Leave the paper maps, outdated travel guides, and thick dictionaries at home when you go traveling — all you need is an Android smartphone. You can do everything offline with features built into Android and free apps.
Take advantage of these tricks and you can travel without using your data connection, possibly saving thousands of dollars on exorbitantly expensive roaming data fees without giving up the convenience of your smartphone.
Google Maps on Android has offline support. This feature was previously considered experimental, but it’s now stable. You can download map areas to your phone to view offline. When you’re in the area, you can open Google Maps and use your smartphone’s GPS as well as the saved maps to view where you are. You don’t need to stumble around with a traditional paper map.
Google Maps doesn’t provide offline navigation, which means you can’t ask it for directions — but you can see where you are on the map. If you ask Google Maps for directions when you’re on a Wi-Fi connection and then go offline, you can continue to follow the directions and view your location on the map completely offline. Only searching for directions requires a Wi-Fi connection.
To download maps for use offline, open Google Maps, tap the Menu button, and select Make Available Offline. Select a map region and tap Done — your phone will download it for use offline.
You can manage your offline maps from under My Places. Offline maps areas are listed under the Offline category.
Offline Translation, Voice Recognition, and Speech
Google Translate now has support for offline translation. You can download dictionaries and use the Google Translate app to translate words and phrases between languages, just as you would in a web browser.
Better still, Android 4.2 includes offline speech-to-text and text-to-speech features. If you have a smartphone running Android 4.2, you can also download the appropriate language support for use offline. This will allow you to speak words into your phone and have them translated in Google Translate. You can also use Google Translate to have your smartphone speak a foreign-language word back to you — all offline.
To get started, download the official Google Translate app for Android. Open it, tap the menu button, and select Offline Languages. Download the languages you want to use offline. The Google Translate app will now work normally for these languages, even when you’re offline.
On Android 4.2, you can install offline voice support by opening your phone’s Settings screen, tapping Language & input, and tapping the Settings button to the right of Google voice typing.
Tap Download offline speech recognition and download the languages you want to use offline. You can then speak these languages into your phone or have them spoken back to you in all apps, including the Google Translation app.
In the age before the Internet, people purchased travel guides made of paper. These travel guides contained maps, lists of attractions, information about the local customs, and other such information that would be useful to a traveler in the area. We don’t need such travel guides anymore with the Internet — but what about when you’re offline?
Several different organizations produce free travel guide apps for Android, but we found TripAdvisor’s apps were the best. TripAdvisor offers city-specific travel guide apps for locations like New York, Paris, Rome, London, and more. Install one of the apps and you’ll have a variety of useful offline features, such as the ability to find restaurants and attractions nearby, view offline reviews, and get pointed there using your device’s GPS. You can also locate nearby transit stations, view nearby ATMs, and even use an offline map — just in case Google Maps doesn’t work right.
To use one of TripAdvisor’s travel guides, first download it from Google Play. You must launch the app and download its content before it will work offline.
Finding Wi-Fi Hotspots
Offline apps are great, but you’ll probably want to get online occasionally. To do this, you’ll need to find a Wi-Fi hotspot. Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t available everywhere, however — finding them can sometimes be a challenge. JiWire’s WiFi Finder is a free app that can download a database of Wi-Fi hotspots to your phone. You can then open the app, view how far away you are from these known Wi-Fi hotspots, and make your way towards them.
After you’ve installed the app, open it, tap the Menu button, and tap Download Database to download its database of Wi-Fi hotspots to your device.
You can then use the app to locate nearby Wi-Fi hotspots — both free and paid ones.
Apps for many other things you might want to do offline are available in Google Play, whether you’re looking for the ability to quickly do unit and currency conversions offline or you want an offline map of a city’s public transit system.
If you’re driving and want an offline navigation solution, try OsmAnd. It’s free, uses OpenStreetMap data, and will give you driving (and walking) directions offline.
Of course, these apps can also be useful to use maps offline and locate Wi-Fi hotspots in your home city if you’re trying to save money by going without a data connection or reducing the amount of data you use.
Image Credit: Kuster & Wildhaber Photography on Flickr
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 05/10/13