AlmostZara has now gone international, and I’ve moved my main residence from London to New York City. After going through the various stages of culture shock- meeting after midnight is normal, everyone takes home leftovers from restaurants and my monthly metro card is a quarter of the price it is in London– I’ve been getting to grips with local apps.
A hardcore cellphone junkie, I can’t live without my handset, and in a new city making sure you have the most relevant and useful apps is a must. The following apps are the ones that have become invaluable to me in the last few months, and they help me manage everything from transport issues to finding out cinema times. This might sound pretty basic, but most of these are ones that I had to be told about by my peers- a search through the Android marketplace proved pretty useless in helping me narrow down the apps I needed for everyday life.
In no particular order here are my top ten apps for navigating New York City.
The New York metro is many things- 24 hour, air conditioned, and full of crazy people offering you candy for $3. What it doesn’t have is any easily accessible maps for the system- unless you like holding a broadsheet to your face as you work out where the C train is (Clue: There is no C Train-FAIL!) Embark NYC is a free app, and its wonderfulness lies in its basic simplicity. You have the whole NYC Metro stations at your fingertips, you can zoom in and out with finger swipes and it’s great to work out just where the different trains interest. If you want to be more advanced you can set it to calculate different journeys for you and to alert you to the best route, but I prefer it for its simple navigation and basic layout. It beats Google Maps and the MTA app by miles, and though it’s basic, that’s just what makes it so wonderful. Did I mention it’s free?
Keku App for internationally cheap calling.
As an international in NYC, I like to spend the odd moment on the phone calling Britain, just to check that the weather there is still bad, oh and get some attention from my parents. There are numerous services that let you call the UK, but rates vary extremely, and simply calling over WiFi leads to pretty poor connectivity and dropped calls. There are some services on offer such as Skype To Go, which allows you to call a local number which then connects you to a UK number, and this is great for a good connection and clear calls. Problem is, unless you’re calling a landline rates are pretty high- and all my friends have cell phones nowadays. I was introduced to Keku by a friend, and this has solved my problem. It works on an identical premise to Skype- you can make calls over WiFi/ 3G or- and this is my preferred option- set up Keku numbers where you can call people from your phone using a local number. Yes, it does eat into your cellphone minutes, but the Keku rates for UK cellphones are a lot cheaper than Skype and other services I have found. Keku rates are 1.9 cents a minute to landlines, and 16.68c a minute to UK cellphones, and they also have cheap rates to Israel and other places in the world. In comparison, Skype to Go is 2.3 cents a minute to landlines and 25.9 cents a minute to cellphones. In might not sound like that much difference, but it does add up, so Keku is the winner for me!
To try it for yourself sign up to Keku Â here (by using this link you’ll get $10 free credit!)
I’m used to checking local papers or cinema websites for movie timings. In New York this is seen as extremely backwards behavior- and cinemas are called theaters FYI. What works here is an app called MovieFone. Not only does it give you real time listings of all movies in your neighborhood, you can also read reviews, see short clips and find the nearest cinema/theater to you based on your GPS co-ordinates. Forget about theater loyalty, this is how it works in New York City.
Before I moved to New York I was a hardcore Groupon girl, with a little bit of LivingSocial on the side. I still use both, but I’ve now moved over to the dark and delicious side of LifeBooker. LifeBooker-for the uninitiated is a daily deal site which specializes in beauty and lifestyle offers. They have a RIDICULOUS amount of good deals, and often sync with review sites so you can see honest assessment of their places. I’ve tried a few deals with them and had fake tan for $15, gym membership for $24 a month and more. As well as daily deals- or Lifebooker LOOT as they refer to it, they also offer discount treatments that you can schedule at any time with a range of beauty salon and hair stylists. It’s my go to app for New York Beauty treatments- try it for yourself here.
XE- Currency Exchange Checker
An important part of living abroad is constantly checking how much you’re saving/ being ripped off. Is that designer dress really a bargain, and OMG how much cheaper are all the gadgets here? XE is the app I go to whenever I want to work out exactly how much something would cost be in British Pounds (or Won, or Australian dollars, hey I like to travel) and it’s very useful. Super simple to use, it updates with live rates every time you have web connection, and saves the last rates used for offline use. You can monitor 10 currencies at the sane tune, and it also has 30,000_ charts for historic rates (though I don’t tend to use this service). I like how you can shake the phone to reset the rates and you can order currencies in order of preference.
