Windows Phone Central App Roundup: UK National Rail Apps
Here in the UK we have a great rail network, spanning nationwide to cover not only England, but Wales and Scotland too. To help passengers out in 2014 with smartphones as their most prized possession, a number of Windows Phone apps have been released with support for National Rail train times, tickets and more. As there are a handful to choose from, we thought it best to form a quick roundup to get you started.
The most important part about traveling is purchasing your ticket and finding the best deal in the process. Pricing can differ between networks (some offer "advanced" or cheaper fares when traveling with just that company), while other ticket providers add in admission fees and whatnot. We'll look at some of the National Rail accredited apps to begin with, which are available for paying out for your journey in advance.
You may have seen the advertisements on TV, but if not thetrainline.com (www.thetrainline.com) is an excellent ticket provider for rail travel within the UK. The Windows Phone app has been available for some time too, offering consumers the opportunity to make payments in advance before heading out the door, or better yet, purchasing tickets while on the move. Should you not wish to make the plunge there and then, one can even save journey configurations for later purchases.
The only issue with this app is the lack of updates since late last year and the lackluster design when checking ticket journeys and pricing. The overall experience is still pretty solid, however. Account login is present, as well as the ability to set a "home station" to conveniently search for next trains home when on a night out. It's definitely worth checking out, especially if you already have an account and use the service.
- thetrainline.com (1MB - free)
Red Spotted Hanky
Don't let the rather humorous name fool you, Red Spotted Hanky (www.redspottedhanky.com) is a serious ticket provider and is a personal favorite of mine, especially on Windows Phone. The user experience is as good as one would hope for, with effective use of the Modern UI and exclusive Windows Phone features. Unlike thetrainline.com, Red Spotted Hanky has a more esthetically pleasing ticket purchase/search system with different trains and fares available for configuration.
A feature that's pretty handy indeed is the display of tickets purchased through the Red Spotted Hanky app, perfect for those who have ordered for multiple journeys and can't keep track of everything through email. As well as this, barcode tickets (only supported on certain journeys) can be scanned from within the app. Matching the website design, the app eases frequent visitors into the mobile experience with little to no trouble.
Much like thetrainline.com above, Red Spotted Hanky hasn't been updated for some time, since 2012 in fact. Note that this app is built on Masabi, which also powers some of the operator apps available for Windows Phone. We won't add them into this roundup as they share the same functionality and layout.
- Red Spotted Hanky (3MB - free)
When you're not wishing to purchase tickets, one has to ensure that his or her train is arriving on time. Not only that, but it's always best to know exactly which platform you're required to head to when arriving at the station. This is where a second type of app is available: journey planners. These companion apps help travelers remain on top of delays and any confusion when reaching unfamiliar stations. We previously looked at licensed National Rail apps back in 2011.
This is an excellent app available for consumers to check local stations on both departures and arrivals, as well as planning possible journeys. Utilizing National Rail data, the app is reliable and accurate with platform information to boot. It's possible to pin stations to the Start screen for convenient and instant access to that particular location, and filters are available to add in elements to a specific journey (filter to show departures that go via a station, etc.)
Here are some highlighted features:
- List of nearest stations to current location
- Map with directions to chosen station
- Station departure and arrivals boards, including platform information
- Show train live progress during the journey
- Auto-refresh every 60 seconds, even under lock screen or when app is in the background
- Show expected arrival time to discover when later trains arrive first than earlier trains
- Allow to pin individual stations to the start screen
- Show next departure information in live tile and lock screen (refreshed when app is running)
- No need to manage favourite stations, recent items are remembered
The developer behind UK Trains has released a steady supply of updates since late last year, adding more functionality and addressing any reported issues. The best part about UK Trains is the app is completely free.
- UK Trains (2MB - free)
A premium experience at a premium price, Rail Planner is a must-have for anyone who utilizes the public transport network on a daily (or frequent) basis. The app is powered by National Rail (using licensed data), hence the rather expensive price tag. That also makes it the more feature-rich app available on the Windows Phone Store. Not only are stations covered with departures, arrivals and platform information, but live progress reporting and more is included.
A neat feature of Rail Planner is the "upcoming" section, displayed when firing up the app. This lists all approaching journeys with information about the trains (if they're late, etc) as well as which platform you'll need to head to. Just like UK Trains above, one can also configure a home station for speedy access to routes home. Live Tiles are also fully utilized. While slightly pricey, Rail Planner is worth it should you be searching for a feature-rich experience.
- Rail Planner (3MB - £4.99)
Do you have an app or two that you prefer to use on your Windows Phone? Let us know your favorites in the comments.