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Don’t leave your driveway without these essential automotive Android apps

by Caitlin M. Foyt

Time has changed the way we drive. Where hours spent behind the wheel used to mean complete isolation from the outside world, smartphones and their applications have given us the means we need to continue working remotely, to stay on track without getting lost and to keep ourselves entertained during those longer hauls.

In the massive Android Market, there are a ton of automotive apps to choose from, but some are just more useful than others. We've narrowed down some of the best picks for Android and here they are.

Remember: Don't be an idiot! Never fiddle around with your phone while you're driving and always exercise extreme caution and use common sense to avoid becoming distracted while behind the wheel.

Apps with maps

Google Maps (Free)

When it comes to navigation software for your Droid, it really doesn't get any better than the Google Maps Navigation package that comes standard on all Android devices.

Navigation is a turn-by-turn GPS program that has never let me down. You can keep an eye on traffic, search for restaurants and stores without knowing addresses, and you can also enter your destination by voice, instead of taking the time to type it out. The app also gives you a Google Street View photo of your destination as you're arriving, so you always know exactly which building you're looking for.

The Car Dock mode works best when paired with a dash phone mount. (Psst, if you haven't already, buy one of these. It makes life so much easier!) It keeps your phone on the dashboard in front of you so you're able to keep your phone and the road simultaneously within your field of vision. You can keep an eye on the map, but you also remain 100 percent focused on driving.

Parkdroid (Free)

The time I lost my car in a parking garage in Chicago was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life. I have Parkdroid downloaded so that this may never happen to me again. This app essentially leaves a trail of bread crumbs for those occasions when you're at crowded places like concert venues, amusement parks or shopping centers and you end up far away from the car. This particular app is great because it allows you to set reminders (in case you're parked at a meter), has a pretty slick design and gives directions in Google Maps, which is the map service I'm most comfortable with.

Trapster (Free)

Trapster reminds me of that courteous, old habit of flashing your headlights at oncoming traffic to warn other drivers that there's a cop up ahead, only on a much larger scale. Based on other users plotting trouble areas on the app's map, Trapster alerts you when there's an accident or construction nearby and when you are about to approach speed traps, red light and speed cameras, police check points and various other road hazards. This app could save you both time and money.

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GasBuddy (Free)

There are a lot of apps in the marketplace that are special to a particular gas company. But when I'm on empty, I don't really care whose gas I ended up pumping. What's great about Gas Buddy is that it not only show you where the nearest gas stations are, but it also tells you how much gas costs at each place. If you're looking for a particular grade of gas, say your truck needs diesel or your car runs on ethanol, Gas Buddy allows you to search based on this criteria. When you decide where you're headed, based on either by price or proximity, Gas Buddy will map out turn-by-turn directions to that location.

Voice recognition apps

Vlingo Virtual Assistant (Free)

Using voice commands, Vlingo gives you the capability to compose text messages and emails, update social networking statuses, conduct web searches, open applications on your phone and make phone calls. Just make sure you always say the command first. For example: “TEXT Kim: I'm stuck in traffic so I may be a bit late.” “CALL: Dad.” “SEARCH: Restaurants in Dayton, Ohio.” You can also program it to read your texts and emails to you aloud. This one has still got some kinks it needs to work out, but I think it’s a much safer alternative to texting and driving.

Apps for your ears

NPR News (Free)

If you spend a lot of time listening to NPR programming (like I do) or are usually bummed when your work commute cuts off a story at an important moment, NPR News is a must-have download. With this app, you can make playlists of all of your favorite shows, like Morning Edition, All Things Considered or Talk of the Nation or listen to the current top stories. You can also use the app to live-stream your favorite NPR stations, whether they're local or located across the country.

Pandora Radio (Free)

When I'm on a long drive, it seems like it doesn't take long before I'm bored all of the music on my iPod. Pandora Radio, a music discovery and Internet radio app, helps me to find new music by playing artists that are in the same genre as the music I already know that I like. It's a free service, although you can upgrade to a paid account to unlock more features and an ad-free experience, if you'd like.

Audible for Android (Free)

There's nothing quite like a well-told story to pass the time. Audible is a great app to pick up if you're planning on heading out on a road trip in the near future. A subsidiary of Amazon.com, Audible sells digital audiobooks, radio and TV programs, and audio versions of magazines and newspapers. The app is free to download, but you have to pay for the audiobooks you download. What's kind of neat about this service, though, is you can either pay by the individual download (sort of like iTunes), or you can choose from a list of different monthly and annual subscriptions that essentially allow you to download as many books as you like.

Apps for your reference

TripAdvisor (Free)

This is the ideal app to have when you're traveling. You can book your airfare and hotel accommodations, read reviews about hotels and restaurants and search local attractions. You can check out what's nearby at any given point by clicking the "Near Me Now" tab. Because you have the ability to search while you're on the road, there's the possibility that you might accidentally stumble on some really great local secrets, which alleviates the pressure of having every single detail of your trip planned out in advance.

Car Accident Toolkit (Free)

Thankfully, I've never had to use car Accident Toolkit in a real-life situation, but I've got it ready to go, just in case. This program helps you to thoroughly document your accident by providing prompts for all of the information your insurance company will need to file a claim. What I really like about this app is the fact that you don't have to remember anything in the wake of an incredibly stressful or potentially traumatic situation. The app asks you the questions and you just have to fill in the blanks.

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