Getting from A to B in the UK
There's more to getting around the UK than Google Maps. Sure, Google's built-in application comes preinstalled on just about every Android device you'll come across in the UK, and does a decent job of covering the basics, and helping you find your way around.
But there's a treasure trove of more specialized Android apps out there to help plan journeys, book tickets and generally make travelling around the UK a smarter and more hassle-free experience. Read on for a quick roundup of some of our favorites.
If you spend a lot of time in London, Manchester or Birmingham, CityMapper is a no-brainer, adding a bunch of really useful features above and beyond what's offered in the bundled Google Maps app. The app does a great job of helping you get from A to B within its supported cities, with highly detailed local bus, train, tram and underground routes, as well as Uber integration, including pricing and wait times.
It's the little touches that make CityMapper such a great app, though. Rain-safe routes can help you avoid getting soaked on your journey, and the aforementioned Uber support also lets you know if surge pricing is in effect. What's more, CityMapper's SmartCommute feature can show you the fastest and most cost-effective way to and from work via notifications at specific times of the day. There's even Android Wear support, letting you quickly find the best way to get home (or to work) right from your wrist.
The only real downside is the number of supported cities — CityMapper only supports three UK cities (as well as a bunch more internationally). Nevertheless, if you live, work or frequently visit those three, this free app is well worth a look.
2. Tube Map
Though CityMapper is great for navigating the London Underground, it's also useful to have a dedicated tube app to hand. Tube Map by Mapway is officially licensed by TfL, and starts you off with a full-screen, zoomable map of the capital's rail networks. Tapping a station lets you see lines, departures, service info and facilities like Wifi and mobile network coverage.
The route planner feature is a really useful for anyone less familiar with getting around on the tube, giving you a choice of routes based on whether you prefer simple (fewer changes) or fast. And realtime results let you see exactly how fast you'll be able to get from one tube station (or point of interest) to another, including walking between stations if it's faster. Meanwhile, the line status panel lets you view current or planned disruptions to service, and the Twitter tab lets you track social media for any reports of disruption or congestion.
The basic app is free and ad-supported, with in-app purchases letting you unlock an ad-free version and extra features like tube exit locations and details of the first and last trains for the day.
There are many apps for checking train times in the UK, but Trainline — the app from the bookings website of the same name — is easily the best. As well as checking departure times and booking tickets — all handled within the app, Trainline lets you pin favorite journeys to its start screen, saving you valuable typing time. From here, you can view the next few departure times for each, along with platform info.
But the real magic comes with how the app links into your Trainline account, allowing you to keep track of tickets you've purchased, and collection codes when you arrive at the station. When your journey is about to begin, you'll get platform and departure time info in a notification. What's more, you can bypass paper tickets entirely on some routes, with mobile tickets available right in the app.
If you do a lot of travelling by train, Trainline is well worth checking out. You'll still have to pay up for your tickets, but at least the app is free.
Though controversy may swirl over ethics of Uber, there's no denying its simplicity and ease of use — nor the fact that it's generally cheaper than traditional taxi services. Uber's city list is always expanding, so it's worth checking coverage before you download.
From there it's simple — sign in with your Google account, set up a payment method, and request a ride. You'll get see nearby Ubers on the overview map, and get a live ETA through a fixed notification. Then, once you're moving, you'll get a view of your route to your destination. It's simple and hassle-free, and although it's not always the cheapest way to get around — especially with surge pricing — the convenience of Uber is hard to beat.
5. HERE Maps
HERE has emerged as one of the major alternatives to Google Maps, and its Android app is among the best out there. The "Nearby" panel lets you easily find useful stuff you won't find in other mapping services — things like taxi stands, parking locations, cash machines and petrol stations.
Of course, one of HERE's biggest features is the ability to download huge areas of mapping data to your local storage, avoiding chewing through your data allowance when you're out and about. Entire continents can be downloaded; the UK as a whole will set you back just shy of 700MB. Favorite locations can be tagged in Collections for quick access.
There's also an excellent driving mode, which also works offline. For an entirely free app, it's hard to fault HERE, which boasts just about all the major features of more expensive sat nav systems.
6. Oyster Sync & Refund
If you take the Tube or bus in London, it's not always easy to keep track of what you're spending — especially if you're using an Oyster card or contactless credit card. Oyster Sync & Refund, by CoolDataApps, is a great way to track all this data in one place. It hooks into TfL's systems, so you'll need to create an account on that website first. But once you're done registering your card, you'll get access to all data associated with your card — right down to individual journey times and prices, and frequently visited stations.
You'll also be able to see whether you could save money by switching to a travelcard, based on how much you've paid over the past few months. And as the name suggests, the app can also help you claim refunds where they're due, in the event of delays.
It's worth noting that you don't need to have a standalone Oyster card to use this app — contactless credit and debit cards work just fine too.
While information from Waze — now owned by Google — is included in Google Maps, the standalone collaborative traffic and navigation app is really useful for avoiding congestion, accident spots, and being aware of fuel prices and police presences. Joining the waze community lets you contribute to this living map of traffic data, and of course you'll also benefit from info submitted by other members of the community. Naturally, you can link your Waze profile to Facebook and import contacts from there, as well as your phone's contacts library.
Waze's turn-by-turn navigation system lets will help you reach your destination while avoiding hazards, and can even re-navigate on the fly to adapt to changing traffic conditions. The app is highly involved, and there's a lot to explore, but if you spend a lot of time on the road then it's well worth a look.
Okay, so chances are you're not regularly flying around the country. But if you are — and let's face it, flying domestic is often not much more expensive than taking the train — then SkyScanner is a worthy addition to your app loadout. Like the SkyScanner website, the Android app searches flights from a multitude of carriers, and lets you set alerts when prices change.
It's also easy to see exactly when it's cheapest to fly, as the cost of trips — even domestic flights with in the UK — can vary dramatically from day to day. And with watched flights, you have a place to tag and track individual flights before pulling the trigger and booking.
Price alerts can also appear in Google Now, which is a really convenient way to keep track of price changes if you're using the Google Now Launcher.
UK readers, what are your favorite transport apps? Shout out in the comments and let us know!