Having commuted and travelled around London for over a month now I have come to the conclusion that not having a smartphone puts you at such a disadvantage in terms of knowing how to get around that it could almost be considered de facto that you need a smartphone to live in London.
No one application covers all public transportation well though, so I have found a small set of Android applications that cover everything I need that I would recommend. To start off, for unfamiliar journeys I tend to use either Google Maps or Citymapper which looks at rail, buses, tube, cab, cycle and walking times and makes recommendations.
Useful as it shows bus and walking options which tend to be overlooked by other applications or people although it’s not flawless and some suggestions are not perfect, it does help.
Once you have decided how your going to travel, I find it best to switch to a dedicated application for that task. I have ended up with dedicated applications for bus, rail and tube on my phone and couldn’t imagine getting around without them.
Bus – While Google Maps and Citymapper do good jobs of working out what buses to catch, I find it helpful to have live arrival times of the bus stops too. Quite a few apps do this pulling data from TFL, but many look awful so I ended up paying £1.99 for London Bus Checker as it looks great and has a convenient filter.
Rail – Unfortunately I have not yet been able to find a decent national rail application on Android. They all seem clunky, advert ridden and generally poorly designed. I had purchased Rail Planner Live a while ago for £3.49 which does the job fine. It’s a little awkward to use but works. If anyone knows of a better app to use, let me know.
It’s most handy in finding what platform to walk too, as often the platform is displayed online and thus this app before they update the boards in station. London Bridge is quite large for example, with a very high number of departures on the departure boards so its often easier to look up your platform on your phone.
This is also useful for busy trains to get seats too. For example, the train from Paddington to Bath does not get announced in station straight away while they prepare it but the app shows you the platform its on before the stations own departure boards. This allows you to position yourself close to the right barriers or board it before departure boards update in the station and everyone rushes to grab a seat. (Everyone literally runs to the platform when the departure board updates!)
Tube – Finally I have tried many tube apps and the most useful, feature rich, free and advert free is one called Tube Assistant which is basically a clone of Tube Exits on iOS. It has offline route planning and map, displays where to exit, departure boards and tube status.
Originally I got it so I would know what carriage to get on so that when I arrive at the next station I am next to the exit, but the departure boards proved more useful and tend to have more information that what is displayed in station. Various stations just display “Eastbound Services” or similar and that’s it, when on this app you can see the expected arrival times of the next five trains and there current locations.
Those are all my recommendations anyway.