Spending two weeks in China without having the luxury of using my smart phone as freely as I would in the states was a challenge for me. I didn’t buy a data plan, or a Chinese SIM card and instead tried to manage only with free WiFi in the hotels and wherever available in the city. In retrospect buying a Chinese SIM card would have enabled me to translate, navigate, and communicate with others in the group when WiFi wasn’t readily available.
Let me start by saying Google does not work in China, so if you’re an Android user you’ll need to install apps to replace the stock Google apps. For instance if you use Chrome download DU Browser or Bing Search. Google Translate can be replaced by Baidu Translate or Pleco, Google Maps should be replaced by Baidu Maps (this app only comes in Mandarin). Lastly since the stock app store is also managed by Google make sure you download all necessary apps before you arrive in China. If you only have Gmail then you won’t have access to your email for awhile.
Here are some apps that should aid you in your travels
You can use Uber! Using Uber is generally cheaper and the drivers are usually friendlier and more patient.
Take the metro! The metro system in Beijing and Shanghai are incredibly fast and easy to use. Metro Man has maps and timetables to help you plan your trips in your free time.
OffMaps 2 is a very useful app available on the App Store for $0.99 which gives you access to maps offline for major cities.
Skype and WhatsApp are both WiFi based calling/chatting apps which have capabilities similar to iMessage & FaceTime. These will help you stay in touch with loved ones back in the US for free.
You’ll need some basic Mandarin phrases to get you through the day. Learn Chinese by Chinese Skill is free, easy to use and available on both the Play Store & App Store. Also Learn Chinese – HelloChinese on the Play Store is like the DuoLingo for Mandarin.
Know what the daily air quality is with China Air Quality Index. This will help you decide if you should go for a morning run or stay inside and use the gym.
Always know how much money you’re spending with this currency exchange app XE Currency.
Waygo is an augmented reality app that has a point-and-translate feature similar to the one featured in Baidu Translate, but this one can be used without being connected to a network
While I was in China I did not use a guide app, but after doing some research these two apps seem like they would be helpful in planning out what to do in your free time. You’ll have tour guides in China which you can utilize for advice and pay to give you/a group private tours of whatever destination you’d like, i.e. The Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, etc.
iPhone: China Travel Guide
Android: NeHow China Travel Guide