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Testing cell networks across America: Apps and tools

Gabe Scelta | May 22, 2013
As part of TechHive and OpenSignal's massive annual test on mobile cell networks, I set out on a cross-country journey to investigate signal strength. I visited 20 cities in five weeks, and learned a lot about how to pack light for a tech-centric trip.

Yelp: When I am not working, I am eating. I am easily excited over local fare and sadly gluten-intolerent, so to be able to see that the Best BBQ in San Diego is literally across the street from my hotel or that gluten-free pizza and beer are available for dinner in Ann Arbor made this trip worthwhile for my stomach.

The Weather Channel: Instead of jetlag on this trip, I got weatherlag. I went from a sunburnt 89 degrees in Phoenix to a blizzard in Denver, to a torrential downpour in DC. This app helped me mentally prepare for what was next. If the iPhone version of WeatherSignal was out, I would probably have opted for that for more realtime information.

TripAdvisor: Pretty good for hotel reviews, and better than most for finding quirky places to stay, like the Carlton Inn outside of Chicago, where the otherwise standard quick-airport-layover rooms feature photo montages of the family poodle in a beret or Indian Hot Springs outside of Denver, where a dip in a mineral water swimming pool is part of the unique experience.

Hotel Tonight: This app is gorgeous and provides great photos all of the time, and great deals some of the time. I noticed that on the West Coast, it was pretty easy to find a really great last minute deal. I booked my stay at Palms Place in Las Vegas through this app and loved every minute of it. On the East Coast, the deals seem to be less discounted and in my experience can usually be trumped on Priceline.

Priceline: I found the Priceline app to be only supplementarily useful, but the website's Express Deals provided many an affordable night in a four star hotel--as long as you can remain calm about not knowing exactly which one you're going to be staying in until after you pay. & I used these mostly for cross-referencing what i was seeing elsewhere. They offer pretty standard rates and the occasional good deal, but I found both of them difficult to navigate when looking for last minute or day-of rates.

Facebook: Through the magic of Facebook I was able to connect with old friends in about ten of the twenty cities. Luckily, I have the type of friends that I can call after ten years and still get dinner with. It was great to see a friendly face and have an occasional home-cooked, free-range omelet.

Parkmobile: I was able to use this app to pay for parking in Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, and D.C., but I wish this was nationwide. I found I actually didn't mind paying $1 to $4 for parking when it was this easy. Each parking area has a number you add to the app and the rest is automatic once you've put in your credit card and license plate information. No fishing for quarters, no running back to the meter, no walking back to the car to put a sticker in the window. This is the future of municipal parking.


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