Trending February 2024 # 6 Best Airbnb Alternatives To Find Your Next Vacation Rental # Suggested March 2024 # Top 9 Popular

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Airbnb may be the undisputed king of vacation rentals, but it’s certainly not the only one. Not only was Airbnb the first service to make renting and listing short-term vacation rentals user-friendly and intuitive, but they also had the booking process down to an art.

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If you can’t find the perfect vacation rental, here are some Airbnb alternatives that will make your next getaway memorable.

Vrbo is a vacation homes platform dating back to 1995, long before there was Airbnb.  The significant difference between Vrbo and Airbnb is that Vrbo exclusively lists entire properties like houses and larger apartments.

If you need a little extra space for large families, reunions or celebrations, Vrbo is the ideal site for you to find your next vacation rental. Plus, you never have to share a space with hosts or other guests.

You can browse properties according to type, which includes condos, villas, cabins, houses and small properties too. Alternatively, you can search for a specific property ID or destination.  

You will be asked for the number of adults and kids, your dates of stay, and whether you’re bringing pets along. From here, you can filter the search results based on your budget, specific amenities, number of bedrooms, and more.

An interactive map is included that shows where each property is located in relation to other listings. If you want to find out more about the property before booking, you can always contact the owner or read through reviews left by other guests.

For instant bookings, you can use the Instant Confirmation feature so that you don’t have to wait for the owner’s approval. Vrbo also offers a Book with Confidence Guarantee with access to a team of re-booking specialists in case the owner cancels at the last minute, and payment protection against fraudulent listings.

If you’re looking for some travel inspiration, FlipKey is one of the sites similar to Airbnb that provides you with domestic and international offerings.

Each property profile on FlipKey details everything from descriptions of the space to the number of beds/bathrooms, amenities, management information and weekly availability.

You can easily browse listings based on parameters such as luxury, family-friendliness, cost, or even by the type of trip you want to embark on.

The platform lists properties in locations across the world, which you’ll see as you search through the listings on the homepage. A TripAdvisor rating is included along with the average owner response time, making it easier for you to decide on a destination.

You can browse featured and trending destinations or look through its Trip Ideas page with themes like National Park Trips, Honeymoon Destinations or Girlfriend Getaways.

While FlipKey isn’t as popular as Airbnb and Vrbo, it’s got a growing inventory with exposure to more than 160 countries. Plus, you can score a good deal on your travels if you’ll carry your pet along and want to find pet-friendly accommodations.

However, FlipKey doesn’t provide dormitories, so if you’re looking for hostels or communes, you won’t find them on this site.

OneFineStay is ideal for travelers seeking a five-star experience and amenities while enjoying the flexibility and space of a vacation rental.

The London-based company displays over 10,000 luxury vacation rental homes but doesn’t own the properties. Instead, they manage the entire booking process and guest stay.

The luxury properties are located in resort destinations and major cities across the world. However, what makes OneFineStay different from Airbnb is its hospitality and 24/7 concierge service, which ensures you will be well taken care of during your holiday.

OneFineStay has high standards for what qualifies as a suitable place, which is why it prides itself on offering unparalleled luxury and guest experiences. However, you can expect to pay significantly more for the extra luxuries and services.

If you don’t mind splurging a little for the perfect vacation rental, try what OneFineStay has to offer.

Any parent or caretaker knows that if you’re traveling with young children, you can’t have a relaxing holiday if they’re not happy.

Kid & Coe aims to make children and their parents enjoy their vacation by offering private homes, hotel listings and home swaps geared thoughtfully towards families.

The selection of properties on their site is comfortable and stylish with kid-friendly items such as cribs, books, strollers, beach gear, toys, swing sets and highchairs. You can search for specific amenities such as bed rails, a bathtub, stair gates, and pool gates that cater to different ages of people in your travel group.

With each residence, you’ll find detailed notes to guide your choice. Extra perks include nanny services, an optional babysitter or personal chef services on request. Most hosts also list out child-friendly restaurants, stores, and activities near the property.

If you’re struggling to find a place that’s suitable for kids, you can’t miss one at Kid & Coe. Plus, you can swap your property with someone else and travel unlimited to countryside cabins, city townhouses, and beachfront cabanas.

While house exchanges are a family-friendly option, there are a few drawbacks like breakages and the costs involved in getting your home “exchange ready”. It’s also not easy to find the right family to swap within similar house categories at the right time.

Simply Owners is a UK-based site that allows you to book a property directly with its owner without any hidden costs or booking fees. All owners are verified and payment protection is added to all bookings to prevent fraud.

The site specializes in holiday vacation rentals in idyllic locations in England, across Europe and some in the Caribbean too.

