed on the back.

So what are these QR codes, and how do you scan them?

Anyone with a smartphone can scan and read QR, or "Quick Response," codes with the click of its camera. By scanning the codes, you can access images, websites, and text via your device's Web browser.

Scanning the code can help you pinpoint relevant information more quickly than by doing a search on your phone's Web browser. Google, for instance, has distributed more than 100,000 of these QR codes to shops and restaurants across the U.S., to be displayed prominently. Scan the code in a shop window, and you can read customer reviews and receive coupons for specials.

Scanning a QR code is easy. As Budget Travel explained in its recent QR code guide: First you'll have to download a QR code "reader" or "scanner." There are tons of these available for free download in many of the app stores for different devices. Here's how to find them:

1. For Apple devices like the iPhone, click here. Android users should download the top-rated, free app QuickMark Barcode Scanner. Blackberry users should consider trying the free Code Muncher app.


2. Check out http://www.mobile-barcodes.com/qr-code-software for a ton of links and reviews for QR code-readers.


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