Smart-phone apps are hip travel guides

MIAMI — A good guidebook is more than just a compilation of information. It's a travel companion with personality, a sense of humor and usually both strengths and weaknesses. With the proliferation of smart phone guides, a new cast of travel companions is vying to join you on your travels.

On a recent trip to Miami, I tried out a hip, smart guide from an outfit based in Berlin called Unlike. The company offers guides to 10 cities (Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Paris, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Vienna in addition to Miami), and plans to roll out more in the coming months. Each costs $4.99 or you can get all 10 for $19.99.

Unlike describes its authors as a "team of culture-savvy journalists and fashion, art and music professionals" who will show you the "highlights of the world's most fascinating cities." Now, I'm more backpacker than hipster, so it was a fair bet the app would be cooler than me. It is.

When you open the app, it locates you. You can find restaurants, shops or other things to do close by. Or browse by regions of the city or categories: Shop, Food, Art & Culture, Hotel, After Dark and Escapism.

Up pops a list of options, each has a thumbnail photo, and a few words to pique your interest. The writing is sharp, as are the photos.

Tap a listing and a larger image of the location pops up with all the vital details below, like Web link, address, e-mail contact and phone number, which you can just tap to call. A second page offers a few paragraphs about the venue.

Add a few destinations to the "My Tour" itinerary builder and you can plan out a day. The listings in the guide aim to meet the interests of what Unlike's Youyoung Lee calls "creative professionals" and "early adopters" of technology who use social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter. She says the guide aims to help outsiders feel like insiders while in a city.

One potential money-saver for overseas trips is that the content is downloadable and doesn't require a constant 3G signal, thereby dodging ruinous roaming fees.

The guide has some downsides. I'd say the biggest weakness is more a function of the guide's target demographic. It's great for the jet-set. But, with a baby in tow, we were a bit leery of the many white-tablecloth restaurant suggestions.

Lee concedes that Unlike is "not catering to backpackers or large families." But if you're thrilled by the idea of playing putt-putt amidst modern art exhibits and following up with tapas, then this guide is for you.

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