If you already know what you’re looking for, you can enter your preferred check-in and check-out dates on the site and search based on property ID or your destination.

Once you pick out a location, you’ll be taken to a destination page with a brief description, an interactive map and detailed overview of local attractions. You can filter your search further to winnow down the results based on property type, price range, specific amenities, and capacity.

Simply Owners also provides wheelchair-friendly options so that you (or a loved one) can have a wonderful holiday that you might otherwise not be able to take.

You can also message the owner directly, access their contact information, and read reviews to know more about other travelers’ experiences at your chosen destination.

Unlike other Airbnb alternatives listed here, Outdoorsy’s business model is the most intriguing. Instead of renting out short-term vacation rentals and properties, the site lists out caravans and RVs.

For budget travelers, Outdoorsy offers an all-in-one price that allows you to travel in your selected RV and stay in it. Plus, the caravans are pretty spacious and the listings are available worldwide.

There are no hidden fees or middlemen on Outdoorsy as the property listings belong to actual owners who rent them out when they’re not in use.

Whether you’re going on a cross-country road trip or you just want to discover different places, Outdoorsy is the perfect choice for you. The app also offers 24/7 support and insurance so you can rent a vehicle that’s big enough for your family.

If you have a pet, filter for pet-friendly rentals in your search so you can find the perfect vehicle to hop between campsites.

Get Inspired for Your Next Getaway

Whether you’re planning a trip to one of the world’s best beaches or looking for a home with an infinity pool, these Airbnb alternatives will help you find your ideal vacation rental.

Check out our guide on the best smartphone accessories for traveling that’ll ensure you capture all the memorable moments during your vacation. If you plan to travel by flight, turn to our guide on how to use Google Flights for insights into the best flight prices.

Make sure you’re aware of the latest COVID-19 travel guidelines, rules and restrictions in your chosen destination.

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The 5 Best Reddit Alternatives

Reddit is in full meltdown mode, and users are flocking to alternative platforms. Many of these new platforms incorporate a similar look and feel to Reddit, though differ significantly, mostly in whether they are federated and centralized. We’ve curated this list of the best Reddit alternatives, with a deep look at their features and whether they, too, are federated and centralized,

TIP: have some Reddit content you just can’t part with? Learn how to download Reddit videos.

1. Lemmy

A quick search for Reddit alternatives will almost certainly lead you to Lemmy. It’s probably the closest to Reddit in terms of look and feel, yet different from Reddit in a major way: it is decentralized. The content on Lemmy is not located on a central server and instead is maintained independently, calling multiple servers home. These servers can then connect and talk with each other.

Proponents of Lemmy will claim that the decentralized nature will prevent the sort of problems plaguing Reddit right now. Lemmy isn’t as user-friendly as Reddit. Reddit is housed on a single server with subreddits, so no one person or group has absolute control of the platform.

Lemmy calls its sub-forums “instances,” and they’re all run on separate servers. It’s not as well organized and curated when compared to Reddit. This results in users spending a lot of time just trying to find the communities they’re interested in. Users may find the obtuse nature of the platform to be an obstacle.


Decentralized – no one person can institute broad changes

Tens of thousands of monthly users leaves much content to explore


Lack of a streamlined experience has the potential to limit user growth

Homepage is confusing to navigate

Good to know: we’ve curated a list of the best subreddits to follow.

2. Kbin

The appeal of Kbin is that it is part of the “fediverse.” In theory, user content can be picked up and shared by a variety of federated platforms. But Kbin is not easy on the eyes, and user adoption may be hampered by the lack of a user-friendly interface, with no guidance from the Kbin homepage. As a result, Kbin may seem like too much for casual users who are used to the easier-to-understand structure of Reddit.

Despite these drawbacks, Kbin offers a lot of promise in its open-source nature that allows users to customize their experience. This includes being able to rearrange the interface to an individual user’s preference.


Interface can be customized

Content is federated


No dedicated mobile app

User base is small

In a very early beta testing phase

3. Beehaw

Beehaw markets itself as a social media platform, where users are encouraged to share news articles, websites and start discussions – what a lot of other social networks, including Reddit, are already doing. What sets Beehaw apart from its competition? The founding principle is civility and community, with no intolerance. The goal is for Beehaw to be a safe place online for people to come together, regardless of their politics, ethnicity, religious views, etc.

To achieve this, the Beehaw devs have stated that they have no qualms about giving users the boot if they’re found to be ruffling too many feathers. Furthermore, they are firmly anti-downvoting. Their philosophy sees downvoting as serving no real purpose, with a belief that it stymies conversation between users. Beehaw is firmly rooted in basic philosophical concepts: no one is “right,” and everyone deserves to be heard – unless they’re trolling.

