Tech: Evernote's app lets you search for text in photos
Updated this summer with powerful new features, Evernote's free mobile application lets you record memories while you're on the go, using your iPhone, Blackberry, or Palm Pre.
Jot down a funny anecdote or a bit of historical trivia using your device's keyboard. Or just speak the message, using the built-in voice-recording software. The app will synch up all of your info—and any photos—with a Web service that makes them accessible from your home or office computer.
The niftiest trick? Evernote can recognize text that appears in photos you take.
There are lots of surprising travel uses for this text-recognition feature. Let's say you check out a hip new restaurant like The Breslin in New York City. And let's also say that you may have knocked back a couple glasses of wine during your meal. In hindsight, you may be a little fuzzy about which ingredient made the house smoked ham so delicious.
Now let's say you anticipated this problem by taking a photo of the menu. Evernote lets you search for keywords, such as the restaurant's name or a word like "ham." Then it fetches the image of the relevant menu. (A-ha! The ingredient was piccalilli!)
A month passes. You're standing in the aisles of the wine store and you wish you could remember the name of the great wine you sampled at The Breslin.
Whip out your smartphone, search on the words "wine" (or "pinot," etc.), and the image of the menu with the exact details of the wine will appear.
What if you tend to take photos of lots of churches when your on a trip, but when you come home, you can remember which one is which. Easy! Take an additional photo of the name of the church as it's written on a sign or a paper bulletin while you're there. Then, when you come home. Search on "church" on Evernote, and all of the churches next to their relevant names will appear.
Tag your notes by trip name, or search for them by date or the geographic location where you recorded them. Organizing your happy memories just got a lot simpler.
But nothing's perfect, of course The app can be slow to use on AT&Ts; service. So I would use it selectively when wireless service is intermittent.
Free, download from Evernote's site.
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iPhone: Priceline's new app is best for last-minute hotel bids
It's only been available for a day, but Priceline's new Hotel Negotiator app for the iPhone and the iTouch is already one of the top 5 free travel apps on iTunes. No wonder it's popular. This app finally makes it practical to bid on a room at the 11th-hour through Priceline's famous blind-booking system. Say you've spontaneously decided you're going to need a hotel for tonight. But you don't want to spend more than 10 minutes getting a deal. Priceline's app will help you make a quick, smart bid. It tells you the average successful bid by other Priceline users—who've generally had more time on their hands to craft their bids—think is the lowest possible bargain for your preferred type of hotel in the neighborhood you're visiting. A tip: Lowball your bid, meaning, pick a lower bid than the one the Hotel Negotiator app tells you is average. After all, you're booking at the last-minute, and hotel rooms are a "perishable" good. The hotel owner may be aching to sell the room at a discount as the clock ticks down because his room will go vacant otherwise. (The exception, of course, is if there's a big convention or sporting event going on in town.) Here's how the app works: Shake your iPhone or iTouch, and the average recent winning hotel bid in the neighborhood where you're standing will be displayed. Specifically, you'll see the median successful bid made by other Priceline customers in the previous month in the class of hotel (such as four-star) that you've selected. Enter a bid above or below that average bid, and then find out if your offer is accepted. Bid on a room up until 11 p.m. ET of the night you need it. Up until now, few vacationers who've found themselves needing a hotel on short notice have had their notebook PC and a WiFi connection readilyy at hand—and have also happened to have the time to make a smart bid via Priceline (which takes some research and, often, multiple bids). This app speeds things up, letting you make a bid that will get you a great deal quickly. As usual, you don't know for sure which hotel you'll stay at, and the less you offer the less likely that your offer will be accepted. But if you offer too little for a room and are rejected, you can make another pretty quickly. Jf you're out of time, you can buy a hotel using Pricline's traditional hotel listings, where the name and full details are shown and you pay the standard retail room rate. Of course, this app is also good for booking a room months out, too. But using a regular computer instead of a smartphone might still be easier for such a purchase. Download Priceline's new Hotel Negotiator app for free. If nothing else, it's fun to watch. On the opening screen, spokesman William Shatner "breaks through" your device's screen. If you give it a try, let us know if you think it's worthwhile or have any discovered any tricks to maxing it out. EARLIER Think You Know Priceline? iPhone: Top Language Translation Apps Travel: "There's an App for That?"
