November 16, 2006

Review: DeLorme StreetAtlas 2007

StreetAtlas 2007 will let you navigate, plan and share maps, and routes. The software will install on your computer or ideally your laptop and once hooked to a GPS, will allow you to navigate with voice commands, and offers the ability to give you a full laptop screen’s view of where you are going. It’s important to understand that StreetAtlas 2007 is more than “just” a navigation aid, like a portable GPS. In my mind, it’s the combination of navigation and map/navigation manager software all in one. It’s really like iTunes vs. the iPod. In iTunes, you can do so much more than just listen to music, you can buy, manage, sort save lists, etc.; however, it’s tied to a computer and not as portable as the iPod. Same thing here, with StreetAtlas 2007 you can do so much management with so many capabilities, it’s really incredible, but you’re tied to a computer for most of this information.

The interface is easy to use while sitting, but isn’t something you’d want to mess with a lot while driving. The tabbed interface across the bottom of the screen gets you to the guts of the program, while some key icons at the top of the screen gives you the ability to jump to frequently used items in the program. Finally, there is a nice set of graphical navigation aids down the side of the screen that help you picture what you are looking at on the map and how to position it to get to work. The compass dial is interesting, as you can rotate what’s UP; so if you want to rotate the map aspect around you can get South to be up and North to be down. This can certainly be helpful if you are looking at some very specific routes off of main roads, or be very helpful in screwing up your friends who don’t expect NYC to be “up” from Boston…. See image. This isn't all for fun. It also gives you an idea of which way you are going when navigating, as you can have the screen oriented for direction of travel up, and the compass gives you an idea of which way is north.

Delorme has figured out that there are a lot of people who want to share where to go with others. With MapShare, Delorme has allowed you to post either a map view or a map with route directions at a website where your friends can access the maps or directions that you generate with StreetAtlas. In the past, I have used StreetAtlas to plan trips for up to 20 friends that have people arriving at a location at different times. With MapShare, I would have been able to create plans for the entire group to follow and share them effortlessly. To use MapShare, you click on the MapShare button, and choose: Share the Current Map View, Share a Route Map and Directions or Manage My MapShares. If you choose either of the first two, there are a couple of steps to go through before the upload begins where you can name the route, and title it for your friends. You are also able to insert notes that will appear in the margin of the map. Once you are done, the upload is pretty quick, and the program gives you the opportunity to pre-view the webpage, or email the directions out, which will then call your default email program and paste the URL right into the email for you. I do wish that I could just copy the URL right from that menu so I can use my web-based email without retrieving the URL from one of the other two options. Either way, I like the ability to share. Here’s a link to a Demonstration Route on the Mapshare server.

Managing your MapShares – You have the ability to choose if you want to have your MapShares Active or Inactive, and can easily move MapShares between the two. Once an item is inactive, you have the ability to delete it. On the active menu, you can also see and sort by type (route or map only) date modified, and number of times viewed.

The easiest way to go through the rest of the capabilities is to walk through the program tab by tab.

Navigation (The Route Tab)
Creating routes is easy with StreetAtlas 2007, by pulling up the “Route” tab, you can select a “New” route. I like to create route graphically by dropping green “start” dots and red “Stop” dots on the map. You can elect to calculate routes right away, or delay the creation until you have everything in, such as stops or “Vias” that allow you to navigate to your grandmother’s house on the way to the beach for instance. Under the advanced button there is the ability to create route preferences. So this includes editing a lot of variables that go into creating your route. Here you can edit your preferences for different types of roads: Limited Access Roads, Toll Roads, State Routes, Ferries, Unimproved Dirt Roads, etc. as well as set the assumed speeds on each. So for most road trips, I leave these alone, but when I was planning a bike trip, I eliminated interstates and dirt roads from consideration. I would like to see a vehicle type setting so that some of these decisions would be made for you: “Automobile – Normal” would allow normal settings, “Automobile – scenic” might route you along scenic state roads, Bike would give you access to bike-appropriate roads.

