Navigating is easier than before with map app

Pros and
cons:
+        Versatile software and great remote
control
–        Requires notebook with CD-ROM drive
–        Database incomplete


Real-life requirements:
Win95, Pentium notebook, CD-ROM drive, 100M free on hard drive, PC Card slot for
GPS connection, sound card for voice alerts





If you drive in circles until you run out of gas rather than look at a map, don’t
read this review.


Precise directions are vital to government agents, inspectors and field workers who
drive daily from airports to street addresses in unfamiliar areas.


Paper maps, even if you have them, can be difficult to use. You might have to drive
miles to a major intersection just to learn your location.


Notebook computer users have been waiting for years for a good, notebook-mounted global
positioning receiver and map software. Commercial systems so far lack the precision of
military Global Positioning System units, but they are accurate enough for most government
purposes and are fast becoming affordable and easy to use.


Etak Inc.’s $300 SkyMap Pro for a Pentium notebook can guide you from downtown
Manhattan to a street address in California, tracking your position at all times to within
100 yards over the 3,000-mile trip. A suction cup and fixed-antenna GPS hardware are
included for your car roof.


You’ll need a notebook with a Pentium processor and Windows 95. Also, copying the
program and map files from a desktop system to a notebook without a CD-ROM drive may be
difficult or impossible.


Some federal and state agencies, including Pennsylvania’s Environmental Resources
Department, have been using handheld GPS units designed for hunters.


If your agency already equips its road warriors with notebooks, Etak’s software
and hardware combo will cost less and do more than the hunting units.


If you ever tried to use a notebook while driving, you probably lost your license. It
isn’t easy even for a passenger. Often the trouble is not so much seeing the screen
as finding the right key to press.


SkyMap Pro’s infrared remote controller makes navigation much easier. It performs
many keyboard functions such as swapping from a north-oriented display to a heading-up
display, zooming in and out, activating GPS tracking and centering on a location. The
joy-button even opens menus.


If your notebook has sound capability, SkyMap Pro will give you voice alerts about
speed, direction and distance to your next preset waypoint. It does not present
turn-by-turn directions, however.


Location accuracy is displayed in 10 steps, not just as good or bad.


The mapping software finds many city sites when you enter street addresses or cross
streets. If you select an address, the position icon on the map will point an arrow at the
destination at all times.


The crow’s-flight distance, not the best-route distance, appears in feet when you
get close or when you click on two locations. To see actual distance, you must trace the
proposed route with the highlighter tool.


Looking for the nearest hotel or restaurant? Etak’s database has locations for
more than 700,000 businesses. It displays distinctive logos on your map. Many restaurants
and fast-food joints appear. Unfortunately, gas stations, state police barracks and fire
departments do not.


To make finding a location easier the second time around, you can set personal
landmarks.


Although there are no street-by-street directions, SkyMap Pro gives specific routes
between major metropolitan areas.


I did notice a lot of unidentified rural roads, and many small towns are not named even
if they have post offices.


This is a serious fault; competing map software from DeLorme Mapping Corp. [GCN, May 12, 1997, Page 35] does identify towns and
rural roads.


On the other hand, SkyMap Pro’s database shows some private roads, also
unidentified. Near cities, its details are much better. For instance, small roads in
Pimmit Hills, an area in Falls Church, Va., have correct addresses, although the CIA
headquarters in McLean, Va., is not identified.


The White House and the J. Edgar Hoover Building are shown, but not most other federal
offices in Washington.


Despite the size of the two-CD-ROM database, it is not detailed enough for travelers in
the back country, where government emergency workers and investigators need help.


But anyone who travels by car in unfamiliar areas should have a GPS finder, and
Etak’s SkyMap Pro is a good choice.


Your agency will lose more in work time than the package costs if you get seriously
lost just once.  


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.

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