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Best augmented-reality apps

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AR apps for navigation

Wikitude World Browser (free)

Wikitude World Browser is widely regarded as the king of all augmented reality browsers, and in a way, serves as a third eye of sorts. While using your smartphone’s camera in a given area, the virtual browser — along with more than 3,500 associated content providers — offers you just about any geographically-relevant information you may find valuable in your travels. Useful information is often presented in the form of Wikipedia articles detailing the hallmarks of a specific landmark, or directions to the nearest ATM location or five-star Italian restaurant. Moreover, the app allows users to find hotels and similar accommodations through Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the like, while offering mobile deals and coupons for local stores in the vicinity. The built-in AR games, including the rollicking Alien Attack and bug-beating Swat the Fly, and the app’s ability to mark and share your favorite spots via Facebook are merely an added bonus.

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Android iOS Blackberry Windows Phone

Yelp Monocle (free)

Yelp Monocle (Android/iOS/Kindle)

Yelp has always been ahead of the curve. The prominent, social reviewing service provided the iPhone with its first augmented reality app in 2009, the Yelp Monocle, well before similar services began cropping up across the board. The convenient app uses your smartphone’s GPS and compass to display AR markers for nearby restaurants, bars, and other businesses in real time, each bundled with the service’s user-generated ratings and reviews. If signed up with a Yelp account, the app additionally provides directions to nearby friends and the businesses they’ve recently checked into, placing the same AR markers as previously mentioned for friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else utilizing the robust service. Monocle, although somewhat a hidden feature within Yelp, is hands down the best utility for finding and following directions to the most well-regarded, or atrocious, businesses in your local vicinity.

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Android iOS Kindle

Theodolite ($6)

Theodolite (iOS)

Although knowing your exact latitude, longitude, and elevation when trekking through the wilderness is by no means necessary, one can’t help but be curious from time to time. Theodolite is essentially an electronic viewfinder primarily designed for hikers, golfers, hunters, boaters, and other active people, one which turns your tablet or smartphone into an informative lens of topographic information and data overlays. Once downloaded, the app serves a GPS tool, rangefinder, tracker, geo-tag camera, compass, two-axis inclinometer, and a zoom camera, and even has an A-B calculator for measuring distance, height, heading positions, relative angles, and triangulation. It’s a jack of all trades when it comes to surveying the landscape, so much so Apple highlighted Theodolite’s built-in features during one of its iconic keynote addresses in late 2013.

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Spyglass ($4)

Spyglass (iOS)

Though the days of conquistadors and fabled explorers are far behind us, there often comes a time when a quality compass can save your neck. Being the case, the iOS-exclusive Spyglass is built from the ground up as a robust navigation toolkit, encompassing a wide swath of noteworthy tools for accurately determining your position and navigating to a set location. Rooted in a tactical GPS technology available in geo and military formats, the app includes both a MilSpec compass and gyrocompass, along with a waypoint tracker, sextant, inclinometer, speedometer, altimeter, and access to street, satellite and hybrid maps. Furthermore, users can track their position via the sun, moon and stars, or use the optical rangefinder to measure the distance to a particular object in real-time. Coupled zoom-camera functionality, a coordinate converter, and an angular calculator top off the features list, rendering Spyglass one of the most industrious iOS apps you purchases for purchase for under $5.

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Augmented Car Finder (free)

Augmented Car Finder (iOS)

We’ve all done it before — you finish up your grocery shopping and head out into the parking lot to make your way home, but unfortunately have no idea where you parked. Fortunately, Augmented Car Finder is an app specifically designed to help guide you to your hiding vehicle. Once the car’s location is set, the app creates a visible marker showing the car, the distance you are from it, and the direction you should walk to find it. We’ve found that it’s most useful for places like stadiums, convention centers, outdoor concert venues, and other crowded areas or those lined with massive parking lots. Users can also utilize the app to find their seats in large theaters and concert halls. The freemium version of the software should suffice for most users, but the premium version does remove the ads and include additional tools for marking your favorite parking spot or specifying the arrow color. Augmented Car Finder may be an iOS exclusive, but Android users can always purchase the similarly-equipped Car Finder AR ($2.75).

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