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App Battle: Location-based Apps

Hello again, Droid Guy readers and welcome back to the App Battle!  This week I’ll be taking a look at location-based apps.  I’ve hand picked a few of the most popular apps based on location sharing, and once again, I’ve put them all on my Android device, and played with them, all for your benefit.  The reason for all this madness, to find the ultimate location based app for Android, or at least help you decide which on is best for you.

Before we begin, I think that the most important thing to consider when choosing a location sharing app, or any app for that matter, is to consider, how, and for what reason do you plan on using it.  All of the apps that I have tested this time are capable of sharing your GPS locations, but in different ways.  Please keep in mind your own preferences and needs while I share my findings with you.

The Reviews

BrightKite

BrightKite is a location-based social networking platform.   BrightKite allows you to find other users nearby and add them as friends, or if you aren’t feeling like making any new friends, you can use it to search your Google contacts for current users or friends who you may want to invite to BrightKite.  The app is pretty straightforward.  The main page shows you your friends latest posts, nearby users’ public posts, and a dash of ads for good measure.  On the same screen you have the option to post a message, or check in with you current location.  You are allowed to post pictures and text to your posts and check ins, and you can choose whether or not to share the post.  Posts can either be unshared, shared with BrightKite friends, or shared with all BrightKite users.  Along with that, you have the option of sharing the post with Facebook and/or Twitter.

FourSquare

Ahh, FourSquare.  The next contender and I go way back.  Well, not really THAT far back.  I began using FourSquare when I first got my Samsung Vibrant on Launch day back in August.  It was my intro to the world of GPS on mobile phones, and I can say that we had a tumultuous relationship.  I say, “had”, because FourSquare no longer works on my phone.  I have no idea why, but it just doesn’t.  So, that being said, FourSquare doesn’t have a snowballs chance in you know where of winning this battle, but I will tell you how it used to work if you are still interested.  FourSquare like BrightKite allowed you to add friends, check in places, and post with similar sharing options, but it also rewarded users with badges and rankings for number of places visited in a day or number of visits to a certain establishment, and stuff like that.  Who knows, it may still do those things for someone out there, but it doesn’t do anything for me.

Glympse

Glympse is just what it says it is.  Glympse is efficient, and it keeps things simple.  When you open Glympse you see a map with your location on it.  You can choose to send a Glympse to a contact via phone or email, or you can send the Glympse to Facebook or Twitter.  The Glympse that you send is a URL that refers to a map that shows your location for a set period of time up to four hours that you choose.  So, for example, if you wanted to let a friend know that you are on you way to pick him up, you can send him a Glympse that will allow him to track you for whatever interval you specify, and he can see when you are getting close so he would start getting to the rendezvous before you arrive.  Pretty clever idea.  There are no check-ins or anything like that, but you Glympses can contain messages to the recipient.

Gowalla

Gowalla reminds me of FourSquare in many ways, but it tries very hard to be something more.  Gowalla is a jack of all trades when it comes to location sharing.   Gowalla allows you to add friends, post messages, share location by checking in at various locations, or create a location if one is not already listed there, and it also allows you to post your check ins to Facebook or Twitter (though I was never able to get this to work).  Gowalla also includes a neat feature that allows you to create trips, or follow the trips of others.  Trips are basically a listing of locatons that you visit, and when you visit them all you complete a trip.  The locations are generally groupded geographically, or by topic. Like FourSquare, Gowalla rewards users for visiting places, and completing other tasks like consistently checking in somplace, or completeing a trip.  Gowalla does everything that FourSquare and BriteKite do and it adds a stylish interface for users to use to post a mini review or quick tip for each place visited.  I found this pretty useful.

Gowalla’s mapping appears to be very accurate.  As I drove around with the App open, I was able to see new locations popping in my places menu as I got near.  I was even able to check in at my own building within the large campus that I work at, which is something that no other app with check ins has been able to do.  Sure, I could have added my building in FourSquare, but Gowalla has every single building out there named and mapped, and I’m actually learning more about my surroundings when I use Gowalla.  If I had any gripe at all about Gowalla, it would have to be the interface.  In order to open an item in a menu, you have to long-click it, which can be a bit frustrating.

Google Latitude

Google Latitude is an app that shows you where you and where you friends are at any given time.  You have the ability to choose whether or not you want to show your location, or you can set your location to be somewhere you are not and share that.  You and all of your friends exist on the same map, at the same time.  Each of you is represented by an icon showing your avatar from Google contacts.  This way, you and your friends can keep track of one another at all times.

So, do you have a bunch of friends who live near you, and want to keep in touch all the time, and get together and party and hang out and all sorts of cool stuff like that?  …Right, me neither, but if you did, or if you can think of some reason why you might want to use this personally.  Go ahead.  This seems like the kind of thing that some of those brainless frat guys that I went to college with would have been up for.  It would have make the whole intra-fraternal brain sharing thing so much easier.

Google Places

Now on to a more practical entry from Google, Places.   Google Places is an app that can serve as your own personal 411.  This app is great for answering, “what’s there to do around here?”, or, “where should we eat?” and stuff like that.  Just this weekend, I was out with the family, and we had our usual three-day-weekend-holiday-minor-emergency.  We had to take a kid to the doctor on Sunday, and when we left, we had about 30 minutes before our local Pharmacies started closing, and we needed to find out which on carried a specific item.  So, me being the quick-thinking Android nerd that I am; I whipped out my Vibrant, popped open Google places, typed in “Pharmacy”, and presto!  Up pops a list of pharmacies within driving distance.  The map of their location, directions, their phone number, and the street view is only a click away.  That’s what Google Places does.  It tells you information about places that are around you, or a place that you specify.  Places also allows you to favorite places so that you can find them easily later on, and if you feel compelled to write something about someplace, Places allows you to post about the place on Google Buzz.

I realize that there are plenty of apps out there that offer the same directory information, but Places was created by Google, and uses Google Maps information to get you info in a hurry.  You don’t have to worry about whether or not a place that you are looking for is going to show up because the list of places on this app are quite extensive, and if a place you are looking for can’t be found on Google, what are the odds you are gonna’ find it anyways?

Yelp!

Yelp! is a location based app that does pretty much the same thing that Google Places does.  In addition to most of the features of Google Places, it allows you to check in and post about your check in and/or add a review for the place complete with a photo.  When searching for places around you in Yelp!, you are able to see reviews by others,  see pictures, and get tips from them.  The app tells you whether or not the place is open or closed, how pricey it is, what their contact information is, and shows the combined average review for the location you are viewing.  I found it to be quite useful the other day when deciding where to go for lunch, and I have heard that it really comes in handy when on business trips.  Yelp! is sort of like a no holds barred word-of-mouth review app.  Check out the video below that shows off the Monacle feature found in Yelp!

Conclusion

When it comes to choosing a winner in the battle for best location based app, it all comes down to style, and overall usefulness.  If you want it all in one application, Gowalla is probably the best app overall for locations sharing.  It’s got lots of good information, plenty of locations, the ability to share locations and posts, and it’s got a pretty large user base..  Although I would recommend you download and use a combination of these apps, like Places for directions and contact info, Yelp! for finding what’s good, and Gowalla or another location sharing app for checking in with friends, you can pretty much do all of these things with Gowalla.  So, congrats to the winner, and best of luck to the rest.

As always, be sure to let us know what you think about these, or any other great location based apps that we may have missed.  Also, let us know what’s currently running on your device, and what kind of apps you’d like to see battle it out here on the App Battle!