iPhone app review: ‘Spotted By Locals’ European city guides

On a recent extended trip to Phnom Penh, I decided to bring along my trusty five-pound Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide from Lonely Planet. Big mistake. In a city changing as quickly as Cambodia‘s capital, I found that nearly all of the information had become dated and irrelevant. Nearly half of the recommended restaurants had gone out of business, and the budget guesthouses, experiencing the “Lonely Planet effect“, were now half as nice, twice as expensive, and filled with people who, well, kinda sucked.

Spotted By Locals aims to be a different kind of travel guide by providing up-to-date travel advice from urban residents through blogs, PDF city guides, and a newly redesigned iPhone app. After road-testing the app, I’d say they’re well on their way.

The Spotted By Locals app is, to put it simply, awesome. Launched in December, the mobile application is 100 percent off-line, which means you don’t need to go bankrupt with data roaming or search endlessly for WiFi hotspots in order to access its wealth of information. And wealth it is. Since the app is currently only available for select European cities, I downloaded the Paris guide, clicked on the map, zoomed into my old street in the Marais, clicked on some of the map markers, and was able to access insider information written by residents about my two favorite vintage shops (Free ‘P’ Star and Vintage Desir, if you must know).

Spotted’s strength lies in its roster of local bloggers, who live in the cities they represent, speak the local language, and volunteer their services for free. The locals are hand-picked by owners Sanne and Bart van Poll, avid travelers based in Amsterdam. Plus, since the locals are active residents of their cities, they’re able to keep the guides’ information current and provide updates nearly in real-time, so you can stay ahead of the Lonely Planet pack.

[images via Spotted By Locals]

NORAD tracking Santa on your iPad and smartphone

As it has done every year for the past 56 years, NORAD is once again tracking Santa this holiday season. But for Christmas 2011, the military organization that watches the skies above North America, has added the ability to follow St. Nick’s progress on your iPhone, iPad, and Android devices as well.

The satellite tracking went live earlier today and has been following Santa’s sled as he’s made his annual rounds through the timezones where it is already Christmas Eve night. Even now, he is delivering presents to homes on the other side of the planet and spreading holiday cheer where ever he goes. You’ll be able to check in on his progress throughout the day today, and watch in anticipation as he nears your neighborhood as well.

Of course, many of us have full days of shopping ahead, not to mention gatherings with friends and families to attend, so we won’t always be close to our computers to track Santa ourselves. But never fear, as NORAD has released the NORAD Tracks Santa app, which is available in both the App Store for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, as well as the Android Market for the plethora of devices that run that mobile operating system. Through this app, you’ll not only be able to keep an eye on the Man in Red, you’ll also be able to play the amusing “Elf Toss” game too. If you’re old school, you can still track Santa in Google Earth too.

Be sure to add these apps to your device now. After all, you’ll definitely want to be home, and snugly tucked in your bed, when Santa comes to deliver your gifts tonight.

Postagram app turns your Instagram photos into postcards

The whole crew here at Gadling loves sending postcards. Heck, we love receiving them, too. Sadly, handwritten notes – including postcards – are nowhere near as popular as they used to be. Why send a postcard from the road when you can instantly Skype or IM with someone? Why send one stock photo when you can upload all of your own pictures? The answer to both questions is the same: sending someone a personalized, analog message shows that in that moment, at that place, you were thinking of them and wanted to put some effort into showing them just that. Thankfully, there’s a new iPhone app that combines the thoughtfulness of postcards with modern social networking. Postagram allows iPhone users to turn pictures from the Instagram app into real postcards.Our friends over at TechCrunch shared the info on Postagram earlier today. For just 99 cents, users can turn any one of their Instagram photos into a postcard, add a 140-character message and have it printed and in the recipient’s hand in 2-5 business days (longer for international shipping). Users can do everything from the Postagram iPhone app or on the Postagram website. The picture can even be popped out of the postcard if the recipient just wants the image without the message.

We think this is a great tool for sending postcards to friends, especially if you’re in a location where finding a post office is challenging. And the price is cheaper than the cost of buying a postcard and a stamp in many places.

Certainly there are downsides. The 140-character limit means that you can’t write much of a note to accompany the picture. Also, while it does save the addresses that you enter to mail Postagrams, we’d love to see it access your iPhone’s contacts to make selecting recipients and inputting their addresses that much quicker and easier. Lastly, since it won’t be mailed from your location, it lacks the mystique of postmarks from faraway lands.

That said, it’s still a unique image that you took and chose to share with someone. In that sense, it still maintains the personal feel of postcards.

Anyone who signs up today will receive their first Postagram for free, which is a nice way to try out the app and service. I just made my first Postagram (for free, since I signed up today) and it was quick and easy. Oddly, while their site says that the Postagram will arrive in 2-5 days, the app itself said that it would take 3-7 days. That’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

Postagram is free and available on the iPhone App Store.

[Via TechCrunch]

Apple’s iTravel app would connect directly to hotel services

Today there’s an app for just about anything you could want. From financial planning to paper-tossing, it’s hard to be unorganized in today’s electronic age. As tech giant Apple continues to roll out new products and platforms, developers continue to create apps that feed the consumer’s mind.

Enter: iTravel, Apple’s most recent patent filing that hooks users up with travel plans from flights to hotels.

The patent prototypes can be viewed on PatentlyApple.com and show that the proposed iTravel app goes beyond booking flights and allows travelers access to transportation services, car rental agencies, hotels, and destination-specific details. The hotel feature, for example, would allow you to pre-order room service, make requests about temperature, and use your iPhone as your room key or a remote control for various electronics in the room.