Gear: A shoulder strap for your laptop
The surest way to protect your notebook PC while traveling is to keep it with you at all times. But bulky laptop bags can be a heavy load. No one has thought harder, longer, and smarter about how to pack a carry-on bag than Doug Dyment, public speaker and author of the essential onebag.com. "The best way to keep your laptop with you is to bring a Lapstrap (thelapstrap.com, $20), a padded nylon band that you lay across your open laptop at the hinge. Close the laptop and carry it over your shoulder." RELATED Dyment's method of bundle wrapping takes a minute to learn, but it's worth it
iPhone: Travel apps picked by an iPhone expert
Josh Clark is the author of Best iPhone Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders. We recently asked him for some travel tips. Which iPhone apps do you recommend highly for domestic travel? TripIt (free). Hands down, this is my favorite travel app. [By the way, Budget Travel has been praising TripIt, too.] It's a companion app to tripit.com, which organizes all of your travel plans into tidy itineraries. After setting up a free account, you forward confirmation emails for all your bookings to TripIt, and the service plucks out the important info, automagically converting it into a structured itinerary complete with maps and local weather. The app syncs with your TripIt account, letting you consult the details anywhere, even mid-flight without an Internet connection. HearPlanet ($5) is a travel audio guide. It lets you search for nearby landmarks and notable locations and then broadcasts audio commentary on those buildings and sights. Much comes from Wikipedia, and you can choose to read or listen to it. Some items feature human voices, but more obscure locations necessarily rely on text-to-speech robot voices. Still, the effect is like having a knowledgeable companion whispering in your ear as you explore a new place. USA Today recently unveiled AutoPilot (free), which handles many flight-tracking features, plus gives you city-specific travel articles for flight destinations. As a new app, it's promising but "crashy", though certainly one to watch as new versions come out. At the low, low price of free, it's certainly worth trying. What is "augmented reality"? For iPhone 3GS owners, a new breed of "augmented reality" apps allow you to point your camera in any direction to see overlaid information on the video screen (similar to the imaginary line that TV stations add to the football field to help you understand the game). You point your camera toward a section of city block, and you'll see on your iPhone the live image of the street scene overlaid with "signs" that show what's nearby. These apps provide a promising way to find out what's around you. Cyclopedia, Wikitude World Browser, and Nearest Wiki all fall into this category. Finally, iPhone heavyweight Yelp (free, click on the "Monocle button" for its augmented reality feature) is invaluable for getting local advice about the best spots to visit. What if you're traveling abroad? What are some exceptional apps for exploring new cities? There are lots of other travel apps available, but many of them rely on the Internet to fetch their content (subway instructions, restaurant reviews, etc). So if you're buying apps for international travel, you have to be careful to check to see if the info is available offline as part of the app. One set of apps available that don't need an Internet connection to work is the Lonely Planet city guides ($16 each). The famous guide book publisher has been especially inventive in adapting its print books into iPhone apps. The apps include GPS-enabled maps that you can use to find nearby recommended restaurants, shops, hotels, and the like. Any advice for travelers using iPhones internationally? The Achilles' heel of the iPhone and most smartphones is the forehead-slapping cost of using the Internet when you're abroad. AT&T; charges two cents per kilobyte outside the U.S. (a bit less in Canada). If you snap a photo with your iPhone and e-mail it to your Mom while traveling overseas, you'll pay about $20. If you don't watch out, you could end up like the woman who recently got a $5,000 bill from AT&T;. Also, most providers let you sign up for discounted voice and/or data plan, with rates discounted about 20 to 30 percent off international calls, with a modest monthly fee. It's worth asking about. Otherwise, a bit of planning ahead saves the day. The OffMaps app ($3) lets you download maps ahead of time for any part of the world. The iPhone's GPS works just fine without a network connection, so OffMaps can show you exactly where you are on your downloaded map, even when you're offline. You can also sprinkle pins on the map to mark specific sights and landmarks, even Wikipedia articles about places you plan to visit. It's a must-have for international travel. Another thing: It can be a nasty surprise to get off the plane and discover that you don't have phone service. If you're traveling somewhere that's not a major capital, be sure to call your phone company beforehand to check that your account has international roaming enabled to allow you to make and receive (brutally expensive) calls when you're in a pinch. Depending on when you signed up for your account, you may need to fax additional proof of identification first, so here, again, it pays to plan ahead. MORE Other iPhone app picks from Josh Clark are at Best iPhone Apps. EARLIER iPhone tips and tricks for budget travelers (with 25+ tips and comments from readers) iPhone: Top language translation apps A recommended power strip for Apple products ELSEWHERE 20 Money-Saving iPhone Apps
Deal: New urban adventures from Intrepid Travel
This month, Budget Travel gave an Extra Mile Award to Intrepid Travel for its commitment to eco travel. Also this month, the Melbourne-based tour operator officially launched Urban Adventures, a series of day trips that makes local experts available even if you haven't joined one of the company's longer escorted tours. Perfect for people traveling alone, Intrepid doesn't charge a single supplement on its regular escorted trips and instead pairs solo travelers with someone of the same gender. So far Intrepid has 81 Urban Adventures running in 25 cities, including its most popular trips in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. Today, the company adds eight Urban Adventure trips in three cities: Istanbul, New York, and San Francisco. This news gave us a reason to remember why a tour operator like Intrepid can be so valuable. Relying on a tour operator's expertise can come in handy in places like Istanbul and Southeast Asia, because the tours each have an English-speaking guide and are limited to 12 people. The guaranteed departures also mean that if the trip doesn't fill up, you could end up with a private guide. Some of the tours in Southeast Asia that caught my eye… • Vietnam: A four-hour biking tour in Ho Chi Minh City, which ends with bargaining at Ben Thanh market ($15) • Thailand: Exploring Bangkok by tuk-tuk, including a visit to Wat Pho temple ($35) • India: Savor a home-cooked dinner in Delhi with a local family ($34) • Cambodia: Tour the majestic ruins of Angkor Wat, with transportation from Siem Reap ($70) Also under development are tours in San Diego, Barcelona, and Florence. In other initiatives, Intrepid is a few weeks away from introducing a kayaking tour on Melbourne's Yarra River. The sunset paddle will even include a pit stop at the waterfront FishBar restaurant for fish-and-chips. As more day trips are added between now and June 2010, you can register to be an Urban Adventures Tester. The program, which is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, lets you try out new itineraries for free. In exchange, you have to take photos and write a review that Intrepid can post on its website. MORE REAL DEALS FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Intrepid Travel is taking 25 percent off more than 60 itineraries to Thailand and adding an Urban Adventure excursion (your choice of a four-hour Bangkok bike tour, a walking tour of Chinatown, a boat ride on the Chao Phraya River, or a five-hour tuk-tuk city tour) at no extra cost. The deal is valid for the first 20 BT readers who book by Dec. 31 and mention code 3173. After the 20th booking, use code 3174 by Dec. 31 to receive $100 off a Thailand itinerary and one free Urban Adventure. Airfare isn't included. When: Until Dec. 31, 2010. Contact: Intrepid Travel, 800/970-7299. More Real Deals