Apps for an Underground Commute

Nov 3, 2010

I have a 45 minute commute on the subway each morning and evening on my way to and from work with little to no data coverage from the moment I swipe my MetroCard until I emerge onto the street. I could just stare into space or sip my travel mug of coffee until I arrive at the office, but instead I use any number of apps that don’t need a constant connection to data or wifi to keep myself busy, or at least distracted from the competing subway-car preachers and mariachi bands.

NewsRob (Google Reader / RSS)

A free app, NewsRob lets you download your 200 most recent articles posted to your Google Reader, as well as share, star, and mark articles unread–and update to your Google Reader account once you’re connected again. That’s a good 20 minutes of reading, even just skimming, and you can note or save the articles you want to comment on or read in more depth later. For people who do a lot of media scanning for work or just to be well informed, this is a good way to keep the backlog manageable.


TweetDeck (Twitter, Facebook)

While the official Twitter app seems to let you see more unread tweets in one go while offline, it has at least three deficiencies compared to Tweetdeck: One, the obvious fact that you can see multiple accounts on Tweetdeck, including Facebook, Foursquare, and Google Buzz; Two, you can access your columns with search results even when you’re not connected to data or wifi; And finally, most important for my commute, is that you can tweet, retweet, or otherwise update when you’re not connected without losing whatever it is you wrote or preventing you from continuing to read your feeds. The downside is the manual updates you’ll have to do once you’re connected again, but at least you won’t have to hold onto that witty thought about the crazy lady clipping her fingernails across the aisle until you’re aboveground. Additionally, for those of you who manage your company or organization’s social media channels, this is a good way to get a jump start on your day!


NYTimes – Latest News

What it says on the tin. I used to get a few particular feeds of the NYT to my Google Reader, but I realized I could maximize the limited space of my reader app by using the Times’ own app to get my news fix offline.


Aldiko Book Reader

I’ll admit that this one is more for play than work, but it’s an easy and free way to get access to a lot of literature that’s in the public domain (the Sherlock Holmes novels being a favourite of mine) as well as some groovy newer writers who make their books and short stories available for free online as well (Cory Doctorow, anyone?). This is an easy way to kick your brain into gear or wind down at night without having to commit yourself to buying new ebooks or lugging around physical ones.


Evernote – stay organized.

I underutilise this powerful app as a to-do list that I can access from my phone or computer or just about any device. Why I like it for everything from drafting text to sharing media is that it saves your pending operations until you’re connected again.


NYC Bus & Subway Maps

Less useful for my specific work commute, which I know better than the back of my hand, this app a lifesaver when you’re going to meetings around town. It lets you download the subway and bus maps you’ll need before you get underground and saves you from having to lean over other passengers at length to study the map of the New York transit system. It’s particularly useful for New York transplants like myself who may know where they’re going, but not necessarily the best way to get there and who are too proud to ask.


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