Photo by walknboston, feature photo by wili_hybrid

Michelle Schusterman reviews Boston Essential and other exploration guide iPhone apps created by Sutro Media.
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City guide apps – like travel gadgets, there seem to be a million of them, all with varying degrees of quality. When I check out any travel application, I’m looking for a simple format, in-app GPS, a comprehensive list of places, and plenty of contact information.

With that in mind, I can appreciate why Boston Essential was in the top 10 of all paid travel apps in the App Store.

The app opens to an alphabetized list of museums, restaurants, cafes, neighborhoods, and other places of interest in Boston, each with a photo. Along the top, you can select filters to shorten the list, and you can change them from alphabetized to listed by cost, distance from your current location, or neighborhood. Select any place to view a short slideshow, a map pinpointing the location, price and distance from where you’re standing.

Beneath that is a short essay describing or reviewing the destination. This is followed by days and hours open, a link to more information (Wikipedia, Yelp, or the establishment’s official website), and the phone number, which you can just tap to call (unless you’re using this app on an iPod Touch, of course.)

I appreciate that going to the website doesn’t take me out of the app and into Safari. Likewise, tapping the map to zoom in doesn’t take me to my Maps app. I’ve had a few apps that do this, and it frustrates me when I have to go back into the app and start my search over again. With Boston Essential, both map and external websites are viewable within the app itself.

Outside of the list, you can also view a slideshow of Boston, or search for places by map. I’m particularly impressed with their map – like in the list, you can choose a filter for destinations, and their corresponding pictures will be scattered onto the map. Tap the picture to see the name, price, and distance from your current location. Another tap brings you to the location’s information page.

I like that you can search for locations in two different ways. I would like to see a “Search” function as well, or a way to see a list of places that begin with a certain letter – there are so many destinations in Boston Essential, it’s a lot of scrolling!

Sutro Media was kind enough to supply me with a promo code for some of their other apps as well as this one. New York Essential and Paris Essential have formats identical to Boston Essential – the Paris app even comes with several “Useful Info” sections with holiday schedules, French phrases, and power adapter information.

Chicago Architecture has a great list of buildings and sites for architecture enthusiasts, which you can filter with labels like “art deco” and “Daniel Burnham.” This app is one in which the slideshow is particularly helpful and interesting. Los Angeles Street Food is another fun one, and something I hope to see more of for other cities – there are plenty of restaurant apps, but how about locating the nearest taco truck, or best place for a good, greasy hot dog?

Would I buy this app? For $2.99, heck yes. In fact, I’m planning a trip to L.A. in July and I’m sure I’ll put that Street Food app to good use.