YipIt- Daily Deal aggregator
YipIt is really less of an app and more of a service. It’s a way to get around the confusing deluge of discount deal offers from the likes of Groupon, LivingSocial and more as it combines all of them into a helpful stream of information that you can scan through. Â They provide me with an email list every day, tailored to my city and preferences and has come in super handy. I know it’s similar to LifeBooker, but Lifebooker is all about beauty, whilst Yipit varies from food to bars and suggests beauty deals LifeBooker may have missed. There is an App for it, but it’s only on the iPhone and as an Android user, I haven’t played with it. Fingers crossed they create it soon!
HopStop : The how to travel around NYC guide
Embark NYC is a great app if you simply need a quick reference of the NYC subway, but HopStop is the app that will help you get from the F line to the A train and work out the most efficient way. It calculates routes based on starting location, and you can use GPS to map your nearest point. It also factors in walking time and transfer time and suggest alternate routes based on the time of day and you can save routes for offline viewing once you step onto the subway.
Yelp might sound like a pretty obvious choice of NYC must have apps, but this has become so necessary during my time here. I’ve been a Yelper in London, but only used it on occasion, in the confusing mesh that is New York it’s my go to guide for EVERYTHING from finding bars to hair salon reviews. It’s incredibly comprehensive and the GPS Nearby feature that lets you whittle down choices from bars to coffee shops has helped me every time I’ve bee lost in the West Village. I also love that it provides you with dollar signs indicating how much each place costs, and they let you drill down venues by check in offers if you want an extra discount (you need to sign in with Yelp for this). Yelp cans sometimes feel like a weird one way stream, as it’s more skewed to negative reviews, as people tend to complain more than praise in general, but it feels like Yelp have this under control and places have generally lived up to their online reviews.
Seamless- the only way to do food delivery
I’m used to the land of London and a doorstep littered with takeout menus. Choosing an Indian delivery usually revolves around which restaurant offers the most exciting freebies, but in New York they have delivery down to a high tech art. Seamless is where you turn if you are craving pizza/sushi/ BBQ ribs with a side of ice cream. Â You can search for a particular pace or cuisine, or use your phone to pick up the nearest places to you by its GPS. Then you can work out what you’d like, whether you want pickup or delivery and see star ratings for the places you’re thinking of. There’s an option to add special instructions to each menu item you pick, so you can be as annoying/ health conscious as you want (dressing on the side, extra onions, no tomatoes FYI) Â and it will save these for future use. You can set upthe Seamless App to sync with your credit card, so there’s no awkward ‘where’s my change moment; when the delivery guy arrives. I’m seriously impressed with Seamless- not just that it serves such a useful purpose (and is rolled out to 40 US states) but also that the app is so well executed and really lovely to use. They have really thought out their product well and this shows- the user interface is incredible. They also have a really cute blog with features such as The 11 Best Bacon Desserts in NYC. Yes, really.
Expat Shield- letting you catch up on British shows whilst abroad
Expat Shield is not an app, so I realize that it fails in regards to the title of this blogpost. It is however a really easy way for homesick Brits to keep up to date on their favourite TV shows- which pesky IP addresses persist in locking ( an IP rights issue). If you’re really missing your daily dose of Marmite/ Eastenders, Expat Shield is the service for you. It’s an easy to use service, you simply install the free software and a UK IP address number is given to your connection which lets you access region blocked services like the iPlayer with no trouble at all- and legally (If you have a British passport that it).
There do exist similar services for those of a non British origin, a good source has told me that PPS is the way to watch Chinese shows when abroad.
DailyGobble : Discounts in restaurants without the embarrassment
I’m putting this app in as number eleven, as it’s still a fledgling project. The idea is great, but there hasn’t been that much market saturation yet, so it doesn’t make it into a top ten app- yet. The idea is that people LOVE money off meals, but there is a fear that by using a Groupon coupon etc, you will get worse service. The Daily Gobble partners with some restaurants and allows you to get discounts AFTER you’ve eaten. You show nothing to the waiters, you simply upload your receipt to the DailyGobble app within 24 hours of dining there and they Paypal you the money back. The app shows places and offers local to you, and I love this idea, I just think they need more places to sign up.
Disclaimer: The apps mentioned all work on Android. They may or may not be available for iPhone or Windows 7.