Beehaw is part of the “fediverse” and won’t hesitate to de-federate if it feels another federated platform is becoming too problematic. They will essentially cut ties with that platform and its content. As of this writing, has been de-federated due to Beehaw determining that they couldn’t effectively moderate’s users.


Has potential to be a nicer place

Trolling is not tolerated and moderation is swift


Concerns around censorship

Lack of a karma system can make it difficult to find quality content

4. Tildes

A tilde is a little wavy line that is generally used to approximate a figure, such as time: ~30 minutes. The symbol has a long history in relation to technology, being used for a variety of purposes. As a social platform, Tildes was founded with an explicit purpose: to be a free, open-source, non-profit corporation with zero investors.


Less emphasis on individual posters

User base determines platform growth


Simplistic look is not for everyone

No karma/reputation system

Currently, no mobile app available, and an official app is unlikely

5. Squabbles

The Squabbles platform aims to be the complete opposite of a “squabble” by combining the best parts of Reddit and Twitter. The devs behind Squabbles noticed that Reddit makes it easy to become part of a community; however, it lacks the ability to make meaningful connections with individual users. While Twitter makes it easy to follow individual users, it lacks cohesive communities. Squabbles was designed to enable users to engage in larger community discussions, while also being able to pick the brains of individual users.

Squabbles is home to various “communities,” where users can subscribe. Like Reddit, these communities are varied and cater to various interests. However, even though you may be able to find a community on a niche subject, don’t expect to engage in deep conversations, at least not yet. Many of the communities on Squabbles only boast a handful of subscribers. At the time of this writing, the largest Squabbles community is /s/gaming, which is home to a little over 7,000 users.

Despite the small user base, Squabbles appears to be picking up steam. The ability to follow individual users has the potential to combine the link aggregation of Reddit and the more social aspects of other platforms. At this stage, the homepage isn’t as carefully curated as Reddit, which runs the risk of alienating new users.


Variety of communities

Dual emphasis on social aspects and link aggregation


Mobile apps in beta and in some cases are invite only

Small user base can make certain communities feel very quiet

Homepage does not aggregate communities

FYI: this tutorial shows how to create your own Reddit with Teddit.

Frequently Asked Questions Why are users leaving Reddit?

In a nutshell, Reddit has raised the prices for access to its Application Programming Interface (API). To put it simply, an API allows information to be sent between a user and a website or app. In the case of Reddit, the price hikes have been so high that it has essentially killed off various third-party Reddit apps. This has resulted in a user revolt. Moderators of various subreddits shut down their communities in protest. Some moderators have decided to close up shop permanently until the controversial policy changes are reversed.

How do I join a platform that is still in the alpha/beta phase?

It depends on the platform. Some platforms simply require folks who want to join a beta to sign up, while in some cases, there may be a waiting period or invitation needed.

What does it mean to be “federated”?

A social network is kind of like an exclusive club. To gain access, you need to create an account. Whatever you post can only be seen by other people with an account on that particular platform.

Alternatively, the “Fediverse” is a collection of networks. With a single account, these networks can communicate with one another. Therefore, any content you post is federated. Once one network is aware of your content, it can pass that content to other networks.

Image credit: Pexels. All screenshots by Ryan Lynch.

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Where Is Vegan Food Near Me? 6 Best Sites To Search Your Area

As many vegans know, finding restaurants that provide options for you can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you live in an area where this type of food isn’t readily available. If you’re traveling or have recently moved, you may not know nearby options. 

Thankfully, the internet can make this a bit easier. Plenty of websites either cater to finding vegan food or can be used to filter through restaurants to find what you’re looking for. 

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Here are some of the best sites to find vegan food near you. Also, check out our list of the best mobile apps for vegans.

This site is well-known among the vegan community as the best site to find great food. All you need to do is enter your city, region, or zip code, and Happy Cow’s search function will do the work for you, presenting all the options that are closest to you. 

You’ll see a map with the restaurants nearby, and you can sort them to show fully vegan, vegetarian, or restaurants that have vegan options though may not be fully vegan. Reviews on the site are from other vegans, so it’s easy to find what’s really good. Even if there may not be any fully vegan restaurants near you, it’s easy to see which places have some dish options. Happy Cow is definitely the site you want to visit first when you’re searching for places to eat. 

This site works well if you live in or around major cities, and shows places you may not have already heard of. To use the site, you just select your region in the sidebar and then narrow it down to the city you live in. The site will list a good amount of both vegetarian and vegan restaurants in your area. 

The site labels clearly which restaurants are just vegetarian or fully vegan, and is a great place to look if you haven’t found what you want on other sites. Veg Dining has also been recognized for its work by the American Vegan Society, so you know you’re getting only the best results when you use the site. 

