|I’m a member of CAMRA (no, I don’t have a beard), and one of the perks is a (slightly) cheaper copy of the Good Beer Guide. The 2011 edition arrived a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday they released it as an Android app.
For those with Android phones and the barcode scanner app installed, here’s a QR code for the app.
The app is currently £4.25 in the Android Market. There is an iPhone app as well, which I assume to be very similar. It’s not (for me, anyway) low enough to be an impulse purchase price, but given the price of the paper guide, and given the app’s usefulness, I’m happy enough to pay for it. Compared to the Cask Finder app (from the Cask Marque people), and in an area where I do know the pubs rather well (!), it returns a far better list of pubs. Better in the sense that the GBG pubs are ones I’m happy to drink in, where some of the Cask Finder ones I wouldn’t set foot in, and a number of the GBG pubs simply weren’t listed in the Cask Finder, and I would expect, if anything, for the Cask Finder list to be a super-set of the GBG list.
First impressions of the app are quite good. You can search for pubs near you, which uses Android’s knowledge of your location (either based on your cell tower, or GPS if it’s enabled), by address or postcode, and by tube station (London only, of course).
It returns a set of the 25 closest pubs. The results are initially shown as a list, sorted by distance, showing the name of the pub, its distance from your location, the town the pub is located in, and the same set of icons that the paper guide uses to show the facilities at the pub (such as opening times, if food or accommodation are available, and so on).
If you click on a pub you get more details. There’s what always seems to be a CAMRA logo in the top left of the display – maybe this will be a photo of the pub where one is available? You’re also shown the address, opening times, telephone number, and website. The latter two are linked so that clicking will open the dialler and browser, respectively.
It would be good if the address did the same: to add it as a contact, or maybe as a destination in Google Maps/Navigation (though the latter can be done from the map view, as described below).
There a few other pages of information, which contain the review of the pub (the same one printed in the paper guide), a list of the features shown by the icons on the list view, a list of the beers stated as available in the pub (including notes on the beers – see later), and finally a page that shows a Google Map with just that pub shown as a pin.
If you click on the pin you get a message box asking if you’d like directions. If you say “yes”, it determines your location, then opens the Google Maps app to give you directions to the pub. Possibly since you’re going to the pub, it chose to give me walking directions as a default rather than driving directions.
From the list of pubs you can also open a Maps display which shows all 25 results, with a pin for each. When you click on a pin in this display you get a choice of the getting directions again, or being taken to the details of the pub.
The map display doesn’t open with the display scaled to show all the pubs in your list, but rather at your previous zoom level. I tried a search for Ullapool (on the west coast of Scotland), and the 25 closest pubs went out as far as 62.5 miles and included Inverness and the Isle of Skye (though I can personally attest that all the ones I’ve tried from its list are excellent!), but when the map opened it was only showing the 2 pubs in Ullapool.
A search for pubs near Covent Garden tube station, on the other hand, returns 25 pubs within 0.9 miles, but still opened at what appeared to be the same level of zoom. It would be nice to have it a bit more intelligent, scaling to show all the pubs in the list, though allowing the current behaviour as well based on your preferences.
When you’ve found a pub in the list you can add it to a list of your favourites – which might be handy for finding a pub again when you’ve discovered a gem in an area you don’t know.
The app also provides a list of the UK’s breweries, from the smallest microbrewery to the largest giant manufacturer of bland swill. The brewery information includes the same address, phone, website info that the pubs have, and adds email, shop opening hours, and the availability of tours. For most of the breweries there are also descriptions of their regular ales. These are the same descriptions shown when looking at the list of a pub’s beers.
A couple of years ago I downloaded the GBG2009 POI file for use on my SatNav. Since I got my Android I was toying with the idea of developing something that would display that POI file overlaid on Google Maps – strictly against the Ts&Cs for the POI file, but I wasn’t intending to publish it anyway – but I never got around to it because I spend quite enough time writing code while I’m at work that I find it rather hard to muster up the enthusiasm when I’m at home!
Anyway, one thing that I had thought might be a great touch are a couple of widgets: a 1×1 that silently updates every so often to keep an eye on your closest pubs, and to show a compass needle and distance to the nearest pub. And a 4×1 (or more) to list your nearest pubs with a click to immediately “navigate to”.
Wonder if they’re intending to continue development, or just leave it as it is? They could add some very cool features if they keep going, so I hope it wasn’t just a one-off development for CAMRA, but rather an on-going project. Hell, the current flavour of the month is social networking, so you could do a foursquare-like thing. Or update Facebook with which pub you’re in. Plenty of possibilities! And it strikes me that it could help with CAMRA’s ongoing campaign to keep raising the profile of real ale with the public, and especially with younger (and, consequently, connected) people.
The only real limitation of the app is that it’s 2.7Mb when installed, but you can’t install it to the SD card. That’s, frankly, unacceptable in a new app, and should be rectified as soon as possible.
Update 2010-09-21: You can now move the app to the SD card.
A firm 4 stars.