Even though the train platform heaters have started working (since November 1) the cold might still prevent you from wanting to wait there for any longer than you need to. These transit apps for Android can help you bide your time. Photo by Chicago Transit Authority.
Ed. note – This guest post was contributed by Nick Puczkowskyj, one of the producers of this year’s Cycle Messenger World Championship, and a daily Chicago Transit Authority rider. Nick offered to test transit apps for Android after seeing our review of iOS transit apps proceeding the iOS 6-Apple Maps debacle.
For the commuter who needs to be in the know at all times, there are several apps available for Android phones. I went about testing three popular Chicago transit apps on my Samsung Galaxy S II. The apps were put through all of the same hurdles for my commute, which involves both bus and rail. Each app was used entirely for one day and then all three were used at once for one day. Every app was able to assist me with every part of my commute. However, some had stronger attributes than others.
My daily commute takes me from Logan Square to River North during pre-rush hour times. I start with a walk to the California Blue Line stop, get off at Clark/Lake, catch the 22 or 36 bus, and end near Chicago and Dearborn. Usually, I am at work by 6 AM and leave by 2:30 PM. It is imperative for me to catch the proper train as I cannot afford the luxury of frequency provided by rush hour. The apps required a high level of performance to suit my needs.
With its Modernist design and simplicity Transit Tracks is a straightforward, no nonsense app. This well organized and designed app contains everything you need to get from A to B. The features are well placed and setup in a thoughtful manner. Transit Tracks design is simple with the use of colors for rail lines and small accents only. Functionally and aesthetically, it is a sound application.
This is an app that is to the point. The homepage is setup for the for users to place and access their frequently routes. Users can swipe to different pages to view recent searches, nearby routes, favorite routes, and all listed routes, very handy. In the field the app performed above par against the rest. It developed the fewest glitches and smoothly operated even in poor signal areas.
Pros: easy to use, visually appealing, smooth operation
Cons: some navigation is required, too many filters
Chicago Transit Tracker Lite
I don’t know why Chicago Transit Tracker Lite is the one of the most popular Chicago Transit apps from Google Play. Maybe its because I only used Tracker Lite, which is free. You can upgrade to Tracker Pro for $2.99, but why?
Being very familiar with the CTA I do not need to personalize any of my routes. This app can perform optimally with the tedious labeling of all legs of a commute. If you decide to not name each leg of your commute, the standard information given for each is poorly labeled and can be confusing. Furthermore, if a user needs to find times for a one-time route it must be added to the homepage.
Tracker Lite is an app that can get the job done without finesse. Ascetically, the interface is drab, not intuitive, and poorly organized. The program is somewhat convoluted when it comes to setup and use. One positive aspects, is all of your routes are laid out right in front of you on the homepage. There is no need to navigate to a separate screen to find arrival times. Finally, during my field test it performed adequately even in low signal areas and on subway platforms.
Pros: All routes info on one page
Cons: unintuitive, large advertisements, poor labels
Ride Chicago is a truly a well designed application that contains exceptional form and function. Overall, the app performs well and meets the expectations of a transit app. The program’s setup and use is easy and intuitive.
Ride Chicago is a visually pleasing app. First off, the use of colors is well done. When in comes to displaying information to people colors present information in a systematic and thoughtful way. The layout of the app is well thought out, making navigation a breeze. Menu at the bottom, favorites, and nearby routes are all easy to use.
During test runs Ride Chicago’s mechanics performed well. The information was presented was direct. Not only did the app provide arrival time, but it also included bus numbers and distance from stop. This was a great feature when deciding whether to huff it or wait. Rail info was boldly displayed and included time of arrival. The nearby feature allowed users to locate a bus or rail route up to 3 miles away, impressive. Finally, the only fault found was spotty performance in low cell phone signal areas.
Pros: easy to use, colorful display, very detailed info
Cons: performance issues