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Rome, day two: Through Google's lens

Continuing his exploration of Rome with nothing but a smartphone, Donald Strachan turns to Google in the second part of a three-part series…

By Donald Strachan
Published 30 May 2013, 12:07 BST, Updated 22 Dec 2021, 12:46 GMT


I start day two with a plan. Well, not really a plan — more a destination. I make for the Capitoline Museums, as close to opening time as I can manage.

My iPhone buzzes; an app called Field Trip (free; iPhone/Android) has a message for me. My screen gives a brief rundown of what's inside the museum; it's more background than I got from Foursquare yesterday, but much less than a decent guidebook would provide.

Field Trip is straightforward: the app tracks my location and vibrates whenever I'm near something interesting. Tap the screen and it brings up geotagged information from the likes of Spotted by Locals, Atlas Obscura and others. Compared with the often-thin content of user-generated web services, the detailed explanation of the Ludus Magnus by Historvius is right up my street. I'd wondered yesterday about that hole in the ground.

Field Trip is clever, and works well during a morning of serendipitous sightseeing. However, it isn't the right app when I know what I want to do — for example, eat lunch — but need some help deciding where to do it. I open Google Maps.

The integration of content from acquisitions Zagat and Frommer's — plus a modest number of user reviews — has made Google Maps into a tool that does way more than just direct me. On the iOS app, I tap the magnifying glass and then the knife-and-fork symbol — and restaurant recommendations appear on the map around me. I check several, to compare professional and user reviews. I type 'pizza' into the search box, and that selection of restaurants automatically narrows down to pizza places. Slick.

Accurate directions lead me to the door of Dar Poeta, though my mobile signal struggles a couple of times on Trastevere's cobbled lanes. The Zagat rating of 22/30 is maybe a fraction generous, but, as with Foursquare yesterday, I'm happy with lunch. For dessert, I cheat: the waitress recommends Fior di Luna. I cross-check back to Google Maps, which has just one user review of the place (scandalous, because the gelato is stratospheric).

Travelling with Google isn't a seamlessly smooth ride. When I search for nearby attractions from the shade of a fountain in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, it fails to mention one of Rome's oldest churches, 30 paces away. Its interior has 13th-century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini, but I only know this because I read a fading notice written in Italian. Field Trip describes Santa Maria's frescoes as 'colourful' and 'medieval'. I can see that for myself, and for the first time today I wish I'd brought a guidebook for extra illumination.

Worse: I set out around 9.30 this morning with a fully charged iPhone. My battery gives up at 4.35pm. I thought this might happen, so brought the Innergie Pocketcell Duo, a £99 portable power pack with 6,800mAh of capacity. Within an hour, it gets enough juice into my handset to last until bedtime; in fact, it could charge the phone three or four times over, and can charge two devices simultaneously. While I'm waiting, I try out Local Scout, a discovery app on the second phone I'm carrying this week, a Nokia Lumia 800 running the excellent Windows Phone system. Alas, it has no match for the rich travel content available on Google — at least, not yet.

Another handy feature of Google Maps is automatic public transport routing, so I type my apartment's address and tap the right symbol. The app advises me to walk, although I know there's a bus that will take me halfway. One of Google Maps' key features doesn't work too well in Rome.

Plus, I've just checked my data usage: 80 megabytes in under 24 hours. Ouch! Time to try a different tack.

Tomorrow: Rome, day three: Mobile and offline

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