But can it be done? And if it’s released, how will Apple’s iTravel compete with other hotel apps?The iTravel hotel app would make it easier for consumers to connect directly to hotel services like dry cleaning, room service and the hotel spa, and be used to pay your bill at the end of your stay. Additionally, you could get local information and make restaurant reservations or seek out nightlife.

So, why Apple is competing with the companies that supply thousands of apps for Apple products? The real question is: are they? There are endless hotel applications that allow a traveler to do everything from book rooms to learn the local language where they’re visiting, all through their hotel’s app for iPhone. What precludes another developer from creating an app for a hotel that functions the same way Apple’s iTravel app works?

My prediction: the launch of Apple’s iTravel will simply mean more advanced apps from already existing hotels and travel companies, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Readers: We want to know what you think. What would you like to see from Apple’s iTravel app?

Ten kid friendly travel products to calm, soothe and entertain

Kids are spoiled nowadays – I used to have to entertain myself with a piece of string and an empty toilet paper tube, but today, even young kids are aware of the coolest technology products and want a piece of the action.

In this list, we’ve gathered ten awesome kid friendly travel products – from a way to help them sleep at night, to the latest in kid-proof digital HD cameras. The biggest advantage of all this new technology is that parents get a little more peace and quiet, and don’t need to play “I Spy” for 6 hours on a flight. Especially when the answer to all 450 questions is “clouds”.
Aerobed Sleep Tight for Kids

We recently reviewed the Aerobed Sleep TIght for Kids here on Gadling – and it has so far been the best piece of kid travel gear we’ve seen in a long time. The bed fits in a compact (included) carrying bag, and comes with an electronic inflation pump and a cute moon/stars cover.

Product page: Aerobed
Price: $79.99

Olympus Stylus 8010 rugged digital camera

The Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 is the perfect camera for taking photos where other cameras would normally crash and burn in a matter of minutes. The protection inside the Stylus Tough 8010 takes “rugged” to the extreme – with waterproofing up to 33 feet, drop protection up to 6.6 feet, freezeproofing down to 14F and even crushproofing up to 220lb.

This is one camera you’ll be able to hand to your (young) kids, and not worry about what they plan to do with it (as long as they don’t open the battery compartment underwater).

The camera features 1GB of internal memory, HD video recording and an internal optical zoom with automatic lens protector.

Product page: Olympus Stylus Tough 8010
Price: $399.99

Scosche reviveLITE II

The iPod and iPhone are slowly becoming “must have” products for young kids – their movie and music abilities, along with the massive lineup of kid friendly apps has taken them way beyond their original audience. The Scosche reviveLITE II is a wall charger for your device, with the added bonus of a night light. It even features a second USB charging port, which means you can charge your boring Blackberry and your kids iPhone at the same time.

Product page: Scosche Industries
Price: $24.99

Kodak Playsport HD camcorder

The Kodak Playsport HD camcorder shoots video in 1080p, and can swim in up to 10ft of water – which means you can make some pretty neat video clips at the beach or pool. With large easy to operate buttons, you can even teach your kids how to make their own video clips.

Product page: Kodak Playsport
Price: $149.99

Air Play airplane tray table play cover

For (really) young kids, the boredom of air travel may prove to be too much for them to deal with – which is why Star Kids Products invented the Air Play. This table and seatback cover fits about as much as possible into the cramped space. Kids get a variety of toys, a peek-a-boo mirror and even a small photo album. Best of all, it’ll keep their tiny hands away from the filthy table.

Product page: Air Play
Price: $29.99

Leap Frog Leapster Explorer

Leapster game consoles have always been a great way to entertain kids while providing some education at the same time. The upcoming Leapster Explorer is half gaming console, and half learning tool. An optional digital camera attachment will even let kids make photos and video clips. The Leapster Explorer will be available starting July 1st.

Product page: Leapster Explorer
Price: $69.99 (includes 18 games)

Mobi TykeLight Jr.

The TykeLight Jr. is a battery operated night light – with up to 100 hours of use off a set of AAA batteries, this light is a great way to help your kids fall asleep. The light can stay on all night, or for 15 minutes and is available in pink, green and blue.

Product page: Mobi TykeLight Jr.
Price: $12.95

Kidz Gear headphones

A DVD player in your car or flight is a great way to entertain kids – but the last thing you want, is to listen to Yo Gabba Gabba on a 7 hour road trip drive. This is where Kidz Gear headphones can help. The headphones are specially designed to fit kids, and go small enough to fit a three year old. Volume is kept to a minimum. They are available wired and wireless – and the wireless ones will work on the majority of wireless audio systems found in today’s vehicles.

Best of all – the company also makes a wireless transmitter, which is great if you want to add it to a hotel TV so you can get some peace and quiet, while they get some Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Product page: Gear for Kidz
Price: $16.99 (wired) and $29.99 (wireless)

iPhone and iPod Touch kids apps

There are thousands of kids apps in the App Store – but for every great app, there is usually at least one dreadful one. This is where Best Kids Apps can help – the team behind this great site reviews apps, and takes the hard work out of picking the best apps for your kid(s). Apps are sorted by age and category, making it really easy to find the best of the best.

Product page: Best Kids Apps
Price: Apps start at $0

Mobile device video cables

As more hotels start adding the ability to connect your mobile device to the in-room TV, an investment of about $30 can turn your iPhone, iPod, Zune or other brand player into a portable media center.

The most common input system used is “composite”, but some hotel brands even allow HD content using HDMI or Component cables. Check your local electronics store for the correct cables, or refer to the product site of your specific player. In an upcoming article, we’ll show what you need, and how to stay entertained without having to invest in pricey pay-per-view movies.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Rob!]