11 free mobile apps for city life

We've sifted through a wealth of mobile apps to see which ones can best help you find transportation, food, housing and local events in your city.

Make city living simpler

City dwellers face challenges every day of their lives: Which subway lines are working, whether or not it's worth trying to hail a cab at this corner and where the best ramen shop in the neighborhood might be hiding. A good app can make urban life a lot easier.

We've sifted through a wealth of mobile apps out there to see which ones can best help you find transportation, food, housing and local events in your city, and found 11 useful ones -- all free.

Note that exact coverage may vary, so check to make sure your city is included -- and keep in mind that new localities are being added all the time.

Find a flat: Real Estate by Trulia

Trulia, a service that aggregates real estate listings, provides the Trulia Rentals app to let you look for apartments in its listings: based on your current location, by typing an address or ZIP code, or by drawing an area on a map with your finger. You can also sign up for notifications as to when a new apartment is available in a given area.

The advanced search doesn't have a lot of granularity -- options such as "workout room" or "Internet access" that are usually standard choices must be entered as keywords -- but the sheer breadth of listings more than makes up for that.

Available for Android and iOS.

Find a flat: Zillow Rentals

A strong competitor for Trulia, Zillow has many of the same features: a big database of rentals from multiple agents, the ability to search via location, address/ZIP code, or by a drawn area on a map. It also has a slightly more precise set of options to filter searches, such as being able to narrow down listings by availability of on-site parking. Favorite choices can be compared side-by-side to see which ones are most appealing. I particularly liked the quick link to Google Street View for a given property.

Besides rentals, Zillow has separate apps for home purchasing, finding a mortgage and home design.

Available for Android and iOS.

Get some food: GrubHub

GrubHub lets you find restaurants in your area so you can order via the site for delivery or pickup. It sports a broader area of coverage than Seamless and, on the whole, works well. However, there are a few minor glitches.

For example, if you want to see where a specific restaurant is, you only get a map internal to the program, not a link to your smartphone's mapping app (so you can get directions). And the "choose an address" function doesn't let you just punch in, say, a ZIP code and triangulate from there -- you have to provide a full street address.

Available for Android and iOS.

Get some food: OpenTable

Making dinner reservations got a lot easier when OpenTable came along, and its mobile app is even better. You can search for a specific (or recently visited) restaurant or within a geographic area, and browse possibilities either in a list format or on a map. Restaurant listings include menus and user feedback, and you can immediately see what reservation times are available. Found one you like? Fill in the form and you're set.

I especially liked the quick-location finder, which can use either your phone's GPS or a list of major metropolitan areas to search out restaurants.

Available for Android and iOS.

Get some food: Seamless

Seamless provides services to a number of major cities, with over 12,000 restaurants available. The Seamless app can search for food by cuisine type, by distance from your location and by rating. Restaurants in the Seamless system have their full menus available through the app, which makes assembling an order online (and passing along special instructions to the chef) a snap.

Note that the restaurant list can take a while to load the first time, and maps can become quite cluttered if you don't filter by cuisine type.

Available for Android, BlackBerry and iOS.

Out and about: Eventbrite

If you're curious about the cultural goings-on in your area, Eventbrite provides a splashy and well-curated way to search events of all kinds, from concerts to fundraisers to street festivals. Quick links from the app's homepage to "Around Me" and "This Weekend" bring up stuff to do that fits those categories.

You can also manually search for happenings by your current location, or simply punch in a ZIP code. Ticketing or online registering is also available through the app for events that support it, and you can even register your own events through Eventbrite and set up ticketing for it through the app.

Available for Android and iOS.

Get directions: Google Maps

Google's own mapping, direction-finding and mass-transit locating app, Google Maps, is hard to beat, not just because of its speed and quality but for the sheer amount of information available.

Data includes info about transit schedules (along with service advisories), live traffic reports, bike paths, local searches for businesses and food, turn-by-turn directions (plus alternate routes if you want to avoid back-ups or toll roads) and the ever-useful Street View.

There have been some recent changes in the Google Maps app, some not welcomed by users. For example, Google removed offline maps as part of a general revamp of its apps; there was an immediate and strong online backlash, and the feature was put back.

Available for Android and iOS.

Get directions: Moovit

Billed as a "social GPS," Moovit collects real-time data about public transportation from your phone's location sensors and uses that to determine which routes are best.

Trips can be planned by picking a source and destination, or you can look at existing transit maps to get an idea of what's departing and when. The resulting trip maps come with ETAs based on live user data or estimated travel time.

The program's biggest drawback is its laggy interface: maps load a lot more slowly on Moovit than in other apps.

Available for Android and iOS.

Find a ride: Hailo

Having trouble hailing a yellow cab? Simple: Open Hailo, have it triangulate your location, push a button and a cab will be hailed for you. There are also plans to allow users to register a credit card with Hailo and make payments directly through the app.

You can have a cab sent to a different location by picking another spot on Hailo's map, and the app even gives you a best guess for how long it'll take for a cab to be in your area. The service is currently available only in four U.S. cities -- Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. -- but according to the site, it's expanding.

Available for Android and iOS.

Find a ride: NexTaxi

NexTaxi partners with existing car services to offer you transportation. It starts with a task menu: You can get a car based on your current location or a previous trip, or set up a return request for a completed trip. The resulting interface isn't as slick as some of its competitors, but the program is every bit as useful.

Trips can be arranged based on a map location, your contacts list or a typed address; you can even pass a note to the driver ("Look for the guy with the red umbrella."). Best feature: If you leave something in a car, you can send a message so that the driver will come back. 

Available for Android and iOS.

Find a ride: Uber

While Hailo and NexTaxi use existing taxi and car services, Uber has its own fleet. If you need a private car, Uber can not only get one for you, but shows you where the cars within its network are, gives you an idea of the ETA for your trip and offers an estimated fare.

Standard cars include a black sedan or an SUV if you're hauling a lot of luggage. Fares can be paid via a pre-registered credit card or Google Wallet and commonly used locations can be saved for later use. Be sure to check the coverage maps; it's limited in some cities.

Available for Android and iOS.

Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for over 15 years.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.