This site is another great place to visit during your search. They have a ton of listings of clearly labeled vegan or vegetarian restaurants, and it’s easy to find your area if you’re from the U.S. or Canada. 

It also has a nice small blurb about each restaurant, including the atmosphere and types of dishes they serve, so you know what to expect. They also list each restaurant’s hours and what type of payments they’ll accept. You can find each restaurant’s website linked to their listing if you want to find out more. 

Overall this site is one of the better ones, covering many restaurants and offering an extremely easy way to find a place to eat. 

Now we move into the sites where their main focus isn’t vegan food, but you can still use them to find some. Yelp is a good option, as you can find “Best Vegan” lists, which look through restaurants that have reviews or descriptions which mention vegan options. 

To search for vegan options, just enter the city or area you want to search in, and then type “vegan food” in the search bar. A list will come up of the best options close to you, and with Yelp you can further narrow down your choices by specifications such as price, features, type of food, and more. 

Yelp will also point out the reviews which mention the restaurant’s vegan friendliness so you can easily make a decision. 

Finally, if you’re looking specifically for a restaurant to get some take-out food, Doordash is a great option for vegans. Doordash automatically lists the restaurants closest to you that provide delivery through their service, and it’s easy to find plant-based options. 

When searching through Doordash’s offerings, you’ll see a list at the top of types of restaurants. At the end of the list, there is an option to search for vegan restaurants. You can also filter through options like pickup availability, rating, delivery time, and price. If you’re looking to stay in but still want to have a take-out vegan meal, it’s easy to find on Doordash.

Finding Vegan Food

Whether you’re going vegan for health reasons or for the animals, finding places to eat may feel intimidating at first. Thankfully the resources above can make it very easy to find great vegan food near you. 

6 Best 360° Underwater Cameras To Buy

6 Best 360° Underwater Cameras To Buy [2023 Guide]




If the major tech breakthrough for last year was virtual reality, then the new tech trend for 2023 is 360 degrees videos. These type of videos let you see the world from all angles—not just where the camera is pointing.

You don’t see the world around you in square or rectangle, so why limit yourself to that view in photos and videos. To capture 360 degrees video, you need a good 360 degrees camera.

Thankfully, the first wave of 360 degrees underwater cameras have arrived, and they record everything going on around at the same time.

And since major content platforms such as YouTube and Facebook already have support for 360 degrees videos, it’s a good time to start looking for a camera that can capture the footage. We have compiled a list of the best 360 degrees underwater cameras that are worth buying.

What are the best 360 degrees underwater cameras?

Super 5.7K resolution

FlowState stabilization with gimbal-like effect

Invisible Selfie Stick effect that quickly erases the selfie stick in the edit

IPX8 waterproof

Pretty expensive

Check price

With a 5.7k resolution and water protection for up to 5 m, Insta360 ONE R 360 Edition can be an ideal camera for underwater video and photo capturing.

Because it’s an action cam, this model features a FlowState technology stabilization that achieves gimbal-like stabilization without the gimbal. And because it comes with a new scene-detection algorithm, your footage will be clear and steady even in low light.

We also need to mention that ONE R supports HDR capture for photo and video.

5.2k videos and 18MP photos

Video ISO Range: 400 to 6400 (Manual)

Immersive 360 experiences playback spherical footage

Ultra-smooth stabilization

File compression is not so good

Check price

GoPro Fusion captures spherical videos and photos which you can play them back in VR or use over capture to create traditional videos and photos you can share right on your phone.

The camera is compatible with a lot of new Android smartphones like Asus Zenfone AR, Google Pixel 2, LG V30, Motorola Moto Z2 Force, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, and many more.

Fusion features voice control in 10 languages.

Max HyperSmooth stabilization

Live stream in 1080p on social media

Game-changing horizon leveling

270-degree distortion-free panoramic photos without horizon scanning

No 4K recording

Check price

Expert tip:

MAX features four digital lenses in HERO mode to choose from so you will be able to capture video and photos in Narrow, Linear, Wide and Max SuperView.

Advanced MOS sensor with 16 million image pixels

Multiple viewing modes: Ring, Dome, Front Degree/Rear 180 Degree, 360 Degree Panorama, and Globe

Splashproof and 2 m shockproof

Very low price

The camera only shoots in a fish-eye format

Check price

The 16 megapixel MOS sensor offers better quality and clarity than CMOS or CCD Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity will help you monitor all the action wirelessly from a smartphone.

