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Look Ma! - No Hands!
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

We all know the web holds plenty of information about the world. But what if you're on the road-literally on the road-and you don't happen to have a computer on your dashboard? And you need to know something? Or check your e-mail? Our Savvy Traveler, Rudy Maxa, is here to help...

It started this way. My girlfriend and I were driving north to Los Angeles on the San Diego Freeway late one afternoon. We had a couple of hours to kill before dinner. There was a movie we wanted to see. But since we're both from Washington, DC, we had no idea which of the ocean-side towns we were passing might have theaters. And we certainly didn't know what movies were playing or when.

"Hang on," said Lesley, "I'll find out."

She reached for her cell phone and dialed 800-555-TELLME. She looked at a sign that said we were approaching an exit to Redondo Beach. Then she said this into her phone: "Redondo Beach, California." "What Women Want." (That was the name of the movie.) "Five o'clock."

Within a minute, she learned the movie was showing at General Cinema Galleria, and 15 minutes later, we were watching previews.

I was dumbfounded. How the heck did Lesley manage to find a movie while we were speeding along an interstate a continent away from our hometown? Well, it turns out there are several very new ways to find out all kinds of useful information when you're traveling. Or not traveling, for that matter. Things like traffic and weather reports for major metropolitan areas. Restaurant reviews, stock quotes, news headlines, sports scores.

Thanks to advances in voice-recognition technology, information you onc needed a computer to research is as near as your phone. And guess what - it's all free. Myaudiopoint.com offers many of the same services as Tellme does.

Bevocal.com will give you point-to-point driving instructions so you don't have to pull over to a gas station and ask. Heyanita.com features its own little jingle and music bridges between categories. Call up Anita, ask her when United flight 87 is arriving, and she'll tell you. 888telsurf.com lets you review your e-mail - it's read to you by a computer-generated voice. And you can reply with your voice, too.

The most ambitious service is iNetNow.com, which actually has real people who surf the web and can research ANYTHING while you're on hold. Free until February 15th. After that, it's $1.99 a question, though there are monthly plans for multiple questions. I asked for an e-mail answer on where to rent a cell phone in Rio de Janeiro. I got it in 10 minutes.

Yahoo! (yahoo.com) has a free service, too. AOL's service is available only to AOL subscribers, and the company plans to charge about five bucks a month beginning in April.

Voice portals are the next big thing, and I expect they'll be global soon. Travelers should certainly hope so.

I'm Rudy Maxa from the Savvy Traveler for Marketplace.


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