If this trip is a long multi-day trip, you have some options that help you plan ahead for gas and hotel stops. Once you have this route in place, you can “Plan” your trip by programming in several aspects: travel time per day, fuel tank capacity, and fuel efficiency. (If you program in a cost of gas, the program will even spit out the anticipated fuel cost for the entire trip.) The map will then spit out recommended overnight accommodation and fuel stop intervals. A warning will come up and recommend a time to stop. It doesn’t go so far as to pick a gas station and route you there, but other features make it easy to find one. See GPS RADAR below.

Navigating with the StreetAtlas on a laptop is helpful, as it can bark out commands and re-route you when you go astray. The screen is clear and the routing options easy to understand. The concern I have is that it’s a distraction if you are trying to do this alone. Co-piloting with the StreetAtlas is powerful and a dream, as one person can extract all the riches that StreetAtlas can provide, without much trouble. The unit autozooms if you aren’t running a route, but holds fairly steady when you are navigating a route. The screen flipped over to night colors when we were navigating after dark, which is a plus. We still had to tune the screen down a bit so it didn’t light up the car too much. We hooked the unit up to a rather old GPS for kicks, an almost 10-year-old Eagle handheld and we were sure that we would have to manually set the connection, but StreetAtlas was able to figure things out and we were navigating in no time. I also connected it to a couple of Garmin handhelds without trouble. DeLorme also sells this software as part of a bundle with their own USB based GPS receiver. The options are nearly endless. The
Screen splits when you enter the GPS mode, so that you can see a birds eye view on the left and a detailed zoomed view on the right.

When navigating, you can also elect to display not only your next turn but also the following turn, which can help you plan your way. The program also has the ability to record your tracks into a log file, useful if you need to demonstrate where and when you went somewhere, or just plain geeky fun to see the travels of you and your crew.

Map Files
In StreetAtlas 2007, you can create many different map files to store all of your navigation work. Here you will be able to save route files, drawing files associated with those routes, Arial Data Packet (ADP, essentially Satellite images) files that are full of satellite imagery information, as well as manage these files. You can save, create new, import or email files from here. One thing to understand is that you can have several items open at the same time, in a “layered” format, much like a Photoshop graphics program. So for instance, you may have a Route file open, and associated with it is a drawing file that allows you to draw map icons, write yourself messages, or draw routable roads if you need to.

A word about DeLorme and their map data. I find that they are very good at getting roads into their database. For instance, they have my road in the database, in StreetAtlas 2004, but TeleAtlas, supplier to TomTom and Mio, among others, just got my road in their database this past summer. Big difference, and a vote of confidence for DeLorme.

Find Tab
In the Find tab, you will find all sorts of things in ways you probably never thought of looking. It will allow you to look for destinations or POI’s by name, or category, both in the map screen and along a route that you may be navigating. It’s really easy to imagine being on a road trip and looking for food or lodging by searching this way. Once you find what you are looking for, double click on the name to highlight it and be able to navigate there.

GPS RADAR – If you are traveling along with a GPS, you can set StreetAtlas 2007 up to warn you about and then direct you to any number of Points of Interest, like gas stations or accommodations or places to eat. GPS Radar automatically displays routes and directions to nearby gas stations or other facilities ahead of you as you drive. Destinations will appear in the list, and then once selected a set of directions will appear automatically.

Phone Tab
The phone tab has some nice features that allow you to look up phone numbers. You can search on terms like name and address, but you can also search by right clicking on a street and pulling up phone numbers that way. Not bad. There are several options to search, including searching residential or business.

Print Tab
Here you can print maps and routes as well as Xdata. This allows you many options for printing these datasets. If you want to print a map, you can print on a single sheet, or in squares of 2x2 or 3x3, with lots of control over how it prints like locking the center, and setting a zoom level. There are some nice annotation tools that allow you to draw or write on the map for printing so that you can make some direction set obvious to the eventual user.

