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You're in good hands with Windows 8
The fledgling Windows Store's comparatively barren shelves may send seasoned travelers searching for salvation among Google's and Apple's more robust app offerings, but wanderers with less hard-core needs can still cobble together a fairly effective travel kit for their Windows 8 devices. Whether you're taking a much-needed vacation to warmer climes or a dreaded trek to the in-laws' house, the useful apps highlighted here can cover all your travel needs, from deals to wheels to digital photography reels -- no baggage check-in required.
Handy for the non-mathematically inclined, XE Currency will show you up-to-the-minute exchange rates for just about any currency you can think of. Select the currencies you're dealing with, punch in the monetary amount, and then bask in the automatic-conversion goodness -- it's as simple as that. XE Currency's live tile toggles between the various currencies you've selected in-app, showing their relative worth to your baseline currency. Now you can watch the value of the dollar plummet or see just how badly airport currency changers are ripping you off from the stylish comfort of your Windows 8 Start screen.
A fun and useful app for those inclined toward evenhanded compromise, Meet1/2Way does exactly what its name implies, showing the halfway point between two locations. However, the app also takes the idea a step further by pulling in map information to show you nearby meeting places, such as coffee shops, restaurants, or -- ahem -- hotels. Use this app carefully: I'm on the West Coast, and when I suggested to my East Coast-based family that we split the difference and have Christmas dinner at the Arby's near Lexington, Neb., they were ... unamused.
WorldMate is one of those travel-planning apps that threaten to push the endangered travel-agent species into full-on extinction. Simply register an email address, and forward any pertinent travel messages such as flight confirmations or hotel reservations to WorldMate's website. The app will do the rest, setting up a user-friendly itinerary complete with maps.
If you need to make reservations, the WorldMate website can help you find hotels, flights and automotive transportation, using Kayak's booking service in the background. Or, you could just cut out the middleman and use the similarly excellent Kayak Windows 8 app to make your travel arrangements, and then stick to WorldMate when you're actually on the road.
Whether you're traveling locally or in unknown environs, nothing is more frustrating than traffic. While color-coded traffic overlays on maps are nothing new, Inrix Traffic's sleek interface shows exactly why you're not getting where you’re trying to go and displays when you will (maybe, possibly, at the earliest) get there, with a series of icons illustrating each motoring misadventure impeding your commute. Now you'll have visual proof when you tell your boss that you were late due to no fewer than three bottlenecks, four roadside incidents and six construction zones.
4th at Square
Despite its slightly more whimsical name, 4th at Square is simply a Foursquare client for the Windows 8 modern UI. At the forefront of the game-ification of real life, Foursquare is all about earning virtual points for checking in to as many different locations as possible. More important, however, it lists locations and basic descriptions for many local restaurants and attractions around the globe -- a useful tool on a Windows 8 platform that lacks a Yelp app.
Note that the full 4th at Square app costs $2, though a free, ad-supported 4th at Square Lite app is available.
Photobucket is one of the oldest photo hosts on the Web, and the service offers a convenient -- if somewhat simple -- photo hosting and sharing app for Windows 8. Focusing more on archiving and on album creation than on being a full-fledged social network like, say, Flickr or Instagram, Photobucket's app lets you easily scan your device for photos and dump said pictures into Photobucket for future perusal. It's basic, but it's nice for offloading the flood of photos you may take when traveling, and you can send your pics to loved ones back home via the Windows 8 Share charm.
Think of LivingSocial as a Groupon-esque guide to sniffing out steals wherever you've set up stakes for the evening. Focusing mainly on dining and entertainment, the LivingSocial app shows featured limited-time deals in the surrounding area. Don't feel like bringing your credit card to an unfamiliar venue? LivingSocial even lets you pay online for some orders. Gone are the days of leafing through the AAA book or settling on the local dive to find a good meal deal on the road.
It's amazing how tenaciously local radio has clung to life in this era of portable music players, satellite radio and on-demand everything. While most radio stations have offered live Web streams for quite some time, TuneIn Radio is your one-stop shop for local AM/FM flavor from anywhere and everywhere in the world, with hooks to virtually every radio-station stream in a given location, sorted by genre and area. Sports talk, politics talk, music -- it's all there. Whether you want to immerse yourself in the local sports-talk scene or allay your homesickness by tuning in to the sports-talk station from back home, TuneIn Radio lets you stay local anywhere around the globe.
You may have heard of a useful navigation tool known as Google Maps. It's not on Windows 8. The handy-dandy third-party gMaps app is, however, and it delivers everything you expect from Google's nearly ubiquitous map service, including traffic information, public transit routes, bicycling routes, weather overlays, and a choice of street view or satellite view. Note that Windows 8 has a built-in Bing map application, but it isn't nearly as feature-packed as gMaps is -- or, more important, nearly as accurate.
Another app using Google technology without the Google name, Translator Free employs the Google Translate engine to translate text from one language to another instantly. If you're familiar with Google Translate, you know that your mileage will indeed vary when it comes to the accuracy of the translations -- especially to and from non-European languages -- but it's the best you're gonna get when you have to talk down an Estonian supercomputer bent on unleashing a nuclear holocaust. Or, you know, when you want to get directions to a foreign McDonald's.
For some reason, we couldn't find an online link to the app, but searching for "Translator Free" in the Windows Store itself turns it up lickety-split.