Have you ever found yourself lost in a Chinese city without a map? Unable to decipher a menu? Or just confused by prices in a market? These nine smartphone apps—available for both iPhone and Android operating systems—make finding your way around China a little bit easier.
1. XE CURRENCY EXCHANGE (FREE)
This free app is useful to have anywhere in the world. Calculate renminbi conversions to make sure you’re getting a good deal while bargain hunting. The app also updates live every 30 seconds and generates graphs that track exchange rates over time.
2. QINGWEN CHINESE DICTIONARY ($4.99)
With more than 80,000 entries, Qingwen is one of the largest Chinese-English, English-Chinese dictionary apps available. Just type the word in the search bar—in Chinese characters, pinyin, or English—and the best results will pop up. Qingwen also provides context and phrases to use with each word definition. Free alternatives include DianHua Dictionary and Pleco Chinese Dictionary.
3. LONELY PLANET MANDARIN PHRASEBOOK ($5.99)
While dictionaries and definitions are useful, sometimes you need to ask for the nearest restroom. Lonely Planet’s Mandarin Phrasebook has more than 600 phrases to help you navigate any situation.
4. CAMDICTIONARY (FREE)
CamDictionary uses your camera to identify and translate Chinese characters. Scan the app across a newspaper or sign and watch it translate the phrase in real time.
5. EXPLORE METRO GUIDE ($1.99)
Available for Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Taipei, and Hong Kong, Explore Metro Guide offers metro maps with location services, so the user can find the closest metro stops and get directions to a destination. Be sure to have Wi-Fi or 3G enabled to use the location service.
6. WEICO (FREE)
If you use Weibo—China’s Twitter—you may want to download Weico, a third-party app platform for Sina Weibo. The app is only partially-translated into English, which means users who do not read Chinese will need to be familiar with Weibo’s functions to navigate the app.
7. DOUBAN.FM (FREE)
Douban is like China’s version of Spotify or Pandora rolled up with Myspace’s social network. A free account allows users to stream music and download up to 50 songs to listen to offline.
8. TUDOU (FREE)
China’s counterpart to YouTube, Tudou offers an impressive number of English-language videos. Since YouTube is blocked in China, Tudou is one way to get a taste of trending videos in China.
9. CHINA AIR POLLUTION INDEX (FREE)
This app gives real-time measurements of the air quality in cities across China based on data released by the US Embassy in Beijing, the US Consulate in Shanghai, and the PRC Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Jennifer Sun, an undergraduate business and economics student at the University of Pennsylvania, was a China Business Review intern during the summer of 2012.