If you need to print a route, you can do so by printing any combination of the Overview, the Travel Package, Turn Details, Directions, “Along the Way” information, or strip map information. The Along the Way information is data that you collect by searching for a POI along the route, which then gets printed in the back of the packet. So for instance, you can search for hotels along the route that are within 2 miles of the route, and a list of hotels will be printed along with their phone numbers and the mile marker that they will be at. As you might imagine this could be bulky if you wanted hotels along a 2 day trip within 2 miles of the highway. Nonetheless, this is a pretty nice capability. The Strip map is the style that I think AAA is famous for in that it produces a page-by-page dataset of maps that you need to follow to get to your destination. With all of these maps, you can select the number of miles that print per page, giving you a lot of control over how big a packet you print and how readable the map package will ultimately be.

Draw Tab
On the draw tab, you can create a draw layer on top of the map that shows all kinds of items like map icons, push pins, highlighted roads and routes, as well as text and even images. This would allow you to drop an image right into the map in a bubble icon and label it with text. So you might label tourist destinations, or you might highlight graphically your client businesses with images, text and URL’s if you would like. If you want, you can draw a shape on the map, and then designate this area as a place to avoid in routing. Very cool.

There’s a lot of action here in the GPS tab. I was able to hook up my Garmin Vista to the computer and go for a ride, while it tracked my movement. You can elect to record and save your tracked movement throughout the trip, replaying it at high speed if desired. This might be useful if you need to document where you visited while on the road. You can also exchange data with your GPS if it can accept datasets (routes and waypoints). Here’s where you can drop those routes and waypoints down into the GPS – and then take the GPS out for a trip. StreetAtlas can download in Garmin NMEA (With Waypoints), Garmin/Garmin, Magellan (W/waypoints), Lowrance and Brunton formats. There are various connection settings that are customizable.

The Info Tab
This tab can give you information about various datasets and map items that you may be looking at, including information about the city, or county that you are looking at including AM/FM radio stations that are available there.

NetLink Tab
Here you can connect to the internet and do several useful things, including downloading more map data. You can download satellite imagery of a mapped region if you want more detail. With the advent of Google Earth, people are a lot more interested in Satellite imagery of areas, and let’s face it, it’s fun! The tough thing is that this information can be expensive if you need large areas. You can elect to download the data, order it on CD or DVD. If you order on CD and DVD there are minimum amounts that you need to order ($49.99 on CD and $249.99 on DVD). As you order through more economical media formats, the cost goes down, so if you wanted to get aerial imagery for all of Rhode island, you would pay about for $1,000 to download (750+ MB), $150 for it on CD (2 CD’s) , and it would only take up $114 of your $249 minimum for a DVD. You do get $40 worth of ADP downloads with the product, so you can get some pretty targeted images for free. This would give you about 160 square miles of imagery for download. This is plenty to try out the service in my mind.

You can also get some support through this tab, which would allow you get help on specific topics and search FAQ’s. When you submit a search term, you pull up the results in your browser, and then you can navigate from there.

Handheld Export
Here you can export maps to our handheld device. I exported to a Win Mobile device and was able to see the maps for a relatively small area without any difficulty. This might be useful if you want to be able to carry some pretty targeted maps along with you in a handheld for quick reference. I can’t see carrying the whole country on a handheld, but this can certainly be helpful when navigating around urban areas where a lot of information can be available in a small mapset.

Review Summary StreetAtlas 2007
I have to say that DeLorme’s Street Atlas 2007 is a very complete product that has so many features and uses, I can’t possibly tell you about them all here; you just have to see it for yourself. While I have been a user of StreetAtlas for many years, I still haven’t used the software to its full capacity, but what I have used it for, I have found it rock solid. I really like the ability to do some real route planning and be able to plan for contingencies along the way. With a co-pilot, you can easily work out a lot of opportunities to find help and points of interest along a route. I am not convinced that I could recommend it for daily around town use, as it’s a pretty hefty way to navigate from home to the local Wal-Mart. The bottom line is that it is a sound piece of software that continues to improve its ease of use and its interface as well as packing the product with features I didn’t even know I wanted, but was delighted to find them there.

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Posted by Scott Martin at November 16, 2006 3:05 PM

Recent Comments

I recentlty got this and agree that it is a very nice tool. I couldn't find any maps of Europe for it on the Delorme web site. Does anyone know if there are third-party add-ons available? Thanks.

Posted by: Bo at December 6, 2006 2:42 PM
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