Zagat on iPhone: 'A disappointment' die-hards will still 'love'

Zagat To Go's carefully compiled restaurant reviews may be ready for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but its delivery is only half-baked.

Zagat To Go '09 on iPhone

Despite being a fan of Zagat's restaurant surveys, I've never been overly impressed with the mobile applications for Windows Mobile Smartphone and PocketPC, BlackBerry, and Palm.

Regrettably, Zagat To Go '09 for the iPhone and iPod Touch ($9.99 per year) isn't markedly different.

The components to a great mobile app are all there--venerable content, click-to-call, a Web site link, OpenTable reservations for some restaurants, and search and sorting filters--but the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

Stability is a major concern, the app cries for an in-app browser, and Zagat To Go calibrates your location twice every time you open it, a repetition that quickly wears thin. Providing advanced search options to find, for instance, sushi restaurants nearby for under $30 would make the app immediately more winning.

iTunes App Store reviewers have also thoroughly picked a bone with the app over a "cheesy" link to other apps created by Zagat's mobile publishing partner, Handmark, and "frustrating," "misleading" information about the cities and countries covered. It's true that Zagat Survey is strongest in metropolitan US cities, with passable international coverage in the UK, Italy, and France, and some world cities, like Tokyo, Toronto, London, and Rome. Handmark should more explicitly list those cities to minimize the backlash.

Zagat To Go '09 logo

It's also true that Zagat To Go will best serve the foodies who want to "cut through the garbage" found on Yelp's and Urbanspoon's iPhone apps and be funneled to finer dining. Big-city diners dedicated to Zagat's yearly survey have in this iPhone app a slightly more economical and much more convenient and interactive option than toting the book with them on travels near and far, or viewing the cramped mobile Web site from the Safari browser.

Update: 12/2/08 at 3:40 PM. Handmark commented in an e-mail that a new release being submitted to iPhone's App Store for approval today will request location access upon launching the app for the first time. A button on the main search screen will let you manually update your new location.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.