1080p live streaming stabilization

Mega accessory kit included

Spherical 5.6K 30 HD video

Playback, edit, and share all from your phone

Waterproof down to 16 ft


Check price

The GoPro MAX 360 Action Camera can become your favorite buddy when you’re diving because it’s waterproof for 16 feet underwater. Using opposite side lenses, the MAX can capture everything that happens around you in a 360° view in up to 4992 x 2496 resolution video and 5760 x 2880 still photos.

You don’t need to bother much with editors because the photos and video are stitched automatically in the camera for easy sharing. of course, it can also use only one lens to capture traditional GoPro hero-style wide-angle action footage when needed.

Interactive 360 Degree 4K video from a single digital unit

16-megapixel image sensor – 4K video resolution 2880 x 2880 pixels up to 30 fps

Motion and audio activation

Gyroscope and non-assisted GPS

Problems with customer support

Check price

Dubbed as the world’s smartest 360 degrees 4K camera, the 360fly comes with an array of attractive features that qualifies it on the list of the best 360 degrees underwater cameras.

First, it’s waterproof to a depth of 30 m, which makes it perfect for 3600 underwater videos. It’s also shockproof, dustproof, and comes with a generous internal storage capacity of 64GB.

Sharing videos to YouTube and Facebook is super easy, thanks to the 360fly mobile app. You can easily capture, edit, and share your 360 degrees video using the mobile app.

There you have it, the list of the best 360 degrees underwater cameras. The best in terms of performance is the 360Abyss-V4, which also happens to be the most expensive. This camera is best suited for oceanographers and other professionals who record deep sea documentaries.

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Best Audible Alternatives – Free And Paid

Best Audible Alternatives – Free and Paid

Also Read: Best Audiobooks For Android

Best Audiobook Alternatives To Audible 2023 1.   Scribd – Is This The Next Netflix For Audiobooks?

Price: 30 days free trial and US$ 9.99/month after that


With a paid subscription, you can read an unlimited amount of books

Customize narration speed functionality

You can set a sleep timer

Offers latest and bestselling titles


Users have reported that despite paying for a subscription they were restricted to some titles

Visit Scribd

2.   Audiobooksnow –  A Cheap Audiobook Alternative To Audible

Audiobooksnow is one of the best audiobook alternatives to Audible. It is one of the cheapest and affordable alternatives to audible. It offers more than 120000 titles spanning between fiction and non-fiction genres. Even at a cost much less than Audible, it holds no straps on customization of the interface.

Price: 30-day free trial after that US$ 4.99 + You get 50% off on your first audiobook


80000 titles inclusive of bestselling and classic titles from some of the legendary authors

Available as a website and on smartphone and computer

Download audiobooks offline

Set a timer when you need


Some audiobooks protected by DRM can’t be downloaded offline

Website, Android/ iOS/ Kindle

3.   Rakuten Kobo Audiobooks

Rakuten Kobo makes its way to the list of one of the best apps like audible. It has a huge collection of not just audiobooks but eBooks as well. It offers over 94000 audiobooks and 599000 eBooks across several genres.

Price: 30-day free trial and after that US$ 9.99


Facility to adjust the listening speed

Set sleep timer

Keep ebooks and audiobooks in one place

Your collection of audiobooks stays with you even if you choose to cancel your subscription

Multilingual support


Search functionality could have been better

Visit Rakuten Kobo for Audiobooks

4.   OverDrive – Free For Members

For someone like me who wants to quench the thirst for listening to audiobooks, OverDrive is a great audiobook alternative to Audible. The best part is that if you are a student or someone who has already subscribed to OverDrive, audiobooks are free for you.


You get access to over 30000 libraries

Consist of the companion app Libby (for everyone) and Sora (for students) which user friendly and flexible

You get to listen to the latest releases and best sellers

Easily create a Wishlist of books you like


You may have to wait for popular books because there might be certain books you like and which might not be available in your library

Visit OverDrive For More

5.   Spotify

The list of apps like Audible will remain incomplete without Spotify. Most of us know Spotify as a well-known music streaming service and you probably have been using it to listen to music or podcasts to the maximum. But, did you know Spotify also has a great collection of some of the best audiobooks?  Let’s put it this way, if you are someone who’s both an avid music lover and reader, Spotify is the right choice for you.

Price: 30 days trial and after that US$ 9.99 per month


Download audiobooks offline

Decent library containing some great audiobooks

High customizability

Great audio quality

Available as a website and on smartphone and computer


Takes a hit on a variety of available genres

Get Spotify

6.   Hoopla – An Audiobook Alternative With A Decent Collection

Quite like OverDrive, if your library offers you an option like Hoopla, you can easily stream not audiobooks but also videos, music and even read eBooks

Price: Free if you have a Hoopla library card


Download audiobooks offline

Select from over 50000 titles

Easy filtering by release date, use rating, date added, language

Select to listen to titles apt for children only


You need to finish titles within a limited timeframe or else they’ll expire

Visit Hoopla

7.   Loyal Books – A Decent Free App Like Audible

Loyal Books is one of the free apps similar to audible. Although you might be a little disappointed with a limited number of audiobooks, the collection isn’t that small that it won’t quench your desire to listen to audiobooks.

Price: Free


Adjust playback speed as per your need

Add a sleep timer

Option available for downloading books

Available for both Android and iOS


The collection of audiobooks is less as compared to many of its counterparts

Download on iOS and Android

8.   Project Gutenberg – One of The Best Free Alternatives To Audible

Project Gutenberg is a free alternative to Audible that you can access anywhere, provided you have an internet connection. It is one of the oldest digital libraries online dating back to 1971. It houses audiobooks recorded by both volunteers as well as computers.

Price: Free


Free of cost

Over 60000 free ebooks are available as downloadable mp3 files

Consists of various popular titles in both fiction and non-fiction genre

Search audiobooks by title, author, type, subject, language, and more


Sometimes you might find your favorite e-book being read mechanically by a computer

Visit Project Gutenberg

9.   LibriVox

In quest of a free alternative to audible? LibriVox can be a great option worth checking out. And, despite being free, it offers a great library of audiobooks. You will be able to listen to some of the classics – novels, biographies, short stories, history, and poetry.


It has a collection of over 50000 audiobooks

Available in more than 30 Languages

Several genres available

Search collection by author, title, and even narrator


Not as premium as audible as far as audio quality is concerned

iOS, Android, website

10.  eStories

Looking for other apps like Audible? Have a strong penchant for stories? eStories is an Audible alternative you can consider. And, not just fiction, its 120000 long library contains some of the best non-fiction audiobooks as well.

Price: Free 30 day trial after that US$ 11.99 per month


DRM independent platform, you can download and play audiobooks anywhere on any media player

The library is constantly updated with new books

Contains more than 120000 titles across several fiction and non-fiction genres


The UI experience could have been better

Download on Android, iOS

Wrapping Up:

Do give these audiobooks alternatives for Audible a spin and let us know which of the above paid or free alternatives would you opt for. For more such tech content, keep reading Tweak Library, till then happy listening! 

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Sarang Bhargava

Gps Options: Many Ways To Find Your Way

I ran five navigation alternatives through the day-to-day challenges of guiding me along my way: smartphone navigation apps for the Apple iPhone and the Google Nexus One, variations of the TeleNav server-based navigation service for smartphones and standard phones, the Garmin Nuvi 265WT GPS device, and the two-way connected TomTom XL 340S Live GPS device (two-way connected devices provide access to live traffic info and to up-to-date local fuel prices, weather, and Google local search).

My conclusion: If you use any of these methods, you don’t have to put up with getting lost anymore. Excellent turn-by-turn navigation with spoken street names is available via products and services ranging from simple cell phones to expensive dedicated devices. All of the devices I tried gave me very similar routes, and all of them successfully directed me to my test destinations. (That’s hardly surprising, since the various devices rely on mapping databases supplied by either Navteq or TeleAtlas.)

So how do you choose the right GPS device?

If you have a smartphone already and you rarely need help finding your way, buying a navigation app for the phone makes a lot of sense. But you’ll lose the use of your phone for most other purposes while you use it for navigation, and you’ll have to cope with a smaller screen.

If you’re allergic to monthly bills, you won’t be thrilled by server-based navigation systems or by two-way connected devices, both of which charge $10 a month for data services. Server-based navigation doesn’t impose any up-front costs, but the service is limited and can be a hassle to use with a no-frills phone. Two-way connected GPS devices cost $200 or more, but offer many more features than server-based systems.

Smartphone: iPhone

Best for: People who need occasional navigation help and don’t mind losing access to phone calls while using the device for direction information. Hardware tested: Apple iPhone 3GS

Navigation app tested: Magellan RoadMate 2010 North America

The iPhone gives users instant access to a navigation system that offers many of the features of dedicated GPS devices (including the live traffic and weather information that two-way connected devices deliver).

A smartphone makes a convenient navigator, since it’s likely to always be with you. But using a smartphone as a navigation device has drawbacks, too. With the screen constantly on, your phone’s battery can quickly exhaust its charge; in my testing of an iPhone equipped with navigation software, the device’s battery life dropped by about 70 percent in just over an hour. At a minimum, you’ll need to have a charger on hand to support this method of navigation.

Another drawback: Smartphones tend to be smart about just one operation at a time. Whenever I fielded an incoming call, the navigation application had to shut down; it would relaunch and resume navigation only after I completed the call. If you frequently travel to unfamiliar places, you’ll be better off with a dedicated GPS device.

The app I tested, the Magellan RoadMate 2010 North America ($60), includes many features that Magellan provides on its personal navigation devices, such as the Maestro 4700. Although RoadMate 2010’s screen layout is similar to that of dedicated GPS versions of the software, the display and button sizes are optimized for the iPhone. To store the location of your vehicle, you simply touch a car icon–great for finding it later in a big parking lot. And you can navigate to contacts in your iPhone or store up to 24 favorites in One Touch locations.

Unlike its competitors from ALK Technologies, Navigon, and TomTom, the Magellan iPhone app does not include Google local search. (You can search through the iPhone’s browser, of course, but doing so requires you to leave the navigation app.) It doesn’t provide live traffic information either, though this capability may come soon in an in-app upgrade, according to the company.

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Navigon’s My Region version ($25) is the cheapest on-board navigation application available for the iPhone, but it restricts you to choosing maps for approximately one-third of the United States (a full complement of maps costs $80).

TomTom 1.3 for the iPhone ($60 for the United States only, $70 for the United States and Canada; the mount accessory, included in the image at left, is $120) neatly integrates Google local search. The IQ Routes routing method considers historical traffic and speed data.

Smartphone: Android

Best for: Owners of Android-based

Hardware tested:

Navigation app tested: ALK CoPilot Live 8

Price: $30

Like an iPhone, an Android smartphone carrying navigation software can guide you, with certain limitations: An incoming call will interrupt navigation until you are done talking, and you’ll have a tough time viewing the phone’s directions unless you buy a mounting dock for it.

Currently, Android-based navigation offers fewer app alternatives than the iPhone (neither Magellan nor TomTom has an Android app, for example) and fewer mounting options. Since the Android operating system is available on many different devices, each with far fewer users than the iPhone has, manufacturers haven’t poured money into designing mounts for each handset. For in­­stance, the first car mount for the Google Nexus One (the Android phone that I used in my tests) didn’t appear until four months after the handset’s debut–and it came from Google itself.

To deliver maps and street views, however, Google Maps must maintain a 3G or Wi-Fi network connection. If you should lose your data connection, you lose your navigation.

Available from the Android Market, a dedicated navigation app stores data locally on your smartphone, so you have ac­­cess to navigation information even if you drive out of 3G range (you will, however, lose live traffic updates, local fuel prices, and the extended capabilities of Google local search).

ALK Technologies’ CoPilot Live 8 ($30) is the lowest-cost full-featured navigation app for Android that has complete maps of the United States and Canada. The premium version ($20 more) includes fuel-price updates and live traffic data that is very similar to what you’d find on Google Maps; both applications take traffic into account when calculating routes.

Overall, CoPilot Live 8 performed well on the Nexus One. At times the touchscreen response within the app felt a little sluggish; but CoPilot calculated my route in two-thirds of the time Google Maps did, and in approximately one-seventh of the time the Garmin Nuvi took. The navigation experience resembled that of a dedicated GPS device, though I missed the larger screen and menu layout of the latter.

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Android doesn’t have a plethora of turn-by-turn navigation applications–yet. Intrinsyc’s Destinator 9 offers on-board map data, 2D and 3D views, weather reports, lane guidance, and speed-limit information. The full version costs $70. An Android app from Navigon is ex­­pected later this year.

Server-Based Navigation

Best for: People with basic navigation needs who don’t use smartphones and would rather pay a monthly fee than buy a dedicated device for $200 or more. Hardware tested (1): RIM BlackBerry Bold

Service tested: AT&T Navigator 2.0 (via TeleNav) Price: $10 per month or $99 per year Hardware tested (2): Samsung Highlight

Service tested: TeleNav GPS Navigator 5.2.9

Price: $10 per month

The software needed to connect to a cloud-based service comes preinstalled on many cell phones. To activate the service, you pay your carrier a subscription fee–typically $10 per month or $100 per year for unlimited usage.

I tried cloud-based navigation services on two phones: AT&T Navigator 2.0 (powered by the latest TeleNav 6.0 service) on a RIM BlackBerry Bold, and a light version of TeleNav’s GPS Navigator 5.2.9 on a Samsung Highlight, a fairly basic touchscreen phone. Both services got me where I wanted to go, but the experience on the BlackBerry Bold was far superior to that on the Highlight.

Voice directions on the BlackBerry were full and often gave compound instructions when turns followed in close succession. The Highlight’s service seemed to be trying to issue compound instructions, but often the second part cut off after “and then”; it also left off many street suffixes, neglecting to say “Parkway” or “Street.” The BlackBerry’s service was more ex­­plicit in announcing highways, too. It said to enter “Route 3 East”, whereas the Highlight’s service said only “Route 3.”

The BlackBerry Bold’s AT&T Navigator service lets you use speech to enter an address or to search for a local restaurant or gas station. The voice-recognition feature needed no training and was quite accurate. On the Highlight, I had to input data via the numeric keyboard–a tedious, time-consuming task that was too distracting to attempt while driving.

The services I tried on the Samsung Highlight and the Black­Berry Bold provided a good text-to-speech navigation experience, but the AT&T Navigator service on the BlackBerry did better, thanks to a more powerful platform and new software and features. To see what services are available for your phone, consult the feature matrix and the list of supported devices at TeleNav’s site.

Check These, Too Dedicated GPS Device

Best for: People who regularly need navigation help and want a large screen and an intuitive interface. Hardware tested: Garmin Nuvi 265WT

Price: $170 (street)

You can save money by using a smartphone instead of a dedicated GPS device for navigation, but you may not save much. For less than $200, you can purchase a dedicated device with a 4.3-inch screen–the most common size for such devices, and significantly larger than the screen on any smartphone–treated with an antiglare coating that makes reading text on it easier than reading the material on a phone screen. Even better, you can make a phone call and obtain directions simultaneously. And you may not have to pay for an ongoing subscription (though real-time traffic data may involve a recurring fee).

A dedicated GPS device mounts on your vehicle’s dashboard or windshield. All of the maps and points-of-interest data reside on the device–either on an SD Card or in memory that the manufacturer builds in to the device-so you do not have to maintain a data connection. Most GPS devices support text-to-speech for delivering turn-by-turn directions.

The Nuvi 265WT offers access to a database of 6 million points of interest, searchable by name or category. Many categories have subcategories to help you refine your search. You can search for points of interest in your current location, in a different city, or along your route.

The Nuvi 265WT’s Bluetooth phone interface–a premium feature–won’t read the contacts stored in your cell phone, but it will dial points of interest directly. In my informal tests, both incoming and outgoing calls sounded good on it.

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Magellan’s RoadMate 1445T ($160) offers free lifetime traffic information and directs you to the proper lane for the next turn. TomTom’s XL 340S (about $150) features IQ Routes, which uses historical traffic and speed data to calculate an optimal route. To receive live traffic on the XL 340S, however, you must purchase an optional traffic receiver.

Each of those products carries a 4.3-inch screen. Similar products with 3.5-inch screens cost less. Garmin’s Nuvi 265T ($160) is identical to the 265WT except for a smaller screen; likewise, the TomTom One 140S ($130) is essentially a 3.5-inch version of the XL 340S. Magellan’s RoadMate 1340 ($150) closely resembles the 1445T–and also has a 3.5-inch screen-but lacks a traffic feature.

Two-Way Connected Device

Best for: People who don’t have a smartphone but want navigation help, live traffic, weather, and search information. Hardware tested: TomTom XL 340S Live

Standard GPS devices, which get traffic information from signals broadcast by commercial FM stations, can only receive data. Connected GPS models can initiate requests for data as well as receive it. Such two-way communication supports real-time traffic updates, weather information, and local fuel prices. Some two-way products can also identify scheduled movie showtimes at nearby theaters, as well as airline flight arrival and de­­parture information. In addition, you can use Google local search to identify and obtain ad­­dresses for restaurants or stores that aren’t included in the GPS device’s points-of-interest database.

Google local search supplements the TomTom device’s internal database of 7 million points of interest, letting you search near your current location, within a city, or in another location. If you choose ‘another location’, you can use any of the Navigate To search options, including home, address, favorites, recent destinations, points of interest, current location, point on a map, GPS coordinates, or the position of the last stop. When you select a point of interest that Google local search suggests, you can add it as a favorite, show the location on the map, or navigate to it.

The Live connection also provides live traffic data. You can browse traffic incidents on a map, show traffic on a planned route, and (if you set locations for home and work) check traffic on your daily commute–more options than most other traffic services offer. The XL 340S Live can read traffic updates aloud, too.

If you aren’t already paying for a smartphone with an associated data plan, the XL 340S Live might make sense for you. But consider the long-term cost before you commit to it or to any other two-way connected GPS unit.

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In-Dash Car Navigation

If you’re considering buying a new car, you may have the option of specifying a factory installed, “in-dash” navigation system. Those big screens are attractive, but they’re expensive and they don’t age well. Many navigation systems are sold only as part of an option package that may cost between $2000 and $5000. Also, in many systems, all of the maps and points of interest reside on a DVD; upgrading the data typically costs more than buying a good dedicated GPS device would.

Another option is to buy an aftermarket in-dash system, though such systems usually require professional installation.

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