Travel apps and mobile devices have dramatically changed the possibilities and opportunities for seeing the world. You can visit a city, dislike your hotel, and fully research and book a better one in about 10 minutes. The iPhone app StayAtHand (free) focuses just on hotel search and booking, and while it’s not meant only for immediate, last-minute bookings, that’s about it. Unfortunately, it’s not great at that, either.
StayAtHand’s overall experience and other search and filtering features lag way behind those of the very best travel search app and website, Kayak. Kayak is simple to use and offers thorough search results. Even Orbitz’s iPhone app (my second favorite among iPhone travel apps) is worlds better for finding a hotel that meets your needs.
What I do like about StayAtHand—and the list is disappointingly short—are dynamically mapped search results and prominently displayed prices. When you search for a hotel room, the app pulls up mapped search results in which prices figure prominently. You can switch the view and see the results in a list if you prefer, but the mapped results are dynamically displayed, meaning as you pinch to zoom and drag to move the map around, the results refresh automatically, and quickly. I dislike, however, that no other visual indicators were in sight to help me narrow my results. Compare that to Orbitz’s iPhone app, in which hotel search results come with color coding for hotels that have exceptionally high value or a special deal.
Dive into the details of a hotel you like in StayAtHand, and you’ll find an info page with a few photos and the hotel’s location and phone number. A page of details promises more information but is devoid of any imagery or visual cues. It also provides only very basic information about the rooms at this hotel in general, like amenities, without providing details about room types (that comes on the next page, which seems backward). At this point in a hotel search, I’m looking for independent user reviews and ratings, some indication that customers have been happy with this hotel. StayAtHand doesn’t have any of this.
The app offers a few more ways to search for hotels, such as creating saved search results for, say, a weekend trip in March to Montreal, or a one-night stay on a specific date for a hotel in New Orleans with an indoor poolMy experience using these features was dreadful.. Options I set in testing, like finding a room for one adult instead of two, automatically reset back to the default any time I left the app or it crashed (which it did a few times). In the saved search section, I found the interface extremely confusing. You can’t see what other filters and selections you might make about your hotel or room until after you complete the first step, making it seem from the outset as if these options aren’t available at all. Eventually, you hit on a “New Search” page that shows the complete list of filters, including price, dates, number of guests, amenities, and more, but that page really ought to be the very first thing one sees while creating a search request.
With so many great travel apps available for mobile devices, and many of them serving very specific purposes, it’s hard to find much value in StayAtHand, which doesn’t offer anything not already covered by the major players, Kayak and Orbitz. And for accommodations specifically, I would even recommend the slightly quirky Hipmunk, which adds to the mix Airbnb rooms, apartment rentals, and hostels for more alternative places to rest your weary head.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc