If you have sufficient storage space, you can carry Wikipedia, maps, translation and weather apps with you wherever you go—even if there’s no internet connection.
The rise of remote work means more people will travel to places that may not always provide reliable internet access. Modern office apps, such as Google Workspace, can store email and documents offline, then sync new and changed content when you reconnect.
However, you might be surprised just how much information can be stored and accessed offline on a smartphone. Wikipedia, maps, translation and weather information can all be downloaded to your device for your reference, regardless of your ability to connect to the internet. Additionally, the apps identified below will work anywhere in the world. That can be immensely useful not only for traveling professionals, but also for students.
SEE: 5 collaboration apps you can use without an internet connection (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
How to use Wikipedia offline
Thanks to Kiwix.org, you can download Wikipedia and use it offline for free: no need to rely on an internet search engine when you want to know more about many people, places or things. In addition to Wikipedia, you can download Wikinews, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikispecies, Wikibooks and WikiMed Medical Encyclopedia, as well as many other reference works.
Install the Kiwix app, download one or more archive files (in ZIM format), then search and browse these files offline. Kiwix periodically updates their directory of data files, so you may want to update your data files every now and then when you have access to a fast internet connection
However, your device will need a decent amount of storage. On my iPhone, the English version of Wikipedia with images requires roughly 90 GB of storage (Figure A, left). In other languages, Wikipedia often contains less content, so the file size may be smaller. To save space, you also may download an edition that omits images (typically about 50% of the complete edition size) or one that omits details and provides truncated entries (typically about 15% of the complete edition size). On my phone, I have all of the Wiki files named in the first paragraph of this section installed and they take up about 110 GB of storage.
How to use maps offline
OsmAnd Maps & Navigation lets you explore OpenStreetMap information for regions around the world. This includes overview maps for continents as well as more detailed street maps, contour maps, hillshade and slope maps, site-specific Wikipedia data, as well as OpenSeaMap nautical maps. You’ll want to download overview maps for much of the world and likely more detailed maps for specific areas (Figure B).
Pricing varies on Android and iOS, but a subscription that allows unlimited downloads is typically less than $10 per year. Storage requirements will vary with the maps you install. For example, on my phone, 29 maps—the world overview map, nautical maps and detailed data for four U.S. states—take up just under 10 GB of storage.
People who travel outside of cities and towns might also find a few other apps helpful. PeakVisor (Pro subscription about $30 per year) helps you identify prominent hills and mountains. The built-in compass app on an iPhone or a simple compass such as Just a Compass (free) on Android both work offline, since they rely on GPS signals, which operate independent of an internet connection. If you’re interested in more advanced sighting and navigation options, the Spyglass app (about $6) offers a compass, elevation, angles as well as speed data. Make sure to test these apps in a setting where you know the directions with some certainty before relying on them in an unfamiliar area.
How to use translation offline
The free Apple Translate app offers offline translation between 11 distinct languages—or 12, if you count U.K. English as a different language than U.S. English. Select languages to use offline, then you may type or talk and have the words translated. Typically, you’ll need 100-200 MB of storage space for each language you want to use offline.
Both Google Translate (iOS and Android) and Microsoft Translate support translation between many more languages all at no charge, and allow you to download languages to enable offline translation (Figure C).
Unlike Apple Translate, both of these apps also include offline camera-based translation that lets you open the app and point your camera at text, which the app then translates in real-time with overlay text in the target language. This is extremely useful for signage and menus. However for real-time voice translation input, both of these apps require an internet connection.
How to use weather offline
A surprising number of weather apps don’t work offline. Typically, that’s because weather apps pull in recent observations from ground observations, radar and satellites, among other sources in order to deliver up-to-the-minute forecasts. Sailors and weather professionals examine and compare weather model projections with apps such as LuckGrib (approx. $25 one-time purchase fee on iOS) or Flowx (Android, with annual subscriptions about $5 to $20 per year) (Figure D, right). LuckGrib is intended for offshore and offline use, while Flowx caches content for any models you’ve loaded and displays it until you’re again connected. Both apps show forecasts from several different weather models.
Casual weather watchers might explore Meteoblue (iOS and Android), which caches several days of forecast details ($0.99 per year subscription required) (Figure D, left). The app also displays a visual confidence indicator next to forecast data to give you some sense of how reliable the forecast for a day might be. The higher the forecast bar, the greater the degree to which the various models used by Meteoblue agree.
Of course, another offline alternative is to use an app to access your smartphone’s barometer data. Barometer Plus (iOS and Android; free with about $3-4 upgrade for premium features and ad removal) or Starpath Corporation’s Marine Barometer and Barograph apps (Barometer apps are free; Barograph is about $15 on iOS), all obtain barometer readings thanks to hardware in your smartphone. Rising barometer levels may indicate nice weather, while falling barometer levels can signal the potential onset of a storm.
What offline apps do you rely on?
When I upgraded my phone recently, I opted for 512 GB of storage because I wanted space for Kiwix, OsmAnd+ and translation apps and files. I’ve found local/offline access to lots of information a nice reminder that not every question needs to turn into a web search.
Do you use apps to access Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap? What apps do you rely on for information when you lack an internet connection? What circumstances prompted you to seek out apps that work well offline? Let me know what apps you rely on that work without internet access, either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).